Which Brush Pens should I Buy?
Brush lettering has become increasingly popular over the last few years. Rather than the strict conventions of traditional calligraphy, brush lettering is more playful and less formal. I started my lettering journey by attending a workshop. It was a great way to learn the basics and to explore some of the techniques required. I have since learned lots from following the lovely Milly from Blink Lettering who wrote the beginners’ guide included tin our Lettering Box
When starting a new hobby, it is easy to get carried away and to splurge on lots of supplies. The idea of this blog post is to guide you through what is available to help you make informed choices before letting you loose in the shop.
Important questions to ask yourself before deciding ‘What sort of brush pens should I buy?’
- What level of skill do you have?
- What sort of paper are you going to write on?
- What will the end results be used for?
If you are just starting out, it takes time to get the level of pressure right. You may find that your pens don’t last as long as the tips can become damaged by being dragged over the paper. This can also happen if you use cheap copier paper. Expensive pens need good quality paper in order to perform well and last a long time. Read more about choosing the right paper here.
You also need to think about the end results; does your design need to be colourfast? Will it be displayed in direct sunlight or are you just practising?
I started not with a pen at all but with a brush. The size will depend on the end results you want to achieve but a No. 4 is a good place to start. You can use a brush with waterbased or acrylic inks as well as paints. It provides you with great flexibility and is cheap to replace if you damage the bristles. The downside would be that it is much messier (can drip on your work, needs to be washed) and less portable.
An alternative to a traditional brush is a water brush. You can fill it with water and use it with ink or paint. Alternatively you can fill it with ink; once you’ve done that you will only be able to use it with ink going forward. They are available in different sizes and with different tips but tend to have synthetic bristles. Much more portable than a regular brush but can still be a little messier.
If you don’t fancy a brush, don’t worry. There is an almost endless range of pens out there to try. I’m going to talk in this post about pens I have personally tried. Yes, I do have quite a collection!
What sort of brush pens will suit me best?
You need to consider:
- Colour range;
- Ink type;
- Ink flow.
If you are totally new to lettering and want robust pens you can play with then Crayola Supertips are a popular choice. Not just for children, their solid but pointed tip allows you to get thin and thick lines. They come in a wide range of colours (100) and definitely won’t break the bank. The ink is washable making these a great choice for younger letterers or those who like to make a mess. The downside is that they don’t have a brush tip so the technique is quite different.
My next step after a brush was the Tombow Fudenosuke which is available in 10 colours and with soft or hard tips. I got mine as part of the Tombow Lettering starter kit which is a great way of trying both a small and large brush pen. The hard tip is ideal for smaller lettering as the brush tip has less flexibility enabling you to be more precise. The ink is waterbased and they pens are made from 50% recycled plastic.
The Tombow Beginner’s Lettering set also contains one of the most popular brush pens on the market, the ABT dual brush pen. The ‘dual’ refers to the two tips: one flexible mid-firm brush tip and one fine tip (ideal for touching up your lettering and adding finer details). The ink is also waterbased and so can be used with water or a blender pen to create watercolour effects. Availabe in 107 colours plus and colourless blender.
Ideal for larger lettering projects; the large flexible brush tip makes it possible to work on a larger scale. The odourless ink has a wet flow enabling colourblending but it is not lightfast.
If you love the Tombow ABT Dual Brush Pens but prefer a more pernanent ink, the ABT Pro is the newest member of the Tombow family.
Available in 107 colours plus a blender, its alcohol-based ink is slow flowing for precision and ideal for layering. The alcohol-based marker ABT PRO has two tips (brush tip + chisel tip) for seamless transitions and professional results. The brush tip is made from nylon and is therefore particularly ﬂexible and dynamic. When no more pressure is applied to the tip, it returns to its original shape and is therefore easily controllable. The ink will bleed through thinner paper.
Ecoline Brush Pens are available in 59 colours plus a colourless blender. The nibs are flexible and soft with very wet ink flow, making it easy to produce large, bold lines. The pens can be combined with the Ecoline Liquid Watercolours to create stunning colour blends and with water to alter the intensity of the colours. These pens are incredibly juicy which can be a little much for new letterers but they are ideal for larger projects where blending is key. Use with watercolour paper to avoid bleeding and damaging the nibs.
Koi Colouring Brush Pens (made by Sakura) come in 48 colours. They have wet flowing waterbased in which can be easily blended. They are smaller than some of the other pens mentioned but have a flexible tip allowing for a great variation in line widths.
Sakura Pigma have two different brush pen sets. The Pigma Professional Brush Pen is available in three sizes: fine, medium and bold. The extra durable, long-lasting and memory-enhanced nibs are made of FB (a tough plastic polyacetal material), MB (a tough nylon material) or BB (a tough porous polyethylene material). They are designed to respond instantly to changes in pressure or direction, giving a silky smooth, accurate and consistent ink flow. The ink is archival quality (lightfast) and waterproof. Currently only available in black.
Pigma also offer brush pens in nine colours. The soft brush tip pens can be used for hand lettering, as well as drawing and illustration. The soft brush tip is flexible enabling variable line thicknesses. The Sakura Pigm ink is permanent, waterproof, fade resistant, quick drying and pH-neutral.
My top recommendation for beginners and those who like lots of colours is the Pentel Brush Sign Pen. Available in 24 colours. A small but flexible nib makes them ideal for beginners. The water-based ink can be watered down and blended. These pens have a slower, drier ink flow for a consistent colour. Produced with 81% recycled material. Available to purchase individually or as a set of three, 12 or 24. Be careful not to confuse them with the Pentel Sign Pen which does not have a flexible nib.
Papermania metallic brush pens are great on black paper and will give a shimmery finish.
Cult favourite Mildliners are now available as a brush pen. They have dual tips, one brush and one fineliner. They have the same iconic ink as the Mildliner Highlighters which is water-resistant, non-toxic, acid-free, translucent and archival quality which means they will not fade. These are a very affordable option but the colours are mild rather than bold and vibrant.
To help you choose which brush pen would be best for you , I’ve put together a Brush Pen Taster box containing 10 different brush pens, a comparison chart, paper for testing them and a blending palette.
Download my brush pen comparison chart to help you make the right decision.
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