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.
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.
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.