water-soluble-felt-tip-1 water-soluble-felt-tip-2

Guest review by Tina Koyama.

In part 1 of the brush pen series, I covered felt-tipped waterproof pens. This review is about 11 brush pens with similar compressed-fiber tips but containing water-soluble black inks.

In general, I’d say the tips behaved in the same ways as their waterproof-ink counterparts of comparable size. One of my goals with this series is to find pens that don’t mush down from my heavy-handed abuse, and as it turned out, I didn’t find any in this category with the slimmer felt tips that did tend to flatten in the waterproof group. Most in this review have either a relatively stout bullet-shaped felt tip or a small, firm plastic or rubber tip, and both styles stand up well to my heavy hand. However, the points of the broad end of the Tombow ABT Dual Brush Pen and the Sakura Koi Coloring Brush did flatten after a relatively short while, which surprised me because they look sturdy.

Sakura Koi on Field Notes Lunacy
Sakura Koi on Field Notes Lunacy

The pens that are the most resilient tend to make a strange squeaky sound with slight pressure, such as the two Zebra pens (both double-sided and single-sided), the Kuretake No. 55 Double-Sided Brush Pen and the Kuretake No. 33 Brush Pen. Perhaps the squeakiness is related to the type of material they are made of. I know that’s not a very helpful characteristic if you haven’t bought and used the pen yet, but for me the squeak is a good indication that the tip will last. I’ve been using the four named above for a good while, and they are all still pointy and going strong.

Both the Sakura Koi and the Winsor & Newton Watercolor Marker have tips that are a bit too broad for my uses. Even held vertically, I couldn’t get a fine enough point for detailed work (and since the Koi started mushing down quickly, its tip got even flatter). On the other hand, when held at a sharp angle to the paper, the Winsor & Newton marker makes a very wide swath of ink that covers a lot quickly. For that reason, I enjoy using it at life drawing practice with larger paper.

Winsor & Newton Watercolor Marker on 140lb watercolor paper
Winsor & Newton Watercolor Marker on 140lb watercolor paper

Ink Color & Solubility

Now, on to the inks. My favorite way to use brush pens containing water-soluble ink is to make a line drawing and then use water to wash the line slightly for shading, and I usually don’t add color afterwards. So the quality of the washed line is important to me.

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One interesting thing I learned from comparing these pens was how variable the term water-soluble can be – and how long water-solubility lasts. To test solubility, I made a scribbly line on Canson 98-pound mixed–media paper. Within a minute, I ran a waterbrush through the line to see how much it dissolved. (Those water marks are shown on the right side of my test sheets close to the names of the pens.) Although all the inks are roughly the same shade of black when applied to white paper, some look very different after being washed with water. Often the wash is much bluer, and in a few cases turns brownish. The Kuretake No. 14 Pocket Brush and the Pentel Fude Touch Brush Sign Pen both washed with such pale smears that I don’t really consider them water-soluble for my purposes (yet neither is described as being waterproof by JetPens). If I’m going to wash a line for shading, I want the shading to be rich and strong, which is the case for most of the other pens. The Sakura Koi, the Tombow and the Zebra pens all washed to particularly dark shades.

Kuretake 33 on Field Notes Lunacy
Kuretake 33 on Field Notes Lunacy

Long-term Ink Permanence

The big surprise came a couple of weeks after I made the test sheets. Experimenting with a drawing I’d done earlier, I realized that the ink that had washed previously was now permanent. Curious, I went back to the test sheets and made a new waterbrush mark (shown on the left side of the test sheets) on each of the original lines. Most still responded in the same way as before, but the Zebra Double-Sided Brush Pen, the Kuretake No. 55, the two Kuretake Fudegokochi pens (regular and super-fine) and the Pentel Fude Touch Brush Sign Pen all diminished in solubility. In fact, the two Fudegokochi and Pentel pens were essentially waterproof after the passage of those weeks, showing no solubility at all.

Since I generally finish a sketch in one sitting and wash lines immediately after making them, the delayed permanence is not a factor I would consider as long as I knew an ink was soluble to begin with. But if you make a line drawing first and continue working on it quite a bit later, it’s something to consider. And the delay might be a favorable feature if you want your work to be insoluble for the long run.

Zebra double sided pen on 98lb mixed media paper
Zebra double sided pen on 98lb mixed media paper

All inks behaved well and showed no feathering or significant bleed-through on Field Notes 60-pound Finch Opaque Smooth paper. Even though I know this Field Notes paper is not intended for wet media and has performed poorly with water in the past, just for kicks, I put water on the test lines. As expected, the beautiful washes I got on the 98-pound paper were nearly non-existent on the 60-pound Finch. (My experience with other Field Notes papers is that this difference is primarily due to the sizing on the paper’s surface, not the weight. For example, I get satisfactory washes on Domtar Earth Choice 60-pound paper found in the Field Notes Lunacy edition.) However, even where water was applied, only the Winsor Newton ink bled through.

Field Notes Test
Field Notes Test
Reverse side of Field Notes #1
Reverse side of Field Notes #1
Reverse side of Field Notes #2
Reverse side of Field Notes #2

Although I tested only black inks in this review series, it should be noted that the Tombow, Sakura Koi, Pentel Fude Touch Brush Sign Pens and Winsor Newton markers all come in a zillion colors, and their water-soluble qualities make them ideal for blending like watercolors.

As with the waterproof felt-tip pens, I experienced the same crankiness with some caps that have to be reversed before they can be posted! This time the guilty parties are the Kuretake No. 55 and Kuretake No. 33 (which will both most likely suffer an early demise because I keep inadvertently jamming their tips into the wrong end of the caps when I replace them after posting).

Kuretake No. 55 double sided on Stillman & Birn Alpha
Kuretake No. 55 double sided on Stillman & Birn Alpha

Final Impressions

My favorites from this group? Despite that cranky cap, the double-sided Kuretake No. 55 is my overall fave because the two distinctly different tip sizes offer a remarkably wide range of marks in one convenient pen – important for an urban sketcher like me who carries her studio in her bag. (Conversely, the two tips on the double-sided Zebra and double-sized Winsor Newton are too similar to offer the same range.) Its ink washes beautifully, and the Kuretake No. 55’s notably squeaky tip is also standing up well to my firm pressure. For richness in wash color as well as a good range in line width, I also like both the single- and double-sided Zebras and the Kuretake No. 33.

tina-koyamaTina Koyama is an urban sketcher in Seattle. Her blog is Fueled by Clouds & Coffee, and you can follow her on Instagram as Miatagrrl.


DISCLAIMER: The items included in this review were provided free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

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