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This page concerns itself with the different shapes, styles appearances and formats in which pencils are produced. It is an experimental page - hoping to stimulate some discussion and feedback. You could call it a first attempt at producing a classification system, including a standardised vocabulary - I have used the terms that I have developed in my own mind to describe different styles of pencil. No doubt I have reinvented the wheel and there are already standard terms in existence for some or all of these concepts. If so I would be glad to hear of them.

Much of this page would apply to all wood/graphite pencils, however the comments on common colours and styles of decoration refer really to "serious" pencils i.e. those meant for writing and drawing. Novelty pencils vary too much for generalisation in these matters.

Comments on this page are especially welcome


A pencil has three regions. The tip, the shaft , which bears some text and the head


Not much to say here. At the tip pencils are in four possible states:


 in the US almost all pencils are sold unsharpened

Factory Sharpened

in Europe all serious pencils are factory sharpened.

Hand Sharpened

 ie with a sharpener


 ie with a knife



Standard pencils come in two cross sections: hexagon and circle. Some specialist pencils are elliptical, octagonal or rectangular. Novelty pencils come in a variety of shapes - my collection includes hearts, triangles, squares and stars, I am sure there are others. In the UK triangular pencils have become very popular for souvenirs and for company advertising. Triangular pencils never (?) have an eraser


Standard diameter is approximately 6mm. Children's pencils are often larger. Novelty pencils often smaller


Pencils are usually painted, and then lacquered. Recently there has been a fashion for unpainted, unlacquered environmental pencils: e.g. Dixon Enviro. Rexel Office Pencil, Scwhan Stabilo 4908


Serious pencils in the US are often a standard dirty-yellowy colour. In the UK this colour is seen on the Berol Mirado, but otherwise rarely - our pencils tend to be more colourful, often using dark colours (olive green, purple, maroon and dark blue are popular) and use thicker, glossier lacquer.

Paint Effects

Stripes run vertically, up and down the pencil. Usually used in hexagonal pencils where the stripe will occupy a face of the pencil. In the UK Staedtler use stripes in its Traditional and Noris pencils to give a unique, differentiated look..

Sometimes a stripe is applied to the edges of a hexagonal pencil, often with a sanded or blurred effect. I think of this as an edging. E.g. the American Pencil Co Splendor model is red with pink edgings.

Bands are different from stripes because they run around the pencils. Writing and drawing pencils seldom have more than a single band, near the top of the pencil. A single band like this I think of this as a collar (see below)


The text on a pencil may be printed, embossed (raised from the surface) or inscribed (cut into the surface of the pencil). On American yellow pencils the text is usually black, on UK pencils the text is often gold. Text is oriented in four possible ways:

Right Handed

From tip to head

Left Handed

From head to tip (the right way up when held in the left hand)


Small lettering running around the pencil. Not often used for serious pencils


Letters printed one one top of the other so the text reads vertically from head to tip. Never used for serious pencils


Three types of head exist:

With Eraser

Erasers are attached to the pencil with a metal or plastic ferrule. Quality pencils in the UK rarely have erasers: in general here the more you pay for a pencil the less likely it is to have an eraser. In the US most pencils have erasers


Sliced straight across to reveal bare wood and expose the end of the lead


In any way rounded in shaped at the top. These are painted in one of three formats::

  • Simply extending the colour used on the shaft to cover the head of the pencil

  • Using different coloured paint for the head, extending part of the way (usually about 1 cm) down the side of the pencil. I think of this format as a hood. The hood is very often divided from the shaft colour by a thin band of white (or other coloured) paint. I think of this band as a collar. The hood / collar / shaft is a very common colour format for top quality UK pencils.

  • Different coloured paint is used just on the very end of the pencil not extending down to the shaft. I think of this as a lid