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  In which I settle the great Mono debateJun 04, 2013 1:28 AM PDT | url
Added 1 new A* page:You may recall that a little over a week ago I got a new pencil, the US-market version of Japanese company Tombow's respected Mono 100 pencil. And I tried it against the other big Japanese pencil, Mitsubishi's Hi-Uni, and the Mono I'd found at my tiny little local art supply store was better--for my purposes--than the expensive rival import, so I've been using the Mono to draw A* ever since.
But something was nagging at me: import purists maintain that the Mono 100 Tombow sells in Japan is superior to the Mono they ship Stateside. This "Journaling Arts" blog article neatly encapsulates key points of the great transpacific Mono debate: it begins with a reviewer attempting to show that the Japanese Mono 100 and US Mono are equally good in their drawing quality, but slightly different; import elitists then come into the comment section and say that obviously the 100 is superior, as the US Mono must certainly be the same as what is called the just plain Mono in Japan, which is a pencil Tombow Japan sells over there at a distinctly lower price than the 100, and indeed their Japanese literature describes the 100's lead as having significantly improved graphite density over the Japanese plain Mono; arguments over which actually draws better go back and forth, and then near the end of the comments comes someone quoting Tombow USA's answer to the question on the difference, which is that "the lead for the [US version] Mono and Mono 100 are exactly the same. Itís the wood and paint that are different. The Mono have the better paint thickness being 8 times instead of 6 times."
That sounded good! But was it true, or just misleading American marketing? Well the only way to know for sure was to compare the two versions myself, so I got some imported Mono 100s from Jetpens for nearly three times the price for which you can get the US-market Mono in bulk online in the States. Looking at their respective packaging for a dozen of each, you have to say that the Japanese 100s in their dark plastic with transparent hinged lid certainly make a strong case:
Notice also that whoever was in charge of the latest packaging redesign at Tombow USA appears to have decided that "Mono" is not a name that's going to fly off the shelves here in the States, so they left it off the box entirely (it was included in the earlier version of the packaging, which you can still see at that last link), leaving them named what had previously been just their subtitle: "Professional Drawing Pencil." Inspiring and instantly forgettable, nice job. : P It's a slightly different story once you get them out of the case, though:
Fortunately, the US Mono, sporting a distinctive if slightly garish painted white cuff near the end, still has the "Mono" monogramming, even if it isn't printed as sharply as on the Japanese version. I'm not altogether keen about the thin white stripe that loops over the butt of the Japanese pencils, though, and you can see that the body of the US version is much more of a real black than the 100, which is actually a dark blue by comparison. I wonder if that's due to the two additional layers of lacquer on the US ones--you can kind of feel the additional thickness of the paint when you hold them, too--or so I have fooled myself into believing; like, the hexagonal edges of the body are slightly more rounded. As Tombow USA marketing stated, the woods do appear to be a bit different: the wood of the Japanese pencils is a little darker, although this is only really obvious before they are sharpened (I forgot to get the faces of the unsharpened ends in the photo, oh well :p), and somewhat more aromatic, with that pleasant cedar smell; the American version has a nice smell for a while after sharpening too, but it is not as strong and fades away more completely with time. Both cut easily in a sharpener, and have their leads nicely centered.
I'm pretty sure Tombow USA was also right about the leads being identical between the two: my final drawing test page is below, with the US Mono being the top scribble patches, and the rightmost head sketch, and the Japanese Mono 100 the others...or actually it could be the other way around; I don't remember because I did this test a week or so ago and they really do draw exactly the same:
So there you go! I, at any rate, am completely satisfied that the Mono (aka "Professional Drawing Pencil" :PP) sold here in the States has the exact same, really really nice lead as the Mono 100s you can import from Japan--at least in the "H" grade I use, as I didn't bother trying any other grades. The imported model smells a little nicer, has higher quality printing on it, and comes in a much more imposing case, but the paint job isn't quite as nice and anyway none of that stuff really matters, or at least not 3x-the-price matters. Oh well one thing I did neglect to point out in the second photo is that, as you can see, the Japanese version is 4 mm longer, so I suppose that goes a teensy way toward making up the large price difference.
Whoop actually I am going to post a photo of the ends of the unsharpened pencils after all:
That's the US-market version in the stack on the left, and the Japanese on the right. I had been about to say that more of the Japanese versions had slightly off-center leads than the US versions did, but after squinting at them all a few more times...I think it's pretty much a toss-up. Some of the leads are ever-so-slightly off center, which could mean that they don't sharpen as easily and wear more unevenly than they ideally should, but these imperfections are so slight that they probably won't be noticeable in practice.
As I was trying to get a slightly sharper photo I accidentally nicked the table and my nice neat pencil stacks collapsed. So we'll go with this one!
Oh yeah also I only got one page drawn today because I spent all afternoon playing with a dozen different Japanese erasers, all of which were superior to the German eraser I've been using all this time. I will indeed have an overly long write-up on erasers fairly soon, but I'm waiting for one more to arrive--the most popular import eraser, which was out of stock when I ordered the others last week, but just came back in today. : p Two other brands--including a fabled eraser that was discontinued a year or two ago due to probably overblown health concerns--are also en route, but they're coming from Hong Kong and may be a couple weeks, so I won't wait for those. : P
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