Disposable Technical Pens & Drawing Pens Test Drive
I use disposable technical pens for fine line drawing because I am not up to cleaning out ink and unclogging pen nibs of the refillable technical pens. I did that in Art School, and had enough of it then. Now good disposable technical pens and drawing pens are easy to find!
I had a problem with my disposable technical pens smudging if I used my water color pens or brush within a couple of minutes of laying down the ink when drawing. I poked around the web and discovered that they have to dry first. How long, I'm not sure; I had let a few dry overnight here in humidville. And then there were the smudges if I worked fast. I decided to try different kinds of disposable technical pens and drawing pens to see how they worked for me. When I got done, I had a lot of notes.
First I learned more about disposable technical pens and drawing pens in general.
- Available in multiple "needle point" nib (tip) sizes, plus some have related brushes and bullet tips OS and packaged with them in sets.
- Draw an even line
- Inks are generally permanent, pigment inks, archival quality, considered water resistant or waterproof after full drying, lightfast, do not bleed on most papers, and Art & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) Approved Product (AP) as non-toxic when used properly. (Maybe if you eat the whole pen it's bad for you?)
- The write out (how many yards or meters of line it will draw) and evenness of lines is affected by angle, paper type, and texture.
- Holding them at a 90° angle to the paper gives the most consistent line. Different angles may damage the tips.
- Will dry out if left uncapped too long.
- Paper type or other material you're drawing on make a big difference. Some soak up a lot more ink than others.
- Texture of paper/material surface matters. It's nearly impossible to draw a consistent, clean line on highly textured cold press watercolor paper, for instance.
- A light touch is required to keep from damaging tiny pen nibs or the paper you're drawing on.
- Many are available in colors, though I'm discussing black here.
I did three types of tests for each size of each brand. One was how much it smudges with a finger immediately after drawing-- that tells me how careful I need to be as I go along. Another is whether it smudges with a finger 15 minutes or more later. The third is how working with a Niji water brush affects it, both scrubbing over it and a light brush over, because I often alternate inking and coloring with watercolor pens. I tested them on both hot press water color paper (a little tooth) and vellum illustration paper (very smooth); there was no noticeable difference in how they behaved on these two mediums in terms of what I was testing for.
If you would rather jump straight to the conclusion than read about each individual type of pen click here.
In alphabetical order by manufacturer, here are some things I noticed about each type of pen.
Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pens
These are pigment India ink pens with saturated warm-toned black ink. They have a number of brush and bullet nibs as well as the technical pen nibs. They are poor for resisting smudging and water before they are fully dry. They resist finger smudging totally after 15 minutes or less, and for the thinner widths, much sooner. They do blur some with water as long as an hour later. Sizing is plain old weird, but it tells you what those SBs and Fs and SCs mean on the back of a set's wallet. Pricing is average to high, and they are readily available in sets and open stock. They also come in a rainbow of colors. In all, I'm happy with them and think the PITTs are a very good set for artists, illustrators, or scrapbookers, especially if you would like the brushes with India ink.
The ink is pretty saturated on these but not as much as some. The flow is medium smooth with a little skipping here and there. They smudge moderately right after drawing, but not at all after an hour. They also do moderately well with water right after drawing. They are not ACMI AP, archival, or lightfast. The price is low for all 8 nib sizes. As it happens, I do not like how their peculiar barrel with cut away areas feels in my hand. Considering they're moderate or poorly in so many areas, I think they might be economical for practice drawing, but I wouldn't recommend them for anything else.
Prismacolor Premier Illustration Markers
These pens draw as smooth as silk. The ink is saturated and has a slightly cool tone. The ink does smudge right after drawing, but not after about 15 minutes. They do smudge moderately with water right after drawing. They come in 5 sizes plus a brush tip and a bullet tip. They also come in a variety of colors. They are readily available open stock and in sets. They also come in colors. They are expensive. I recommend these highly, especially if you tend to do more artistic drawing than strictly illustration. Did I mention they draw as smooth as silk?
Royal & Langnickel Nano-Liner
The ink in the Nano-Liner is saturated, and lays down somewhat smoothly. They are available in 7 nib sizes measured in millimeters. The ink is not ACMI AP and they make no claim to be archival or lightfast. They smudge right after drawing, but not after an hour. They do not play well at all with water to the point I would never risk using them with anywhere I wanted to use a watercolor pen or even a gel pen. Pricing is surprisingly high, often more than any of the other pens I tested. Availability is pretty good online, and they come with a number of the Royal & Langnickel art sets. This is the poorest quality pen I tested, and I would not recommend them for any use.
The Microperm pens are meant to be permanent on a wide variety of surfaces, though I was just trying them on paper here. The ink is saturated, slightly warm toned, and flows well. Unfortunately it bleeds on many paper types. I tried to see what papers it would not bleed on, and the illustrator's vellum and marker papers were the ones that won that contest. It has little smudge (aside from the bleeding) immediately and none later. It also holds up to water very well. The pens come in three sizes, and are readily available. I love that they hold up to water so well, but the deal breaker for me is the way it bleeds. I can't recommend them for drawing on paper other than illustration papers because of their tendency to bleed.
Sakura Pigma Micron
The Microns are very consistent pens. The ink is saturated well and has a slightly warm tone. The pen lays down a line smoothly. They do smudge immediately after drawing, but not five minutes later. They are a little reactive to water, especially in the brush and graphics series sizes. They do have a wide variety of sizes using the old technical pen size scheme, though the approximately size in millimeters is also printed on the barrel. The graphics series uses millimeter sizes, and the brush has no listed size. They are readily available online and at art and craft stores. Their price is a relatively expensive open stock, though less expensive when purchased as one of the many sets they offer. They also come in different colors. I recommend the Microns highly.
Uchida Le-Pen Drawing
These pens are very smooth laying down a line, but the ink is not quite as saturated as some. They come in 6 nibs sized by millimeter line widths and a brush nib. They are not ACMI AP pens, nor do they claim to be archival quality, lightfast, or waterproof. They have light smuding immediately after drawing, but not after 15 minutes. They have low smudging with water immediately after drawing. The pricing is less expensive than most, but they are a little harder to find than some. Note: These are not the regular Uchida Marvy LePens that are dye-based and come in various colors; they are LePen Drawing which is for technical drawing. In all, this is a good pen for practice or if you are using scans of your art for a finished product rather than the original drawing.
Zig Millennium Markers
These pens have slightly warm toned ink which is saturated. The flow is tends to skip too much for my taste. They have minimal smudge right after drawing and low blur with water right after drawing. They do not smudge 15 minutes after drawing. As far as I can tell, they come in five sizes, use the old technical pen sizing convention, and are available in colors. The price of these pens is medium to expensive depending on the source. The one thing I really don't like is that the pens are so light in my hand it feels like I'm trying to draw with a stick of cotton candy. Overall I think these pens are good for practice, and in some circumstances for other work.
When it comes down to brass tacks, here's what I found.
Most of the pens fall in the "okay" area: Staedtler Pigment Liner, Uchida LePen, Sakura Microperm. Pelikan Techno-Liner and Royal & Langnickel Nano-Liner are the worst
There are three that are my clear favorites. One for the brushes - PITT Artist Markers. One for the silky smooth touch - Prismacolor Premier Markers. And one for general usability - Sakura Pigma Micron. If I could only have one in my collection for art drawing, I would choose the Sakura Pigma Micron.