Craft Design Technology: The Project

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Today I got a dozen CDT pencils in the mail. As everyone knows, the pencils are made by Pentel. I have long wondered about the strange product name, the unusual color, and the limited availability of this item. Now that I’ve looked it up, it reminds me very much of the design project called WiLL (1999-2004).

I don’t know if this is done in other countries as well, but in Japan, once in a blue moon, there are these “design projects” in which several companies come together in a common branding exercise. WiLL, the most recent in memory (and the only one I know enough to tell you anything about) was a cross-industry branding campaign targeted at young women, and brought together such companies as Kao (cosmetics), Toyota (cars), Matsushita (later Panasonic, household appliances), and Asahi (beer). The brand WiLL was supposed to stand for a particular, individualistic, stylish way of life that women in their 20’s and 30’s supposedly aspired to, and each company in the consortium came up with quirky products that they thought would appeal to such a segment of the market (examples being these from Toyota and Asahi). The products were then branded with the orange WiLL logo (instead of the name of the manufacturer) and presented to the public as components of an organic whole. The reasoning was that, if you identified with the concept of WiLL, then you would presumably be happy with any WiLL product.

The project was relatively short-lived, because the products didn’t sell very well, and some sold less than others. (They realized that consumers shopped for individual items based on their own merits, not for a brand. Duh.) Also, there seem to have been differences among the firms in the way they approached, and benefited from, the brand.

Now, Craft Design Technology seems to be another of these consortiums, with a couple of notable differences: CDT concentrates on stationery and office products (its ultimate objective is to “transform the office”, it says), and there is a separate corporate entity (namely CDT) that provides the creative direction and conceptual design for the product line (developed together with such firms as Intentionallies and Winkreative).

The items themselves are made by CDT’s “partners”, reputable firms of long standing in the stationery industry. They are specialized producers of dependable products that work well and last forever. For example: Lion! I have a Lion stapler that’s exactly thirty-five years old and it still works fine! and Shachihata! When you go to work for a Japanese company you get a personal seal made by Shachihata that you can use to stamp all company documents that cross your desk. Shachihata is to seals what Kleenex is to tissues – they even call them Shachihatas. But you see what I mean – their image could use some jazzing up. And this is where CDT comes in: to present a collection of good but staid things in a new and consistently designed package.

And this in turn raises questions about the long-term viability of this type of collaboration. Design by its nature can become outdated – are they bringing out new, different lines? So far they seem to be pushing just that one line; if so, are they adding new products to the existing line often? (Three of the writing instruments made by Pentel for this line have gone out of production.) How popular are each of the items? Are they keeping the participating maufacturers equally happy, and are they cultivating new partnerships? Even if the pencils sell like hotcakes, if the other items are not selling, then we have to fear for the line itself. Well, they are in their ninth year now, and I do hope that the current stationery boom in Japan is giving them a boost. Item No. 17 (it says No. 18 on the box, but never mind) is said to have been the “starting point” for the whole collection, so its production is (hopefully) assured, but who knows? It would be exciting if Pentel were to make another sort of boutique pencil for a new CDT line…

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35 thoughts on “Craft Design Technology: The Project

    1. Yes, this is a recent purchase, and it didn’t have any quality control problems like the ones mentioned in the comments of your post about this pencil. And I really have to cultivate some contacts in Pentel ;)

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  1. ¶ “Item No. 17 (it says No. 18 on the box, but never mind)”
    I think CDT makes a subtle distinction between a single pencil and a box of a a dozen:
    Item No. 18 = 12 x Item No. 17.

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  2. Has this pencil been discontinued? I am aware that a couple of years ago there were rumors that it had been discontinued, yet they were still available. However, as of this year, every source I had for these no longer carries them, including pencils.jp

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    1. It seems Pentel may have indeed stopped producing this pencil – Bundoki marks it as “discontinued”. I’m asking Pentel about this, will let you know if I get a reply. It’s a shame :(

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      1. I’m still waiting for a reply from Pentel; meanwhile I tried to order some more from a Rakuten shop and they cancelled my order, saying they were out of stock and “no further restocking was scheduled”. That may pretty much mean that they’re gone…

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      2. I just got a reply from CDT and learned that the new pencil (item 23) is made by a different manufacturer and has a different lead so I assume that the item 23 doesn’t have a polymer lead.

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      3. Oh I see. BTW don’t you find the price (540 yen for three pencils) a bit steep? It’s more than the Hi-Uni! I wonder how the quality is. And doesn’t it say No. 32 on the pencil? I’ll correct my post if it isn’t :)

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  3. Fellow pencil aficionados, thank you for gaining more info on the CDT pencil line. I’m a bit sad to see that item 17 is no longer produced. I checked all the shops I purchased mine from, and they are all sold out and not restocking them.

    540JPY is rather expensive for only three pencils of the new version. I wonder who manufactures them or how good they really are. The new version reminds me of an Itoya Romeo No. 3.

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    1. Oh, have you tried them already? Frankly speaking I haven’t bothered getting the new versions (yet). I wonder what’s really behind the switch. Thanks for letting me know :)

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      1. I don’t think he’s tried it yet, it seems like he’s asking how good they are. I would definitely like to find out how they write.

        The way the erasers are attached to those pencils are like the Ito-ya Romeo No. 3 pencils. By the way, how do the Craft Design Technology pencils compare to the fabled Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602?

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      2. Oh, they are very different pencils, I don’t think they can be “compared” to each other in any meaningful way. The EF Blackwing is a dark, soft old-school pencil; the CDT is a bionic mint-green hybrid. Does that make sense? And thank you for the clarification – I am not familiar with Itoya pencils so I probably misunderstood.

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  4. Sorry about the confusion. Yes, I meant that they had the style of the Itoya pencil. Given the price, I’m hesitant to try the new CDT pencil. I felt like the CDT pencil and the Blackwing look nothing alike. Writing though, I would say the CDT feels like a mechanical pencil lead, firm but really smooth. The Blackwing is dark and soft, but also really smooth.

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    1. James, you’re right – the CDT item 17 had a burnt polymer lead which is similar to the thin leads used for mechanical pencils. The Pentel Black Polymer 999 had the same lead but was available in several grades; some say the Pentel Black Polymer 999 2B felt very similar to the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602.

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  5. So I tried item 32 and compared it to item 17. Compared to item 17, the new version’s pain is lighter and the pencil feels heavier in the hand. The eraser is pretty good, similar to CDT’s block eraser in performance. And, finally, the lead is not as smooth as the old version. The lead is softer and a touch darker. I don’t believe it to be a polymer lead. Undoubtedly, it still performs like a high quality pencil, but given the cost there are similar performing options for less money.

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    1. Oh! Thank you so much for letting us know – I was very curious. The old CDT was a bit light in the hand so the change weightwise is welcome news, but the stuff concerning the lead isn’t too heartening. I would really like to discover who makes these new CDT pencils (will post here if I hear anything). Thanks again Mephisto! :)

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  6. I neglected to mention, but on the back of the box it has the Camel Pencil logo. So, the new manufacturer is the Japan based Camel Pencil.

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    1. Thank you for this information! I hope people manage to stock up on this. It was really weird how this got pulled from the shelves across all Japanese online retailers so suddenly. I’m sure there are some remaining, somewhere…

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      1. Out of curiosity I have added the CDT pencils to my shopping cart and played with the quantity. It looks like there is only one dozen left – if I select “2” as the quantity I get the message “The requested quantity for “Craft Design Technology – Pencils – Set of 12 – HB” is not available.”

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      2. I think part of the problem is that they were never that widely available in the first place. Still, it’s surprising how supplies dried up so quickly. Such a shame!

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