When I first began seminary, I used my laptop for all of my notetaking. Thanks to Evernote, I was able to conveniently keep all of my notes in one, very organized place, and because I bought my textbooks on Kindle, I was able to export the highlights from my books into an Evernote document, causing my organization for school to be pretty good, if I’m honest.
However, my second semester, I was enrolled in a class that did not allow me to take notes on my laptop, but required everyone in the class to take notes by hand in a notebook. I found that the task of condensing the lecture into notes and writing it out by hand caused me to remember it more effectively. Also, it was around this time that I was introduced to the beloved Blackwing pencils. Through this journey over the last year of starting to take notes by hand and discovering new pencils, I have found some pencils that work especially well for note taking.
Qualifications of a good note taking pencil
Not all pencils are created equally. Depending on the grade of graphite (see blog post from CW Pencils about pencil grades) the ability to be able to take notes well with a pencil can change. For me, there are four points that I look for, starting with the most important. These points came from a helpful post over at Pencil Revolution
When sitting in a long lecture, no one wants to have to get up, go to the trash can, and sharpen their pencil, or dump their shavings in an empty coffee cup, as I have been known to do. The ability of a pencil to be used for an extended period of time and retain a good point is a very important trait in a good note taking pencil
Aside – depending on the class, if the lecture is typically slower, where I do not need to take notes very quickly, or if there are designated times in the class for questions from the class, I will usually use a pencil with a lower level of point retention because I have time to sharpen in those segments.
The feeling of having a pencil scratch across a page while I am writing for an hour and a half to three hours isn’t high up on my list of enjoyable feelings. For taking notes, I want to make sure the pencil I am uses moves smoothly across the page, with little to no scratchiness.
Some pencils write really well, but the line that is left is still pretty light. I want to be able to have nice dark letters as I write without having to press down too firm.
This is something that isn’t such a big deal to me, but to my left handed friends, this is a big deal. After writing something on a piece of paper, there needs to be little to no smearing of the graphite across the page, or left on your hand.
Some of the pencils I use in class do not meet all four of these categories. Sometimes I use one that has really good point retention and smear resistance, but the smoothness or darkness isn’t that great. When it comes to pencil use, there is one rule of thumb for me: use the ones that you like. Everyone has different tastes and preferences when it comes to writing utensils. Find a pencil that works for you, and use it!
My favorite pencils for note taking
General’s Cedar Pointe #1 (their #2 is really good too) is made here in the U.S.A, and looks like the kind of pencil Ron Swanson would use. Actually, it looks like the kind of pencil Ron Swanson would make! Made with unfinished cedar from California, it is a beauty. The reason I like their #1 over their #2 is because of that extra softness and smoothness that the graphite has. It still has excellent point retention and darkness, but does tend to smear just a little bit, lefties beware!
Palomino Forest Choice #2 is one of my favorites because it is FSC Certified. “FSC certification indicates that the wood a pencil is made of has been sustainably sourced and that the company harvesting it is committed to reforestation and responsible environmental practices. Most high-quality pencils these days are FSC certified but the Forest Choice was the very first certified pencil ever made. ” Besides that great reason, the Forest Choice is just a really good #2 pencil. It is moderately priced at $3 for a dozen, and it writes really well.
Palomino Blackwing 602 is a pencil that I have already written extensively about. Of the three main Blackwings, this is a preference for note taking. The point retention is higher on this one than in the other three, so it lends itself well to writing for extended amounts of time. Pair that with the buttery smoothness of the graphite, and the dark lines, the 602 is a winner!
Palomino Blacking Pearl is another pencil I have written about (see link above). While this one is generally my favorite of the three main Blackwings, if I am in one of my classes that is a 3 hour lecture, I normally won’t use a Pearl, because the graphite is just slightly too soft, causing poor point retention for extended writing. However, for a shorter class, or for a chapel or church service, the Pearl is a go to.
Craft Design Technology HB this is one of my most recent discoveries, and the one that my wife loves the most of the many pencils I now have. It is made in Japan, so even though it is a #2, the graphite is slightly softer than the #2 pencil you would get that is made in America. If you’re the type of person that likes pencil, but doesn’t want all of the pomp and pizazz of the Blackwing, this is the pencil for you! Even though it runs slightly softer than a #2, it doesn’t smear much at all, and it retains a point really well. The eraser on it is really good, and it’s a really cool color. I mean, where else can you find a pencil that is that shade of blue and its not in a kids goody bag?
Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood HB this is a pencil that I would not recommend as a first pencil for someone who is new to the pencil world. At $4.50 per pencil (yes, per pencil. Not per dozen), it is a pretty steep cost. The Swiss Wood is slightly larger in diameter than an average pencil, so finding a pencil sharpener that it works well in can be a trick. I have torn up a Swiss Wood a few times trying to sharpen it, and it was not pretty. However, this pencil writes like a dream! It is super smooth, holds a point really well, and it is really cool to look at! As an added plus, if you smell (yes, smell) the tip of this pencil, or as you are sharpening it, you will smell brown sugar. How cool is that?!
CWPE Black Wood is my new favorite pencil. I have been using it in all of my classes for the last few days, and it is awesome! Made by Caran d’Ache, it is an exclusive to CW Pencil Enterprise, the place I buy all of my pencils from (all of the pencil links above will take you to their store). This pencil is also slightly larger in diameter, like the Swiss Wood, but fits into sharpeners just fine. It writes very smoothly, has great point retention, and MAN! does it look cool!
Who says taking notes in class can’t be enjoyable? The use of a good pencil brings the enjoyment level up much a higher, and it becomes a good talking point with the people sitting around you. Most of the pencils listed above can be ordered as singles, (the only exception are the ones from Palomino), so order a few, and try them out. You’ll find yourself looking forward to class lectures, at least just so you can use a great pencil.