Over the past 20 years I’ve sharpened my way through countless pencils, and I can honestly say that the Pentel Orenz is the greatest drawing pencil I’ve ever used. I have dozens pencils on my desk and this single Orenz replaces them all, it’s that good.
A participant from one of my workshops gave it to me to try and immediately I recognized that this was no ordinary mechanical pencil. I guess my excitement was pretty obvious because she very kindly let me keep it! (Thank you Judie Thompson)
Two things make this pencil so astonishing:
1. A needle thin lead width of just 0.2 mm (the only pencil which uses such ultra-thin leads)
2. A self-retracting metal sleeve that reveals the lead and prevents it from breaking
When you have such a thin lead you’re able to draw with extraordinary precision, but at first it takes a bit of adjusting. The best part is that you’re no longer stopping constantly to re-sharpen your pencil tip with a knife or sandpaper block....you can’t get sharper than a 0.2 mm needle tip. I think this is important. As you’re lines are flowing and you’re getting into a rhythm, you need to be concentrating 100 % on the subject in front of you and not be distracted with how quickly your pencil is becoming dull.
The retracting sleeve (Pentel calls this “Super Sliding Sleeve”) comes into play by preventing the leads from breaking like they do in regular mechanical pencils. Without such a mechanism, drawing with ultra-thin leads wouldn't be practical.
It’s quite clever...basically, the end of the metal tip is rounded and as you’re drawing the sleeve ever so gradually retracts into itself to expose the lead. You never actually advance the lead beyond the tip like you do with a regular mechanical pencil, it’s there, you just can’t see it. Once the sleeve is fully retracted, you simply click once and keep drawing.
Should you somehow snap a lead and it becomes lodged in the sleeve (hasn’t happened to me yet), there’s a pin built into the included eraser which is designed for such an occurrence. Simply unscrew barrel from the sleeve and poke the wire through to unclog the broken lead. Pentel also suggests to retracting the sleeve when not in use, which sounds like good advice, especially if you’re on the go and your pencil is rattling around with your other art supplies.
Regarding the leads, in Canada it's only available in one hardness, HB. Softer grades like B and 2B are sold in Japan. If you’re living in the City of Toronto, there’s a wonderful little stationary shop in the Junction neighbourhood which carries the Orenz and its replacement leads. I paid $2 for package of 12 leads.
Here’s a link to the Toronto shop: Take Note Store
If you’re ordering refills online from Japan, the packaging will appear different, but the same good stuff will be inside.
One thing small improvement I’ve made to the pencil was sliding on a rubber grip that I removed from a Paper Mate ballpoint pen. It’s a minor thing, but it makes the pencil a bit nicer to use.
What I don’t believe the Orenz is suitable for is big, bold line drawings. That’s when you want a nice stick of 6B graphite. No, the Orenz is a precision tool; you reach for this pencil when you need to draw subjects in exacting detail. Of course, the paper you choose is just as important. This Lynx skull was drawn on smooth surfaced Robert Bateman sketchbook paper. I’m doing some new drawings on Canson Illustration Board with similar results.
This is the first time I’ve used a Pentel product and I’m impressed. The Orenz also comes in other widths (0.3 mm, 0.5 mm & 0.7 mm) but I think the 0.2 mm is what makes it special.
I’m actually going to purchase a second pencil for myself. Some of my favourite art products have been discontinued without warning, and I’m not taking any chances when it comes to this (almost magical) pencil.