Brush Pen Roundup!

I use brush pens for all my comics inking. Heresy for some folks in my studio, who swear by the superiority of a Windsor Newton series 7 brush. For my own purposes, I’ve found that brush pens give me all the control I need, whether it’s down to small details in the distance or making a consistent panel border.

Not all brush pens are created equal, though. There are some that promise the moon with their high price tags, and some that are so bargain-bin cheap that you’d automatically disregard them as a serious tool. And there are some that work unexpectedly well for things they were never meant to do.

Across my adventures with brush pens, there are two features I’ve required: brush bristle tips as opposed to a felt marker tip and the ability to fill a pen with my own ink. I hate throwing away all the plastic cartridges, and I hate buying them. Once I have a brush pen in hand, I’m also looking for two performance qualities: consistent flow of ink over long spans (many brush pens don’t put out enough ink for quick lines over long spans, resulting in an unwanted dry-brush effect) and a fine tip that allows control over detail work.

For ink, I’ve used non-waterproof Sakura India Ink which flows like a madman, and Rapidograph Ultradraw waterproof ink, which is just runny enough to flow through these brush pens at the rate I require.

As to where to buy these things, if you can’t find them at your local store (quite possible for some of them), check out www.jetpens.com for more brush pen madness than anyone can handle.

So, now that we know what we’re looking for, here’s a quick rundown on my experience with various makes and models:

Sailor Profit Brush Pen:


We begin with a sad tale. When I first fired this one up, I thought I’d found my special inking someone, and given its cost (around $35-40 bucks), that was a relief. I was able to buy a refill cartridge for it, so that satisfied my requirement even though it typically uses its own disposables. The flow was great– I could make a fast line across a 15 inch span with no loss of line integrity, and the feel of the bristles on the paper was very firm and sharp… at first.

Alas, the dream was not meant to be. After only one day of comics inking, I noticed a profound (yes, I said profound) drop off in the brush point’s sharpness. I washed the thing out, hoping, praying that a buildup of ink on the bristles had spread them out, but no. After only one day of work, the synthetic bristles had actually worn themselves into a dull, useless nub. Goodbye sharpness. Goodbye special inking someone.

Rating: 3

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen:


This one has the distinction of being the only non-refillable (at least to my knowledge) brush pen in my roundup. You can buy cartridges for it, so it is refillable in that sense, but there’s no using your own ink, and you have to throw away the plastic and kill the dolphins, and no one wants to kill the dolphins. Except… Most of these pens do come from Japan.

But anyway!

I bought it because it is on the less expensive side and a few people hailed it as the Holy Grail of brush pens. It’s proven a useful tool for conventions and on-the-go situations where being extra-fastidious is desired. It has a fairly good point. The problem is the flow. Even in shorter lines, unless I’m inking at a snail’s pace, the dreaded dry brush effect rears its head. Dry brush has its place, so if you’re looking for a tool that can provide that consistently, here you are! It may also be a fit for people who work very small, and don’t need the flow. But you know I be needing my flow.

Rating: 7

Pentel Waterbrush Pen:


This is the first of two waterbrush pens I’ve used, and here is where we get into a tool that was not designed to do what it can actually do very well. Waterbrush pens are usually found in the watercolor section of your local art supply, and you would normally load them with watercolor washes or straight water, both of which you might slurp up or squeeze out with the fabulous pressure-sensitive reservoir. The fact that manufacturers assume you’re going to want a whole array of these for color work means (along with their no-frills plastic construction) that they are cheap. Like, 5-10 bucks a pop cheap. Or less.

Does this price point make them less durable? Less precise? Less flow-riffic than their higher-priced brush pen cousins? The happy answer is NAY!

Both the Pentel and Kuretake waterbrush pens are capable of terrific flow. Sometimes too terrific. It takes some getting used to, but once you figure out a good strategy for managing the flow of ink, you can really go to town with one of these. They are also very durable. I used a couple of these in various point sizes (another nice feature of waterbrush pens) to ink the entirety of my first graphic novel, and they’re still going strong. Not bad for 5 bucks a pop.

Rating: 9

Kuretake Waterbrush Pen:


Good performance and value, as above. I have not used the Kuretake as extensively as the Pentel, but it shows no signs of losing its point.

The Kuretake bristles are slightly softer and finer than the Pentel’s, so if you have a lighter touch, this one could give you very fine detail. I’m pretty ham-fisted, so I generally prefer the Pentel. In all, they’re very similar.

One thing to note: This pen was sold under another brand name on the packaging when I bought it, but on closer inspection, I found the Kuretake name embossed on the reservoir. I don’t recall the other brand name, but you can probably find it any place that sells Kuretake brush pens.

Rating: 8

Kuretake No. 13 Fountain Hair Brush Pen – Sable tip option


Feeling flush? Here’s a lovely brush pen that performs very well and makes you pay for it. At some point, I decided that the lure of a genuine sable tipped brush pen was too much, and I had to make it mine. I did go the cheapest route I could- I bought the synthetic bristle body, then the sable tip as an accessory, along with a compatible refill cartridge. Brush pen heaven!!!

So when all is said and done, does the sable tip do wonders?

It is very, very precise. The feel of the bristles on the page is very similar to the Kuretake waterbrush pen- slightly soft, but sharp. The flow is not quite up to the Pentel, but it still makes a fast, long line without drying out.

At the end of the day, though? With the sable tip, this one costs ten times as much as the Pentel waterbrush pen, and is less of a workhorse. I find myself going back to the Pentel because it just keeps chugging along with a much fatter portion of ink in its reservoir, and thus, I work faster. So while I dearly love this brush pen for its precision, the least-expensive item on the list still edges it out in light of my personal process.

Rating: 9

I hope this uber-nerd moment ends up being helpful to someone. If anyone has other models they love, let me know, and I’ll give them a whirl! Though it may take a while for my brush pen budget to recover after that last one.

Go dolphins!

31 Replies to “Brush Pen Roundup!”

  1. This was helpful! I have one Pentel brushpen. However, it flows, as you (and Holden Caulfield) say, “like a madman.” I still keep it around for the convenience of filling in larger areas, but I find it pretty useless on the details. This could be because of the ink I’m using (W.N.) or I could have just purchased a lousy individual pen, or a good one that I messed up somehow. Not sure. I also have a Kuretake rattling around that I have not used at all, so perhaps I will give it a try.

    And that portrait of the Haitian girl – I think I scanned that for you!

  2. FYI – The Kuretake waterbrush is released under the brand Zig. I picked one up for $3.50 yesterday with the ubiquitous 40% off coupon from Michaels. It was nowhere near the watercolor section, but was on a general arts-and-crafts wall completely across the store (near the scrapbooking stuff).

  3. i was actually wondering if the sable tip refill fit the number 13 Kuretake!

    I take it there are no issues with the cap fitting ok or anything like that?

  4. I really appreciate reading such thorough reviews with detailed comparisons.

    I am considering the Kuretake 13 and searching for info.

    Your post is very helpful.

  5. Thanks for this great post! It’s exactly the information I’ve been looking for.
    I think I’ll try both the Pentel waterbrush pen and the Kuretake No. 13 fountain hair brush pen. They sound like they’d compliment eachother perfectly.
    BTW, do you have any suggestions for ink for the Kuretake No. 13? Have you used any waterproof inks with this one?
    Thank again!

  6. Hi Patti- I’ve used Rapidograph Ultradraw ink with these pens, and it works well. It does eventually build up on a brush pen, and can clog (since it’s waterproof), so make sure you rinse out your brush pen every once in a while to get the most life out of one.

  7. Thank you so much for the speedy reply.
    I’ll have to try the ink you suggested, I have used it with my technical pens in the past, so it sounds like it may give a nice opaque black.

    I went to the JetPens website & ordered the last Kuretake No. 40 Fountain Hair Brush Pen and Platinum Fountain Pen Converter.
    I can’t wait to try it, as it seems like it’ll handle the detail I want.
    There is a No. 50, but I don’t know what the difference is, but it’s more than I would pend at this time.

  8. Very helpful indeed.

    I’m a nerd or geek whichever you want to call me when it comes to brush pens. I do a lot of my lettering/calligraphy and font design with so I like a good soft tip.

    I have the pentel brush pen, but I’m tempted to buy the sable pen to try it out. There are some others from Kuretake too which look interesting.

    Thanks for the review.

  9. Thank you for your reviews. Just the information I was looking for.
    I would need a pen that I could carry round with me to do drawings, sketches while travelling.
    So do the brushes need to be cleaned after use or do you just put a lid on until the next use?
    Thanks for an answer, I would very much appreciate it.
    All the best
    Jutta

  10. Is not hard in the least to refill the cartridges of the Pentel Pocket Brush. Have been doing it with ease for about 6 years. Syringe with any assortment of tips that you can find in the art store or one of those old ink jet refilling kits.

  11. Well, I just got the Pentel brush pen and after a bit of experimentation, I can’t imagine using it for inking or sketching. No control. Yes, you can get a very fine line if your touch is extremely delicate — but the slightest (and I mean the SLIGHTEST) pressure transforms the line into a big ugly mark.

    Where’s the delicate taper? I’m used to a Raphael watercolor brush. Even a W&N university brush with synthetic hairs gives perfect control (until they wear out, which happens quickly).

    The problem is the way the bristles are shaped. The “traffic cone” pattern simply won’t do, even if the point is good. The line gets too fat too quickly.

    Alfredo Alcala — maybe the best inker ever — devised a secret way of making his own brush pens. He’d take the bristles from a real watercolor brush and somehow attach them to a fountain pen. And he’d go all day, making incredibly elaborate, elegant marks at breakneck speed, without once dipping his brush into an inkwell.

    That’s what I want. Alcala proved it can be done. So why don’t the pen makers replicate it?

  12. Yeah, everyone’s needs are different! I did two graphic novels with that brush pen, and sometimes still think about going back to it (I’ve since switched to a Series 7 sable brush, which is nice before it dies [I treat them oh so gently, but they just don’t last], but definitely a slower tool).

  13. I’ve been using the Pentel Pocket Brush for 17 years, and have found them extremely reliable, durable and capable of holding a good point for a very long time, well over a year, even two. It is my experience that the problem with the poor ink flow is not the fault of the brush, but of old ink (that came in the cartridges). It’s very thick, and over time turns almost solid. I wash out the cartridges and refill them with Rapidograph Universal 3080-F.BLA which flows almost like water.

  14. for the waterbrush pen, do you mean to just fill it up with indian ink? wouldnt that mess the brush though?

  15. Sounds good to me! My issue was mostly that I needed to make thick, sustained lines that were sometimes 12 or 14 inches long, and any comics-sized brush aside from the water brush pens couldn’t give that to me without fuzziness.

  16. I bought the Kuretake water brush… filled it with ink and then squeezed it too hard I guess and ink came out on the sides just below the brush ferrule….. is it ruined?

  17. This was really useful – thank you! I don’t suppose you could recommend a good but affordable ink?

  18. Im curious to know what ink you refilled your pentel cartridges with? I tried higgens black magic ink and the bristols fray like crazy

  19. Any info on white ink pens to get the same quality line and opaque. Do they exist or are people just using gouache with a brush? I tried one but it was to blubby.

  20. I use needles & syringes to refill ink cartridges a lot!! (Calligraphy & Fountain pens). Great for using specific colours that are not easily found in cartridges. I’ve even been able to mix inks to come up with new colours. Just getting into water colouring & interested in the pens. Thanks for the great info!!

  21. Dang. This old post proves itself mighty useful. For years I’ve refrained from using my pentel pocket brush because the flow is too rapid for me.

    From what you write here, I can only guess that I got used to my old “snail-stroke”-brush, which I, uh, tried to snip off a few stray hairs from one time the cartridge ran out of ink (serious derp on my part, the strands pointed out because the brush was dry from the empty cartridge)

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