For Doctors: Dixon X-ray Pencils Discontinued

New update 5-12-11

It seems that the trusty Tru/Color Film Marker Black 2225 (the Dixon X-ray Pencils) has been discontinued (the box says Vis-Aid Film Marker Pencils 12225). When I called Dixon,  they said that its last production run was two years ago, that stock has now been sold and they are not going to make any more. For those that want to cut to the chase, my recommendation for a replacement is located here.

Dixon was recently bought out by the Italian company Fila (who also owns Lyra). To the disappointment of pencil collectors, most of the manufacturing has been shipped overseas. The latest batches of pencils have been labeled Tru/Color Film Marker Black 2225. I believe that they were made years ago before the product was labeled Vis-Aid 12225. I have pencils from different batches that perform the same. (A couple have a different metal cap on the end while the third has no cap.)

The initial customer service rep said that they could not get one of the materials for the pencils, later the customer service manager told me that they couldn’t get the metal cap on the end. She said that the real issue is that they were not making enough money on them. With the advent of digital x-rays the demand for the pencils have dropped. When I told her that there were many doctors that used these pencils daily and were willing to pay much more for them, she said, “well, I wish there were a million more of you”. My suspicion is that the original equipment and factory that these were made in is no longer in existence, and that if they were to produce these again, they would need to retool a factory in Mexico or China to produce them. With some of their other products, there seems to be a decrease in quality with the new overseas made pencils. Even if it were possible to get this pencil back into production, it is unlikely that it would be the “same”.

I have also found out that may of the competitors have also stopped making their products (namely the Pentel film lead in the “P” grades and Sanford/Berol/Prismacolor pencils and leads in the “E” hardness grades).

A few years ago, I purchased an order of pencil supplies and pencils from www.pencilthings.com. The pencils that I bought work on glass and plastic and were suitable for x-rays. I didn’t like any of them as much as the Dixon Tru/Color but after pulling them out and trying again, I found one that will work satisfactorily. After going to different art stores, I’ve found another that I like even better than the Dixon. I’ll have a review for my two recommendations as well as reviews of other pencils that I’ve tried and what about them didn’t work.

Before I review the pencils, I want to encourage all of you to get to get a pencil extender. They clamp on to the end of the pencil and allows you to use practically the full length of the pencil (when they are sharpened to a less than an inch in length, the extender will make them 5 inches long). Place some tape at the end of the pencil to help it stay firmly in the extender. You can find them at art stores and online. Pencil things usually has a great assortment of them.

I’ve also used hand pencil sharpeners for a couple of years now. I find that I can get a better point on them without making the line too light. Also, hand sharpening will keep you from over sharpening. Don’t waste your money on the ones from the big box office stores, they don’t work well. Go to an art store or online. My favorite are sharpeners made by KUM. They are German made and sharpen well. I have many, but my two favorites are the “metallic box” magnesium alloy sharpener and the POD with the magnesium alloy sharpener. I can’t replace the blades on the Pod, but I can sharpen the pencils down to less than an inch in length.

I tested more than ten pencils that (in retrospect) I can separate into three categories: graphite all surface pencils, black colored all surface pencils, and soft drawing pencils. The Dixon Vis-Aid/Tru-Color film marker is a graphite all surface pencil, meaning that the lead is primarily made up of graphite, and has a small amount of wax or grease that allows it to mark on a smooth surface like plastic, glass, or x-rays. It is not surprising that my two recommendations are from this category.

Colored “All” surface pencils are similar to China markers or grease pencils. They have a pigment (I used black) mixed in with a hard wax. The ones that I tried were encased in wood and could be sharpened. While I like these better than the traditional china markers, I could not draw a thin line with them, nor could they stay sharp.

Drawing pencils are graphite pencils that come in a variety of hardness and blackness. The higher the number in front of the “B” (which stands for Blackness), the darker the pencil and the softer it is. The higher the number in front of the “H”, (which stands for Hardness), the lighter the pencil and the harder it is. HB (which is similar to a #2 pencil) is the center of the scale with the “F” pencil a half-step harder than an HB. Please note the “F” stands for “Fine Point” and not for “Film” as the clerk at the art store told me (He sold me a bunch of “F” pencils that did not work).

I’ll review each of the pencils based on several criteria, the first I believe are essential to a good x-ray marking pencil, and the second are non-essential, but are useful in order to compare. The first group will be rated on a number scale from 0 to 5 with 5 being the best. The ideal replacement will score as well to the Dixon overall but not significantly worse in any of the categories:

Boldness: How easy it is to see the line.

Thinness: How thin I can make the line. While I may need to use a different technique to make a thin line, I am able to do so easily.

Scratch resistant: The lower the number the more scratches are made, the higher, the less scratches are made.
Sharpness/hardness: How long will it hold a point before I need to resharpen the pencil. A lower score can mean that it is either very soft or very brittle.
The next are non-essential but important factors in judging each of the pencils. They will be rated as poor, adequate, and good:

Comfort/ease of use: How comfortable is the pencil in my hand, how easy is it to maneuver and apply proper technique.

How well it sharpens in an electric sharpener: I used a Boston sharpener that I bought at Sam’s club several years ago.

How well it sharpens in a hand sharpener: I used a Kum “metallic box” metal sharpener listed above.

Aesthetics: how nice is the paint and quality of construction.

Here are the pencils tested:

Dixon Tru/Color FILM MARKER BLACK 2225 aka Dixon Vis-Aid FILM MARKER BLACK 12225  I wanted to properly describe the Dixon’s characteristics in order to find a good replacement.

Lyra Plast-O-Mark A good alternative to the Stabilo All.

Stabilo All Graphite 8008  This is my recommended replacement.

General’s Sketch & Wash #588

Faber Castell 9000 in 6B and 4B. (4B not recommended for films)

California Republic Palomino 2B

Lyra Orlow Cellucolor 6375 in Black

Staedtler Lumocolor non-permanent omnichrom 108-9 (black)

Stanford. DESIGN EBONY   Jet Black Extra Smooth 14420

 

Dixon Tru/Color FILM MARKER BLACK 2225 aka Dixon Vis-Aid FILM MARKER BLACK 12225.

I’ve used this pencil almost daily for the last eight years. While it was made in the USA it is no longer in production. Six-sided pencil. Needs tape on the end to use an extender.

Boldness: 3

I gave the Dixon a 3 because there are several others that produce a darker line.

Thinness: 5

This is one of the most important criteria to me, one that the Dixon excels at.

Scratch resistant: 3

While the Dixon cleans well with an eraser or alcohol, leaving no marks when you look straight on, if you look at the film at an angle you will see small scratch marks. I like a sharp point, and over the years I have noted that I will sometimes get a permanent mark on my x-rays.

Sharpness/Hardness: 4

Comfort/ease of use: Good. This is a six sided pencil that is the thinnest of the bunch. While an ideal pencil might be a little bigger, I like that the corners are not sharp. After 10 years of using it, it is definitely the most familiar of the bunch.

Comfort/glide of lead: Fair

There was a slight granular feel as it went across the film compared to other pencils

How well it sharpens in an electric sharpener: Good. I will note that every once in a while I have gotten one that has the lead broken throughout the shaft. These could not be sharpened in an electric or hand sharpener.
How well it sharpens in a hand sharpener: Good.
Aesthetics: Fair to good. While it has a nice glossy paint and the writing is easy to read, you can see the imperfections in the wood through the paint. Some of them are missing the metal end cap.

The beauty of the Dixon is that it is good in many categories. It is able to balance the hardness and line thinness with the ability to make a nice line that can be seen. The total score for essential characteristics is 15 out of 20.

 

Lyra Plast-O-Mark  

This is a three sided, graphite, all purpose marking pencil. It is made in Germany and marked Glas-Plastics-Metall-Papier

Boldness: 4
Thinness: 4.5

While I was able to make as thin of a line as the Dixon, it took a lighter touch. Twirling the pencil was harder because of the 3 sided design.

Scratch resistant: 4

Sharpness/Hardness: 2.5

I found that I wasn’t twirling the pencil as much and needed to sharpen it more in order to have a sharp line. I liked the lead

Comfort/ease of use: Fair to Good. While some people would like the ergonomic three sided design, I found it difficult to twirl the pencil. It didn’t fit any of my extenders.

 

Comfort/glide of lead: Good

Smooth, I like the feel of the lead better than the Dixon.

How well it sharpens in an electric sharpener: Good

How well it sharpens in a hand sharpener: Fair.

The three sided design made it harder to turn in the sharpener.

Aesthetics: Fair to good.

I liked the paint better than the Lyra Orlow. Nice modern design.

While the total score was 15/20, I definitely didn’t like it as much as the Dixon. With practice, however, I think it could be an acceptable replacement.

Schwan Stabilo All Graphite 8008

This is a six sided, graphite, all purpose marking pencil. Labeled Paper-Glass-Plastic-Metal. (Not to be confused with the Stabilo All that comes in black 8046. The black is similar to the Lyra Orlow and works like a grease pencil.)

Boldness: 4

Thinness: 4.5

While I was able to make as thin of a line as the Dixon, it took a lighter touch.

Scratch resistant: 4

Sharpness/Hardness: 3

While the lead felt softer than the Lyra Plast-O-Mark, I was able to twirl it easily and go longer without sharpening.

Comfort/ease of use: Fair to Good. I had to retrain myself to use a lighter touch.
Comfort/glide of lead: Good

Smooth, I like it better than the Dixon.

How well it sharpens in an electric sharpener: Good

How well it sharpens in a hand sharpener: Good

Aesthetics: Good

Nice smooth paint. Lettering crisp and shiny. Pretty swan logo on the end of the barrel.

Total score was 15.5/20, Personally, I like this one better than the Dixon. I like the ability to make a dark thin line without using much pressure. I was able to change my technique easily and feel this is a good replacement for the Dixon.

General’s Sketch & Wash #588 All Surface Graphite

Made in USA. Round barrel graphite all surface pencil. This pencil was a disappointment and is not recommended for x-ray use.

Boldness: 2

Thinness: 2

I can’t draw a thin line.

Scratch resistant: 5

Sharpness/Hardness: 2

Comfort/ease of use: Good

Comfort/glide of lead: Good

Smooth Feel

How well it sharpens in an electric sharpener: Poor

I could not get it sharpened. The lead kept breaking.
How well it sharpens in a hand sharpener: Good

Aesthetics: Fair

Not as nice as the Dixon. Matt paint with large letters. The letters are a little blurry.

Total score was 11/20. This pencil was light and soft. I could not draw a thin line. I can’t see any use for it for x-rays.

Faber Castell 9000

Made in Germany, these premium drawing pencils are not made for plastic or glass. I tried several hardnesses including F, 4B, 5B, 6B, 7B, and 8B. I was looking for something that was as hard as the Dixon to compare. The 4B was as hard as the Dixon, but scratched more and was much lighter. The 7B, scratched about the same as the Dixon but was still light and needed to be sharpened more.

Here is a review of the 6B:

Boldness: 2.5

Thinness: 5

Scratch resistance: 3

Sharpness/Hardness: 3.5

Comfort/ease of use: Good

Comfort/glide of lead: Fair

Slight scratchiness, but better than the Dixon.

How well it sharpens in an electric sharpener: Good

How well it sharpens in a hand sharpener: Good

Aesthetics: Good

Nice smooth paint. Lettering crisp and shiny. Premium pencil with an unfortunate bar code on it.

Total score was 14/20. While I think that a 6 or 7B could be used, there are better options.

Faber Castell 4B

Boldness: 2

Thinness: 5

Scratch resistance: 2

Sharpness/Hardness: 4

Comfort/ease of use: Good

Comfort/glide of lead: Fair

How well it sharpens in an electric sharpener: Good

How well it sharpens in a hand sharpener: Good

Aesthetics: Good

Nice smooth paint. Lettering crisp and shiny. Premium pencil with an unfortunate bar code on it.

Total score was 13/20. While it was similar in its Sharpness/Hardness, it did scratch more.

California Republic Palomino 2B

Boldness: 2

Thinness: 5

Scratch resistance: 2

Sharpness/Hardness: 4

Comfort/ease of use: Good

Comfort/glide of lead: Good

Smoother than the Faber-Castell 4B

How well it sharpens in an electric sharpener: Good

How well it sharpens in a hand sharpener: Good

Aesthetics: Good

Nice smooth paint. Premium pencil

Total score was 13/20. Very similar to the Faber-Castell 9000 4B. Unfortunately, the 2B is the softest that they make. While it is one of my favorite writing pencils, it is not the best for x-rays.

 Lyra Orlow Cellucolor 6375 in Black

This is an essentially a colored all purpose marking pencil. Very soft. Made in Germany. Marked Glas-Plastics-Metall-Papier

Boldness: 5
Nice dark black line.

Thinness: 2

While a line would start out thin, it quickly became thicker even while twirling the pencil

Scratch resistant: 5
No marks

Sharpness/Hardness: 1

Soft pencil. Too much like a crayon for me.

Comfort/ease of use: Fair to Good. This pencil would drive me crazy trying to draw thin lines because of the thin lead. Otherwise, a fine six sided pencil with the corners slightly sharper than the Dixon.

Comfort/glide of lead: Fair

The wax stuck to the film a little.

How well it sharpens in an electric sharpener: Poor to Fair

Because of the softness of the lead, it was easy to over sharpen it.

How well it sharpens in a hand sharpener: Good.

Aesthetics: Fair to good.

Even thought the total score was weighted as 13/20, it is not a good replacement because it scored significantly lower in Thinness of the line and Sharpness/Hardness.

Staedtler Lumocolor non-permanent omnichrom 108-9(black)

This is a colored all purpose marking pencil similar to the Lyra Orlow 6375. Very soft. Made in Germany.

Boldness: 5

Thinness: 2

Scratch resistant: 5

Sharpness/hardness: 1

Comfort/ease of use: Fair to good. I can’t make a sharp line, but it is a very nice six sided pencil.

How well it sharpens in an electric sharpener: Poor, I could not make a point with it.

How well it sharpens in a hand sharpener: Fair to good.

Aesthetics: Good. Nice paint, easy to read markings. Very attractive pencil.

This is not a good replacement for the Dixon, but it does fare well
compared to the Lyra Orlow 6375. I think that I like the lead a little
better than the Orlow, but I would use Steadtler more (when I need a
china marker) because of aesthetics.  Total score 13/20

Stanford. DESIGN EBONY   Jet Black Extra Smooth 14420

Round pencil made in USA

Boldness: 2

Thinness: 3

Scratch resistant: 2

Sharpness/hardness: 4

Comfort/ease of use: Good

How well it sharpens in an electric sharpener: Fair to good.

How well it sharpens in a hand sharpener: Good

Aesthetics: Decent looking pencil.

I can’t recommend this for any x-ray use because of how it scratched
and it’s light line. The reason that I tested it is that on the box it
stated it was an all surface pencil.  11/20

If you have a recommendation for a pencil that might compare favorably (and is currently in production) to the Dixon especially in regards to its Sharpness/Hardness and Scratch resistance, please let me know. Until then, I will be recommending the Stabilo All 8008 in Graphite (which I prefer to the Dixon), followed by the Lyra Plast-O-Mark 6363. I hope that understanding their strengths and weaknesses will help in transitioning from the Dixon Film Marker pencil.

Update 5-12-11:

I have been using the Stabilo All 8008 pencil for over a year now and really love them. They are darker than the Dixons and softer so they take a lighter touch. I’ve tried several other pencils, but none come close to the Stabilo or the second place recommendation: the Lyra Plast-O-Mark. Again, between the two, the Stabilo is the clear winner in performance and price. For a while, the NUCCA store was also recommending a pencil by Steadtler. Don’t waste your time or money. Stick with the Stabilo and you’ll do fine.

You can purchase the Stabilo 8008 at select art stores, online, and I have some for sale on ebay.

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About Dr. Michael Polsinelli, DC

I really enjoy my work. It is a combination of listening, analyzing, and the skill of performing my craft. I love the expression on my patients faces when I puzzle out a long standing problem of theirs, or when their pain leaves after gently adjusting them. Read more about me

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for you detailed report on the replacement choices for the Dixon 2225 pencil. I have used the Dixon pencil in my work for 30 years. I was not aware of it being discontinued until today when I tried to order more of the 2225’s.
    I am not a doctor, I am a carpenter and I used the pencil on smooth surfaces such as glass.
    Thank you
    Tom

  2. I would like to thank you for your extensive review. After running out of my Dixon pencils I ordered more pencils from Palmer assuming that the replacement they had were up to the quality of the Vis-Aids. After drawing my first line on the film I was immediately disappointed and angry I spent $150 on pencils that are useless. After reading your blog I confidently searched for and I’ve ordered my first box of Stabilio 8008 pencils to test them out.
    Thank You!

  3. After reading your review, and after having happily used Dixon 2225’s for years without problems for x-ray marking, I ordered a box (12) of Stabilo 8046’s. All I can say is they are AWFUL! It was a hot day when they arrived, and the ‘lead’ was all melting, so I put them in the fridge overnight and tried again the next day, still with awful results. It is next to impossible to get a nice fine line on films with these, and the ‘lead’ is WAAAAY too soft and malleable for all intents and purposes. I can’t understand why you would recommend these as a Dixon 2225 replacement…

  4. Dr. Michael, I believe the ‘ F ‘ stands for “Firm”, not “Fine” (‘ H ‘ being “Hard”, and ‘ HB ‘ being a balance of “Hardness” and “Blackness”, it stands to reason ‘ F ‘ is “Firm” — any grade of lead can be sharpened to a “fine” point).

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