Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Firm and Flexy Uni Pin

The firm but flexible Uni Pin brush pen

I’ve been using flexible-tip and bristle-tip brush pens for nearly as long as I’ve been sketching, and I’ve tried lots (here are two more reviews: waterproof and refillable ones; and favorites from a couple years ago). While I love most of them for the beautiful varied lines and organic marks they impart, and I can use any at my desk, their primary job is to make quick captures when I’m riding public transportation. For that specific purpose, I’m much more picky.

I’ve come to find that the ones with firm but flexible tips and a conventional pen body are the most versatile (some Japanese brush pens mimic traditional sumi brushes with long, tapered bodies). The firm but flexy tips are easier to control on bumpy bus rides, and the normal body size is discreet and uncumbersome (I don’t like to attract attention when I’m sketching in public).

When I’m making these quick portraits of fellow commuters, I need to be able to discreetly whip out a reliable pen and use it without fuss – no leaks, bleeding, feathering or unpredictability. The cap must pull off easily and post securely. These seem like easy requirements, yet you’d be surprised how many caps are so tight, I am at risk of socking my seat mate when I pull, or the posted cap falls off and rolls under the seat.
11/21/19 Uni Pin in Blackwing Clutch notebook

The latest to meet all my urban sketching requirements is the Uni Pin Pen with a brush tip, which I just reviewed at the Well-Appointed Desk. Its black pigment ink dries almost immediately and is mostly waterproof after a few minutes (a trace of washed ink is visible after a few minutes’ wait, but that’s good enough for me). It doesn’t feather or bleed on typical notebook papers. In addition to meeting the demands described above, it has some features that appeal to me in idiosyncratic ways, like the tiny window in the cap and the solid, audible click the cap makes when it’s secured. As I mention in the review, the hard, reinforced brush tip looks like it will not mush down under my heavy drawing hand, which is a problem I’ve had with many flexible brush tip pens. Yet its line variation is impressive. I can hold the tip upright to draw individual eyelashes, or I can hold it at an angle for broader strokes.
Only faint traces of bleeding after a few minutes.
In retrospect, I realize that as I used fountain pens less and less, even my most beloved Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen, I was using a firm but flexible brush pen more and more instead. Although I never babied my Sailor on the street (if I couldn’t comfortably take it out on location, it was of no use to me), the one place I feared for it was on the bus, because if I lost the cap under the seat, I knew it would be expensive or maybe impossible to replace. A disposable brush pen gives me no pause at all.
10/24/19 Uni Pin in Field Notes notebook
There was also the matter of paper. The Sailor filled with my favorite Platinum Carbon ink is probably the juiciest, most-likely-to-bleed pen and ink combo I own, and so often a typical pocket notebook would let me down. Continually frustrated, I couldn’t blame the notebook: How many pocket notebook users would be expected to use a Sailor Naginata Fude de Mannen for casual note-taking? On the other hand, most brush pens, even those containing pigment ink, fare well on typical notebook papers.

A reliable disposable brush pen gives me all the fude qualities I crave with none of the risk or maintenance issues. If the brush tip on the Uni Pin holds up as long as the ink lasts, it will become my regular go-to.



  1. Thanks for the review! I ordered two........

    1. Glad you found the review helpful! I hope you like the pen, too.

  2. I agree about the bus thing. Our streets are sufficiently bumpy that I have other problems sketching on the bus but needing a cheap pen solution is near the top of the list. I'll see if I can find these Uni-pens of which you speak. I really don't like the stiff tip pens.

    1. Hope you can find a Uni Pin, Larry. Wish I had an easy solution to the bumpy street problem -- it's a big problem here, too!


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