Historically, pencil makers have used graphite grading scales like 2H or 2B to indicate the hardness and darkness of the core. Although there is a certain charm to these letters, for some it poses questions when selecting pencils. And because they typically come unsharpened when first purchased, there’s no way of testing them. So Japanese designer Kazuya Ishikawa came up with a simple way of visualizing what type of graphite is in each pencil.

Ishikawa’s proposal is for a series of pencils with a sample line pre-printed along the pencil, clearly indicating the thickness and darkness of the graphite scale. It’s a solution that elegantly combines graphite density and thickness with typography, all within the limited space of a pencil.

The proposal recently won honorable mention at the 14th Shachihata New Product Design Competition, paving the way for it to be potentially brought to market.

Followers of this blog will know of Japan’s love of stationery and that the country has more than one design competition solely devoted to the category. This competition in particular is sponsored by Shachihata, one of Japan’s leading makers of writing tools and stamps. And it’s judging panel includes some of the country’s most-well known designers including Kenya Hara, Naoto Fukasawa and Yugo Nakamura.