Saturday, April 27, 2024

Review: Paper Mate Flair Dual Felt Tip Pens


Flair Dual Felt Tip Pens (I unceremoniously tossed the blister packaging, so the product is presented in the raw.)

The Paper Mate Flair and I go way back – all the way to the late ‘60s (it came out in 1966). It was the first felt-tip marker I had ever used. Available only in black, blue and red, its rich, vibrant ink seemed leaps and bounds better than the crappy, leaky ballpoints of the era (at least the ones that I had access to). My piano teacher used a red one to notate my lessons, I had all three colors, and we were both delighted to have these revolutionary, new pens.

Although I think I continued to use Flairs through the ‘70s, especially after they started coming in many more colors, eventually they were superseded by gel ink, nylon points and other pens of better quality and brighter colors. By our standards now, the basic Flair felt pen was (and still is) exactly that – basic. Although it isn’t stellar, it stands out for its longevity: Other than minor changes to its barrel design, the Flair seems the same as it was in the ‘60s.

One flaw of the venerable Flair is that the felt tip mushed down quickly under my heavy hand (which was heavy even as a preteen) – much more quickly than the ink ever ran out. At some point, I recall a “point guard” was added to the tip (“Won’t mush down!”), but I can’t recall it making much of a difference. Anyway, I hadn’t used a Flair in decades, nor had I kept up with any newfangled developments, if any, the Flair might have had.

Suddenly one day on Instagram, a friend showed some work he had made using Flair Dual Felt Tip Pens – and one of the dual tips was a brush tip! Given my weakness for all things brush-like, I couldn’t order my pack of 16 colors fast enough!

The nostalgic part of me was relieved to see that even though the barrel is longer than the standard Flair’s to accommodate the dual tips, the basic design is mostly the same as the one I remember from my youth. The slender, well-balanced barrel is easy to hold and doesn’t add excessive bulk to my minimal sketch bag.

0.7mm tip
brush tip

Both the brush tip and the 0.7mm tip look like the are made of the same felty material that Flair is known for. I’m not positive about this, but I think the white cross icon on the end of the 0.7mm cap has remained unchanged. (I looked for images of vintage Flairs online to confirm, and while there are plenty on eBay, none showed the end of the cap.)

Iconic white cross still appears on one cap.

The palette of 16 colors (the largest set I could find) is OK for basic markers. I would have added a light gray and a brown and swapped out a couple of the similar peach/pink/carmine hues.

Flair Dual Felt Tip Pen swatches in Hahnemuhle Akademie watercolor sketchbook

Since the inks are water-soluble, I made swatches in a Hahnemühle sketchbook and gave them a swipe with a waterbrush. Water-solubility is decent, at least on this watercolor-sized paper; I can’t get as good a wash as these on Uglybook paper.

I wasn’t too concerned about either the color range or water-solubility, though, because I had in mind a limited and specific use: Simple, cartoonish sketches of the type I have been making to practice diary comics in Uglybooks. I had been using black brush pens for this task, such as my favorites, the Uni Pin, the Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Fude Pen with a “firm medium” brush tip and the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. As much as I love drawing with them, I often find the tips too broad for lettering on the scale of the small Uglybook A6-size page. With the Flair, I instantly saw that the dual tips would make an ideal, compact combo for thick lines, solid background coloring and fine lettering.

4/22/24 Maple Leaf neighborhood. After the loss of my black Flair, I challenged myself to use the other colors in warm/cool pairs. Since the ink is transparent, the colors are influenced by this Uglybook's strong yellow paper color, but I like the contrast.

Ironically, despite having all 16 color, black became the most useful for those tasks, and I started wishing it were available solo. This wish became more urgent when, after only a week of use, I lost the black Flair while sketching at U Village last week. Also ironically, my biggest disappointment in losing it was that I hadn’t yet photographed how mushed-down the brush tip had already gotten. So the disappointing attribute about Flairs that had made me stop using them decades ago hadn’t changed any more than their iconic appearance: They still mush down under my heavy hand. The 0.7mm tip seems to be holding out, though.

Another drawback is that if you pause the pen point on the page, the ink will feather a bit and may also bleed through. Using it in Uglybooks, this surprised me, because I have not experienced that with most marker-type pens or even juicy fountain pens. The only inks that have bled through Uglybook’s hefty 80-pound paper are Sharpies or oil-based waterproof inks.

If you let the pen point pause on the paper, it can leave
a dot, which then bleeds through (see right image).
Bleed-through from sketch at left.

I hunted online to see if black was available individually, and so far, I’ve come up empty-handed. However, other than for the fun of the hunt (which I can’t underestimate; I certainly enjoy a good sporting hunt), I don’t need to replace the lost black. I’m now challenging myself to use the other 15 colors, and it’s fun to pair them – one cool, one warm – to complement the paper color. Since the comics and other sketches I make in Uglybooks are mostly colorless, using two inks together adds a bit of interest and contrast, especially with the graphic look I am trying to develop. Besides, I have many black Japanese dual-tip brush pens that probably won’t mush down as quickly.

Not ideal in use, but a good value.

While Flair will never be my favorite or the “best” pen for anything, it’s OK for this purpose – as long as I don’t expect the tips to last as long as the ink. And for that, the price is a good value (a lot lower than Tombow Dual Brush Pens and other Japanese brush pens, which I think are more durable). Scrolling through Amazon, I see a lot of inexpensive, dual-tip brush pens available in sets of gazillions of colors. My bet is that they are no better than Flairs (although if some are, I’m eager to hear about them!) and certainly carry no nostalgia benefit, so there’s that.

Unsurprisingly, the Flair Duals reignited my interest in dual-tip markers in general, so I started digging through my stash. I had almost forgotten about a small set of Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen Dual Markers. Newish on the market, these pens contain the same waterproof ink as the rest of the Pitt Artist Pen line except that they have a broad brush tip on one end and a fine tip on the other. I’ll probably review these somewhere down the line. Spoiler alert: I like ‘em better than Flairs.

1 comment:

  1. I ran across an artist who exclusively uses basic black Flair pens for sketching on the go partly because they are cheap compared to similar pens (as you pointed out) so if he loses one, it's no big deal. Buys them by the carton, :-) I remember using Flair pens for writing, probably in college in the 70's and not sure why I quit. I have to be honest, I'm not that keen on gel pens although I dutifully have bought many different brands and colors since getting interested in mixed media and art journaling. Now it is nearly impossible to find regular pens not gel pens, at least there are far fewer of them on the display wall at places like Staples. I had no idea one could mush down the tip of felt pens before their ink ran out until I was using a techno pen for Zentangling. That rough paper and my heavy pressing really did a number on it! Made me a bit more careful with my Pigma Micron pens which I have always liked for detail and thin lines. But even as they come out with thicker tips for broader lines, they still don't make much of an impression compared to some Japanese brands I've tried and come to love.


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