Review of Drawing Pens, Nibs, and Inks

Artist working on a pen and ink drawing
Nicola Tree / Getty Images

Your choice of ink-drawing pen will depend on your style of drawing and personal taste. Marker pens with lightfast ink are available in various diameter nibs, as well as brush-style tips. If you use a fountain pen or drafting pen, choose ink made for those pens, as they clog with India ink. Some artists even use the common Bic biro, though you need to scan these drawings for a permanent record, as the ink is not permanent. Some artists favor the old-fashioned split-nib dip pen and India ink. This list reviews a number of options that pen-and-ink artists may consider.

Cheap plastic Speedball pen nib holders are available in most art stores and stationers. Nibs come in various sizes, types, and strengths: a fairly firm steel split nib is good for all-round drawing. Wide calligraphy nibs are not really suitable—choose one designed for drawing. A copperplate writing nib is softer than a steel nib and allows you to create a more varied line. Try a variety from your art store to see what you like—they are quite inexpensive.

Pen holders are so cheap to buy, it's a good idea to grab a few so that you can have one for each nib. These pen holders are only plastic, but they are a reasonably heavy weight and strong. They have a sort of circular slot carved into the working end which allows you to fit a variety of nib sizes into the holder. Nibs can be wedged in easily but surprisingly securely. These holders are an inexpensive and functional piece of kit.

Some use basic Uniball pens for both writing and sketching, especially in a journal. They're great. However, they aren't archival, so it's worth paying a tiny bit extra for archival pigment ink, especially if you've paid the dollars for the archival paper. Zig claim to be lightfast, waterproof, fade-proof, and non-bleeding. If you enjoy working with felt-tip markers and pens, you'll love these.

Bamboo pens are rather odd to draw with. They give a rather broad line and don't hold a great deal of ink. The most interesting point was the gradual depletion of ink allowing time for some interesting dryer textural marks, rather like a dry fiber-tip pen. They are worth trying when you need something different.

Fiber tip markers are a great way to get beautiful, crisp line and color quickly. These marker pens from Faber-Castell come in a range of nib sizes, and a clever variety of traditional and brush tips (try them to see which suits your style of working). They are lightfast, ph-neutral India and colored inks. They come in black, shades of gray, sepia and a big range of colors. The manufacturers would like to claim that they replace the dip pen (they don't) but are certainly a convenient, affordable addition to your kit. Mini packs of 'Manga' colors and the 'landscape' brush pens are great for gifts and travel.

Technical pens used to be notoriously difficult to maintain, but Rotring has developed a sophisticated construction that gives a consistent, clog-free ink flow. The cartridges can get a bit expensive if you use a lot of ink, but it's worth it if you love the line. Although some find the line too 'clinical', for some styles of drawing, the crisp, reliable precision of a good drafting pen is perfect and beautiful.