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Technical pens were originally designed for engineers and architects, but quickly became popular among artists for their precision. Although software programs like CAD and SolidWorks have become the industry standard, technical pens are still often used during the early stages of the design process to draw flow-charts, schematics, equations, and the like. They’re good for projects that require exhaustive detail, like creating a pointillist portrait or detailing the ornaments on a building. The larger tip sizes (0.2 mm and up) can be used for writing notes, but the smaller tip sizes will feel scratchy and might even skip, depending on how fast you write.
Three notable characteristics differentiate technical pens from regular graphic drawing pens:
1. Technical pens are refillable, with either a replaceable ink cartridge system or a refillable ink reservoir.
2. Technical pens make lines of constant width, which offer more control and precision than lines that vary in width.
3. Technical pens work best when they’re perpendicular to the writing surface. This is because of the way the nib is designed, with a metal filament inside a tube. When the pen tip is pressed against paper, the filament is pushed up and allows the ink to flow. The best angle for pushing the filament up effectively is 90 degrees, although pens that are over 0.2 mm will respond well in the 45 to 90 degree range as well.
Technical pens are a little more serious than your average disposable pen, so it’s important to think about what you need it for, and if you’re able to set aside some time for maintenance and care. If you prefer the convenience of disposable pens, check out our Graphic Drawing Pens Article for some excellent recommendations.
Sketching & Doodling
Technical pens can be used for loose sketches, like concepts for logos or web designs, as well as freehand doodling. The larger tip sizes (0.2 mm and up) still work pretty well if you hold them in the 45 to 90 degree range, so you don’t have to keep the pen rigidly perpendicular to your writing surface. In a way, concept sketches are similar to technical drawings because you want to efficiently convey information for future reference. If you were making a fashion sketch, technical pens would be ideal for showing the details of a beaded necklace, printed scarf, or bit of lace.
Technical drawings, such as architectural plans and machine schematics, have a very straightforward purpose: to convey clear and concise information. Final versions of these drawings are usually done digitally, because software programs can easily replicate objects and symbols, determine measurements, and delete errors. But when it comes to brainstorming and improvising, you don’t want to get bogged down in all those details right away -- you want to capture the essence of the idea, as well as any variants that follow.
Engineers also use technical pens for diagrams, equations, flow-charts, and so forth. The ink is fairly light, won’t bleed through class notes, and creates clean and legible lines. The uniform lines are well-suited for conveying detailed geometric objects, like machines and gadgets.
Comic / Manga Illustration
Technical pens can be useful for doing the lettering, shading, and detail work in a manga or comic illustration. The huge variety of tip sizes ensures that you’ll be able to produce the exact line you need, whether it’s a 1.0 mm border, a 0.1 mm section of cross-hatching, or a 0.03 mm shirt button. The slim stainless steel tips don’t bleed when lined up against a ruler, unlike many disposable drawing pens (which have felt tips), and the thinner tip sizes are useful for doctoring lines that went slightly awry -- you can “fill in the blanks” and smooth things out.
Rapidographs are ideal for drawing machinery, buildings, and other man-made objects. Essentially, you’re wielding 15 different pen strokes, which can be used to establish a visual hierarchy and to organize the layout of the drawing.
Specialty: Technical drawings | Filling Mechanism: Replaceable ink cartridge
Keep in mind that the Rapidosketch also requires the most maintenance of all the pens listed here -- it should be flushed or soaked in water after every use.
Specialty: Sketches | Filling Mechanism: Refillable ink reservoir
Specialty: Comic/Manga Illustration | Filling Mechanism: Replaceable ink cartridge
Technical pens are professional-grade pens that excel in creating precise, consistent lines for sketches, technical drawings, comic/manga illustrations, and more. Most do require more maintenance than a disposable drawing pen, but artists, architects, and engineers swear by them and have used the same pen for years. If you’re prepared for a bit of a learning curve, the technical pen could be an excellent new tool to play around with.
What do you use your technical pen for? Any maintenance tips or tricks?
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