3 Best Watercolor Brush Pens – So Much More Than Markers

The art medium Markers has gained a lot of attention over the last few years. But manufacturers have taken markers to the next level by creating 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 color pencils.  For info on how to use watercolor pencils, click here.

This article contains product links for your convenience.  They are affiliate links – click here for explanation.

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 at all.

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, marker art does have a completely different look than pencil and takes much less time, 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 my kids used when they were little, and a few tutorials I had seen done with Copic markers.

So, I just decided to go to an art supply store and purchase something a little different—a marker that will make a mark like traditional markers but where you can paint with them as well—the “brush pen”.

My First Brush Pen Set—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.

Tombow Dual Brush Pens - Primary Colors, Set of 10
Let me just say, I wasn’t disappointed! However, being new to markers, I had a learning curve.


These are water-based ink brush pens, 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, it feels like you are painting when you use it.

The broader tip is flexible allowing for broad or narrow marks. The other end is a fine-pointed hard tip for 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.

If you are concerned about fumes or toxicity, no worries! These pens are odorless (love that about them!), non-toxic and acid free.

Using Them

When you use them 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 you use them without water as well.

If you use them with water, a brush, and watercolor paper, they behave like traditional watercolors. You can create beautiful washes in the typical way of wetting the paper first.

Then you load your brush with color from the marker tip and apply directly onto the wet area producing awesome watercolor effects. You can use either a traditional watercolor brush or a self-contained water brush with ease.

The colors dissolve fast and easily with water, and you can move them around for the effect you desire. Therefore, you can easily achieve blending with these brush pens.

You can use these basically in any way you would use watercolor paints. The only difference is the color is in a marker not a tube.


Tombow Dual Brush Pens, click here to purchase 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. Also, Tombow makes several “themed” sets such as the one pictured above, a landscape set, tropical, floral, gray scale, and many more. My only complaint is that there seems to be no standard 48 or 72 set option that I found. The price point is not cheap, but it is not overly pricey either.

==>Click here for a great video from Tombow demonstrating these great brush pens<==

Sakura Koi Watercolor Brush Pens

Sakura Koi Coloring Brush Pens   contain dye-based ink which has a water-based solvent. I would say the colors

Sakura Koi Coloring Brush Pens - Assorted Colors, Set of 12
are just as vibrant and lay down as well as Tombow. Also, they do dissolve quite well, and you can move them 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 are 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 you can use them 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) are actual nylon brushes. They spring back just as the other two brands do. And there is 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. However, in my opinion, the Sakura Koi and Tombow dissolve much more readily than the Arteza, placing it as a solid third for me. Although I love 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.

Pricewise, they are the least expensive of the three I 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, too, no doubt!


Of the 3 brush pens I reviewed here, my top choice is Tombow for all the reasons I 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)!

Here’s another chance to see my post on Watercolor Pencil? ==>Click here<==.

Thanks for reading. Please leave any comments or questions below, and I will never share your email.

Have a colorful day!


9 thoughts on “3 Best Watercolor Brush Pens – So Much More Than Markers”

  1. I rarely use watercolor brush pens to color or draw something. But after reading this article of yours, I will try using them to color coloring book. Many thanks

  2. I’m very new to watercolours and your articles are both informative and inspirational – thank you very, very much! ?

  3. Towbow dual brushpen is definitely a good idea to buy the complete package since they are up to double the retail price of the package. The best brush tip water markers I’ve tried 🙂


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