Dawn DeVries Sokol
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The Great Pen Conundrum

In the last few months, I’ve strayed. Yes, strayed from pens that I used to use religiously in my art journals. I thought that since I had been art journaling and lettering for so long, I should really try to lessen my environmental footprint by not using disposable pens. So began the Great Pen Experiment.

My biggest concern when using black fine-tip pens is that the ink is waterproof. I’ve had many doodles go awry once I try to color them in and the black ink bleeds into the color. Such a sad fate. (Unless that’s the look you’re going for.)

So I looked and listened. I took recommendations from journaling teachers seriously. I read what others like on Twitter and blogs.

I had bought a set of Koh-i-noor Rapidograph pens last summer, thinking I would use them as soon as I got through the black disposable pens I had in my arsenal. I finally was able to use them in January. First off, you have to fill them with ink, which is a fussy process. Once I filled about three of the pens whose nib sizes I favored, I started to use them in my journals. And the frustration began.

The nibs seemed to scratch into the surface, rather than flow easily over the pages. Maybe I’m just heavy-handed, but seriously? I didn’t want a bunch of scratches in my paper. And the ink kept stopping. Literally. I was told on Twitter that it might be the ink I was using. I was also told to unscrew the nib 1/8 turn. That seemed to work, but not for long. The ink would stop flowing. I found myself tapping the pen more and more for the ink flow. Not good. The set cost around $75. Each pen sold separately is around $20. I’ve had peeps tell me the ink dries out quickly if you don’t use them daily. In Arizona? Again, not good.

I also tried out Copic Multiliner SP Pens. I bought one from Dick Blick in Chicago last August and LOVED it immediately. Until the ink flow eased up and lines became choppy if I slanted the pen. So I bought another ink cartridge and nib. Which worked for a little while. But not long enough. I soon found the same problem: The lines became dithered and choppy if I slanted the pen. If I used it straight up and down over the page, which is EXTREMELY unnatural, then it worked fine. Thing is, at $6.50 a pen, then $2 per nib and per ink cartridge, it could get pretty pricey. For the usage I was getting out of each pen, it just wasn’t worth it.

I have tried Prismacolor Fine Line black pens when I couldn’t find Microns or Pitts. The problem with the Prismacolors: they are not waterproof. They do offer a good range of nib sizes. But that’s not something that concerns me.

Which brings me to Faber Castell Pitt Pens and Sakura Micron Pens. Both are waterproof and light-fast. Faber Castell Pitts are about $8 per four-pack set on Amazon vs. a Micron six-pack set at around $6. Hmm...$2 a pen vs. $1 a pen. I’ve been able to find Microns easier. PLUS, I just love Sakura’s pens. Their Glaze pens, Moonlight pens, and ESPECIALLY Soufflés! Think I’ll stick with the Microns. They don’t scratch my paper, I know when they’re pretty much dried up (their life span is longer than others) and they’re not going to kill my budget.

Of course, you may find your preferences to vary from mine. That’s why it’s a good idea to try as many pens as you can. When you go to an art store or other store that sells a wide assortment of pens and especially a la carte, buy one of each that you wish to try out so you don’t waste money on a whole set. I wish I had done that with the Rapidographs. Lesson learned.