Pentel Brush Pens – The Tale of the Three Inks

Pentel Brush Pen FP6L Permanent Ink Leu 2
Pentel Brush Pen FP6L Permanent Ink Leu 2

I still remember my first brush pen. I was in Paris, in the Sennelier shop in Quai Voltaire – a lovely jewel of a store, on the small top floor I let myself be overwhelmed by the variety of calligraphy pens and brush pens. In the end I bought a Fude Pen. It was love at first stroke.

I’d used felt tip brush pens for many years, but this. This was different.

I was so excited.

Some time later, the shop near Laboratorio Artistico imported the Pentel series with their synthetic bristles, so I decided to buy one of each to show my students. If only it were so simple. I soon found out they come with three different types of ink: Dye, Pigment and Water Based.

And ok, in theory dye ink it’s not water resistant and pigment ink is waterproof, but “not water resistant” isn’t the same as “water-soluble”.

So some tests were due.

I decided to test each pen in three different situations:

  • On wet paper (my favourite)
  • With water added right after painting
  • With water after the ink was dry.

These were the results:

Pentel Fude Pen XFL2L
Pentel Fude Pen XFL2L (and the smaller XFL2F) - Dye Ink - Slow diffusion on wet paper, average water solubility on wet ink, not waterproof once dry.
Pentel Fude Pen XFP5M
Pentel Fude Pen XFP5M (and the smaller XFP5F) - Pigment Ink - Slow diffusion on wet paper, little water solubility on wet ink, waterproof (and archival) once dry.
Pentel Pocket Brush XGFKP
Pentel Pocket Brush XGFKP - Pigment Ink - Slow diffusion on wet paper, little water solubility on wet ink, waterproof (and archival) once dry.
Pentel Color Brush XGFL
Pentel Color Brush XGFL #101 BLACK (could apply to other colors as well) - Water Based Ink - Fast diffusion on wet paper, completely water-soluble when wet, not waterproof once dry.

Hopefully, these reviews can help you decide which kind of ink is best for your drawing and painting needs.

If you do the ink sketch first and then add over watercolors, I strongly suggest pigment ink. The ink will dry anyway before you start to color, and the water-solubility of dye and water based ink is not predictable enough to obtain pretty results.

If you add the ink at the end and like when it smudges a bit on wet paper, I suggest both dye ink and pigment ink. They both have slow diffusion on wet paper, only difference being that dye ink tends to be a colder bluish black and pigment ink has more of a brownish hue. (I may be the only one who has feelings about something like this, but anyhow.)

If you like working with a brush pen and water brush at the same time (so as to create shadowings and gradients) the best option is water based ink (Pentel Color Brush XGFL #101 BLACK). It’s the only which dissolves completely in water, as long as it hasn’t dried.

If you plan to frame your work (and not just leave it sleep quietly inside your sketchbooks) beware that dye and water based ink are not light resistant. Pigment ink is archival.

Pentel Brush Pens febe 2 2016 Sketchbook Project
I used Brush Pens (or Fude pens, I like the sound of the word FUDE) for the 2016 Sketchbook Project

How I use them:

I’m in love with pigment ink because I like the texture it has when it crosses wet strokes. I like to work on white paper, look at the model, trace some wide wet strokes with water following the flow of the figure, and then trace the figure with a quick calligraphic line. Playing on the reaction between water and ink. Dye ink and Water based ink both diffuse too quickly in water.

Pentel Brush Pen FP6L Permanent Ink Leu 4
Pigment ink crossing wet strokes: beautiful.
Pentel Brush Pen FP6L Permanent Ink Andrea
Working with two stages of water with pigment ink is not easy. You have to be quick. And I really need to study Sumi-e at this point.

I use both dye ink and water based ink when I work on dry paper, over a watercolor medium shading, to give the final chiaroscuro sculpting to the figure. I’ve noticed that the water based ink pen has a slightly faster flow of ink, probably due to thinner texture.

Pentel Brush Color Brush #101 Black Statue 2
Detail of a life drawing of one of the statues in the garden of the Rodin Museum in Paris - Water Based Brush Pen Ink over the wonderful Sennelier light grey watercolor
Pentel Brush Color Brush #101 Black Statue
Life Drawing of a statue in Cimitero Monumentale, Milan. - Water Based Brush Pen Ink over grey watercolor

I hope this review helps, feel free to comment and share your preferences and experiences about brush pens!


P.S. I only have one Kuretake brush pen (bamboo?) right now. I plan on reviewing that brand as soon as I can try out a decent array of options. This review is mostly focused on ink performance and propriety, and is in no way sponsored by Pentel.

Comments are closed.