I’ve been curious about the Zebra DelGuard for a little while. As some one who used to primarily write with mechanical pencils, I know all too well the frustration of broken pencil leads. The Zebra DelGuard system is designed to absorb stress against your pencil lead, and prevent that breakage. How could you not get excited about that?
The packaging for the Zebra DelGuard is simple, which fits its price tag of roughly $7 give or take, depending on retailer. You have a cardboard-backed blister-pack containing one pencil in either white, blue, or black, and a spare tube of 0.5mm HB grade leads. There are other DelGuard models out there in the world with other barrels and grips and colors, and even 0.7mm and 0.35mm lead options, but this particular trio is the basic offering in the US market and a great way to take a look at the DelGuard dual-spring mechanism that is at the proverbial center of the whole thing.
When you unscrew the grip of the DelGuard you are privileged to bear witness to a beautiful piece of engineering. Zebra’s shock absorption system utilizes an additional spring to cushion your pencil lead from pressure both directly and at an angle. There are other pencils out there with different types of mechanisms built in to their barrel tips involving lead rotation or sleeve retraction, but in terms of preventing pain points, stopping a thin pencil lead from snapping really does seem like number one, to me. After all, you can rotate your pencil in your hand if you really want to, and a stationary lead sleeve can be engineered in a non-obstructive manner (like the DelGuard itself is), but lead breakage you can only really deal with otherwise by trying to find a more break-resistant brand and grade of lead, so the idea of a pencil that opens you up to choose your lead for how it looks or how it feels, not just if it breaks, is a very exciting notion.
So, with all of that said, how does the DelGuard pencil actually perform? I’m happy to report that the mechanism here is more than just marketing; I was able to extend the lead further than I’m normally comfortable doing for a 0.5mm refill, and I could barely feel the springs absorbing my writing pressure when I wasn’t deliberately paying attention for it. I’ll admit that I did manage to accidentally break the lead once in my testing, but only once. (I did it once on purpose too, because it’s hard to resist challenging packaging with “UNBREAKABLE” in all caps.) My wife, an avid mechanical pencil user, who is a left handed under-writer and often (but not always) tilts her page 45 degrees in towards herself, tested one of these pencils as well, and she had less luck than I did. She reported that she had some trouble with the pencil lead breaking, specifically when she would first come at the page. She believes this was due to a combination of coming down hard for her initial pencil strokes with a lot of pressure, and the particular angle at which she was coming to the page. Ultimately, my wife choose to return to using a different 0.7mm pencil model, to mitigate breakage by using a thicker lead. All of this to say, this is a $7 mechanical pencil. If you buy it expecting it to 100% eradicate the issue of lead breakage, which still exists in pencils that cost many times more, you are going to be disappointed. But if you recognize what it is and where it sits in the marketplace, it is an impressive piece of engineering that I look forward to continuing to play with.
The pencils above were provided by Zebra Pen for review purposes.