My favourite pens for sketching

Over the last year, I've been regularly asked which pens I use for sketching. Instead of replying with individual emails, I thought, I'd write it down to share with everybody.

A word to start

Although I love pens, I don't think that they are the main thing to worry about when sketching.  Any pen is better than no pen. If you want to get started, you don't need a set of special pens to dig in. Any pen will do. Your hand and your brain are the important parts.

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But if you want to start experimenting, you should, as there is a lot to discover and a lot of fun to be had. There isn't a pen that is perfect for everybody in every situation. You need to try out for yourself, see what feels good and what fits your sketching style. So without further ado, here is a list of my favourites.

The pens I love...

Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.4

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Super thin. Lovely for small writing and line drawings. This pen is my absolute favourite for sketchnoting. I like its ultra fine lines and the slightly scratchy feel on the paper. 

MUJI 0.5 Gel Ink Pen

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Not as thin as the pilot, but great for any kind of writing and sketching. The MUJI pens have a great flow to them and they come in all kinds of colours! I usually only use one accent colour for my sketchnotes and in most cases, it's one of the MUJI pens.

Pilot V fineliner

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My pen of choice when I need a slightly stronger line.
I like the nice rich ink flow of the Pilot V.

Tombow ABT Dual Brush Pen

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The magic weapon for creating a bit of depth: a light grey Brush Pen to quickly add subtle shadows to objects and give a bit of depth and dimension to your sketches. The N75 is the perfect shade of grey, light enough to not look too heavy and dark enough to be picked up by photo copiers.
The Tombow ABT comes in dozens of colour. Its pointed brush shaped tip is made from foam and if you are into experimenting with brush script, this pen is for you as well.

The pens I love a little less...

Sharpies

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"WHHHHAAAATTT? You don't like Sharpies?!?!" 

I can hear the outcry of (at least) the UX designers amongst you. Yes, Sharpies are not my first pen of choice. 

Reason 1
The bleed. If you forget to put anything underneath your paper, the table will be ruined with spots. If you have other paper and sketches underneath, the table is safe, but the sketches will be ruined. In either case, the back of your paper can't be used at all, as all the Sharpie marks bleed through. 

Reason 2
They stink. If I work with Sharpies for a while the solvents give me headaches. 

Reason 3
This is absolutely personal. Most of the time Sharpies are too fat for the size and fidelity I like to sketch at. Everybody has a 'natural' size they are comfortable sketching at. Mine is more on the small side. Thinner pens work better for me. 

Other markers like Copics, Magic Markers, ...

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As they come with fatter nibs, they are really handy when it comes to big format sketching on flip charts and wall sized graphics. But for most of them, the same reasons (1 & 2) apply as for Sharpies: the bleeding and the solvents make me unhappy. 

To the rescue for the big format

For when I do go to the big format, I recently found a fantastic alternative type of markers especially developed for graphic recording and large size sketching. They contain water based inks, so no solvents and no smell to make you dizzy. And they are refillable and come in over 20 colours.

Neuland No. One WorkshopMarker

Wedge-shaped tip for sketching and writing on flipcharts and wall graphics.

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Neuland No. One ArtMarker

Same size as the WorkshopMarker but comes with a pointed foam brush tip (similar to the Tombow ABT).

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Neuland No. BigOne

Comes with an extra big wedge-shaped tip for really big lettering or filling in large areas.

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Bonus Tracks

Not really for sketching but for playing around with calligraphy and lettering, these two pens are great.

Pilot Parallel pen

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Refillable broad nib calligraphy pen, comes in 4 different nib widths from 1.5mm to 6.0mm.

Pentel Color Brush pen

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Refillable brush pen with a tip made from individual synthetic fibre bristles. You can control the ink flow by squeezing the body of the pen.

Here you go. Have fun pen shopping and happy sketching!


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Want to learn sketching hands-on?

See my upcoming speaking and workshop schedule.

If you would like to run a workshop with your team or company, please get in touch.
I have two tried and tested 1-day practical workshops to offer:Sketching Interfaces and Sketching for Visual Thinking and Sketchnoting, but I can also create a customised workshop matching the needs of you team.