Graphic Drawing Pens

Graphic Drawing Pens

January 21, 2013 - Posted by Lucy to Guides

Graphic drawing pens

Have you ever looked at a perfect hand-inked drawing and wondered, how are the lines so clean?

To some extent, you must have steady hands -- like a surgeon or a pianist. And you can always modify things digitally, with programs like Photoshop and GIMP. But the first and most basic component is always the quality of the instrument you hold in your hand. Just as you wouldn’t use an Xacto knife to perform surgery, you wouldn’t use a ballpoint pen to ink a pencil sketch. Instead, artists use drawing pens with archival (meaning waterproof and fade-resistant) ink because they produce consistent, fluid, and graceful lines that stay put on the paper.

Graphic drawing pens are also highly recommended by academics and writers of all kinds: researchers in the field, journalists, Asian language students, and Youth Group pastors alike find the precision and quality of drawing pens to be quite useful. Although they’re made to satisfy the rigorous demands of professional artists, they require no special care or maintenance.

Continue reading for ideas on how drawing pens can be used for notes, journaling, outlining sketches, and illustrations -- plus product recommendations tailored to each use case.


Taking Notes:

Taking notes

Drawing pens give you that extra bit of oomph to get through class, particularly if that class has anything to do with Asian Kanji characters. The thinner tip sizes, like 0.05 mm, 0.1 mm, and 0.2 mm, typically won’t bleed or feather. Japanese and Chinese students regularly write characters with ten strokes or more, and the most complex Kanji character tops out at a whopping twenty-nine strokes. There are more strokes in this single character than there are letters in the English alphabet! Appropriately, this Kanji means “depression” or “gloom” in Japanese... emotions you can hopefully avoid with the help of a smudge-proof, no-bleed drawing pen.

Another niche that drawing pens appeal to is the bible study set. Ink quality is very important when you’re working on a long-term project, especially when that long-term project has thin pages. Since most personal bibles are made to stay open at a certain page, like textbooks, fade-resistant archival ink is a must. That way, you don't have to worry about losing your work.


Staedtler Pigment Liner 

Marker Pens Staedtler Pigment Liner Marker Pens
These black ink pens have skinny, but durable metal tips and can be left uncapped for up to 18 hours without drying up. The set of 4 houses the pens in a portable plastic case that keeps everything neat and safe. Toss it in your backpack with a Maruman Mnemosyne Notebook for full coverage in all your classes -- from drawing electron diagrams in Chemistry and writing integral equations in Calculus, to drawing precise Kanji characters in Japanese and doodling political cartoons for History.

Sakura Pigma Micron Drawing Pens Sakura Pigma Micron Drawing Pens
Pigma Microns are renowned in the drawing world for crisp, fluid, and even lines. The 005 (0.2 mm) and 01 (0.25 mm) size pens are ideal for writing quick notes, underlining phrases, and outlining passages in bibles and textbooks. Pick a non-black color if you want to be especially safe with avoiding bleed-through and see-through to the other side of the page. Brown is useful for writing low-key notes, while orange is great for emphasizing discussion points.



Drawing pens with medium-to-big tip sizes are excellent for journal writing, particularly if you’re on the road. If you’re looking to document a lengthy bike trip down the coast, or to jot down quick notes and impressions of a music festival, it might be worth it to invest in archival quality drawing pens. Since drawing pens are waterproof, they’re ideal for outdoors adventures. However, keep in mind that most drawing pens are not immune to the effects of changing air pressure, and may leak on airplane flights. If you want to be absolutely sure your pen won’t leak or break while traveling by air, a Fisher Space Pen is your best bet.


Ohto Graphic Liner 

Needle Point Drawing Pens Ohto Graphic Liner Needle Point Drawing Pens
As noted above, these pens are ideal for heavy-handed writers, or writers in a bit of a rush. The 0.3 mm and 0.5 mm size Graphic Liners are best for writing, but pick up the whole set if you’re planning on drawing sketches of the local flora and fauna. The archival ink is waterproof and feels incredibly smooth, particularly on creamy archival-quality papers (like those in the Rhodia Webnotebook).

Uni Pin Pens - Pigment Ink Uni Pin Pens - Pigment Ink
At less than $2, these Uni Pin Pens are great for budget-conscious travelers. With black and red ink available, you can color-code your entries to make time-sensitive reminders stand out. In case the information on the body of the pen wears off, the windowed cap allows you to see the tip size and color. The cap also feels extremely secure, which is a great feature for nervous travelers. For writing, try the 0.28 mm pen.

Outlines & Inking Sketches:

Outlines and inking sketches

When you’re inking a pencil sketch, smudge-proof ink is an absolute necessity. After meticulously outlining your illustration in three different line widths, the last thing you want is to have the ink smudge while you’re erasing the pencil lines underneath. Although most drawing pens are relatively smudge-proof, your results may vary depending on: the quality of the eraser, how much pressure you’re applying, etc. Erase with caution! For some instant inspiration, check out the insanely detailed doodlings of Ester Wilson (featured in this month's Artist Highlight).


Pilot Drawing Pens Pilot Drawing Pens
Available in three colors and six sizes, Pilot Drawing Pens create sharp and clean lines when combined with smooth paper. They feel very similar to the Uni Pin Pens mentioned above, except with retro styling and way more options. The lines that emerge are on the light side, lending the pens a smooth and almost springy feel. The cap requires some force to post, but feels very secure once you get it on there.

Marvy LePen Technical 

Drawing Pens Marvy LePen Technical Drawing Pens
With a 0.03 mm pen for eyelashes and fingernails, and a brush pen for dramatic lines, these pristine drawing pens provide a great range of permanent and no-bleed ink for your simple line drawings. Combine them with the colorful Marvy 4300 Lepen Marker Pens to make patterns, mandalas, architectural drawings, or even user interface designs.

Comic & Manga Illustrations:

Comic and manga illustrations

With comic and manga illustration, you generally want thin lines for facial detail, a thick brush tip for filling dark, shadowed areas, and a few sizes in between for everything else. Brush pens like the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen and Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen can create lines of many varying sizes and are renowned for their versatility, but do not mix well with markers or watercolors. Only use them if you’re planning to color your artwork digitally, or you’re not coloring your artwork at all.

If you want to throw markers (like Copic Markers) or a watercolor wash over the line drawing, you definitely want a pen with waterproof ink. All archival inks are waterproof, but not all waterproof inks are archival. Even if the ink is waterproof, give it some time to dry before applying the color layer!


Kuretake Zig 

Cartoonist Mangaka Outline Pens Kuretake Zig Cartoonist Mangaka Outline Pens
These pens have an excellent selection of colors, with black, gray, light blue, sepia, and violet inks available. They’re great for lettering comics and drawing sound effects in manga. The light blue and gray pens can also be used to draw guidelines, which can then be made invisible when the drawings are digitized.

Deleter Neopiko Line 2 Pens Deleter Neopiko Line 2 Pens
These Line 2 pens use professional grade archival pigment ink that stays clean and dark against most erasers and markers. With ten different line widths and a brush tip to boot, there’s a pen for every occasion. Use them on Deleter Comic Papers, which are printed with various measurements and markings in non-repro blue, or add a bright layer of color to your illustrations with Copic Sketch Markers.

DRAWING PEN INKS | Pigment Inks & Archival Inks

Dye-based ink vs. pigment ink Pigment Ink:
For the most part, pens use either dye-based ink or pigment ink. Dye-based inks dissolve completely in water, but pigment inks do not. Pigment inks become water-resistant and fade-resistant when dry, which makes them ideal for professional use. In addition, while dye-based inks will start to fade noticeably after 6-12 weeks of direct sun exposure, pigmented inks only fade noticeably after 6-12 months of the same treatment. Drawing pens tend to use pigment ink, while fineliner pens tend to use dye-based ink.

Archival ink Archival Ink:
Archival inks are manufactured specifically to resist fading, and are usually non-toxic and acid-free (or “pH-neutral”). Archival pigment inks tend to be more expensive than other inks, but are probably the best, most enduring inks that you can use for creative projects. When it comes to comic/manga artists and animators, archival ink pens are the industry standard. If you’re serious about journaling, invest in something like the Rhodia Webnotebook, which has the archival-quality paper to match.

DRAWING PEN TIPS | Felt & Metal Tips

Felt vs. metal tips Felt tip (also known as “fibre tip”) pens have a nice and fluid feel, and the larger tip sizes are ideal for writers that like bold lines. They’re also useful for smoothing out shaky or spidery handwriting. Sakura Pigma Micron Drawing Pens are felt tip drawing pens at their best -- they’re crisp, dark, and great for carefully inking sketches. However, since felt tip pens are porous, they can get crushed by a hurried hand bearing down with too much pressure.

Heavy writers should try a drawing pen with a metal tip, like the Ohto Graphic Liner Drawing Pen. The archival ink is quite capable of rising to any occasion, and the metal tip can withstand an absent-minded writer. In general, the Ohto Graphic Liners are perfect for accompanying travelers, journalists, grad students, and researchers in the field. Use the 0.05 mm pen for intricate outlines in a map, or data points in a graph. Save the 1.0 mm powerhouse for quickly shading dark areas of a chart, or adding emphasis to a particular topic.


Although graphic drawing pens can be used for taking notes, journaling, outlining sketches, and comic / manga illustration, the line doesn’t stop there. They’re frequently used for greeting cards, wedding invitations, scrapbooking, and all sorts of miscellaneous crafts. Typographic sketches are often outlined with a black drawing pen, then digitized from there. Drawing pens can also be used in conjunction with blendable alcohol-based markers for concept art, fashion sketches, and book illustrations.

There’s very little that a good drawing pen can’t accomplish, given a little patience and a steady hand. Check out all the options in our Drawing Pens Selection Guide, and look out for new comic papers, pens, inks, and nibs in our Comic / Manga Pens section!

Model Tip Use For
Staedtler Pigment Liner Marker Pens Felt Taking Notes
Sakura Pigma Micron Drawing Pens Felt Taking Notes
Ohto Graphic Liner Needle Point Drawing Pens Metal Journaling
Uni Pin Pens - Pigment Ink Felt Journaling
Pilot Drawing Pens Felt Outlines
Marvy LePen Technical Drawing Pens Felt Outlines
Kuretake Zig Cartoonist Mangaka Outline Pens Felt Comic / Manga Illustration
Deleter Neopiko Line 2 Pens Felt Comic / Manga Illustration

What do you use your drawing pens for?

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