Tag: pen

Brush Pens, Part 2: Water-Soluble Felt Tips

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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.

Pen Review: Morning Glory Needlepoint Liquid Ink Pen

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The Morning Glory Mach Campus Rollerball Pen in 0.28 mm with Stripe Body and Black Ink ($1.95) is part of the Morning Glory Mach Campus Rollerball Pen line-up, which are available with blue, black or red ink and all with 0.28mm tips. When I ordered it, most of the line was sold out. Knowing how much I liked the Morning Glory Mach 3, I was not surprised. While the Campus Rollerball Pens do not come in nearly the array of colors that the Mach 3 line is available in, the fineness of the tip more than makes up for it.

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The tip is needlepoint fine and writes well at any angle. I had no issues with it hard starting or giving me any grief as a result of being left handed or writing upside down, sideways or at any other janky angle.

morning glory needlepoint liquid ink comparison

And the Campus Rollerball writes TINY. I decided I need to compare how small I could write, without much effort, with something most people would be familiar with so I pulled out a Sharpie Pen and attempted to write as small as possible with it. You can see how quickly the cross bars and centers of the letters started to fill in on the Sharpie Pen writing on the right compared to the Campus Rollerball Pen writing on the left. These were done on the same page and were not resized or composed in anyway. I just scanned them in as is.

The Campus is a capped pen which might not be the favored model for everyone but the cap posts with a good solid click which means its not going to pop off. Since it is liquid ink, capping it closed before putting it away also means its not going to accidentally leak onto paper or an item of clothing in your bag like a retractable pen (Retro 51, I’m looking at you!)

Other graphics are available with black ink, including a model that looks like the Mach 3 if candy striping is not to your taste. Alternatives include a penguin design, mint with white polka dots, multi-color dots and a sedate pearl with black lettering.


DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Pen Review: Zebra Sarasa Chupa Chups 0.5mm Special Edition

Zebra Sarasa Chupa Chups

After my review of the Zebra Sarasa Milky scented ink gel pens, I couldn’t resist trying the Chupa Chups versions as well. There are five scents available in the Chupa Chups range, mostly in the warm colors plus one light blue. Each pen is a standard Sarasa retractable 0.5mm gel with grippy silicone grip and spring clip. What makes these unique (silly, fun, collectible, whatever!) is  the printed barrel graphics, the printed disc “charm” on the clip and the scent added to the ink. They all write exactly as you’d expect a Zebra Sarasa to write — smooth and silky!

Zebra Sarasa Chupa Chups Writing Samples

The light blue is vanilla and turned out to smell just like the Milky blue which I was not a fan. Whatever that scent is, it’s not vanilla! The yellow orange is pudding which features creme brulee graphics and had no discernible scent at all. It turns out to be the same ink color as the lemon Milky but without a fun scent or the awesome glitter barrel the Chupa Chups pudding isn’t much to marvel about. The Chupa Chups red orange is orange ink and orange scent and essentially identical to the Milky orange in color and scent. The orange is mango and has a mildly peachy scent. This one was my standout favorite since I love peach so had it smelled like mango I would have been thrilled but peach is a fine alternative. The last one is the red pen which is cherry. The first thing it reminded me of was Luden’s cough drops or cherry lifesavers but that was a huge improvement of the Milky strawberry scent,

Zebra Sarasa Chupa Chups and Milky Pens

So, in the scented gel pen showdown, the Chupa Chups and Milky pens are pretty much tied in my book. The Milky have the green tea matcha and the awesome lemon squash which are both winners in my book but the Chupa Chups cherry and mango are both good choices. The orange scents are equal from either so I’d recommend grabbing what you can if they are still available and you are feeling kind of playful. Each pen is available for $3 each. And the Milky Fujiya sets are back in stock!


DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Kaweco Sport Skyline Lagoon & Mint

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I was fortunate enough to get in on a group buy for the Kaweco Skyline Sport in Lagoon and Mint that was a limited edition for the City Super shop in Hong Kong. It arrived a couple weeks ago, just before my travel explosion so I am just now getting a chance to post photos of it. Its a classic Kaweco Sport in plastic but the Lagoon color is a brighter turquoise blue green than the Mint that was available in Europe and the US. The grip section of the the Lagoon model is Mint but as you can see, the cap and barrel are much brighter making the mint look almost arctic.

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My model shipped with a fine nib, my favorite, and I always love the scrollwork on the Kaweco nibs.

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I filled it with a crazy contrasting KWZ Andrinople from my customized laser-etched bottle (Thank you very much, Vanness Pens!)

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So, really, this post isn’t much more than showing off since the pen is probably completely unavailable at this point.

It has made me aware that Kaweco is making special editions for specific markets. That means, if you are a collector of Kaweco (or potentially any other brand of pen) it is worth keeping an eye and an ear open because I suspect that this sort of trend is bound to continue. It makes specific shops a destination and creates buzz for brands by making even more collectibility with special colors or designs. The flurry of activity and enthusiasm around getting these limited Lagoon Sports was crazy. It really is about time Kaweco got into the limited color editions that Lamy and Retro 51 has been doing for so long.

Pen Review: Zebra Sarasa Fujiya Scented Gel Pens

zebra sarasa milky

I’ve always liked the Zebra Sarasa gel pens and because somewhere inside me there’s a 9-year-old who occasionally has to be entertained, when I saw the limited edition collection of Fujiya scented Milky 0.5mm pens, I had to try them all. Can you blame me? I mean, don’t you always sniff those Mr. Sketch scented markers too?

Each of the Zebra Sarasa Fujiya scented pens is $3 each. There were pre-packaged sets available but they are already sold out so if these are calling to your inner grade-schooler, or your actual grade-schooler, you better hit the “buy now” button now because they are all marked LAST CHANCE. But, first, best to read on… because you might want to skip a couple of them.

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First of all, the actual barrel designs are a cacophony of Japanese candy wrapper mayhem, complete with a Milky kid medallion at the top of the clip. If this is going to make that dreary Monday morning staff meeting al that much better, than I say go for it. The Lemon Squash, while not particularly lemony scented, has a glittery translucent barrel with white polka dots that is definitely going to liven up some seriously dreary winter days. The Nectar Peach has no discernible scent at all which was a complete disappointment since peach is one of my favorite candy flavors but the ink color is a fabulous peach-tinged pink and the pen barrel is bubblegum pink.

And can we pause for a moment and thank all that’s holy for the absolutely awesome shade of green tea green in the Maccha Milky Light Green? My photo does not do it justice. It’s pretty much the perfect spring grass green. It does not really have much of a scent though. Sadly because if it actually smelled like matcha green tea I would be in heaven.

The Pop Candy Orange reminds very much of an orange Starburst candy and is a nice bright orange color too. Totally acceptable.

For some reason, a decision was made to make the black ink smell like “Country Ma’am Chocolate Chip” rather than make it a brown or brown-black. Okay fine, suit yourself. It’s a bit of a faux chocolate smell and not the cutest barrel design. If you were looking to save a few pennies, this might be one I’d pass on as the scent is a little odd and it took me awhile to recognize the floating shapes on the barrel as cookies.

And now, the ones I didn’t like…

First, the least offensive was the Strawberry Milky but it was emotionally the biggest disappointment as Strawberry Milky is one of my favorite candies. And the pen does NOT smell at all like Strawberry Milky. NOPE. It smells like fake strawberry. It’s okay but I didn’t like it. I might just swap out the ink cartridge and keep the cool barrel. Because I love the bee and Peko and the strawberries. Problem solved there. Next is the Soft Cream Milky which has the standard blue ink and smells like a flowery air freshener. Blech! This is another one I’ll have to do refill replacement on. I love the goofball graphics but it smells awful. And the last offender for me, the Milky Light Blue which smells like licorice. This is a personal distaste. I don’t like the smell of Red Ropes licorice at all. If you like the way they smell, you will love the light blue. If you don’t, you’ll be in the same boat as I am.

So, mostly these pens rock for the Milky packaging and some of the colors. If you have young kids who like the slightly artificial candy smells, they might love the strawberry, chocolate and licorice scents and even the weirdly air freshener smell of the blue one. I give three cheers for the lemon, orange and maccha (matcha) for sure.

And of course, Zebra Sarasa gel pens in general rock for the feather-resistance, lightfastness, and water-resistance. So, you know, you can’t go wrong. And you could always try the Chupa Chups ones instead.


DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Review: Kaweco Special Dip Pen

Sometimes the right tool shows up at just the right time and your whole work process just falls into step. For me, that tool was the new Kaweco Special Dip Pen.  This elevates the dip pen out of the realm of old school or art school into a classic, modern tool for the modern calligrapher. The material for the Kaweco Special line is a matte black, faceted, anodized aluminum that has a nice weight to it. At the end, where the nib is inserted, there is a nice shiny bit of chrome giving the pen a polished look. It’s a lengthy tool, like a paint brush for a bit of an artsy look.

The pen comes with a fairly flexible nib (totally unlabelled so I have no idea what it is) but it will hold any standard nib so you can replace it with your favorite nib like a Zebra G, Nikko G or anything else, vintage or modern.  I do recommend scrubbing the nib with standard white toothpaste to remove the oil from it in order get inks to adhere to it before using it. Lindsay over at The Postman’s Knock has several other tips for removing oil residue but toothpaste has become my recommended method.

I used the Kaweco Special Dip Pen to annotate all my new ink swatches from all the pen shows I’ve gone to this summer. I also used my favorite paintbrush for the ink swashes. It’s a Silver Black Velvet #6 round watercolor brush and the swatches are done on the last of my Maruman Mnemosyne Word Book cards. I don’t know what I will do when I run out of these cards.

Overall, the Kaweco Special Dip Pen is more expensive than a Speedball plastic nib holder but I think its worth it. If you’re the kind of person who would drop $100+ on a fountain pen than $36 on a dip pen nib holder probably doesn’t seem crazy. The Kaweco Special Dip Nib Holder feels nicer and weightier in the hand and looks much better too than a cheap $7 plastic one. If you know someone who uses a dip pen, it would make a good gift too.

The Kaweco Special Dip Pen is available from JetPens.


DISCLAIMER: This item was sent to me free of charge by Kaweco for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

Ask The Desk: Karas Kustoms RETRAKT/Cross Selectip Hack

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My favorite pen is the superb Cross Selectip rollerball. Sadly, all but two of the Cross pens that take this refill (and I’ve got a BUNCH) require you to uncap it to use it. Only the diminutive Cross Click, which is too small for my hand, and the Cross Edge, which I find impossible to open with one hand, operates without a cap. I’m looking for a pocket pen I can operate with one hand – either push-button or twist – that takes the Cross Selectip rollerball refill. Does anyone else make one? Thanks, Gary

The new Ti Arto Kickstater project from Big Idea Design claims to accommodate 200+ refills would be perfect but it, too, is a capped pen. So, I turn to the Karas Kustoms RETRAKT and a little refill hacking to solve your problem. The RETRAKT is available in aluminum and brass and is a wider barrel pen body, comparable in width to a Sharpie permanent marker so should feel quite substantial in the hand. I use and aluminum barrel version which is weighty but can be opened and closed with one hand. My husband has a heavier model with a brass grip section if you want something even more substantial. Prices for the RETRAKT start at $55.

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When you purchase a Cross Selectip rollerball refill, it comes with a little plastic cap. Keep this! It is the key to my little hack. Though I suspect a rubber band or string could be used as an alternative. I cut the wide part off and used about 1/8″ or 3mm of the plastic sheath as a spacer between the base of the refill and spring to provide a bit more length to the refill barrel for the spring to travel along. I also needed to shave a little bit of the nubs off the blue cap in order to fit into the barrel of the RETRAKT. You might find a little more plastic is better (or a little less) but there is more than enough left from the cap to experiment a bit.

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This last photo shows the Cross Selectip rollerball refill fully extended, with my little plastic mod and the spring inside. Voila! As Tom at Goldspot Pens likes to tease, I’ll hack any pen and any refill.

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