18 Feb 2016

Choosing the Right Brush Pen, Part 1

If you look for brush pens at any art store (online or in person), the number of choices can be overwhelming. How the heck do you know what to look for? Unless you speak Japanese, many of the pen options online are especially confusing as their packaging is in a completely different language, with the brand name often being the only recognizable thing.

Choosing a brush pen goes beyond what color it is and how thick and thin the lines get. When you’re a beginner, finding the right brush pen can seriously impact your learning curve. You need to look for a brush pen with qualities that will make it as easy as possible to maintain consistent lines.

Important Criteria


Tip Type: Options include felt, natural brush, or synthetic brush. Felt tips are perfect for beginners because they tend to have firmer tips, and the felt tip is more easily controlled than hair brushes, which can go astray if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Flexibility: If a brush is very flexible, you can apply pressure to it, and it will immediately bounce back to its original shape as soon as you relieve pressure. A rigid brush tip will stay deformed after you relieve pressure, which can make it difficult for beginners to achieve consistent strokes.

Firmness: Brush tips can be soft and malleable, or firm and less giving. It depends on the type of brush and its size. Softer tips require much more control as they respond more to subtle movements in your hand. As a beginner, a firm brush tip is usually best, but a soft tip is great if it’s smaller.

Ink Flow: Some brush pens intentionally have a low ink flow, which can make your work a bit streaky and messy (sometimes, that’s what you want!). Others, ink may flow too fast for slow, deliberate brush calligraphy strokes. Beginners will want a pen with a steady, even ink flow.

Line Weight: As with Micron pens, or any other pens, brush pens come in a variety of line weights. Some can achieve very thick downstrokes, while the contrast between upstrokes and downstrokes in other pens is more subtle. This choice really comes down to personal preference, but most firm pens will probably be a bit lower contrast.

When you’re first starting out, you’ll want to find a firm (or small and soft), flexible felt tip brush pen, with an even ink flow. A pen with these qualities will set you up to focus on finding the grip and pressure levels that work best for you without having to worry about mistakes being caused by pen quirks. There are a few other criteria you may want to consider down the road, but consider them “nice to haves” or an added bonus.

Nice to Haves

Color options: Some brush pens only come in black, with others only having grey as an additional option. If you want a full range of colors, your pen choices are more limited.

Blendability: Many brush pens designed for calligraphy aren’t intended to be blendable. This will also limit your color options.

Lightfastness: If you want your work to last while framed or otherwise on display, you’ll want to make sure you select a pen with lightfast ink, to prevent fading.

Waterproofness: If you’re planning to combine your brush pen work with watercolor work or use additional markers, you’ll want to make sure the ink is waterproof to prevent unwanted smearing/blending.  

So Which Pen Do I Buy?

Alright. You now know exactly what you want in a brush pen. If you’re buying your pens online, you don’t have the luxury of testing them out before you buy. And if you’re in an art store, some of them frown upon you drawing on all of the price tags to test pens. So what’s a letterer to do?

Here are my 3 favorite, tried-and-true brush pens for beginners. Next week, I’ll be back with a comprehensive guide to every brush pen I’ve ever owned (the current count is 15… I think), including a downloadable comparison table so you can easily compare the different qualities between these pens.

Favorite For Beginners: Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen (Soft)

After buying a colorful set of Tombow Dual Brush Pens and wearing them all out with seemingly no progress, I was about to give up on brush lettering, convinced I would never get the hang of it. At the time, I didn’t realize that the large, soft tip of the Tombow Dual Brush Pens just wasn’t the right learning tool for me.

Enter the Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen. The tip is still soft, but its smaller size makes it easier to control. After the hours and hours of agonizing practice with the dual brush pens, this pen made me feel like a natural! I cannot recommend it enough if you’re just starting out. It’s a pretty basic pen – low contrast overall with a fantastic amount of flexibility. I’ve never found a black brush pen I’ve loved as much as this one.

Honestly, if I could feel good about only giving you one beginner pen recommendation, I would stop right here. But variety is the spice of life, so here are two other great options!

Runner Up: Pentel Sign Pen (Brush Tip)

The biggest perk of these pens is that they provide some color options, so you can change things up to keep practice interesting. These pens are firm, flexible, and the ink flows pretty well, so they’re a great option for learning if you want a little more variety than the Fudenosuke pen offers. They’re honestly probably just as good as the Fudenosuke, but the Fudenosuke is more fun to say and it will always have a piece of my heart.

Note: I’m about 97% certain that the Pentel Sign Pen (Brush Tip) and the Pentel Touch Fude Sign Pen listed on JetPens are the exact same pen, just that the former is the US version and the latter is Japanese. Whichever is easier for you to get, they’re both great!

Honorable Mention: Copic Multiliner Brush-M

This pen is a slightly less fine tip than the two options above, but it’s a great brush pen for a beginner. It’s fairly firm, and has just the right amount of flexibility, but it is a little harder to control than the Sign Pen or the Fudesunoke due to its larger tip. The ink flow on this pen is wonderful as well! The Brush-S is a little too flexible and soft for beginners, but the Brush-M is just right. 

Don’t Give Up – Try a Beginner-Friendly Pen!

If you’re struggling to get the hang of brush lettering, evaluate the brush pen you’re using. It might be too sensitive and hard to control, making your progress needlessly difficult! Tune in next week for a comprehensive guide to all of the brush pens I’ve tried out! Do you have a go-to brush pen you love to use? What brush pen did you start learning with?

P.S. If you’re looking for some drills to dig in to brush lettering, start here.