Monday, 3 August 2015

Fountain Pens for drawing - my favourites (updated)

I have posted a number of drawings and sketches done with pens over the years but I thought that perhaps a little about pens may be helpful. It's a rather long post that has been added to and updated and the layout has gone silly however much I try to tidy it up. There's a separate post about Lamy pens and I will produce another post about other pens I've tried that haven't made it into my sketching kit for whatever reason.

My love affair with fountain pens goes back 40 years but here are a few favourites for drawing.

Platinum Carbon Pen
This is a lovely, inexpensive, and very fine pen is available from Platinum - the Platinum Carbon Pen. It is a desk pen design with a long tapering handle, light-weight plastic case and an extra fine (superfine) nib (though I have also found them in Medium). Being from Japan the extra fine is finer than a European EF nib so it produces a very fine line. There is a very little flex in this nib though I would not call it a flexible nib. With pressure you may be able to double the width of the line but it is best to enjoy the ease of drawing with it without pressure.

It is designed to use the Platinum Carbon Ink, either in cartridges or refilled from a bottle into a converter. I haven't tried it with any other inks as I suspect they may flow too quickly but it is great with the carbon ink - it has an extra large feed to allow the ink to flow.

Platinum Carbon Ink is waterproof once dry.

This is not This is not an expensive pen at about US$13.50 or so. You will find it at, who stock a large range of Japanese pens and will ship internationally.

Here is is in a Platinum desk stand.

Pilot Desk Pen in Platinum pen stand

Pilot Desk Pens in black and red

Very similar looking is the Pilot Desk Pen. It is almost identical in look and feel though the nib is slightly different from the Platinum and it doesn't have the more generous feed so I use these with De Atramentis Document inks. I presume it might block with the carbon ink but haven't tried it.
It comes in black or red/maroon.

Both these pens have worked faultlessly for some months. They are inexpensive but a little fragile, simply due to their long tapering handle, which could break if they are not carried carefully.

Some choose to cut off the long tail so they can post the cap on the end. I rather like the balance of the pen with its long tail.

It is really lovely to use with a responsive nib and a smooth ink flow. They are a similar price to the Carbon pen though I would definitely buy a converter with this if you want to be able to use waterproof ink.

(Also available through

The sketches below were created using the pilot desk pen with black De Atramentis ink. This is an A4 Moleskine sketchbook and you can see how fine these lines are.

Sketching in the flower and cloud domes at the Bay Gardens, Singapore.

Sailor Fude nib 40º

Fude nibs are very interesting to use. Rather like the preference for a pointed brush or a dagger brush, the Fude nib and will appeal to some where a finer nib will appeal to others. I prefer pointed brushes and fine nibs, but I also like fine detail  :-)

Especially useful for writing Chinese or Japanese characters, these pens can give very expressive and creative lines to a drawing as the thickness of the line can be adjusted by changing the angle of the nib on the page.

The Blue Sailor model is shown here, with a 40º nib. The green model has a 55º nib. I always choose to buy the converter though the pens you buy may come with a cartridge. A converter allows you to fill the pen with your own ink and you may choose whether you use waterproof or non-waterproof inks depending what effects you are after. Alternatively, you can use a syringe and refill a cartridge yourself but it can be a messy process!

Here you can see the amazing range of pen widths possible with this pen - from very broad to quite fine. It is worth trying both models to see which nib angle suits you best.

Exploring the Sailor Fude pen with 40 degree nib.
Sailor Fude pen with 55º nib

They are rather long pens, especially with the caps posted on the end. They are not elegant but are fun to use and many artists are doing wonderful drawings with them.

With water-soluble ink and a water-brush they are lovely for quick sketches, especially with a brown ink, though do check what colours appear when you wet the brown ink. Some go very red/purple or otherwise strange!

(I am using a Monteverde Brown ink when I want a water-soluble brown that doesn't go strange in wash. This ink comes in cartridges that fit into a Lamy pen. I haven't tested it for lightfastness so only use it in a sketchbook.)

Below is the Hero 7032, with a nib at about the same angle as the green 55 degree Sailor. You can see the range of lines that can be created with the Fude style nib. I bought this one from Straights Art in Singapore for less than S$20.

Hero pen 
And here you can see the nibs close-up - that look as though they have been dropped! 
The left is the Hero, then the Green Sailor then the Blue Sailor.
Parka has created a great comparison of a number of Fude nibs that you can view here. If you do a search of his blog you can find more reviews of a huge range of art tools including pens, brushes and watercolours as well as hundreds of books.

Fude nibs - Hero, Sailor 55º and Sailor 40º nibs

Update - Next up is the Sailor 1911 EF. Being a Sailor, this is a very fine nib - as mentioned the Japanese EF nibs are super-fine. It has a little flex but is very good for drawing fine detail. However, as it is a 14K gold nib it is far more expensive than the Carbon Pen or the Desk Pen shown above, though it creates a similar line. I use it with a converter with either the Sailor Nano ink or the De Atramentis Black Document ink. I use it for sketching but also for fine writing, especially labelling colour charts!

Sailor 1911 pen with EF nib

Sailor 1911 pen - EF nib.
Here you can see the nib a little closer.
There are some fascinating nibs available from Sailor, including the King of Nibs, which is designed to create lines of all sorts of widths depending on how you hold it, music nibs, and many others. Finding the type of nib to suit your own purposes can take time, but is well worth the effort.

Pilot/Namiki Falcon/Elabo fountain pens.

The last pens for now are the Namiki/Pilot Falcon flex pens, also called Elabo, and available in resin or metal bodied versions. These are a pricier option at around US$144 at Goulet Pens as they have a 14K gold nib, but it is a wonderful flexible nib that will create thick or thin lines with ease. Available in Soft F and Soft M, and Soft Broad, they are a joy to use but interestingly the desk pens above create the finest lines. The black/rhodium model is also available in a Soft EF - I use this for black ink.

These interesting nibs can be used for fine lines, expressive lines and also turned upside-down for very broad (though erratic) lines, as the whole of the flat of the beak-shaped nib can be dragged along the page.

The grey lines of this sketch were created with the Falcon, with the deeper shadows produced by using the pen upside-down.

Cliffs sketched with the Pilot Falcon pen with my mixed grey document ink.

I use the Soft F models for grey and brown, with the De Atramentis document inks. I mix my own grey by mixing equal quantities of the Brown and the Blue and adding a few drops of thinner. There is a Fog Grey document Ink available but it is really just a dark blue so not worth getting sadly.

Writing with the Falcon -
F nib in Document Brown, EF nib in Document Black.
There is a gorgeous YouTube video that showcases this pen, though with a 'Spencerian modification' to make the nib finer and even more flexible for writing. It is mesmerising :-) Have a look here. I find the Soft Fine wonderful for drawing and writing without the modification but for Spencerian or Copperplate writing it would be gorgeous. I love these pens. As mentioned, they are also available with a metal body though mine are resin and I like the light-weight feel of them for drawing. The F is smoother to write and draw with though of course the EF is finer. Above left is the F, above right is the EF. Neither have the Spencerian modification as I bought these for drawing.

The Pilot falcon nib up close and personal - the beak shape is interesting for upside-down effects.

A blunt needle syringe - great for filling fountain pens
Update: Many people find that when they refill a fountain pen using a converter, the bladder of the converter doesn't completely fill. The way I solve this is to use a syringe with a blunt needle to top up the ink directly into the converter. (These are available on eBay, through Gouletpens, from pharmacies etc.) It is yet another tool to carry around but it is also very useful for making custom ink mixes as it is easy to get the exact proportions of the colours you are using, or to get the last ink from a bottle or to transfer from one bottle to another. While a syringe without the blunt needle would be useful, the needle does make it much less messy to fill fountain pens and is worth getting hold of.

Nalgene wide-neck bottles 

I find the tiny Nalgene bottles, pictured left and available from camping stores, fantastic for carrying ink with me safely. I use the little 15ml and 30ml wide mouthed models.

To see some more of my pen and ink work, visit my website and look at the plein air sketches tab, or see this blog post.

Update - another couple of favourites that I've add to my Blog - the Lamy Safari, Joy and Al-Star pens (I have many of these and they deserved their own post)

In a future post I'll talk about the rather heavy Super 5 pen and the Noodlers Ahab that didn't make it into my sketch kit. Other suggestions welcome!

For more information on pens, see the Goulet Pens website, with wonderful reviews, ink comparisons and videos or Jetpens Pen Chalet or your local pen shop :-) There is a Japanese website to explore for a greater range of Japanese pens too.

You may also enjoy Tina's Epic Pen Search which runs over 11 parts, leading to a very well researched pen purchase, the first of which is here - it's wonderful! And a great way to see a range of pens in action. Also look at Parka's many product reviews on

Finally, I found this handy guide while Googling but am not sure where it came from. I'll add an acknowledgement when I find it. I believe they are Pilot pens.