Everything You Need to Know About Brush Pens

Brush lettering, like any other form of art, has its roots. If you’ve read through my posts, you’ll find several history lessons. But today, my aim is to give you a glimpse into the world of modern brush pens. And trust me, there are many!

It would be impossible (and irrelevant) to cover the entire spectrum of brush pens. Aside from the sheer number, many brush lettering tools aren’t appropriate for western characters.

As someone who doesn’t speak any eastern languages, I won’t be able to offer any advice in that realm. However, if you’re interested familiarizing yourself with the best tools of the trade to create western characters, then this post is for you.

Brushes vs. Brush Pens

What’s the difference between a brush and brush pen?
The short answer: one contains pigment that is fed to a brush, and the other requires manually coating the brush in pigment. Beyond that, there is not much fundamental difference.

If you want to dive a little deeper, you’ll discover that each have their own pros and cons.

Brushes allow you to mix your own ink or paints. Since you need to manually coat a brush in that pigment, you also have control over the consistency and application of that pigment. Brushes come in a variety of tip types (synthetic bristles as well as natural bristles made from the hair of ox, sable, mongoose, badger, camel, etc.)

Brush pens spare you the trouble and mess of handling your own pigment. They’re much cheaper, and more portable than specialty brushes. They also come with a variety of synthetic tips to mimic the qualities of brush bristles. In my opinion, these tips work much better for lettering and I know that many lettering artists would agree.

Give both a try. It’s good to experiment and be comfortable with multiple tools and applications. If you’re just getting started, I’d recommend going with a brush pen, which is what we’re covering in this post. But remember, the tool doesn’t make the artist!

Qualities of Brush Pen Behavior

How a brush pen behaves is based on number of aspects. Obviously, the consistency of the pigment and flow is a big one. But there are also aspects of a brush tip that differ from brush to brush.
Here is an overview aspects:

Material of the Tip

A brush pen comes with a tip that can be made from several different kinds of materials.

Natural hair bristles are traditionally from the hair of a sable or a weasel. These tips tend to mimic the behavior of a real brush better than other brush pens.

Synthetic tips are generally made of nylon. They closely mimic the behavior of brushes, but are slightly easier to handle.

Felt tips are made from plastic. They tend to be more firm and require less control for producing consistent lines.

Materials of different brush pen tips.
Image taken from JetPens.com.


Hardness of the Tip

Brush pen tips can range from soft to firm. Softer tips allow for a greater degree of line variation, but will require more control to do. Firm tips can produce good line variation, but will require more pressure.

Bristle tips tend to fall on the softer side, while synthetic and felt tips tend to be more firm.

Size of the Tip

Sizes of different brush pen tips.
Image taken from JetPens.com.

Despite what they says, size doesn’t always matter. Brush pens come in a variety of tips sizes. These are typically labeled as broad or fine.

Broad tips are great for bold strokes. Fine tips are great for minor detailing and smaller applications or compositions. The degree of line width variation a brush pen is capable of is based on the size and hardness of the nib.

Elasticity of the Tip

The tip’s ability to retain its original shape after after a stroke determine’s its elasticity. If the tip has good elasticity, it will bounce right back to it’s original shape after each stroke.

Resilience of different brush pen tips.
Image taken from JetPens.com.

Typically, When you apply pressure to a bristle tip, the bristles will to spread out and require reshaping of the brush. Synthetic tips and felt tips tend to have good elasticity.

Ink Flow of the Tip

How much ink flows through the tip when pressure is applied determines the ink flow. This is measured as wet, medium, or dry.

Wet tips have a higher degree of flow and produce consistent dark lines, even if you are writing fast. On the the other hand, they can also blob up and create ink splotches if you’re pressing hard and moving slow.

On the other end of the spectrum, dry tips have a lower degree of ink flow and can create streaks of inconsistent ink distribution. While this might not be desirable in some applications, it can create some neat gestural effects.

Ink flow of different brush pen tips.
Image taken from JetPens.com.

Best Brush Pens on the Market (According to Me)

So Jake, you seem to be quite the know-it-all… what’s your favorite brush pen? I thought you’d never ask!

I’m one of those nerds that likes to try every type of tool I can get my hands on. I’d prefer to buy a hundred different pens and throw the majority of them away if it means finding the best of the best.

Obviously, I encourage you to explore to your heart’s content, but after trying dozens and dozens of different brush pens, here is my roundup of favorites:

Which Pen Is Right For Me?

I’ve personally found that different brush pens will serve me better depending on the mood I’m in.

If I’m anxious or stressed, I tend to be more heavy-handed. In that scenario, I’d prefer a firm, dry, felt-tipped pen to beat the crap out of. If I’m calm and serene, then a soft, flowy, bristle-tipped pen yields the best results.

Therefore, I believe that there is no right pen for you. Brush pens are cheap and disposable. If you’re feeling curious, drop $10 and pick up 3 or 4 of them. You’ll learn very quickly which work best for you (and when).

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