A Classic Pencil
Hand-drawing has always been a fickle pursuit of mine. I go through long periods where I don't pick up a pencil much less attempt to draw anything, though oddly I'm always acutely aware of things worth drawing, going so far as to make mental notes, collecting photos and so on. Well, it seems we’re back on good terms.
My supply of pencils was dangerously low and hasn't been updated in a long time so this was the perfect opportunity to put a recently received gift card (a not-so-subtle hint, perhaps?) to good use at the local art shop so I decided to do a bit of research to familiarize myself with what's hot and what's not in the world of graphite pencils. It was clear that Tombow was a highly regarded brand along with Uni Hi-Uni. Since Tombow was the more readily available of the two I grabbed a couple dozen covering the entire line.
These are n-i-c-e. Smooth… creamy even, with none of the small, hard scratchy bits of graphite. They hold a point well and the tip seems reasonably strong - subjectively at least as good if not better than other high-end brands I've used. Overall the wear is what I would call normal, but this will of course depend on how you use them, the type of media etc.
The density seems accurate, if perhaps a tiny bit softer than what I'm used to. The core was centered and the shafts were straight, no ‘bananas’. So far I've used them on Canson vellum, Strathmore 500 hot-press 2- and 3-ply bristol, Arches 140# watercolor paper and even newsprint and I couldn't be happier. By far the best pencils I've used for photorealistic drawing.
A Little Tombow History
Such was my curiosity about the history of these Japanese babies I did some more poking around and have come to find out that the predecessor to the Mono Professional is the legendary Mono 100 (often claimed as the Gold Standard for artists and animators) which used to be distributed in the U.S. but has for some reason been discontinued. Apparently the outcry was so great Tombow rereleased the pencils back into the wilds of the U.S. under the name Mono Professional. Here's where it gets a little fuzzy.
As I understand it when the Mono 100s all but disappeared from the U.S. market a few years ago a rumor started that they were no longer in production. Apparently this was inaccurate, they simply were no longer being distributed in the U.S. Production of the Mono 100 has never stopped and they continue to be distributed throughout Japan and Europe by Tombow Japan. While they can still be purchased in the U.S. from Bay Area online retailer JetPens for roughly $2.30 each, I don't believe a proper distribution network remains for the Mono 100 in the U.S. like there is for the now repackaged new(er) Mono Professional.
Tombow USA claims there are no material differences, the graphite is supposed to be identical, only the name has changed. However, Tombow Japan claims there is a slightly different graphite composition. Amazing how this all comes from the same company. Don't you just love marketing? However, opinions among long-time Mono 100 users is that there are noticeable if subtle differences, and while the Mono Professional is a very good pencil it's not on equal footing with the 100. Confused yet? I am.
‘Draw’ Your Own Conclusion
So, do you believe Tombow's marketing machine or the people who have used both models? I've never used the Mono 100 (yet) so I can't say. What I do know is the Mono Professional is indeed a very nice pencil and well worth purchasing, though I may have to pick up some 100s just to satisfy my own curiosity before they really do disappear.