Our guide to artist pens

The best pen for the job: our guide to art and design pens

There’s a whole wide world of artist pens out there. We've put together a guide to help you select the most appropriate tool for the job - by focusing on what you want to create. Whether you’re a newbie to brush lettering, on the hunt for an everyday scribbler or you just want to inject a splash of colour into your notebook, we’re here to help you find your dream kit. Let the fun begin.

1. For everyday use
This Japanese icon was famously used by an American president to autograph photographs and it's even travelled to space with NASA. Launched back in the 60s, it’s an essential for designers and illustrators. We love it for list making, labelling, titles and addressing envelopes and it’s our pen of choice for scribbling down product development ideas.

The solid bullet fibre tip makes your handwriting look neater. Top tip for the scruffiest of handwriting: try writing in all caps. It certainly makes this designer’s research look better. 

Sign Pen by Pentel

2. For getting started with lettering
New to fancy lettering? Start out by injecting some flair into your everyday writing. Whether it’s making a to-do list that’s bullet pointed in contrasting colours or titling your minutes with brush-like flourishes, a great pen will make all the difference.

Our pick for the job? The tip of the Fudenosuke pen only needs a gentle change in stroke to achieve a brush effect. Lightly guide the nib rather than forcing it and you’ll be rewarded with a more stylistic hand.

Fudenosuke Brush Pen by Tombow

3. For varying thicknesses
Zebra’s brush pens are my go-to for any lettering project. Available with an extra fine, fine or medium tip. Or, start out with the Double Ended model which comes with both fine and medium points.

With a rich, black, archival quality, permanent pigment ink, you'll be pleased to know that these pens are also water resistant, acid free and non-toxic.

You can easily vary your line width by adjusting your pressure. The extra fine tip gives meticulous control and I used it for the task of hand numbering our limited edition notebooks. The fine and medium have more flexibility and are great for achieving a brush effect. 

Brush Pen in Extra Fine or Fine by Zebra
Double Ended Brush Pen by Zebra
Long Bristles Double Ended Brush Pen by Zebra

4. For colourful lettering

These next entries have colour palettes worthy of the very best pencil cases. Pentel’s brush edition of their iconic Sign Pen has a flexible fibre tip for ebbing and flowing your line. It creates strokes of up to 2mm when used on its side and you can achieve a fine 0.4mm line by guiding the pen along the tip.

For a thicker line of up to 8mm, the water based Dual Brush is your pick. Being double ended, it has the added benefit of a 1mm fine tip for precision work like outlines. The Blender Pen allows you to mix and blend the colours – just as you would with watercolours – but without the hassle of filling a jar with H2O.

Use these pens for all manner of colourful creations - brush lettering, creating bold vision boards or decorating your own wrapping paper.

Brush Sign Pen by Pentel
Dual Brush Pen by Tombow

5. For bullet journaling

The Twin Tone by Tombow was designed with bullet journaling in mind. Double ended, a 0.3mm fine-liner is ideal for precision work and handwriting whereas the 0.8mm bullet marker suits titles, pattern and borders.

The Sign Pen, aforementioned for being a fantastic everyday pen, is another favourite in the bujo movement. It's been a staple on our rainbow pen shelves since 2014 and is a favourite with our designer and illustrator customers. Branch out and add some variety to your bullet journal with the brush version of the Sign Pen, now available in even more colours. We love it for adding brush-stroke borders, underlining and highlighting.

Twin Tone by Tombow
Sign Pen and Brush Sign Pen by Pentel

6. For decoration, colouring and pattern making
The Decorite pen is my pick. Choose from a chunky brush tip for writing and flourishes, a 1.0mm bullet for finer marks and lines or a 3.0mm flat chisel tip for bold pattern making and colouring. Decorite has a water based pigment ink that works on almost any surface; card, glass, porcelain, fabric, metal and plastic.

The high density ink means the colours show up vividly on dark papers. And, once the ink dries, you can overlay the colours. It creates solid, consistent coverage which makes it ideal for colouring in. We found a lot of pleasure in creating bold, bright dots with the bullet tip and various lines and flecks with the chisel tip.

Decorite by Artline in chisel tip or bullet tip

7. For injecting colour into your everyday

Anyone can use these pens. Brighten up your to-do list or colour coordinate your schedule. The Artline 200 is a fine liner with a 0.4mm line, making it ideal for everyday writing, circling important dates and events or annotating.

The Twin Tone double ended pen by Tombow has a fine-liner and a bullet marker and comes in bright and pastel hues. Pair two contrasting colours for big picture planning.

Artline 200 by Artline
Twin Tone by Tombow

8. For a pen with two tips

What could be better than a new pen? A pen with two ends! My favourite multipurpose lettering pen is the Fudenosuke Twin Tip Calligraphy Pen by Tombow. It has two ends, one grey and one black. Both are flexible fibre tips so you can adjust your angle and pressure to vary the thickness of the stroke on the page, creating stylistic flicks and flourishes with one pen. The ink flows beautifully - it feels like you’ve dipped the pen into a pot of ink - but without messy bleeding or leaking. The grey tip is useful for adding drop shadows and detail. 

It’s also worth checking out the Twin Tone Pen by Tombow - the black is a desktop essential for me - and the Double Ended Brush Pen by Zebra. 

Fudenosuke Twin Tip Calligraphy Pen by Tombow

9. For adding detail

Shadows, definition, embellishments...when it comes to typography and brush lettering it’s not just about a decent black pen. A good pencil case will have a spectrum of greys for adding tone and detail.

in Grey by Tombow, Fudenosuke Calligraphy Pen by Tombow, Sign Pen in Grey by Pentel, Twin Tone in Grey by Tombow, Brush Sign Pen in Light Grey by Pentel, Decorite Brush Pen in Metallic Silver by Artline.

And that's a wrap. Browse our full collection of pens for art and design here.


Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

1 of 8
1 of 3