If you’ve been following my lettering journey for a while, you may have seen the first iteration of this post, done in mid-2016. Now, over 30 pens and many sheets of paper later, I’m bringing the ultimate brush pen review back bigger and better!
(Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click through and purchase something, I make a small commission — but you still pay the same amount! I only put affiliate links on items I use and love.)
How the Ultimate Brush Pen Review is organised
If you’re on Instagram, you’ve probably seen the comments:
What pen is that?
What pen do I use to do xyz?
This review puts it altogether. Over 35 pens, analysed by flexibility, line variation, options for size and colour variation, and — for the penny-pinching — value-for-money. Let’s go over the ‘terminology’ first:
- Line Variation: the difference between the thickest and thinnest line a pen can produce
- Set options (Size): Whether the brush pen has others of the same line in the same colour but different sizes
- Set options (Colour): Whether the brush pen has others of the same line in the same size but different colours
- Value-for-Money: Whether the price of the pen** is worth it (depending on your experience level and what you plan to use it for)
- Flexibility: Related to but not the same as line variation, this refers to how much control you need to achieve consistent thick and thin strokes
** Prices listed in this review are in Singapore dollars, and how much they cost here. International prices may vary.
The Flexibility Scale
The Flexibility Scale is (you guessed it!) one end stiff, the other end flexible. There are two important areas on this scale. The first is the Happy Zone — if a pen falls in this zone, it’s pretty easy to use. You may have to adjust a bit, but not a lot.
The second is the Comfort Zone, which is when a pen is hard to use, but not so hard that you want to… Well, rip your hair out and throw your lettering stuff out of the window!
The Zones differ from person to person and will change over time.
I rate the pens based on my judgement, so you may find that a pen in my comfort zone may not be in yours — yet. As you practice, your control will increase and you may find that pens that were too flexible before now feel within your reach. Just a little thing to keep in mind as you read this post.
Now, to prevent your brains from turning to mush, I’m not going to go pen-by-pen. Instead, based on the above criteria, the pens are split into four different categories: Beginner Pens, Good for Special Projects, Fun to Try Out, and Try At Your Own Risk — click to jump to the category relevant to you!
If you want to watch each pen in action, I do all that in the review video below. Just press play! If not, the short(er) version is all written for you 😉
#1. Good Beginner Pens
For a brush pen to be a beginner pen, there are three criteria it has to meet.
1. There is good line variation.
What drew you to brush letter is probably the thicks and thins, so obviously you want a pen that can accomplish that.
2. The pen is flexible enough that this is easily achieved.
Now I’m not saying that it’ll be super easy. It’s not going to be! But as a beginner, you want a pen that is challenging but not so challenging that you want to hurl it out of the window and give up on lettering altogether! Essentially, it needs to hit the ‘Happy Zone’ on the flexibility scale.
3. The pen is relatively inexpensive.
It’s far easier to start out with a felt-tip brush pen than a real brush with bristles. The only problem with that is felt-tips fray. As a beginner, you can — and will — go through a great number of pens at first, so getting a decent pen at a relatively low price is key!
Colour and size options don’t matter here. You just want a good pen to practice. It doesn’t really matter how many colours or sizes a particular pen comes in!
Which brush pens are good for beginners then?
From top to bottom: Artline Stix, Crayola PipSqueaks, Crayola SuperTips, Kuretake Zig Fudebiyori (Metallic), Pentel Fude Touch Sign Pen, Pentel Fudemoji Sign Pen*, Sakura Koi Coloring Pen, Shinhan TOUCH Liner Brush, Tombow Fudenosuke Hard + Soft, Twin Tips, Zebra Fudebiyori
*Only the Extra Fine, Fine and Medium pens from this line fall under this category. You can read more about the Bold tip here.
All the pens listed above range between $0.40 (Crayolas) to $2.90 (Tombow Fudenosuke), which makes replacing them less of a heartache. As you can see from the scale below, they all fall comfortably with in the ‘Happy Zone’ on the flexible scale — except for one pen.
Shinhan TOUCH Liner Brush
The TOUCH Liner is what I’d call a ‘switch’ pen. It can write really small like a Tombow Fudenosuke, but also really big like a Sakura Koi Coloring Pen — which is why under size, I listed it as Medium to Bold. I included it in this category because the natural amount of pressure you’d put is similar to the Fudenosuke and relatively easy to use. Getting it to write like a Sakura Koi is more difficult, but possible — hence its place on the scale.
#2. Try at Your Own Risk: Brush Pens to Avoid
Okay, that’s a bit dramatic. The risk is only to your wallet after all! But this is category essentially consists on pens I bought, and would not buy again. Here’s the 411 on these pens:
For the record, they aren’t necessarily bad pens — they just aren’t lettering-friendly!
The Miniso Aquarelle brush tip frays out in 3 letters, but this blog post says it works for colouring. The Sakura Pigma BB is nice, but has a strange serif-like ‘foot’ at the start and end of its thick downstrokes. The Pentel Fudemoji in B cannot comfortably achieve smooth line variation greater than the M tip, so I consider that a bust.
The other pens simply don’t ‘click’ with me. They just require control and patience that I don’t have at this point — but they are pens I may revisit in the near future.
#3. Brush Pens for Special Projects
Certain projects call for special brush markers. Let’s say you want to letter a print that will be displayed. Or you want some glitter or metallic ink. Maybe you want to letter on fabric or glass. Fear not, there are brush markers for that.
Lettering for Sale, Gifts or Display
Not all lettering is just for practice. Sometimes you want to letter things for display, for sale, or as a gift. In those cases, you definitely want that lettering to stand the test of time. The solution? Archival ink.
All the above pens are archival, meaning they are lightfast, waterproof and acid-free, so your work will last a long time.
Personally, I would not use the Faber-Castells unless I had to have matching colours (other than black) in 2 sizes, and I couldn’t find a match between the Sakura Pigma Microns and Kuretake brush pens. For one thing, the Faber-Castells are far more expensive. For another, the Sakura and Kuretake are easier to use and have better line variation!
Adding Special Effects to Your Lettering
Special effects like glitter or metallics aren’t something you’d reach for daily, but there are pens that can serve that purpose. This is one area I haven’t explored in great detail, but here’s what I do know.
Surprisingly, they are all by Kuretake! I love and adore the Fudebiyori — it is very beginner-friendly and works well on black paper.
The Winks… Not so much. Like the Faber-Castells, the Wink of Luna and Stella fall slightly outside my comfort zone. They are too flexible for me, and the glitter/metallic payoff isn’t enough for me to struggle with them. Frankly, I consider it money wasted and wouldn’t buy it again unless I had a specific (large) project in mind.
Lettering on Non-Paper Surfaces
You may also want to letter on something other than paper — and Sharpie is great for that! Sharpie has two lines — the Stained by Sharpie fabric marker and their Sharpie Permanent Brush Marker — and they both hit the Happy Zone on flexibility.
However, if you are planning to letter on fabric though, be warned that the Stained by Sharpie marker will fray. I used mine on a canvas tote and it died pretty quick.
(Side note: both markers can be used as beginner brush pens, but you will need marker paper for the Sharpie Brush, and the line variation on the Stained marker isn’t as satisfying as the other beginner pens listed!)
#4. ‘Fun To Try Out’ Brush Pens… a.k.a. Everything else!
This last category is a bit of a ‘catch all’ for brush pens that don’t fall into any of the other categories because trying out new pens is always fun for me — that’s why we have this post! So here’s the short list:
From Top to Bottom: Akashiya Sai Watercolor Brush, Akashiya Sai Thin Liner Brush, Ecoline Brush Pen, Kuretake Bimoji (F), Kuretake Fudegokochi (M), Kuretake Zig Clean Color Real Brush, Pentel Usu-Zumi Sign Pen, Pilot Fude-Makase (EF), Tombow Dual Brush Pen
Pens like the Tombow Dual Brush and Ecoline Brush Pen need no introduction. You’ve probably seen them on Instagram. They are easy to use, but tend to be expensive. They do live up to the hype though. The colours are gorgeous and they write well.
The Kuretake Bimoji is also lovely to use. The rubberised grip is awesome, since my hands sometimes get damp. I also appreciate how there are multiple sizes from EF to B, which would make lettering a large multi-sized piece easy. They are expensive at $4 each though.
The other pens are more flexible than I’m used to. They are not pens I’d reach for automatically, but they are pens I plan to challenge myself with to improve my skills — more flexible pens require more control!
The line variation of all these pens are on-point, but I would avoid the Akashiya pens until you are better at the rest. They are extremely sensitive, so… Save yourself the $7.40, please?
Where do I get the pens in this ultimate brush pen review?
If you’re in the West, you can get most of these pens off Amazon or JetPens — just check the links! There are a few I couldn’t find on there, but I bought mine at Overjoyed here in Singapore and they do ship internationally 😉 So you can check them out!
If you’re from my part of the world, I get my brush pens from Overjoyed and Tokyu Hands, and sometimes ArtFriend. Oh and Straits Art for Ecoline! If you want to know specifics, just shoot me an email.
Which pen will you buy next?
I choose the pen I want to practice with next based on where it falls on the scale. We are all at different places though, so I’d love to know which of these pens piqued your interest!
If there are pens you feel that I’ve missed, come say hello down in the comments!