Pigment Pen Comparison (AKA Archival, Waterproof, Felt Tip Pens)

Pigment Pens

Felt tip (aka, fiber tip, pigment pens, archival pens, etc) are some of my favorite writing and drawing tools. A couple years ago I did a Showdown of some of the pens I had in my collection but I thought it was time to take another look at these inexpensive and endlessly usable pens.

This time, I am comparing the Sakura Pigma Microns, Staedtler Pigment Liners (they discontinued their Mars Professional line), Copic Mutliners SP (same insides as the previously reviewed Copic Multiliners but in refillable bodies) and the Sharpie Pen.

What all these pens have in common is that they are all archival (acid-free) inks that are waterproof. I’ve been using all of these to draw as well as write and the waterproof qualities mean I can add watercolor, markers or paint to my drawings without losing the pen marks. These can also all be used for addressing envelopes with no worries that rain will obscure the destination.

Pigment Pen Comparison

Sakura Pigma Microns ($2.50 each):

The gold standard in archival, waterproof felt tip pens. Available in seven tip sizes and six colors besides black.

  • Plus: Best black ink of all the pens I’ve tested. Tried and true.
  • Minus: The ugliest beige pen barrel I’ve eve seen. The numbering system that Sakura uses on the Microns is wonky. All the other brands list the exact tip size, 0.3 = 0.3mm, but Microns have their own wonky math. The 03 Micron is actually 0.35mm. When selecting Microns, be sure to check you are getting the actual size in millimeters that you want. I prefer 0.3mm tips for most purposes so I have to buy the 02 Micron. Confusing, right?

Staedtler Pigment Liners ($3.30 each):

Available in five tip sizes, black ink only.

  • Plus: The set I purchased came in a plastic carrying sleeve.
  • Minus: The black ink just isn’t as black as the Micron ink. And the pens are slightly more expensive than either the Sharpie Pen or the Sakura Pigma Microns.

Copic Multiliner SP ($9.20 each):

Available in 8 different tip sizes in black as well as a brush tip. A dozen colors available but only in the 0.3mm size

  • Plus: These pens feature a refillable aluminum barrel. Tips can also be replaced. Widest range of tip sizes from 0.03mm to 0.7 plus the brush tip.
  • Minus: The pens cost over $9 each and replacement tips and ink refills are more than $2 each. So if you do the math, the cost of being more environmentally friendly by not throwing away a whole pen is exponentially higher. In the end, its probably a better value to purchase the standard Copic Multiliners rather than these.

The Sharpie Pen (approx $1.79 per pen):

  • Plus: Available in almost any office supply store, big box or drugstore in the US. Less than $2 per pen.
  • Minus: Only available in “fine” which is comparable to an 0.3mm roughly. If you prefer finer or broader, you’ll want to consider a different brand.

There’s one other brand that is frequently mentioned for archival pens and that’s the Faber-Castell PITT line. I was so unhappy with the PITT brush pens in the past that I’ve only ever tried these once. A four-pack of the felt tip models are $12.50 on Jet Pens so the pricing is competitive to the other brands. The Faber-Castell line guarantees lightfastness for 100+ years as well as acid-free, archival, waterproof ink so they are definitely a comparable option. I have seen these for sale in sets at big box hobby craft stores so these may be a good option for some folks who don’t have access to an art supply store or have a must-get-some-now need.

If you’re just starting out with pigment/felt-tip pens, I’d recommend starting with the Sharpie Pen. Just walk into your nearest office supply store, drugstore or big box and grab a couple black ones. If you want a super fine tip or a range of tip sizes, start with the Sakura Pigma Microns. To be honest, they will be the only ones you ever really need.

Pigment Pen Comparison

I tested a few of the colored ink variations but, to be honest, I almost never reach for them on a day-to-day basis. The best thing about these pens is the fine lines, dark blacks and waterproofiness. If you are planning to invest in a pigment pen, skip the colors and stick to black.The colors are very ho-hum. If I want color, I’d prefer to use Marvy Le Pens or my Stabilo Point 88 Fineliners. Though neither are water resistant, the colors are more vibrant and interesting.

Even with the Sharpie Pen which I find myself using everyday for everything from sketches to grocery lists, I only ever want to use the black one. And this is the exact opposite to my reaction about all other pens and inks.

DISCLAIMER: Some of these items were sent to me free of charge by Jet Pens for the purpose of review. Please see the About page for more details.

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10 comments / Add your comment below

  1. The lids on the Copic Multiliner SP pens have been problematic for me in the past, popping loose if you look at them the wrong way. The advantage of them is for the brush nibs, I guess. You can swap out the foam brush nib when you inevitably fray the tip way before the ink reservoir does. (No, I have not been happy with mine, and are on my “don’t buy again” list. Great idea, but the design leaves much to be desired)

    Those sharpie pens surprised me with how decent they were.

    Oh, how I miss my Staedtler refillable silver-body drafting pen. Mars professional. I still have the body, but the refill has been long dry. Most comfortable, reliable pen. How I mourn thee.

  2. I’ve had good luck with Zig Millennium pens. I’ve used them with watercolor without any problems. Their main draw (ha, ha) was that you could find them in sets at craft stores – the kind of craft stores that regularly have 40% off coupons. The last time I needed a new set I didn’t see them there and I believe they now carry Sakura so I’ll probably be trying those out whenever I wear out my current set. That being said, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Zigs to someone looking for an acid free, truly waterproof black.

  3. I’ve tried the Copic Multiliners, Sakura Pigmas, Staedtler Pigment Liners, and the Faber Castell Pitt pens. I sold my Faber and Copic pens, as I found the Faber ones to to feather out and the Copic pens had very sharp nibs that tended to grab the paper more than Sakura and Staedtlers. I’ll use up my Sakuras on “unimportant” doodles, but my Staedtlers are my favorite, and ones I’ll keep buying…. I think they go on smoother than the Sakuras and I’m not seeing the pigment difference between the 2 that you’re seeing.
    Thanks for your reviews! Love reading them!

  4. Pretty sure alcohol based Sharpies are not archval. Sharpies have been known to fade according to the internet – never tested this myself but it seems likely.

    1. This particular review focused on the pigment-based pens like the Sharpie “pen” but I agree the Sharpie alcohol-based markers are likely to fade. Thanks for the insight.

  5. Great article. Sharpies unfortunately not archival in spite of a review that pops up right away when you do a Google search for an archival black marker. Definitely not lightfast. I know that from personal experience. Not even the industrial strength bkack markers.
    I met a painter who used black Sharpies in a few canvases and the black lines turned yellow in time.
    I do love Sharpies for addressing letters, etc. and I make sure I always have some handy.

  6. Can anyone tell me the difference between Staedtler F318-9 and the F319-9?
    The F319-9 pigment is stable when exposed to vacuum. It has been used for many years for the traceability of engineering parts which operate in high vacuum at 90degC.
    Pens of the type F318-9 were wrongly delivered and engineers are asking if these pigments will be suitable?
    Many thanks,

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