Guest review by Tina Koyama
Within the brush pen series (Part 1: Waterproof Felt Tips and Part 2: Water-Soluble Felt Tips), the type of pens I’m reviewing today are probably the ones I use most often – hairy, bristle-tip brush pens containing waterproof ink. Designed to simulate sumi brush pens used for traditional Asian calligraphy, the bristle-tipped pens take a little more practice to manipulate compared to their felt tip counterparts, but the line variation they impart can be very expressive. If you are used to handling paint brushes with ink, these will feel familiar.
As a general rule, bristle tips last longer than felt tips without mushing down from pressure, and their flexibility gives the widest range of marks. For example, I’ve been using the same Kuretake No. 13 Fountain Brush Pen for several years now, and its synthetic brush is still going strong. When I eventually upgraded to a sable hair Kuretake No. 40, thinking it would be even better than the 13, I have to say I was disappointed. The brush performs well, but it doesn’t seem to warrant the price difference compared to the No. 13. In fact, I find that the No. 40’s tip spreads out when pressure is applied and doesn’t pull back into a sharp point when the pressure is released the way the 13 does. I have to roll it against the paper to get the point back. Maybe a painter accustomed to handling natural hair brushes would have better results from it.
All the other brush pens reviewed here have similar synthetic bristle tips to the Kuretake No. 13 without much distinction. The exceptions are the Pentel Tsumi Tip (labeled FL2U on my chart) and the Pentel Suki Tip (FL2V) Brush Pens, both of which are capable of producing particularly thin lines at their very points. See the man wearing headphones that I sketched with the Pentel Suki? I was able to make that very thin line defining his nostril with the tip – it might have been a single hair! You have to hold the brush nearly vertical to the page to get that hairline, so it’s a bit tricky, but it has a beautiful range.
Here’s something to consider if you travel: I carry all my usual sketch gear with me when I fly. Although I’ve heard various warnings, usually related to leaking fountain pens, the only time I’ve ever had any kind of leakage problem was with reservoir-type brush pens such as the Pentel Tsumi and Suki and the Kuretake Zig Cartoonist Brush Pen No. 22. They are prone to making a huge mess! This goes for driving to high altitudes, too, not just while flying. Believe me, I only made that mistake once! Wrap carefully if you plan to take them with you.
Ink Color & Permanence
As before, water tests were done on 98-pound Canson mixed media paper. Most of the inks are waterproof as soon as they dry, within a minute or so. The exceptions are the Pentel Tsumi and Suki, which remain water-soluble for quite some time. Two weeks later I tested again, and they were permanent. I started using both the Pentel Tsumi and Suki pens as if they were water-soluble inks, washing lines for shading. I wouldn’t use them with watercolors or even with a gel pen, however, since those products would become muddy when mixed with the inks. If you’re planning to wait a while before painting, however, these inks could be considered waterproof also.
Those two Pentels were also the only ones containing inks that looked slightly gray to me compared to the true black of the others.
All inks behaved well, as expected, on Field Notes 60-pound Finch Opaque Smooth paper. The only spot that bled through slightly was where I had made an especially thick line with the Kuretake No. 40 (containing Platinum Carbon Black ink).
It’s important to note that the Kuretake No. 13, Kuretake No. 40 and Pentel Kirari Pocket Brush Pen can all be refilled just like fountain pens. They come with waterproof ink cartridges when purchased, but you can install a converter or simply syringe-refill the used cartridges with whatever ink you want. My favorite waterproof fountain pen ink is Platinum Carbon Black (*Editor’s Note: Mine too!), which puts out an especially rich, black line in all of these refillable pens. I have a second Kuretake No. 13 that I fill with water-soluble Diamine Chocolate Brown ink. So although I’ve classified these pens as waterproof, the type of ink used is up to you. (However, I recommend sticking with one type of ink per pen, since the brushes are difficult to clean.) Since the bristles have proven to last a long time, their refillable quality makes these pens a particularly good value.
The Kuretake Zig No. 22, the Pentel Tsumi and the Pentel Suki can all be refilled with proprietary cartridges. (Actually, the cartridges look like they can be refilled with fountain pen ink too, though I haven’t tried it.)
That makes the Kuretake Bimoji (medium), J. Herbin CreaPen Pinceau and Copic Gasenfude the only disposable pens in this bunch. I try to avoid pens that must be tossed after their inks are gone, so that puts these otherwise good brush pens at a disadvantage. A couple of things to note: For some reason, the J. Herbin CreaPen ran dry after only a short time, despite being stored horizontally. And the Copic Gasenfude, despite bearing the Copic name, contains ink that is nothing like the alcohol-based markers most people think of when they see the name Copic! This is very important to me, as I can’t stand stinky markers.
If you’ve read my other reviews, you know I get cranky about caps that don’t post as expected. In this group, only the Kuretake Bimoji has a cap that must be reversed to post (and yes, it still annoys me). All other caps posted properly and securely.
Reviewing bristle-tip pens right after all the felt-tipped brush pens drove home an important point: Bristles are far more durable and able to withstand pressure while continually bouncing back compared to felt tips. It occurs to me that this is the reason most of the felt-tipped brush pens are disposable – the tips wouldn’t last beyond the initial ink, even if they could be refilled.
For my money, that makes the refillable fountain-pen type brush pens the best value as well as the hardiest performers. However, they make a very different type of mark from the felt tipped pens and require more control, so value isn’t the only factor to consider. Personally, I carry at least one bristle tip and one felt tip at all times because I like the variety of marks each type offers me.
There’s only one part left in this series – bristle-tip brush pens containing water-soluble inks. That group contains a huge variety of form factors! Stay tuned.