A guide to pens

Pens at Jackson’s

At Jackson’s we offer an extensive range of drawing pens for artists, designers and illustrators. Pens vary massively and so we hope this guide will help you choose the best one for you.

Click here to read ‘Drawing Pens and Papers Compared’ on the Jackson's Art Blog.

FAQs about Drawing Pens

What is the difference between Sketching Pens and Technical Pens?

There is very little difference between sketching pens and technical pens: Both tend to have a steel reinforced fibre tip that is very short and stubby, and both tend to have water-resistant ink in them (there are some exceptions to this rule so it is always worth checking). The only real difference is that Sketching Pens tend to offer broader nibs that can achieve broader marks.

What is the difference between dye based ink and pigment based ink?

Dyes used in ink are 100% watersoluble and so they disperse evenly in the liquid binder that they are held in. As a result the ink flows exceptionally well, and colours appear more vibrant than pigmented inks. Pigment particles are suspended in the ink binder and are not watersoluble to the same extent as dyes. Therefore flow is marginalised in comparison to dye based inks, as well as colour vibrancy. The big advantage with pigment based ink however is that it possesses much higher lightfastness ratings, and so work can be put on display without fear of significant fading. Dye based inks are popular among illustrators and artists whose work is created with the intention of being reproduced – the colours scan and print exceptionally well. The pens we sell at Jackson’s Art Supplies are either dye based or pigment based – please contact us if you need to know which the pen you are interested in is. The last difference is price – you pay for permanence! Dye based inks are cheaper than pigment inks because they cost less to manufacture.

What is the best pen available?

As you can see, we sell many kinds of pen for many different art applications – from italic calligraphy writing to graffiti and comic arts, and with each kind of art technique a set of characteristics are demanded from the artists that use them. The pens on offer at Jackson’s are a sample of the best pens available in the world today for fine artists, designers, illustrators and textile artists. When you come to consider which pen is best for you, you will need to ask yourself questions such as:

Is my work designed to be reproduced or displayed?
If it is going to be reproduced, for example an illustration for a greeting card or a comic strip, you may want to have the most vibrant colours available but not be overly concerned about lightfastness, in which case you will be more interested in dye based pens, such as Kuretake Cocoiro Pens, Letraset Promarkers, Letraset Tria Markers or Montana Black Markers. If you are a fine artist that requires your finished drawings to be exhibited on a wall then you will be more concerned with lightfastness than colour intensity that is more susceptible to fading. A good coloured pen range with permanence is the Faber Castell Artist Pitt Pens.
Do I need a set of pens or a single pen?
The pens that we sell are in the main, sold both as sets or individually. The sets do not have interchangeable colours and are a good gift for a budding artist or illustrator. If you are more experienced in drawing practices then you may consider it more important to select your own colours. Some of the ranges, for example the Pitt Artist Pens by Faber Castell, Montana Makers, Letraset Tria Markers and Kuretake Cocoiro Pens have interchangeable nibs or additional nibs available for purchase so that you can maximise on the different marks you can make with your pen. Drawing, sketching and technical pens are available in a range of varying width nibs that are designed to consistently achieve even lines and accuracy. A selection of these will make it very easy to make a highly detailed and informative technical drawing or sketch.
Will I be using my pen with other media?
At Jackson’s we sell a selection of both watersoluble and waterproof pens. It is a question of personal choice as to which is best suited for your needs. Some artists like watersoluble pens as they lend interesting effects such as bleeding and smudging when used with watercolour. Other artists prefer waterproof pens for traditional pen and wash drawings, with the pen lending solid lines and structure within a composition, and the wash supplying bursts of colour over the top. Paint Markers such as those offered by Liquitex, Montana, Marabu and Uni are a neat way of applying solid lines of acrylic colour. The Liquitex and Montana markers follow the same colour chart as the spray paints available in each of the manufacturer’s product lines. This makes it very easy to use the sprays and the pens at the same time, adopting a similar approach to a pen and wash artist; the pens can supply lines, form or structure to a design, and the sprays can supply bursts of colour. As with any acrylic paint, there is a little drying time, which can be really useful if you want to blend your colours with your fingers before they dry; it can also be very irritating if you smudge your marks by accident, so be careful!
Do I need colour?
Traditional fine art drawings tend to use limited colour, so that form and mark making alone can be appreciated. The Pilot Drawing DR Pens are an example of a traditional black ink drawing pen. The Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens mimic the traditional hues of the past, inspired by pastels and chalks – their traditional pen range offers black, sanguine and sepia colours. Similarly technical draughtsmen such as architects and engineers (of the past!) would not normally need coloured pens to communicate their ideas, which is why most technical pens are only available with black ink. Today it is more common for artists to demand colour in their lines, as well as a variety of different marks. When using coloured pens in your drawings, you need to think about whether you want to make bold, opaque, solid marks (use a paint marker such as Liquitex or Montana) or transparent marks that can be layered over one another to make new colour mixes (try Faber Castell Brush Pens).

A Guide to Drawing Pens Available at Jackson’s Art Supplies

Pens without Ink

Chinese painting style Pens

We sell a selection of bamboo pens. These primitive pens are made of dried bamboo sticks that are hollow so that the pen can be dipped into Chinese ink and then dragged across the surface on which you are working. The lines created with these bamboo pens are expressive and vibrant. The bamboo pens are best used for relatively short lines where blotchiness and variation in the width of the line created does no matter too much. Bamboo pens are wonderful in describing natural forms such as trees, branches or grass. We sell bamboo pens both with a flat nib and a pointed nib. The flat nib can be used to make a wider range of marks, but the pointed nib will produce finer marks. Bamboo pens do not hold a lot of ink and so need frequent dipping – they are not designed to create long unbroken lines. Once the ink starts to run out they are capable of making dry, textured marks which can also be very interesting. They were once also used for Chinese calligraphy. A real gem of a mark-maker. To complement the staccato marks of the bamboo pen we also sell the Kuretake Bimoji Fude pens – These have a brush like felt nib that allow for flowing, soft, undulating lines that taper to a fine point. Also very well suited to Chinese Calligraphy, but with a more flowing decorative quality.

Zig Kuretake H2O Water Brush Pens

These pens have a fibre tip and a clear plastic barrel. There are a selection of tips, including a detailer tip, flat broad tip, large tip, medium tip and the pocket brush. These pens are designed to only contain water (fill with other media at your peril, as the pen may clog up). They are particularly useful when working with watercolour pencils, as you can brush water over a coloured pencil drawing, and the colours will suddenly appear more vibrant and blended with one another. The choice in different sized nibs means that you will not lose any of the detail you may have put in your drawing. They can also be useful when making a drawing that incorporates ink or watercolour.

Fine Pens for Detailed Drawings – waterproof ink

Aristo Geo Pigment Liner Pens and the Aristo Technical Pen

The Aristo Geo College pigment liners have lightfast and waterproof pigmented ink. The stainless steel casing of the fibre tip helps to give a precise drawing line, available in 0.05mm, 0.10mm, 0.20mm, 0.30mm and 0.40mm. Ideal for drawing using rulers or templates as well as sketching and writing. Unlike the Pigment Liner, the Aristo Technical Pen is refillable, and there is a range of different coloured inks available to fill your pen with. Other inks may be used in the pen, but we cannot guarantee that the flow will be as consistent as the special Aristo Ink. The MG1 Techincal pen has a clear barrel so that you can see how much ink you have left, and has a very reliable ink flow, meaning long flowing lines. The ink is sufficiently fast drying to avoid smudging. It is available in a range of line widths and there is also cleaning fluid available to help maintain the pen and keep it from clogging.

Faber Castell Pigment Pens

The Faber-Castell Ecco is a disposable fibre-tip pen ideal for sketching, drawing and writing. Black pigment ink is waterproof and lightfast; long metal-clad tip ensures stability and ensures suitability for use with rulers and stencils; ergonomic grip zone. Available in 0.1mm, 0.3mm, 0.5mm and 0.7mm, as well as a set of all 4.

Pilot Drawing Pens

Pilot pens have long been a fundamental drawing implement in the studios of many professional draughtsmen. They are consistently reliable, with uniform lines and ink that does not clog or blot. The DR pens have a fibre tip and the ink is pigment based, and fully lightfast. Once the ink is dry it is highly water – resistant. Pilot DR Pens are favoured for quick observational sketches as well as technical drawings, and because of the water-resistance they are also well suited to pen and wash work. They are available with either black or sepia ink and there are 5 different nib widths available.

Pitt Artists Pens – Super Fine, Fine, Medium, Brush

Sepia, Sanguine and Black

Pitt Artist Opens are Indian Ink based pens that come in 4 nibs that greatly vary so that you have full control over the marks you can achieve in your drawing. The black is particularly intense. The inks are fast drying and water-proof and smudge-proof, and the super fine and fine nibs would be just as well suited to technical illustration as fine art. These pens would work very well with other media such as watercolour without bleeding.

Rotring Rapidograph Pen

The Rotring Rapidograph pen is a much requested item at Jackson’s. The pen uses Rotring’s unique capillary cartridge. The pressure-equalization system, including ink helix is part of the ink cartridge which ensures that every time you change the cartridge, you get a clean new ink helix. This means that you never need to clean the ink helix and top reliability is guaranteed. The pen is available in black only and with the following size nibs: 0.10mm, 0.13mm, 0.18mm, 0.20mm, 0.25mm, 0.30mm, 0.35mm, 0.50mm, 0.70mm.

Stabilo Point 88 Pens

Stabilo Point 88 Pens are recognisable for their striped hexagonal barrel, which has been around for many years. The pens are available in black or brown with a nib width of 0.4mm. The nib is reinforced with metal, and the pen is a fineliner which could be used for drawing or writing. It can feel a little scratchy on rougher surfaces and is best used on the very smoothest papers, for example Bristol Board. The ink is watersoluble.

Zig Cartoonist Mangaka pens

These pens are designed with comfort in mind. Despite many of the nibs being super fine, the pen barrel is nice a big for comfort in the hand whilst drawing. The ink is water-based pigment ink and is lightfast, smudge-proof and can be used with watercolours or alcohol-based markers. They are available in 0.1mm or 0.5mm steel reinforced nibs as well as 2 sizes of brush nib, in black or sepia colours. Great for comic illustration but also for all kinds of expressive drawing.

Uni Pin Sketching Pen

Uni Pin Pens range from a nib width of 0.05mm through to 0.8mm – they are incredibly fine and the best tool for intricate drawings that almost look like etchings. The smooth flowing ink possesses superior water-resistance, which makes them very good for detailed drawings that also incorporate colour in other waterbased media. They are very lightfast so no issues with displaying in sunlight. As with the finest pens, we strongly suggest that these pens are used on the smoothest papers, as anything with a texture or grain will make the pen scratchy and much harder to use.

Writing Pens

Kuretake Cocoiro Pens

Kuretake Cocoiro Pens are a fun coloured pen range that can be used for experimental mark making as well as a jazzy letter writing pen to use for close friends. The nib is a little wider than a biro but less chunky than felt pen marker. The Cocoiro pen has a lovely soft, spongy feel to use, and the marks made are well rounded and vibrant in colour. The pen is sold as a body/nib and separate colour – you have 16 body colours to choose from and 6 waterbased dye inks. There is only one nib which is described as semi-hard, and is versatile – you can alter the thickness of the lines you make with pressure, or varying the angle that you make your marks at. The ink is not fully lightfast so this pen is best for illustrations or doodles in a sketchbook.

Pentel Italic Fountain Pen

The Italic Fountain pen uses non waterproof waterbased ink. It has a 1.3mm fibre tip and only comes in black. It is perfect for beautiful italic script writing. It can also be used as a drawing pen, and as with all non-waterproof inks: why not see what interesting effects one can achieve through adding water? A lovely writing pen that is wonderful for making beautiful labels or greeting card messages with.

Pentel Hybrid Gel Grip Pen in White

Gel pens are known to have a nice feel for writing with as they are soft and not scratchy. The pen has a distinctive chunky barrel which makes it comfortable to hold in the hand. The white ink is water and fade resistant. The 1.0mm tip gives approx a 0.5mm line width.

Marker Pens for Graphic Artists, Fine Artists, Illustrators – Waterproof

The Letraset Promarker

The Letraset Promarker is very good value money – they are much cheaper than the Letraset Tria Markers but they are still high quality. Although the inks are waterproof it is possible to blend the 92 colours with one another before they fully dry. Each pen has a chisel tip on one end (for both broad marks and fine lines) and a bullet tip (for fine lines only) on the other. ProMarkers produce vivid, bright colours right through to the subtlest pastel shades - the translucent inks can also be overlaid and blended, even further extending the range of shades and hues on offer. ProMarker's quality nibs and inks provide flawless colour lay down with consistent coverage and no unsightly streaking. Promarkers can be used on many different surfaces including paper, card, vellum, acetate, glass, wood, metal and plastic, making them ideal for customising objects. They are alcohol based and non toxic, not suitable for young children.

The Letraset Tria Marker Pen Range

Consider the Tria Marker Pen range a professional quality range in comparison to Promarker’s ‘student grade’ (although both ranges are very good!) Like the Promarkers, the Tria Markers are transaparent and blendable, but they have a larger colour range of 300 colours and refillable cartridges, which at £1.25 each are very economical. The Tria pens are a very clever design with 3 nibs inbuilt (simply remove the ultrafine nib to reveal the chisel nib which can be swapped with one another, and at the other end of the pen you will discover a lovely brush nib for flowing painterly lines). The Ultra Fine Nib provides consistent ink flow and pin point accuracy. There are a variety of sets available as well as individual colours. These pens are very popular among illustrators and are a delight for any kind of artist to work with.

Shin Han Touch Twin Marker Pens

The Shin Han Touch Twin Marker Pens are available as a set of 24 and a set of 60. Shin Han markers are double ended with a bullet nib on one end and a chisel edge nib on the other. The range of marks that can be achieved with just these two nibs is astonishing. The ink is lightfast and waterproof and works well with other media. Shin Han markers are used by many of our customers to render illustrations and in mixed media projects. They are really good value for money!

Uni Posca Markers

Posca Pens are very popular among street artists and illustrators. The range has intense, vibrant colours that adhere to most surfaces (glass, metal, plastic and paper). As well as the more common broad tips (up to 2.5mm), the Posca is also available as an extra fine liner (0.7mm). The range comprises of 14 colours. In addition to this we also offer the Uni Paint Markers in gold and silver (blister packs only) – particularly useful when hand-making Christmas cards!

Paint Markers – filled with acrylic paint for bold colour, somewhere between painting and drawing

Liquitex Paint Markers

A relatively new addition to the paint marker market, the Liquitex paint marker range has the same colours as the Liquitex spray paint range, so they are really ease to use alongside one another in a work. While they are drying (for a few minutes after they have been applied to a surface) the colours can be blended with one another with your finger or a rag. The pens are available with either a 2mm or 15mm nib, which are interchangeable. Sadly as yet the pens are not refillable. There are 50 colours in the range with a mixture of transparent and opaque colours. Remember that these pens are filled with acrylic paint and so the nibs are susceptible to drying out over time. All colours are lightfast and permanent. Suitable for large-scale artwork, outdoor murals, mixing with acrylics, fine-detail, sketching and all kinds of mixed media. They dry to a satin finish.

Marabu Brilliant Painter

Marabu specialises in craft art materials, and the Brilliant Painter is a range of paint markers that can be used on multiple surfaces, just as with the Liquitex and Montana paint markers. However the colour range is more limited with only 17 colours. However there are 3 different sized nibs so that you can make a variety of marks with the pens. The colours are weatherproof, light-resistant and fast drying and based on organic solvents. They are recommended for craft applications such as personalising objects such as furniture or ornaments. The broad tip selection can quickly fill a space with colour, whereas the fine liner will achieve intricate lettering and patterns.

Montana Black and Montana Acrylic Markers

The Montana range of acrylic sprays and pens are internationally renowned for quality and credibility. They are the number 1 choice of many street artists and designers.

We currently stock the Montana Black and Montana Acrylic markers, along with refills and accessories for the Montana Acrylic markers.

Montana Black alcohol based Markers have 9 permanent and UV resistant dye ink colours. The ink is delivered through the marker‘s felt tip by a pump system valve and can be applied to almost all surfaces. They are available in a 15mm Standard tip, an 8mm Round tip, and a 10mm Chisel tip.
Montana Acrylic Markers are available in a range of 0.7mm to 50mm tip sizes. They are refillable and offer replacable tips. Each marker is filled with a high quality water-based UV-resistant paint which is quick drying. Montana pens are suitable for interior & exterior use. The range of pens is in line with the range of Montana Gold Shock colours. There are a very wide range of nibs that are interchangeable with the pens. Again, because the colour is acrylic based, it is important to store the pens flat horizontally to prevent any clogging from occurring between uses.

Pentel White Opaque Paint Marker

The white opaque paint marker is useful for signing finished acrylic paintings neatly, as well as with other acrylic pens. It has a sturdy aluminium barrel which makes is durable. The ink is opaque and permanent. The nib is 1.8mm wide and the ink will adhere to most surfaces, including card, canvas wood and metal.

Brush Pens for Artists and Expressive Drawings

Pentel Brush Pen

The Pentel Brush Pen is an Artist’s quality tool, which is as versatile as a small round sable brush, with the added advantage of having a continuous flow of colour (that is until the ink runs out!). It is capable of broad sweeping broad marks and intricate fine lines. The pen comes with 2 spare black ink cartridges. The pen features a soft brush tip made from hard-wearing synthetic bristles that will retain its shape, and possesses good spring. Intense black fade-resistant and waterproof pigment ink. The marks achievable with this pen would allow you to make very archetypal looking black and white comic strip drawings. In addition to this, the pens are also recommended for other illustration, Eastern influence drawing styles, and calligraphy.

Pentel Coloured Brush Pens

Pentel Coloured Brush Pens are refillable (with special Pentel Brush pen refills) and possess a flexible nylon tip that again, allows for a range of expressive, brush-like, painterly marks. The colours in this range are vibrant and waterbased. They are also transparent, which makes them ideal for layering over one another to create interesting colour mixes. The inks blend well with one another but do dry very quickly. The nylon fibre tip is sufficiently resilient to give it spring and enable the nib to keep its shape. These pens are unfortunately not the most lightfast, so we suggest using these only for work that will not be exposed to sunlight at all times. Pentel brush pens are a fantastic way of transporting art materials abroad as they are much more flight-friendly than paints. The translucent colour resembles watercolour and the pens have an efficient valve activated system which ensures smooth and consistent ink flow.

Faber Castell Coloured Brush Pens – 24 colours in the range

good flexible brushes, gives a variety of marks and useful shades – Feefo Customer Review

The Faber Castell Coloured Brush Pens are a personal favourite. They are a delight to work with. They use Indian Ink and are much easier to use than dip pens (although I am told that they are no match for the traditional methods of indian ink drawing) as there is a constant supply of ink to the nib without constant re-dipping, and the amount of ink on the brush nib is always just enough. The colours are translucent which means that like the Pentel brush pens, they can be layered over one another to create colour mixes. Although some artists may disagree, I love the fact that every mark can be seen, and if you overlap an existing mark with a new mark, you can vary the tonal depth. It means that uniform rendering is not possible, but freedom of expression is! As with any brush nib there is a greater degree of versatility to the range of marks that can be achieved – big fat marks to very fine detail. I love to use mine in drawings that also incorporate watercolour, gouache and watercolour pencils, and they work very well with one another. The inks used in Pitt Brush pens are very lightfast.

Textile Marker Pens

AV Textile Marker Pens

These markers are only available in the 1mm tip and so are probably best for outlines, line drawings and lettering (use a broader nib for filling in shapes). The inks dry over 30 minutes and then it is strongly recommended to heat set them by ironing on the reverse. They are then washable to 60 degrees. If you make a mistake the ink can be washed out of fabric with alcohol. Layering is not possible with these pens. Good for use by children with adult supervision.

Marabu Textil Painter Plus (for both dark and light fabrics) and Marabu Textil Painter

Marabu Textile Markers come with 2 nib widths – 1-2mm and 2-4mm, with 15 colours in the range. A water based fabric pen with excellent opacity for school, hobby, leisure use. Suitable for almost all light and dark-coloured, non-finished natural textiles free of dressing. After fixing, the pens are light-fast, wash-resistant up to 40°C and have a soft feel. There are additional usage tips on the Painter Plus page – always remember to store the pens in a horizontal position to avoid clogging.

Pebeo Setaskrib Pens

Setaskrib+ felt tip fabric markers are available with a fine, broad or brush nib for a multitude of marks. They are ideal for customising or up-cycling t-shirts, cushions and curtains. They are translucent and can be used to layer over one another to a degree. The colours are heat set by ironing on the reverse.