An Ode To Penmanship

Revised March 26, 2022

My pen is the interface between my mind and my notebook. This interface - penmanship - plays a fundamental role in my life as a mathematician, engineer, artist, and student. So, I sought to optimize it.


A couple years ago I learned I held my writing utensils in an objectively inferior way. I used the dynamic quadrupod grip, while the most people use the dynamic tripod grip.

Dynamic Tripod grasp on the left. Dynamic Quadrupod grasp on the right.

Small difference, right? Despite the seemingly small change, quadrupod grip results in tenser strokes and less flexibility, ultimately leading to worse handwriting. I decided to switch.

After a difficult transition period, I realized visual improvements to my handwriting, significantly less hand strain over long writing sessions, and a broader range of movement. A significant improvement overall, and I highly recommend making the switch yourself if you use the dynamic quadrupod grip.


Pen spinning is a form of object manipulation that invovles the deft manipulation of a writing instrument with the hands. It's considered a form of contact juggling, and it proves to be popular among students and office workers. In my opinion, pen spinning is the pinnacle of handling writing utensils.

I've personally been pen spinning for years. It's incredibly satisfying, and I highly recommend learning a trick or two if you haven't already.


They say the pen is mightier than the sword. If so, what is your 'weapon' of choice? The writing utensil has the potential to make a significant difference in a writing experience, so I searched for the most optimizal choices.

What Should I Not Use?

Throughout high school, I used Tichonderoga's basic sharpenable pencils. You've seen them before. They're everywhere.

These pencils carried me through 4 years of rigorious mathematics. They carried me through AP Chemistry, AP Physics, and AP Calculus. Yet, I don't recommend them for rigorious writing.

Because you need to sharpen them to redefine the tip, these pencils are inconsistent by design. The diameter of the point will be slightly different each session. Because the pencil shortens as you sharpen it, you'll always be subtly adjusting your grip to accomidate variable weight and length. You'll also need to carry around a sharpener, which is also subject to subtle change overtime.

They're solid for art though, as the angular point is great for shading.

Mechanical Pencils

I highly recommend using mechanical pencils over typical wooden pencils. Making that switch alone eliminates the diameter, length, and weight inconsistencies you'll find in a wooden pencil.

Although, mechanical pencils have their flaws too. They require extra lead on hand and the occasional lead advancement. The act of advancing the lead manually also tends to be prone to inconsistency. Also, because mechanical pencils utilize moving parts, they're naturally prone to (sometimes repairable) mechanical failure.

The primary points of error in mechanical pencils lie in the lead sleeve and the chuck. If the lead sleeve is bent or the chuck fails to prevent lead from being pushed back into the body, the pencil will fail to function properly. Both parts can be replaced, but repairability is highly dependent on the specific model.

Mechanical Pencil Recommendations

Although mechanical pencils are generally superior to wooden pencils, not all mechanical pencils are made equal. Over the last year I've had the opportunity to try dozens of mechanical pencils, and I've pruned down my collection to my absolute favorites.

Also, keep in mind these recommendations are based on my subjective opinion and only encompass the mechanical pencils I have tried so far.

Pentel Orenz Nero

My favorite mechanical pencil, by far, is Pentel's Orenz Nero. The 0.5mm variant is available through Amazon Japan.

The Orenz Nero effectively minimizes the previously discussed flaws that most other mechanical pencils suffer from. Primarily, it offers an auto advancing mechanism that pushes lead forward as the user is writing - this results in a pen-like feel. Also, like lots of other mechanical pencils, the Orenz Nero allows the user to push the lead sleeve into the body of the pencil to prevent damages.

Other pros include a slick look, incredible build quality and durablility (trust me, I've dropped this thing countless times), and a great grip. Despite the $30 I paid, I think this thing is truly a piece of art, and I highly recommend it. Don't just take my word for it - here are some other reviews.

• "오토매틱 샤프계의 TOP "오렌즈 네로"|オレンズネロ 0.3|Pentel Orenz Nero" - (turn on subtitles!)

• "Pentel Orenz Nero Review" -

• "The Most Luxurious Pencil - Pentel Orenz Nero" -

• "Pentel orenz nero 0.2mm oh so fine - long and rambling review" -


ROtring pencils are a very popular choice in the mechanical pencil community. Of ROting's lineup, the 600, 800, and Rapid Pro prove to be the most popular - and for good reason too. They host an all-metal body and are built incredibly well. Moreso than any other mechanical pencil I've tried, ROtring's pencils feel like an industrial-grade tool. I don't know about you, but I love that sort of thing.

The ROtring 600

Don't just take my word for it though - ROtring's high-end mechanical pencils run upwards of $50, so certainly come to your own conclusions. Here are some links to reviews that I find particularly insightful:

• "로트링 샤프 시리즈 파헤쳐보기 Feat. rOtring 500, 600, 800|로트링 멀티펜 600 3 in 1|로트링 샤프종류|ロットリングシャープペンラインナップ分析" - (turn on subtitles!)

• "rOtring 600 - Quick Look / Review" -

• "Review: Rotring Mechanical Pencils; Tikki, 300, 500, 600, 800, and Rapid Pro Comparison | 555 Gear" -

• "Rotring Drafting Pencils" -

Honorable Mention: GraphGear 1000

The GraphGear 1000 is the entry point to higher end mechanical pencils. It costs only $10, and is widely available. It's solid, and I highly recommend it for anyone starting off. Here's a review.

Yet To Try

Of course, I haven't tested out all mechanical pencils. Here are the specific models I'm looking forward to trying:

• Uni Kuru Toga Dive (expensive though!)

• Sharp Kerry

Here are other models I own that I don't have particularly strong feelings about:

• Pilot S30

• Uni Kuru Toga Roulette

• Pentel Smash

• Graph 1000 for Pro

• Staedtler 925-35 All Black

If you have a suggestion, feel free to shoot me an email :D

About Lead

Lead is highly customizable, coming in many different colors and many different levels of hardness. There are two systems for grading lead hardness: European and American.

The European system uses a combination of letters and numbers. B denotes soft leads, or leads with greater graphite content. The higher the corresponding number, the softer the lead and the darker the marks produced by the lead. At the other end of the spectrum, H designates leads with higher clay content. H leads become lighter as you work up the scale.

The American system uses numbers, with #2 ½ in the middle of the scale. The American #2 pencil usually lines up with the European HB grade.

No one lead hardness is explicitly better than the others, so I highly recommend you try multiple and see what you like!

What About Pens?

In all honesty, I don't use pens much. I make mistakes, and I prefer to have the freedom to erase any work I have previously done. This is purely my preference. I know for a fact other people love their pens.

When I do need to use a pen, I use the Pilot G2.

On Whiteboard Markers

I live by the motto "if there's a window, there's a whiteboard" :P

I highly suggest carrying around a dry-erase marker to use on windows. I find it's really helpful for drawing up diagrams or writing quick notes on a whim. I personally prefer Expo fine tip, but any whiteboard marker will do.

Additional Stationary Resources

r/mechanicalpencils wiki


This has been my ode to penmanship - a journey at the foundation of my academic career. Writing is and will continue to be a critical facet of my life. It is a skill and hobby that I will continue to hone, as its continual improvement has the potential to subtly yet significantly improve the quality of my work and life.