Guide to Drawing Pens
Ink is one of the most powerful mediums in art. Its strong lines and bold colors are difficult to replicate with other mediums, and its permanence allows us to enjoy work hundreds of years old. Historically, ink was applied with a brush or dip pen, but these methods are messy, difficult to transport, and take years to master.
The advent of the technical pen opened a new world for ink drawings. Though originally designed for architects and engineers, technical pens’ predictability and portability have made them popular among artists. However, their high cost and maintenance-heavy tips were a barrier to entry for most “starving” artists.
To address the issue of cost, manufacturers changed the tip material from metal to plastic, making it cheaper to produce and removed any need for maintenance. Longevity was sacrificed but performance was actually improved in a certain way as plastic tips are capable of a wider range of drawing angles and don’t need to be held perfectly perpendicular to the page to work. Thus was the drawing pen born.
Characteristics of a Drawing Pen
Drawing pens provide a superb and reliable writing experience. Their success is largely due to their specially formulated ink and needle-point tip design.
Drawing pens are Copic-proof (left) and waterproof (right).
The ink in drawing pens is water and marker-safe, resists smudging, and retains its brilliance over time. This differs from most other inks: fountain and gel pen inks are not water safe or permanent, felt-tip and permanent pens are not lightfast, and dip pen inks dry more slowly and smudge more easily.
The secret of these amazing inks is pigments. Pigments are tiny bits of colored material which have been ground up until they are small enough to be suspended in a liquid medium.
Pigment particles are more stable than dyes (such as those used in fountain pens or permanent markers) and are less susceptible to fading from UV exposure or chemicals. Drawing pens use incredibly fine pigment particles for a smooth ink flow. The pigments adhere to the paper with a special binder mixed into the ink, which resists smudging and solvents.
Drawing pen tips are designed for precision work. Unlike flexible nibs or brushes, each pen creates a consistent and predictable line. Cylindrical metal tip guards allow for use against rulers without damage to the plastic tip, and the straight needle point guarantees the line will be flush against the guide.
Unlike the metal tip of a technical pen, the plastic tips of a drawing pen have slightly more give when writing or drawing, allowing the pens to be used at more natural writing angles.
Drawing pens come in a range of tip sizes for nearly all drawing needs. Tip sizes as small as 0.03 mm can render even the most meticulous of details, while sizes in the 0.7 mm and 0.8 mm range deliver bold graphic lines (Note that the actual line width will almost always be larger than the tip size). The numerous sizes in between give artists a spectrum of drawing possibilities.
Note that tip size labeling for drawing pens is unusual.
Pens are given a number that range from 0.03 to 0.8 that express their relative tip size or line width, but the number does not actually correspond directly to the millimeter width of either. A 0.03 will produce about a 0.18mm line width, while a 0.8 will produce a 0.5 line width, and so on. This naming scheme was inherited from technical pens which was arbitrarily determined by the manufacturers of such pens in the 1960’s when they were first introduced.
Table of Tip Sizes
Name | (mm)
* This table compares line widths and darkness across the different tip sizes. Most of the pens performed similarly, but the Rotring was notably inkier and prone to feathering. The smaller tip sizes tend to be less pigmented than their larger counterparts.
Table Demonstrating Copic-Resistance and Lifting*
Name | (mm)
* This table shows test results for Copic-resistance on the left. On the right, lifting tests (when an ink becomes lighter due to erasing) were done using the Sakura Foam Eraser. All the pens are Copic-proof, and only the Faber-Castell pens showed signs of lifting.
Uses for Drawing Pens
While artists may be the main demographic among drawing pen users, the unique characteristics of drawing pens make them perfect for a variety of tasks.
Pencils are the most common tool for sketching, but the drawing pen offers a developmental alternative. The indelible ink keeps the artist from erasing and reworking a sketch, instead learning to accept mistakes and continue drawing regardless. Thin or light-colored pens are well-suited for initial sketches while darker or thicker-tipped pens are great for a finishing touch.
Drawing pens are also useful for warm-up sketches. Warming up with an ink pen instead of a pencil can help artists ignore details and instead create naturally flowing lines, loosen the arm muscles to prevent fatigue, and create lively drawings unhindered by the need for perfection.
Kuretake Zig Cartoonist Mangaka
Kuretake’s Zig Cartoonist Mangaka pens offer unique light blue and light grey colors perfect for sketching or adding a hint of shading.
Also consider: Staedtler Pigment Liner
Constantly uncapping and re-capping pens to change sizes can take the positive momentum out of sketching. The Staedtler Pigment Liner can be left uncapped for up to 18 hours for quick switches while drawing.
Illustration presents the perfect opportunity to use a graphic drawing pen or three. Richly colored or deep black inks create beautiful and vibrant linework. The ink can be colored with nearly any medium thanks to its water and marker-safe binders, and archival pigments guarantee the drawing will remain vibrant for many years. The precise tips allow for consistent lines of nearly any size – crucial in illustration work where a small change in line width can make a big impact in a facial expression.
Copic Multiliner SP
The Copic Multiliner SP line offers the widest variety of tip widths among all drawing pen lines, allowing for a pen for any need. The delicate 0.03 size easily inks the tiniest details, while the 0.8 tip is excellent for bold outlines. Artists can choose any combination of tip sizes that best suit their drawing needs.
The 0.3 size offers twelve additional colors beyond the standard black. Replaceable ink cartridges and tips not only make the pens an environmentally-friendly choice, they allow for customization of a pen’s color and tip size.
Also consider: Sakura Pigma Micron
The Sakura Pigma Micron has the widest variety of colors and tip sizes with fifteen colors and seven tip sizes to choose from.
A comic artists and his drawing pen are as inseparable as Thor and his hammer. Drawing pens are perfect for all aspects of comic art: their rich black ink provides crisp and clear lines, the variety of sizes allows for both delicate details and powerful outlines, and the consistent widths are perfect for panel borders and lettering. Original comic pages can become a valuable collectible with archival ink guaranteeing the drawings will last.
Rotring Tikky Graphic Drawing Pen
The Rotring Tikky Graphic Drawing Pen’s seven different tip sizes make it a hero in almost any situation. The unique window in the barrel shows if the ink is running low so you’ll never be stranded without a working pen.
Also consider: Copic Multiliner SP
Copic Multiliners are well-loved by comic artists for their wide variety of tip sizes and replaceable tips and inks. The 0.1 is the most versatile tip, capable of delivering bold color and tiny detail, while the 0.8 size is great for panel borders or speech balloons. Unique among drawing pens, Copic Multiliner SPs have replaceable tips and ink cartridges.
Drawing pen’s unique ink makes them irreplaceable writing instruments. Archival inks ensure writing will remain visible for many years (somewhere between 80 and 200 years based on laboratory tests), a valuable attribute to consider for important documents. The ink dries quickly, making it perfect for lefties, and is waterproof and safe against accidental beverage spills or unexpected rainshowers.
While the ink smudges marginally with standard highlighters, gel highlighters are perfectly safe to use with drawing pens. For best results, we recommend pairing drawing pens with acid-free and high quality papers such as those mentioned in our guide to fountain pen notebooks.
The Marvy Le Pen Technical Drawing Pen has the widest barrel and grip among all drawing pens. A wide barrel is more ergonomic than a thinner one and is more comfortable for extended writing sessions.
Also consider: Uni Pin Pen
Available in oil and water-based versions, the Uni Pin Pen’s unique feature is a window in the cap that allows one to view the tip – helpful in case the caps ever get mixed up. It’s also among the more economical choices among drawing pens.
An autograph or your favorite celebrity can become a cherished memory or a valuable collector’s item. Unlike most permanent dye-based pens, the ink in drawing pens won’t fade, making it perfect for precious memorabilia. Additionally, drawing pens easily write on smooth papers such as photos, posters, or trading cards.
Faber Castell PITT Pen
The Faber Castell PITT pen lineup includes the durable 0.7 mm medium and 1.3 mm bullet nibs, ideal sizes for legible signatures. The medium tip is slightly rounded for better performance at a variety of angles. The lightly-textured grip keeps the pen from slipping out of your fingers.
Also consider: Pilot Drawing Pen
In addition to the standard water-based drawing pen, Pilot drawing pens are also available as oil-based pens. The oil-based ink works on a variety of surfaces, such as plastic and glass, giving almost anything the potential to be autographed.
Other Uses for Drawing Pens
Drawing pens can be used for many of the same applications as technical pens. For these other uses see our Guide to Technical Pens.
Drawing pens may have been originally designed for artists, but their unique waterproof and archival ink makes them great for a multitude of tasks. What is your favorite use for your drawing pens? Tell us in the comments below!
|Copic Multiliner SP||0.03, 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.25, 0.3, 0.35, 0.5, 0.7, Brush||Replaceable tips and ink cartridges in a metal body||$$$$|
|Faber-Castell Pitt Pen||Extra Small, Small, Fine, Medium, 1.5, Brush, Soft Brush, Soft Chisel||Textured slip-resistant grip||$$$|
|Kuretake Zig Cartoonist Mangaka||003, 005, 01, 02, 05, 08||Light blue and light grey colors available||$$|
|Marvy LePen Technical Drawing Pen||0.03, 0.05, 0.1, 0.3, 0.5, 0.8, Brush||Larger diameter body||$|
|Pilot Drawing Pen (Water Based)||005, 01, 02, 03, 05, 08||Large numbers on cap, also available in oil-based ink||$$|
|Rotring Tikky Graphic Liner||0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 0.4, 0.5, 0.7, 0.8||Clear grip and ink window||$$$|
|Sakura Pigma Micron||005, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 08||ACMI certified non-toxic, 15 colors||$$ / $$$|
|Staedtler Pigment Liner||0.05, 0.1, 0.3, 0.5, 0.7||ACMI certified non-toxic, 18 hour cap off time||$$$|
|Uni Pin Pen||0.05, 01, 02, 03||Cap window||$|
*Hover over the color swatch to see the color name. Click on the color swatch to go to the product page.
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JetPens Drawing Pen Sampler
Still not sure what to try? Check out our Drawing Pen Sampler for some of our favorite and most popular fine-tipped drawing pens for sketches, comics, illustrations, notes, and much more. They all have subtle differences and a different tactile feel on paper, so try them all and see which best fits your writing or drawing style!