The questions that I get most often aren’t about techniques or improving art. They are:
- “What pens do you use?” and
- “What paper do you use and how large is it?”
Although I did write articles about my materials previously, it seems that it’s not enough. I decided to put together a brief reply to those two questions.
Dip Pens, Nibs, Brushpens
Many of my older artworks were created exclusively with a dip pen (also called a nib pen) and liquid black ink. I used only pointed nibs. It was before 2015th – that year I got my first 0.1 and 0.05 pens and gradually proceeded from dip pens to ink liners.
Examples of my pure dip pen art can be found in this post. Actually, there is much valuable information on art supplies, too. I highly recommend checking it out.
I like dip pens because they allow for creating varied, organic lines. I also admire the feeling of operating a nib that “sits” in a stylish nib holder.
If you push harder on the nib, you’ll get a wider mark. If the touch is light and gentle, the line will be thin. No need to lift your pen from the paper – you have all the possibilities at your disposal (as long as your nib has some ink on it).
Sometimes I used dip pens (nibs) for creating the outer contours of the objects that I was drawing. According to line hierarchy, the main contours should be thicker than any inner lines that convey details and texture. Then, I used ink liners to draw everything that required finer lines.
By the way, sometimes I replaced nibs with brushpens for the same actions.
A brushpen resembles a brush – but you don’t have to dip it into ink all the time, and it doesn’t show you any separate hairs or bristles – unless it’s a very, very seasoned brushpen that you were actively using for a long time.
Brushpens are great for creating varied, organic lines – just as nibs. Of course, there are some differences in how this tool feels in your hand, how it touches the paper and moves on its surface. However, the general idea is quite similar.
To me, using a dip pen has a couple of potential drawbacks. The first one is that you have to deal with liquid ink. It’s quite easy to overturn the bottle or the inkwell while drawing. If you get used to being careful, this will happen rarely. But it doesn’t mean that you won’t get a wonderful black spot on your clothes, table or carpet one day. 🙂 Also, nibs require regular cleaning and wiping.
The second reason why I discontinued using dip pens that often is the minimum line width. It’s rather difficult to create extremely thin lines with nibs – even the keenest ones. In my experience, it’s impossible (or very tiresome) to emulate a 0.05 liner with a pointed nib.
It can happen that I’ll pick a stack of glossy coated paper and get back to dip pens again in the future. But for now, I prefer the fineliners.
The Ink Liners
This tool has several common names – an ink liner, a fineliner, a technical pen, and, briefly, just a pen. If you hear those, most likely it’s about a drawing pen that has some number on its body. (In rare cases, it may be a letter instead of a number.)
The number indicates the width of a line that you can achieve with this tool. For example, 0.05-0.1 gives you a very thin line, 0.2-0.5 are for drawing medium width lines, and 0.7-1.0 and above are used for creating broad marks. This classification is not official – it’s just something that I invented for myself.
How many numbers of liners should you have? No one can answer this question for you. It depends on the kind of art that you create, your style, the level of attention to detail, the usual size of paper that you draw on, and even your patience…
If your ink-drawing journey is just beginning, you can easily start with one liner. 0.3 may be a nice option for the start.
Actually, it’s possible to create stunning art with a small set of three liners – for example, 0.1 + 0.3 + 0.5. Or it may be a combination of 0.2 + 0.4 + 0.7 if you don’t go deep into the details and usually work on larger paper size.
Liners can’t boast about the ability to change the width of the line on the fly – like nibs and brushpens do. But that may be also an advantage; this tool produces marks of a predictable, plus-minus equal width.
If you don’t have a liner of a bigger number, it’s always possible to go back to your lines and widen them with the pen that you have.
Usually, ink liners are not refillable, but you may find an exception – various rapidographs and isographs. I don’t mind throwing away a liner that has dried out or run out of ink. Their non-refillable nature saves me from the necessity to clean these pens regularly.
The numbers of liners that I use most often are 0.05, 0.1, and 0.3. Sometimes I need a broader liner, like 0.5, or a thinner one. You may ask: “How can it be any thinner?” Actually, some brands of pens have 0.03 liners – for example, Copic.
Keep in mind that the number you see may be rather an abstract representation of the real width in millimeters. In other words, 0.3 number does not necessarily mean exactly 0.3 mm line. Different brands have their own systems and measurements.
But, in general, you can rely on the number; in any classification 0.05 will represent a thin line, and 1.0 will be for a broad one.
I get many questions about brands of the liners. It’s easy to see why people are so interested in that. Let’s take a look at some of my tools.
I can’t guarantee that this pile of pens demonstrates all the brands that I have or have used earlier. But, obviously, there is a large number of various pens.
Which ones are my favorite? I bet that my answer may disappoint you, because…
I don’t have any favorites.
It’s that simple!
Today I may be in the mood to draw with those beautiful Faber-Castell Pitt pens. I like their gorgeous black bodies and admire the way their nibs leave fresh, slightly wet ink marks. Plus, I admire other Faber-Castell products, which creates a positive reinforcement of some kind.
Tomorrow I may be wearing a white nail enamel, and my choice will fall on those liners with white bodies. They are Marvy Uchida For Drawing, as that is what stands on their bodies. I’ve ordered them online and found later that they are quite nice. Unfortunately, the inscriptions on the bodies become partially rubbed away over time, but it’s not a big problem.
Alternatively, I can use Microns. Or Copics. Or Touch liners. Or Pilot pens. Or UNI Pin fineliners…
I like all of them because in my hands any liner can do its job!
I don’t start my day rummaging in a pile of liners. I always have a small set of pens at hand, so I’m able to start drawing without wasting time. The brand of the ink pen that I’m currently drawing with does not indicate my abiding commitment to purchasing and using it exclusively.
The only case when I do choose liners more carefully is when I start working on something special. It may be a large artwork that I’d like to save for a long time in a decent state. Obviously, I’d like to be sure that ink marks won’t fade.
If that’s something you’re interested in, too, look for an inscription like that:
- Archival Ink / Archival Quality
- Fade Proof
- Maximum Lightfastness
The waterproof quality of your liners may be a wonderful bonus for your process. It means that you can use watercolors or other water-soluble media on top of your ink drawing, and the black lines will remain crisp.
What paper do I use? The answer to this question is even simpler!
I use any paper that feels right.
It may be of white, cream or any other color. It may have any texture or be completely smooth.
For most black ink drawings that you can see on my Instagram, I used thick white paper with a smooth surface.
Thick sheets are preferred because such paper feels sturdy; it doesn’t crumple or wear thin easily. Anything that is above 200 gsm is fine. However, it’s OK to use thinner paper for sketches and any drawings that I don’t intend to save for decades, frame, or sell.
The only nuance refers to artworks that were drawn with a dip pen and liquid ink. In my experience, nibs love coated paper with a subtle gloss. This paper has a smooth, even sleek feel; nib moves on it without resistance or any interruptions.
However, it doesn’t mean that you have to wait until you find some special paper. Many artists draw with dip pens on ordinary drawing paper and it works just fine!
I won’t list any brands of paper that I use more often. First of all, I live in Belarus and usually buy paper in the local shops. Many of those brands may be not available to you, and I may be not familiar with the assortment (or possible replacements) that you have in your local art stores.
Second, as you probably see now, the name that is written on the goods’ packaging isn’t that important. I’d recommend relying on your own experience, needs, and preferences. Everybody has a unique set of likes and dislikes.
As with the pens, if your goal is to save your masterpiece for posterity, look for paper with “acid-free” label. It ensures that your drawings will have the longest life possible.
Let’s Conclude – And Some Final Advice
Even if you admire my art and have a strong desire to produce something close in style, it doesn’t mean that direct copying my approach to choosing materials will help you.
It’s not the tools that allow you to create stunning art. It’s your skills. Your skills ALWAYS matter more than your tools. I can’t stress this enough! 🙂
OK, there can be some exceptional examples when buying the right set of qualitative colored pencils makes the whole difference, but it’s not the case with ink liners.
If your pen can create crisp lines, no bleeding occurs, and the liner’s tip is nice and solid, you have the right tool.
I’m able to draw at this level now because I’ve put much time and effort into practice. And partially because I had the right advice and instructions when it was necessary.
This idea is not glamorous – I anticipate that many people will find it disappointing.
We like searching for some magic solution that will definitely make our lives easier. We like the process of buying things and waiting for new shiny items to arrive. But when they do, we usually have to face the unpleasant truth – the new materials don’t bring magic into our lives. Or do they?
Those tools don’t affect our skill level, although we might spend a small fortune on them. Perhaps it’s not about ink liners – their cost is quite low, compared to prices on markers or various paints. But nobody wants to waste money, right?
There are many great items on today’s market of art supplies. And, no doubt, there will be more of them to come – the industry is growing! Understandably, we are curious to know the difference between similar tools and materials. We may want to gather a collection of them, choosing only the right supplies that will bring us joy and encouragement to continue creating.
I can call myself an avid art supplies shopper. 😀
If I see a nice sketchbook, or paper, or pencils, or [fill in the blank], most likely I’ll buy it. If not now, then later. But I make all the purchases, knowing that this new possession won’t do my job. It may only bring some new experience and show where I should work harder.
Sometimes I watch reviews on art supplies, especially if it’s something brand new. Why not? But even if I liked an item without having any real experience with it, it doesn’t mean that I’d be completely delighted with it after the purchase. And that’s OK, everybody is different.
Exploring something new is risky! The same is true for finding the right tools for you.
To be honest, I feel a bit sad when another question about pens and paper arrives in my message box. I don’t enjoy guessing whether using x brand is OK for somebody. It’s not because this question is bad or wrong, no. I understand why people are bothered with such things and overwhelmed with the choice.
I’m sad because this question shows the wrong focus of the person’s attention. Instead of:
- learning (with practice!) drawing fundamentals and ink techniques,
- analyzing works of other artists,
- copying some favorite pieces,
- drawing from observation,
- drawing from imagination,
people get caught into the ill-fated loop of waiting for some tool that should change everything for them. They are distracted and they distract others with questions that, honestly, don’t make much sense and don’t ensure any progress.
It becomes easy to fall into the trap of buying new and new art supplies without taking the time to explore what you already have.
It doesn’t work this way. No possession allows you to skip several steps on the skill ladder. However, you can help yourself by investing in a good book or a course on drawing. Of course, on condition that you put enough effort to study it.
By the way, I’ve written many tutorials on drawing with ink. There I show not just the sequence of steps, but also the process of thinking and making decisions. This content is available to everybody, so welcome! 🙂
I hope this post helped you. And now let’s make something beautiful!