With so many brush pens on the market, choosing the right one for your needs isn't as simple as it could be. To help cut through some of the confusion, we've put a few of the best through their paces to show you their pros and cons and help you pick the best one for your projects.
1. Kuretake Nihon-Date 55
Of all the pens in this round-up, this beauty from Kuretake is the most obscure and unusual. As you'll see from the example script, it's also capable of producing the finest, most delicate calligraphy of all the pens we've tested. If you like your modern calligraphy to be as light and thin as possible, this could be the pen for you.
What makes the Nihon-Date 55 particularly unusual is that it is a double-ended pen with two brush tips at the extremes of the range. On one end you have the small hard-tipped brush capable of fine detail and on the other, a super large soft brush, capable of extra thick lines. For anyone who uses brush pens for illustration, this flexibility to perform fine detail and fill large areas quickly with the same ink may be particularly handy.
Both tips use the same ink source, which is a deep black, water-based dye. As it's water-based, it is possible to dilute and blend the ink but makes it unsuitable for adding colour later using water-based inks or paints.
All in all this is an unusual and versatile pen, which deserves a place in the collection of any true brush pen enthusiast.
BEST FOR: Fine script and super large script
2. Zebra Extra Fine
Next up is this more standard looking offering from Zebra. There are various nib sizes in the Zebra brush pen range but the Extra Fine is worthy of note for being one of the finest on the market. It's capable of thin upstrokes as narrow as the Nihon-Date pen but is a little more flexible, allowing for slightly wider downstrokes, giving you more definition between thick and thin.
Unlike most of the pens in this round-up, the Zebra Extra-Fine uses waterproof, fade-proof ink that makes it an excellent choice for projects that may be on display for long periods. Because it's waterproof, you can write your text, or draw your illustration, then use water-based paints or inks around it without fear of the black ink bleeding.
BEST FOR: Fine script, fade-proof projects, use alongside watercolours
3. Tombow Fudenosuke Hard Tip
The Tombow Fudenosuke marker is widely loved as a great tool for recreating the look of dip-pen calligraphy. The hard tip version has a firm elastic tip, which allows for narrow upstrokes and fatter downstrokes with variations in pressure. Compared to the Zebra pen above, the upstrokes are less fine but the nicely broad downstrokes are wider and create script with impact.
Available in 10 colours - covering a full bright rainbow of shades plus black, grey and brown - the Tombow Fudenosuke can be a good option for beginners in hand lettering and uses water-based pigment ink. I personally love it for illustrating, as its firm tip means you can use it with the precision of a fine-liner save for when you want a thicker stroke.
BEST FOR: Hand lettering & illustration
4. Tombow Fudenosuke Soft Tip
Confusingly, there's a second pen in the Fudenosuke family, which looks very similar to the hard tip but behaves a little differently. The soft tip version (as demonstrated above) has more give in its point, making it easier to achieve wider, fatter lines but conversely, a little harder to achieve thin lines.
If you struggle to put enough pressure on a brush pen to achieve thick downstrokes then this might give you the helping hand you need to achieve the modern calligraphy look. If it's narrow upstrokes you struggle with though, the hard tip version may support you better. Personally, I prefer the writing experience of the soft-tip version - it's smoother to write with and less 'squeaky' than its firmer friend.
Unlike its hard tip sibling, the soft tip Fudenosuke is only currently available as either a black pen or a dual-tipped version with black on one end and grey on the other. This is a super pen to have in your collection, as it gives you all you need to write and add shadows in one barrell.
BEST FOR: Calligraphers with a soft touch
5. Pentel Brush Sign
Previously known as the Pentel Touch, the Brush Sign offers a middle ground, which has made it one of the most popular pens for brush lettering and modern calligraphy. In terms of stroke width, it's very similar to the soft tip Fudenosuke but I find it a little easier to control, particularly on the upstrokes. It has a little more firmness to the nib too without being as rigid as the hard tip Fudenosuke. This makes it a good compromise between softness and firmness and thus a good choice for complete beginners.
One of the Pentel Brush Sign's most admirable qualities is the wide range of colours in the range. Recently expanded to 24 colours, there's everything from sensible black and grey to rainbow brights, modern tones and softer pastels. It's also great to see Pentel's 'Recycology' commitment feeding through to the range too - 77% of the plastics used in the construction of these pens is from recycled sources.
The only downside to be wary of with the Brush Sign is that the water-based ink is very soluble, and can bleed very readily when exposed to water-based inks or paints. The Brush Sign Pigment pens get round this problem by using a different, pigment-based ink, which is acid-free and permanent.
BEST FOR: Beginners, colour lovers