Review of Five Very Cheap Yellow Pencils.

This is coming in a little late for true back-to-school season, which starts right after the 4th of July these days. To be sure, by the weekend before my daughter started the first grade, the aisles and bins were veritably picked clean.

Of course, you always find a sort of very cheap house brand yellow pencil that is often even cheaper for kids going back to school. I was happy, this year and last year, to see that my daughter’s classmates brought with them to school Ticonderoga pencils, USA Golds, and Yoobi pencils in many colors. Maybe you’re buying for an entire class on a really small budget. Maybe you’re stuck supplying an office with as many pencils for $7 as you can get. We’re here to help with your Very Cheap needs.*

It was a $1 pack of USA-made pencils in 2004 that got me interested in pencils. Very Cheaps hold a special place in my heart pencilcase. And, hell, I really like the aesthetics of a yellow pencil with a silver ferrule and pink eraser.


The Contenders
All of these pencils are under $2 for a dozen – often less than $1. All are yellow, No 2, and unsharpened – with pink erasers and silver ferrules. I sharpened them all with a Classroom Friendly Sharpener. I used Write Notepads & Co. Kindred Spirit paper to give them a fighting chance.
Target Up&Up
Office Depot
Walmart Casemate

Largest Quantity of Uncentered Cores in a Dozen
Office Depot. Nearly half of them were at least a little off. Off enough for a Pencil Person to take notice, anyway.

Most Erratic Cores
Staples/Dixon for a tie. Two or three from each dozen of these were bad enough that I’d only sharpen them with a knife in the forest if I had to leave a note to my family to explain how I let myself get eaten by bears.

None of these have great erasers. But the Dixon stood out as the worst. It’s scratchy and crumbly. They were all pretty crumbly. I think maybe perhaps possibly the Casemate erased the best. But the best erasing experience goes to the Staples pencil, with has a surprisingly soft eraser that didn’t hold a Pink Dangly on it after use.

Staples and Office Depot have the worst stamping, but it’s not really that terrible compared to some Semi-Cheaps. The Target Up&Up pencil actually has fantastic and tasteful stamping. I prefer the muted yellow of the Office Depot pencil for color. The Staples pencil has the thinnest and worst paint job. Best-applied lacquer goes to Casemate, with the Target pencil being a close second.

The Dixon has a truly terrible core; it scratches across the page and leaves a light mark. The darkest and smoothest core is the one in the Casemate pencil. It’s been postulated in the Erasable Group that it’s made by the folks who bring us Apsara and Nataraj pencils, and I’d easily believe this. The runner up is the Target Up&Up pencil, which is less dark than the Casemate – but it’s reasonably smooth.

Conclusion: Which should you buy?
Well, most of these are house brands. So that might be decided by what is closest to your office or school or where your school has an account.

If you can buy anything else, don’t buy the Dixon. It’s a terrible pencil. I’ve joked before that I keep one around to remind me that I have nice pencils. And, years later, this is still the case.

If you live near the standard selection of Big Box stores, get the Target Up&Up pencil. I say this because it dulls more slowly on toothy office paper than the darker Casemate.

If you have to pick either an Office Depot or Staples pencil, well, go for the Staples pencil. The better eraser on an otherwise nearly identical pencil put this one ahead. Plus, I saw that they make black Staples pencils now. You could order a box of those for your boss for brownie points!

* See Erasable Podcast for our periodic mentions of Semi-Cheaps, one of my favorite “class” of pencils.

** Not the Ticonderoga, which is a Semi-Cheap, not a Very Cheap.

7 thoughts on “Review of Five Very Cheap Yellow Pencils.”

  1. Hiya! It’s pleasant to see a review on economy store-brand pencils. I feel like I can do anything without losing too much (money).

    I tried looking for the black Staples pencils to no avail. I used to use their standard box of 48 back in middle school up to last year when it finally emptied. Where can I find these black versions? I only see Staedtler Noricas and Mirado Black Warriors.

  2. There is one cheap pencil you did not review. It is the Imagine brand pencil found at Dollar General Store. For a cheap pencil they sharpen nicely and keep their point. Every now and then there is one whose core keeps breaking. They have a nice black line and the cores are surprisingly solid (if you don’t count the one that keeps breaking). The Imagine pencil also writes very smooth. The Imagine brand is more ergonomic due to it being a bit thicker. If I had to choose between the Ticonderoga and the Imagine brand, give me the Imagine brand any day.

    I am somewhat of a pencil snob. I have used the more expensive varieties such as Blackwing, Tombow and others. You can have them. It seems that you end up paying more for the name than the quality. As I said before, give me the Imagine brand pencil any day and I will be perfectly happy.

  3. I’d accept the Staples pencils as a gift, or if they’re supplied by my school. I’d NEVER put my own money down for them.

    It has been my experience that out of a box of a dozen Staples #2’s, the leads of six will probably keep on breaking without sharpening. If you’re lucky, you might sharpen it down to about half of its length before you get a point.

    Also, the suppliers from Indonesia and China sometimes seem to make the Staples pencils with rotten wood; or wood that will just split the whole length as soon as the blade of your sharpener bites into it.

    I’d gladly buy an inexpensive pencil, but I don’t want to be sitting there trying to find the few in the box that actually sharpen. Experience has taught me to stay away from the Staples house brand.

    Smart Living is a bad buy for the same reason.

  4. Ugh! My school buys “Office Depot” pencils….I sharpen them with an electric sharpener, a very good one, and the lead breaks, and breaks, and breaks, and breaks, and breaks. This happens with approximately 80% of the pencils, and that’s a conservative estimate, probably closer to 90%. What a waste of time and money!

    1. ABsolutely! These manufacturers and retailers don’t care that they’re ripping off schools, offices, and general customers. Less than a dollar a pack is still money.

  5. I agree with Steven Jones, Office Depot pencils are complete garbage. I even got a brand new pencil sharpener and they still break on my students. Dixon is the only ones I’ve found so far that hold up under normal sharping………and since I’m on the hook to buy the unapproved brand, I really wish it wasn’t so !

  6. I will take Staples pencils only as a gift. I would not spend a wooden nickel on them.

    You were lucky with yours, it seems. I have found that out of a dozen Staples #2 pencils, the cores of at least four will break when sharpened with a hand sharpener; either that, or at least half the pack will be made with rotten wood. I actually wrote to their CEO about this, and got a story about things from the bottom of the pallet being crushed in shipping. However, I have had the experience described above happen too often for it to be the luck of drawing packs from the bottom of a shipping pallet. I believe it’s probably that they use an unscrupulous manufacturer somewhere in China or Indonesia who is willing to use rotting wood.

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