Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Update: Favorite Brush Pens

It’s been more than two years since I wrote my first comparison review of “hairy” brush pens (ones with bristle tips) and well over a year since my similar reviews of “non-hairy” (compressed fiber tips) and waterproof/refillable brush pens. At the time of those reviews, while I liked some pens better than others, no clear favorites rose above the rest, and many seemed very similar.

Over time, I’ve found myself reaching for the same ones repeatedly because they have brush qualities I favor, outlast the others, or simply feel good in my hand. Some of the non-refillable kinds ran dry relatively quickly and were tossed (making me feel guilty about adding more to the planet’s endless trash heap). Worse yet, many others (especially the non-hairy ones) had tips that mushed down and went flat long before they ran out of ink. So, after a year or two of solid use, five have risen to the top for various reasons. Here they are:

Four of the five have hairy tips – still my favorite type of brush pen for its full range of line variations. The disposable Copic Gasenfude contains solid black waterproof ink and a very responsive brush tip. I like to recommend this one to sketchers who have not yet tried a hairy brush pen because it’s less expensive than the Sailor Profit (see below) but still very durable for a throwaway.

6/22/17 Sailor Profit brush pen, graphite
Even better is the refillable Sailor Profit brush pen, which has a form factor that looks and behaves just like a fountain pen. As my main go-to brush pen these days, I like to fill it with the same waterproof Platinum Carbon Black bottled ink that I use in my fountain pens, so it’s both economical and less garbage-producing. In addition, its brush tip is replaceable, making it an even better value (although I’ve been using the original tip for years and have yet to wear it out). The pen’s barrel is slightly thicker than the Kuretake No. 13 (see below), another refillable pen, and I generally find larger barrels more comfortable.

6/8/17 Pentel brush pen
The Pentel brush pen with prefilled ink in the reservoir barrel has become my favorite for life drawing sessions. It comes in several colors besides black and is refillable. The soft barrel can be squeezed to push more water-soluble ink to the brush, which means you can vary the line quality from a dry brush look to a juicy paint look. I love how freely it flows during one- and two-minute poses when speed is of the essence. Kuretake makes a similar one that’s just as good. (Caution: This type of brush pen with ink in the reservoir is the type I never take on planes or to high altitudes. I learned this lesson the hard way, so it stays at home in my life-drawing kit.)

The previously mentioned refillable Kuretake No. 13 brush pen was the first hairy brush pen I tried and has been a long-time favorite. Available in black or red, the slender barrel is a little less comfortable to use than the Sailor Profit, so once I discovered the latter, I started using it more. But I still keep the Kuretake as a backup, especially since Platinum Carbon Black cartridges fit in it, so if others are dry and I need a brush pen in a hurry, I just pop a cartridge in. In fact, I bought a second Kuretake to fill with water-soluble brown ink. (I don’t recommend changing ink types once you fill a brush pen. Unlike a fountain pen, the brush is difficult to wash out completely.) Although I tend to use waterproof ink more often, it’s still fun to have a water-soluble option sometimes, especially in an alternate color.

7/1/17 Zig Mangaka brush pen
The only non-hairy brush pen on my list is the Kuretake Zig Mangaka. I have tried more non-hairy brush pens than I care to admit, and while most have no distinguishing characteristics other than slight variations in the size or shape of the flexible tips, many seem to share one annoying tendency: They mush down quickly under my heavy hand. I have flattened many tips long before I’ve used up the inks. Favored by manga cartoonists, the Zig Mangaka is the one exception. I used one nearly daily for more than two months before the waterproof ink started to dry up, and the tip is still holding up. It’s my brush pen of choice for most of the sketches done in Field Notes. It comes in sepia as well as black, which is a nice alternate color. Although it’s time to replace the pen (you can see it’s going dry in my scribble sample above), I’m going to keep the one that’s running dry. I discovered inadvertently in KK and Melanie Reim’s workshop that a nearly-dry brush pen is sometimes useful for subtle, brushy shading (an effect that KK gets from a stencil brush).

A strong runner-up in the non-hairy category is the Zebra disposable. It, too, has a sturdy brush, though I haven’t been using one long enough to know if it holds up as long as the Mangaka. It comes at a great price -- while it’s $2.50 at JetPens, I got one at Daiso for a buck-fifty.

So that’s my roundup of my current favorite brush pens. If you’re still interested in even more brush pens, check out the series of reviews I wrote for the Well-Appointed Desk:

Note: Although most links in my post refer to JetPens, they are not affiliate links. Many of these products are available at less cost on Amazon and elsewhere, but JetPens provides excellent product information. 


  1. Always good to read your brush reviews, Tina. You always have such good advice.

  2. Thanks Tina, great review. I trust your reviews and they have been very informative!


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