Designer Toolkit: The Kuru Toga mechanical pencil

A mechanical pencil with a twist

Red Kuru Toga with red lead

Designer Toolkit is a new weekly series on Sketchbook B that will highlight an analog tool that designers should be using.


Why designers will love THE KURU TOGA:

Precise, consistent lines. The Kuru Toga is a Japanese mechanical pencil with a cool trick... the lead rotates every time you pick up the tip of the pencil, keeping the point even and consistent. Great for sketching or taking notes.

Range of thicknesses. Kuru Togas are available in .03, .05 and .07 mm. Pick the line thickness that's perfect for your sketching style. 

Colored lead. Some Kuru Togas come with colored lead to match their body color. I've got a red Kuru Toga with red lead (pictured above) that's great for marking up proofs. 


Things to know:

U.S. vs Japanese models. In U.S. retail channels, you can find a limited selection of Kuru Togas, so you can pick up a basic model at your local Staples. But if you want more options — and trust me, you do — order from a company like Jet Pens and select from a wider variety. 

Disney edition. Love Mickey? You can get Japanese Disney-themed Kuru Togas through Jet Pens. 


How much?

The Uni Kuru Toga starts at about $5. You can find the entire range at Jet Pens.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he apparently talks too much about pens and pencils. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Beyond Moleskines, Field Notes and Sharpies

Finding the best tools for designers

Designers love their Moleskines, Field Notes and Sharpies. And all of these are great tools. Go to any meeting of designers, look around and that’s pretty much all you see.

But about a year ago, I discovered the Pen Addict podcast and an entirely new world of pens, pencils and paper. A range of outstanding tools for writing and sketching that I never knew existed. Modern fountain pens. Japanese pens you can’t get in the standard US retail channels. Nice mechanical pencils. Wooden pencils. Sharpeners. New notebook brands.

Very few designers seem to know about the range of options that are out there and I really think designers would enjoy these writing instruments.

So I’m starting a new weekly series: Designer Toolkit.

Each Friday, I’ll profile a pen, pencil or paper product and tell you why designers should try it out. (The first post — about the Kuru Toga mechanical pencil — is already up.) And since many of these materials aren’t available in your local office supply store, I’ll let you know where you can get them.

These new tools may or may not replace your Moleskines, Field Notes and Sharpies. But they will open up a whole world of tools that you didn’t even know existed.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. In his spare time, he talks too much about pens and pencils. Follow Bob on Twitter and Instagram.

Review: Nock Co. Brasstown

When I purchased my second fountain pen, I started to think about purchasing a case to hold my pens, but I wasn’t impressed with most of the options on the market. They didn’t really fit my style and needs.

Finally, I came across cases from Nock Co., co-owned by Brad Dowdy from the Pen Addict podcast. Their cases were exactly what I was looking for. I also love that Nock Co. is located a few hours down I-20 from me in Atlanta* and all of their products are manufactured in the USA. 



I was instantly drawn to the Brasstown, a durable nylon case zippered case with a fold out insert that holds six pens. (Material-wise, it reminds me of my beloved Timbuktu messenger bag.) The Brasstown looked perfect, but it seemed like overkill for my two pens so I ended up not buying anything.

Fast forward a few months and my collection of writing instruments had grown. I started looking for a case again, and this time, the Brasstown made sense.

Nock offers their cases in a selection of “colorways” — pairings of colors that span across all their products. I liked a couple of the options, but wasn’t sure which one to get. When I finally decided to order, though, all of the Brasstowns were out of stock. 

After a couple of weeks, they restocked – and this time – with a new colorway: Red/Midnight. I instantly fell in love and ordered one. 

On the Red/Midnight Brasstown, the outside of the case is a bright red with a navy blue insert. The insert is sewn into the case and unrolls to reveal six slots. Each slot holds a single fountain pen but you can fit two smaller pens into each pocket if you want to.

The stitching is gray and looks sharp, especially on the navy insert. The zipper has two sliders and seems sturdy.

Brasstown, Open

Brasstown, Open

I was pleasantly surprised by how much the Brasstown holds. As expected, it easily holds my three fountain pens, my mechanical pencils and a couple of gel pens. But you can also put other pens and accessories in the main compartment. I’ve got mechanical pencil lead, erasers and more in the bag. And there is plenty of room for more. I can’t imagine ever needing another bag.**

The Brasstown is $35 and I highly recommend one if you are looking for a larger case to tote around your precious writing instruments. I’m very happy with mine.

(If the Brasstown is too big for you, check out some of Nock Co.’s other options. The Chimneytop and Lookout are different approaches, but also look awesome.)

* Their cases are named for mountains in Georgia. Nice touch.

** If they ever release a black/neon green or garnet/black colorway, I’ll be buying the entire line.

New Pencils: Delful and Kuru Toga

Pilot Delful (top) and Uniball Kuru Toga (Bottom)

Pilot Delful (top) and Uniball Kuru Toga (Bottom)

My pen obsession has spread to mechanical pencils. I bought two new pencils recently from Jet Pens. Both are Japanese pencils and you won’t find them at your local Staples.

A couple of things that apply to both pencils. First, the packaging is great – especially for the Delful. I’m used to American packaging that you basically have to destroy to open. This packaging just folds open — no scissors required. Also, both ship with a much higher quality lead than most normal pencils ship with. It makes a big difference. 

Pilot Delful

Love the packaging on the Pilot Delful

Love the packaging on the Pilot Delful

The Pilot Delful is a “double knock” design. You click to extend the point and then shake to advance the lead. (You can also click lightly to advance the lead.) Retracting the point means there is no sharp point to stab you in the leg when you are carrying it in your pocket.

The Delful is attractive and easy to write with. It’s a little bigger than most pencils, with a more substantial grip. You can get several different color options, but it is only available in a 0.5 mm lead size. I opted for a green and blue design.

The shaker mechanism takes some getting used to. I’m used to clicking to advance — so I’m glad you can still do that. But I think the whole shaking thing will eventually become second nature.

The eraser is pretty nice and the cap that covers it is large enough that you shouldn’t lose it.

The Delful is $8.25 from Jet Pens and is available in a range of colors. (I may have to pick up the black/green version, too.)

Uniball Kuru Toga

The UniBall Kuru Toga is a very well regarded mechanical pencil. The unique feature of the Kuru Toga is that the lead rotates every time you pick the pencil up off the page, helping the lead wear evenly. There simply is nothing like it on the market.

I purchased another Kuru Toga — a 0.7 mm American version — a few months ago. In the U.S., the only options are whether you want 0.5 mm or 0.7 mm lead. The Japanese versions come only in 0.3 mm and 0.5 mm, but are offered in a variety of colors. I ordered a green version. The top looks vaguely metallic, but it’s all plastic.

The Kuru Toga feels great and has a subtly knurled grip. My only complaint is that the little cap that covers the eraser is tiny and I feel like I’m going to lose it. (The eraser is tiny, too.*)

I really love my 0.7 mm Kuru Toga** and I’m looking forward to working the 0.5 mm into rotation. 

The Kuru Toga that I purchased is $7.50 at Jet Pens, but Kuru Togas range in price from $4.65 to $16.50.

I’m just starting to use these two pencils on a regular basis, but I really think either of these are a nice choice if you are looking to get something a little better than the run of the mill mechanical pencil that you get from the office supply store. (There is a whole range of pencils out there that I look forward to trying out.***) I also think that better quality lead might be a big part of the improved experience.

* I’m beginning to think the eraser on a mechanical pencil is like the pop up flash on an SLR: usable in a pinch, but if you are serious, buy an external unit. I bought some black polymer erasers to try out.

** My 0.7 mm version now has non-photo blue lead in it. Pretty sweet.

*** Check out this Lamy Scribble and this Rotring 600. Not sure I can justify the expense, but they look awesome.