Pencil Pornication: The Sequel

Thursday, 17 March 2011

To those new here, you might want to read this post first.


Without much further ado, here is your :


First thing to remember is that BRAND NAMES DON’T MEAN SHIT.
Your brands do not manufacture your pencils. They all source from the same suppliers.

So if you think that you have to buy a particular brand to get quality- you are mistaken and are only spending unnecessarily more.

What happens is this :
  1. Brands give a brief to suppliers specifying the characteristics they want from their liners. 
  2. The suppliers then propose a gamut of textures that fulfill the brief.
  3. Brands choose a texture and the colors from that texture.  
  4. If the colors they want are not yet available in that texture, the suppliers will color match according to brands' specification.
  5. The brands will specify how they want the pencils decorated.
  6. Suppliers are free to propose the same texture in the same color to any other brand out there.
There is no exclusivity.  Because there is no need for it.*
Once the pencils are branded, we will all think they are different.

I have mentioned that the biggest suppliers come from Germany, Italy, France.  They are all good suppliers.
  • Germany is the biggest supplier/s (there are at least 3 manufacturers there) and they are reliable factories which is why so many brands buy from them.
  • Italy is very good, very innovative but smaller capacity and does not have as much clients. But i say, quality and innovation wise, I like my Italian supplier better .
  • France is third in line. Good innovation, reliable supplier, decent quality. Though their innovations are less than the Italians, their innovations are very marketable.
There are other suppliers elsewhere and perhaps they are good.
But as I have no personal experience working with them, I cannot say anything about them though I encourage you readers to contribute your experience.*

That out of the way, these are what you have to know when evaluating a make up pencil- the same criteria that brands use.

1) PENCIL LENGTH.  Go for standard.

All the suppliers get a standard size of wood for the pencils. This is why your pencils all come in almost  the same size. (around 12-13cm if i remember right)

However, some brands decide to deviate from the standard to look premium (they go extra longer  for example), it will mean more wastage and thus higher cost- not very wise.

So standard length gives you best value for money.

2) DECOR.  Go for simple.

What I mean by decor is the paint finish outside, the thing that makes it pretty. It is as useless indication of quality as the brand name.

The fancier the decor (matt or shiny paint, special effects, brush or sponge tips, shrink wrap protection), the more needlessly expensive.

This is one way a premium brand can distinguish themselves from mass brands but it is no indication that the textures used are better. So, try not to be swayed by fancy decor if what you really are after is good value for money.

I know that it is important that products be pretty (it is, even to bullshit averse me). But think about it, you apply liners in the comfort of your home and will tend not to reapply it at midday, so why pay extra for nicer packaging?

3)  SPECIAL CAPS AND TIPS. Must you really?

A way to make you think that the pencil is special is to add a special accessory either at its base or  in the cap- like a smudger or a brush applicator.
If you are semi serious with make up, you know that this is pretty lame.
So, better to avoid if you can and spend less.
(photo nicked from i don't know where anymore)

3) PENCIL CROSS SECTION SHAPE.  There is more to this than round.
  • ROUND is standard and easy to work with.  It is also logistically easier for brands to adapt.
    Disadvantage: you only have one point and have to sharpen accordingly if you want finer point
  • OVAL is a rare shape but is very handy.  It is available with suppliers but very few brands order it (because they lack imagination and daring and want more sales with more classic formats).
    But it is excellent to work with - specially for eyebrow liners- One point can give you a fine and thick line (line and fill) depends how you angle the pencil (like a calligraphy brush). Great for semi experts out there.
    Disadvantage: you have to buy its own oval sharpener and that’s a major decision point for brands because it means they have to convince consumers to buy the sharpener or give it away as part of package.
  • TRIANGLE can be surprisingly easy to control as it rests well between your fingers. But also quite rare for same reason as oval shape.

4) PENCIL THICKNESS. Size matters.
  • STANDARD is the ideal size for most eye and lipliners
  • JUMBO is a good size if you use your lipliner for filling or your eyeliner as shadow
  • ULTRA JUMBO - this thickness is used for multi usage products that gets applied to cheeks/eyes or cheeks/lips.
  • MICRO- extremely good for eyebrows

5) MUST YOU REALLY GO AUTOMATIC? Sharpening has its advantages you know.

Automatic pencils have their obvious advantage that you do not have to sharpen them.  Which is fine if that is your priority.  

But remember that with this, there are three major disadvantages:
  1. In general, the packaging itself of automatic pencils costs more than the packaging of wooden pencils
  2. If lead breaks inside- even if you have not consumed all the lead, it is a goner- you have to throw it away.
  3. The lead texture is limited in hardness
    In automatic pencils, the lead hangs inside the plastic container unlike in wooden pencils which is totally embedded/supported by the wood.  This has an implication to the texture.  That means that the texture should be hard enough so that even if it is thin, it will not break inside the plastic encasing.  This is acceptable if you have want a fine hard line especially with eyebrows.  But if you want a softer, smudgeable texture-  automatic pencils are not the best.
Important to note that there are two types of automatic pencils- the retractable and the non-retractables.

Non- retractable means, that once you have twisted the lead out, you can not untwist it to get the lead back in.
Retractable, you can twist it out and then untwist it back down.

We marketeers tend to promote retractable as a big selling point.  
BUT- retractable is more expensive and texture wise, requires even a harder lead!

So, personally, i see no real advantage in retractables and would not recommend it. 


Wooden pencils are not what they used to be.  
A lot of them are in fact- PLASTIC.  

And this is where you will LEARN - a lot.

Come on now, take a look at your pencils-
Some are still real wood, 
(this photo is shamelessly nicked from shutterstock)
some are plastic with natural wood or black color

Also look at the base tips and the caps.
Do you notice ones with capped bottoms like these

or special shaped caps with an indention like this:

Nifty innit?  

Well, the reason for this is not just decorative.
And here is how to interpret them.
Do you want more performance from your liners, something like -
A liner that can be drawn fine but is also smudgeable?
Or perhaps, a liner that stays put throughout the day?
Or what about a water resistant, transfer resistant liner?
Or a soft liner that has super adherence?
The better textures like these have sophisticated ingredients like silicons, (polymers, resins) or volatiles

(Ok, think what you want to think, but silicons are great when used in cosmetics.  They are expensive yes, but the performance is worth the price.  Gawd I drool when i evaluate silicone enhanced formulas- that is of course just in my head, as a professional, i am not supposed to show that i am peeing in my pants over make up)

Thing with these fancy ingredients are that they sometimes tend to be too soft to be in automatics.
So they have to be embedded in a "wooden" pencil.  

Another thing with these, some actives react with wood, so they might need something that is less reactive to the formula, and for this, we have different types of plastics to the rescue.

To get good adherence in our formula, we often employ "volatiles" as ingredients.
How they work- the process of you applying the liner, the volatiles escape from the formula and this process of escaping helps to fix the texture to your skin and makes it stay there for a long time.

Thing with these volatiles is that they have to be kept in air tight containers.
If you see those caps at the bottom tip of your liner or that specially shaped cap, your formula has volatiles which will make them have good adhering properties.

Important thing to remember is to always close the cap.  If you don't you will see that your textures will shrink indicating the evaporation of volatiles.  Formula is not toxic, you can still use them, but they are no longer as adherent as they should be.

Anyway, this might be a hasty generalization but a good rule of thumb is that the more sophisticated read, better) formula will be in a plastic "wooden" pencil with airtight caps.  


BUT, of course after the packaging has given you an indication, YOU still have to test the formula and the color that suits you.

Great that pencils can be sharpened off so you lessen the risk of contamination when using store samples.  As well, if you want a long lasting pencil, test them first in a store, do your shopping and what not and check if it really lasted before you buy.  You will be surprised how much money you will save this way.

If you find what you liked in an expensive brand, take note of how it is packaged and look for a similar formula by taking a cue of the packaging used.  You may not stumble upon the exact same texture and color but you can have a close approximation at a much cheaper price.

And so there you have it.
Beauty without the Bullshit.