Guest Review by Tina Koyama
First, I’d like to welcome Tina to The Well-Appointed Desk and thank her for stepping in and helping with reviews. This is her first (and hopefully not her her last) review here. I’m thrilled to have Tina on board bringing a new perspective and point of view. Please give her a warm welcome! –Ana
As an urban sketcher who draws way more often when I’m outside my studio than inside, I value any product that’s portable and can be used easily and conveniently in the field. And if there’s one drawing medium that piques my interest, it’s a brush pen that gives me the variable marks of an actual brush without the fuss and mess of bottled inks.
Art material junkie that I am, I have tried quite a few brush pens. A major issue I have is that some brush pens mush down on me relatively quickly. They still have plenty of ink in them, but I don’t want to use them after their formerly sharp tips turn into fuzzy flatness. I don’t know if the types of materials brush pens are made of tend to wear out quickly, or I just have a particularly heavy hand. In any case, I have made it my personal quest to find brush pens that can stand up to my abuse long enough to use up the ink they contain, so that’s one focus of this review series.
The term “brush pen” is used for two primary types of tips: those made of a compressed fiber or rubber that flexes slightly (I’ll use JetPens.com’s term “felt tips” to refer to them), and those made of natural or synthetic hairs or bristles like an actual brush. Some contain waterproof ink while others contain water-soluble ink. Given that I have nearly four dozen brush pens to compare (and that’s only the ones with black ink!), Part 1 of this brush pen series covers only the 14 felt tip pens containing waterproof ink.
The scribble/waterproof testing was done on Canson XL 98-pound mixed media paper. The bleed-through testing was done on 60-pound Finch Opaque Smooth paper in a Field Notes notebook.
First, let’s talk about ink. All pens in today’s review contain black inks that are completely or nearly completely waterproof within a couple minutes of application. The hard tip Pilot Pocket Brush slipped onto my test sheet inadvertently because I assumed it had the same ink as its soft tip counterpart, which was indicated on JetPens.com as having waterproof ink. It turns out that it only becomes waterproof after several days. I generally use a waterproof ink when I’m thinking I might want to apply watercolors or some other liquid medium afterwards, and I’m definitely not going to wait several days to do that, so I consider that ink to be water-soluble.
All inks performed comparably with no bleed-through on the 98-pound paper, as expected. They also performed surprisingly well on the Field Notes paper, although several bled through at points where I paused briefly or, in the case of an actual sketch, colored some areas solidly. (None of the inks bled through at all under any circumstance on Field Notes Lunacy’s Domtar Earth Choice 60-pound paper, however, which has a very different sizing.)
All pens contain highly saturated black inks with the exception of the soft tip Tombow Fudenosuke and the fine/medium Sailor Mitsuo Aida, which look a bit grayer to my eye. For my sketching purposes, though, I’d say the inks have negligible differences in appearance.
As expected, the biggest difference among the 14 pens is in how their brush tips perform or in the marks they make.
The pens tested here include a wide range from fine (such as the Tombow Fudenosuke and the fine Kuretake Bimoji) to bold (such as the bold Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen). You’d probably choose a tip based on the size and type of work you do and personal preference. I tend to favor bolder marks, but that means I want the tip to retain a fine point so that I can get a full range of marks from it.
While I initially liked both the Marvy LePen Technical Drawing Pen and the Deleter Neopiko Line 3 brush tip pen for their soft, slender, flexible nibs, they both mushed down on me quickly. I prefer softer fiber-tipped pens because they seem more responsive to variations in pressure, but their ink supplies long outlive their tips. Ultimately, this review taught me that pens with firm but spongey, thicker tips stand up to my heavy-handedness longer. My favorites are the fine/bold Mitsubishi double-sided brush pen and the fine/medium Sailor Mitsuo Aida. These two are also the best value and serve my need for compact, road sketcher materials because the double tips are like having two pens in one.
I also like the medium side of the fine/medium Pilot Futayaku double-sided brush pen, but for some reason, the fine side is scratchy and acts like it’s out of ink, even though I store it horizontally, so I know it’s got the same amount of ink as the medium side.
I’ve also learned that since these stouter brush tips don’t flex as much, I have to vary the angle they are held to the paper to get a wider range of marks – the more perpendicular they are held to the paper, the finer the line. Now that I’m used to this, I can get a pretty good range, but it took a while to train myself.
The bold Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen has a sturdy tip that would probably also hold up well, but something about the cap design gets ink all over the inside of the cap, which then transfers to the rear end of the pen when I post it – and then when I cap the pen again, the inky rear end makes a mess on my hands and bag. I stopped using it early in testing because that mess annoyed me too much.
One characteristic of most of these pens, probably due to the material their tips are made of, is that they can make a split or dry-brush-like mark when dragged quickly on their sides, especially the finer-tipped pens. In some cases they can look like they are running out of ink. It’s a nice effect if you want it, since it mimics an actual brush. If you don’t, the Sakura Pigma Professional Brush Pen and the broader sides of the two-sided Pilot, Sailor and Mitsubishi pens are more likely to retain a consistent stroke.
I have one idiosyncratic quibble: pen caps that don’t post properly – or that post backwards! The caps on the fine/bold Mitsubishi double-sided brush pen post insecurely, so they are always at risk of falling off while I’m in the field (and a brush pen without a cap is going to die very quickly). And the two Kuretake Bimoji pens and the fine/medium Kuretake Disposable Pocket Double-Sided pen have caps that must be turned around before they will post. Needless to say, I have absent-mindedly jammed those tips into the wrong end of their caps many, many times (probably shortening their lives, even if they haven’t mushed down on me yet).