An art medium that has drawn a lot of attention over the last few years is markers. But markers themselves have improved into something called watercolor brush pens. I’ve had the opportunity to try 3 different brands – Tombow, Sakura Koi and Arteza brush pens. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses.
I will be sharing information I’ve gathered regarding their features, advantages and drawbacks so you can decide which are the best watercolor brush pens to try.
And if you like these watercolor brush pens, you may also like watercolor colored pencils. For info on how to use watercolor pencils, click here.
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Stumbling Upon Using Markers
I was at an art fair at a facility where I present Colored Pencil art classes and a gentleman approached me with a coloring book in tow to show me his work and get feedback. Thinking I would be giving him tips regarding colored pencil work, I was surprised to see such vivid color that was not colored pencil.
It was actually marker! He said he just wasn’t patient enough for the time it takes to get the same vivid color with colored pencil. Admittedly, I am completely aware of the time it takes to create amazing colored pencil work. And indeed, it does have a completely different look than pencil no doubt.
Although I love Colored Pencil, I was intrigued and inspired to give markers a try. But what to purchase? The only references I had in my mind were crayola markers when my kids were little- haha – and a few tutorials I had seen done with Copic markers. So I just decided to go to an art supply store and purchased something a little different, a marker that will make a mark like traditional markers, but can be “painted as well” – the “brush pen”.
My First Marker – Tombow
I neglected to ask the gentleman at the fair which brand he used so I was left to my own investigation of which one to buy. Being new to markers, I didn’t want to invest a fortune so I was looking for a mid-range priced quality markers. So, I ended up with Tombow Dual Brush Pens as my first marker purchase.
Let me just say, I wasn’t disappointed! However, being new to markers, there was a learning curve. These are water-based ink markers, which means the inks dissolve with water and create “paint”.
They have two tips made of nylon fiber. One end is bigger and is shaped like a brush. And for all intents and purposes, feels like you are painting when you use it. It is flexible allowing for broad or narrow marks. The other end is a fine-pointed hard tip which would deliver fine lines and marks for detail work.
The barrel contains one reservoir of ink for both tips so there is no color match concern. Both tips provide versatility and the opportunity to use them for coloring, artwork, lettering, illustration, etc.
Used as just markers for coloring, they are great! The colors are vibrant and lay down smoothly. Layering colors either wet into wet or wet into dry isn’t a problem and they do blend satisfactorily using colors of the same family when used without water as well.
Used with water and a brush and watercolor paper, they behave like traditional watercolors. Beautiful washes can be created in the typical way of wetting the paper first and then applying a brush loaded with color from the marker tip directly on the wet area producing awesome watercolor effects. Either a traditional watercolor brush or a self-contained water brush can be used with ease.
The colors dissolve fast and easily with water and can be moved around for the desired effect. Blending is therefore easily achieved with these brush pens. They can be used basically any way you would use watercolor paints. The only difference is the color is in a marker not a tube.
Tombow Dual Brush Pens come in sets of 6, 9,10 (with many themed color collections), 20, 96 or 108. They are also available in individual colors for easy replacement. My only complaint is that there seems to be no standard 48 or 72 option that I found. The price point is not cheap but it is not overly pricey either.
Also if you are concerned about fumes or toxicity, no worries! These pens are odorless (love that about them!), non-toxic and acid free.
Sakura Koi Watercolor Brush Pens
Sakura Koi Watercolor Brush Pens contain dye-based ink which has a water-based solvent. I would say the colors are just as vibrant and lay down as well as Tombow. Also, they do dissolve quite well and the paint can be moved around the paper quite easily.
Layering is satisfactory as well as blending – not a problem.
Sets come in 12, 24 or 48, which I think is an advantage over Tombow. Sakura Koi Brush Pens do not have a dual tip, though, so not as versatile as Tombow. Also, the brush nib, although flexible to create narrow, medium or broad strokes is shorter than the Tombow which is slightly more limiting.
The pens themselves are shorter. This isn’t really a problem, per se, I just happen to like the feel of the longer pen of Tombow in my hand. Tombow is nearly 2 inches longer!
I do believe they can be used for all the purposes of all the other brands out there.
Arteza Real Brush Pens
The Arteza Real Brush Pens live up to their name for sure! The tips (one tip) is an actual brush made of nylon. It springs back just as the other two brands do. And no comparison as far as feeling like you’re painting when you use these. Hands down, they are simply much better in this aspect.
These Brush pens are also water-based ink that dissolves with water.
They come in a variety of set quantities fitting every budget. And the 48 set comes with its own water brush and plenty of wonderful colors. A nice advantage!
The colors are rich and vibrant. They lay down nicely and layer very well for color mixes. And the flexible brush tip allows for additional strokes and effects.
I have read and heard they blend well. In my opinion, however, the Sakura Koi and Tombow dissolve much more readily than the Arteza placing Arteza as a solid third for me because although I like the paintbrush feel of Arteza I don’t like the feeling that I’m fighting with the pigment to get it to cooperate and dissolve.
Price-wise, they are the least expensive of the three reviewed here. Also, Arteza offers a replacement guarantee – another advantage over the other two for sure. If you color or stamp, these are great for that, no doubt!
Of the 3 brush pens reviewed here, my top choice is Tombow for all the reasons mentioned. The Sukura Koi comes in at a very close second. I would be hard-pressed to tell the difference just looking at two identical art pieces. They behave very similarly and are good quality pens. Finally Arteza comes in farther behind the other two in my opinion.
You can’t really go wrong with any of these and really, marker art is a LOT of fun. I encourage you to pick up a set and try them for yourself! And I would love to hear from you how you liked them (or didn’t)!
Thanks for reading. Please leave any comments or questions below.
Have a colorful day!