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.


  1. My current favourite is the Pelikan M200. It doesn't have a flex nib, but it's springy enough to create a much broader stroke.

    1. Thanks for adding that - I have not tried the Pelikan M200 but am guessing it is a thicker line than the desk pens? Interesting that the F has more flex than the EF - that's a surprise. I'll add a link to some of you other pen reviews - very helpful.

  2. This post came at the perfect time. I've been seeing so many fun pens and tips and this wrapped them up in one post. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you Michelle. I have a collection of Lamy's to add, but I wanted to cover the lesser known desk-style pens first.

  3. jane, thank you for all of the helpful information you post. i can't tell you how many times i've been researching paint/pigments and your blog comes up in the search. i recently purchased DS transparent pyrrol orange for my new orange red after reading about it here. i love it.

    thank you... : )


    1. My pleasure Lynne. That orange is a gorgeous colour. Do try it as an underwash if you are painting any red fruit such as strawberries or tomatoes. I just love how it mixes with Phthalo Blue RS to create the incredible range of rich warm browns, as well as black. It's impressive with Indanthrone Blue too...

  4. Here I am, reading your post with much interest, and then I get to the end and find that you've referenced my blog's "Epic" series! What a delightful surprise! Thank you, Jane!

    - Tina

    1. I think it is helpful to try to get as much information in one place as possible as they can be hard to find again, and it was a fascinating search! I trust you are still loving the final purchase :-)

  5. P.S. When I want a really fine line, my fave pen is the Pilot with "posting" nib. Here's my review:

    1. Thanks for that link Tina. The Pilot Falcon does it for me, but I was also interested in cheaper pens that people could get going with. Once again - the Pilot Desk pen would be a recommendation. Pilots are worth checking out!
      (I might have to look up that Seattle Pen Club when I am there in September...)

  6. Just a question how does Platinum Desk Pen write with normal inks? Is it wider than it normally does?
    Is it advisable?

    1. I haven't chosen to try the Platinum Carbon Pen with normal inks. There is also a Platinum desk pen so my assumption is that the Carbon pen was produced especially for the carbon inks and that normal inks would run very wet. It's only an assumption, and if anyone has tried the Carbon pen with normal inks I'd love to hear how they go :-)

  7. Hi Jane - I bought a Lamy Safari with a fine nib. I'd like to have more line variation when I draw and still smooth to use. Any recommendations? Thanks so much!

    1. If your budget allows it, I'd certainly recommend the Pilot/Namiki Falcon in a Fine for smooth writing and drawing and some flex. A fine will be like a Lamy EF, so you may even choose to go with a medium nib if you are comfortable with the Lamy safari fine. I love those pens! Otherwise the Sailor fude pens give line variation by changing the angle that the bent nib touches the paper - I don't enjoy them as much but they are a fraction of the price of the Falcon. There are also Noodlers flex pens available that are not so pricey (though not so nicey either ;-)
      To find a full range of flexible nibs, do have a look at - their website and blog is loaded with information on all things 'pen'.

  8. Thanks again Jane ~ you've opened my eyes to a whole new world. I didn't know about dude pens - amazing.

    1. Fude pens are amazing, and worth getting used to. You can see the sort of line variation you can achieve just by changing the angle of the pen to the paper in the little picture above of the Hero pen. The Sailor pens come in 55 and 40 degree angles and it's hard to predict which you would prefer. I'd tend to recommend starting with the 55 - the green one - as it has a greater range of possibilities due to the greater angle.

  9. Thanks Jane - I'm going to get the Sailor 55 degree. Appreciate your help

  10. I have a whole bunch of Rotring Artpens. I am stil quite happy with them. I was thinking of investing in a fine Waterman. Any advice? Thanks.

    1. I don't know Waterman pens very well at all. They are expensive and tend to be rather thick to hold, so it's not a brand that I am attracted to. If you want a pen to draw with, it wouldn't be my first choice as I love fine lines so prefer the Japanese pens. I'd suggest you go where you can actually try it out. See how it feels. There are Sailor and Pilot pens that I use that look similar, but are finer.

  11. Nice work. What brand black ink are you using in the non-Platinum pens?

    1. I use the De Atramentis Black ink or brown or a grey made from a mixture of the DA blue and brown inks.

  12. Great article and blog!

    But i've got a question (sorry, my English isn't very good), is it possible with fountain pens to achieve the subtle halftones effect that ballpoint pens are capable of when you change the pressure? Are there any pressure sensitive fountain pens that let you get a significally less dark values on the stroke?

  13. Not really. One of th joys of fountain pens is the ink flow. Even I f you use a really fine nib, the ink should still flow in a nice though very fine line. I enjoy using fountain pens for lines but I also enjoy the surprising subtlety of sketching with a ballpoint.

    1. Ok, i got it. But may i then ask in general - what would be your instrument of choice if you had the necessity of making the lightest and less saturated line possible having a bottle of a pitch black ink to use (without dilluting it in water)? Fineliners, dip pens, some specific rollerball pens with especially stiff balls, or something else i missed?

    2. I think, from what you are saying, I'd be choosing a very fine dip pen nib and ink. That way you an use the ink you wish as it won't damage the nib. With very gently pressure you can get very light lines.
      My choice, since I have them, is my Sailor 1911 EF fountain pens - beautiful fine lines. But gold nibs are an expense.

  14. Thank you Jane for this article . Of late I have become interested again using my fountain pens but for art not just writing so I have a lot to learn. I did buy myself a Lamy Safari with a fine nib and I really like it. I have been using my Twisbi which I really like and a beautiful Sheaffer Prelude white dot which I have had for around 20 years it is really lovely to write with. I realise that a fountain pen for sketching will be different than for just writing so I will read your article and take it all in. I also need to know which ink to use as well. SincerelyBella

  15. I have a pilot namiki falcon fine nib. Do you have any recommendations on compatible waterproof inks?

    1. I think she recommends the DeAtramentis Document inks.

    2. Yes I recommend De Atramentis Document, as the regular DA inks are not waterproof. I especially like them for the coloured ink - I love their Document Brown - and make my own greys using the brown and blue mixed together. If you search De Atramentis in the search section you'll find loads of mixing charts and more information.
      I also like Platiunum Carbon Ink, but that is only available in black, and best in a Platinum carbon pen (which I have also written about).
      I recently tried a Sailor ink - an interesting raw sienna sort of colour called Lion - which was very nearly waterproof.

  16. Thank you for taking the time to respond and for your insight, Arlene and Jane. I will look in to the De Atrmentis inks (not very familiar with them). My readings on the platinum carbon ink is that one has to be very careful with fountain pens or it may damage the nib...what are thoughts with the noodled inks? Theses seem to be economical and safe (I think) with fountain pens but not sure if they have permanent ink. (Goal is to use with watercolour.) Best, Sima

    1. I have only used the Platinum carbon ink in the Platinum carbon pen and in a Platinum brush pen. I haven't chosen to use it in any other pen, though I have heard that others have successfully done so - perhaps with thicker nibs? The Platinum carbon pen (which is designed with a larger feed to deal with the carbon ink) is excellent though and it's nice to have the choice of cartridges or converter and bottled ink, since the carbon ink is available in both forms. I often just refill the cartridges from the bottle with a syringe.
      Noodlers inks come in a range of colours and many people use them. I did, in a few Lamy pens, just for writing (though are few are waterproof snd can be used for sketching) but I found that the pens were getting eaten away somehow so I tend to avoid the Noodlers inks now. Once again, others have enjoyed them.
      I think the De Atramantis Document inks were are quantum leap ahead for waterproof sketching inks - pigmented, lightfast and mixable - and am please to see that other brands are now producing inks for sketching. Sailor has some new colours that are waterproof, and so have other brands. It's nice to have choices!