Fineliner Pen Review 2019

Last year, just before the start of Inktober, I put out a pen review video on my YouTube channel that dedicated a large chunk of run time to investigating fake Microns; how to spot them, test them, and avoid them. It’s still one of my most viewed videos each and ever week! So naturally, this year I’m doing a 2-part mini series on pens for Inktober, with a little nod to the fake Micron problem, and pairing it all with blog posts to boot. If you would rather watch, the Part 1 video is right here:

If you’d rather read, or you’re here for more details, read on! Don’t forget to check out the Part 2 video and Part 2 blog as well, which I will post the day after Part 1.

If you’re not a US-resident, and you’re looking for an excellent, reputable art supply retailer with reasonable shipping rates, I recommend shopping at Jackon’s! (I also recommend them if you are a US-resident, but in that case you’ve already got such great online shopping options, I expect this isn’t your best deal.) While American retailers such as Dick Blick and Jerry’s Artarama have tantalizingly low prices, shipping from the USA into Canada and abroad is ridiculously pricey, and in the case of Canadian destinations, often incurs additional tariffs at the border. Jackon’s is located in the Unite Kingdom, and whenever possible, ships small orders as regular letter mail. Even larger orders are reasonably priced for shipping, and I personally have not ever experienced the additional border taxes of similar American orders. For North American residents, Jackon’s also presents the opportunity to purchase European brands that are generally not available or heavily price hiked due to import costs at our local retailers.

While I am not sponsored by Jackon’s , this is an affiliate program link. Entering the Jackon’s website through my link means I earn a small commission in the form of store credit if you end up making a purchase, and you get a 10% discount on your first order, if you register as a new customer at checkout.

Sakura Pigma Micron

Rating: 10 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

Sakura’s Pigma Micron fineliner pens, often called more simply “Microns,” are one of the industry standard pigment fineliners among artists and illustrators around the world. They contain acid-free archival pigment ink that are truly lightfast and will not fade, shift, or cause yellowing over time. They perform well in conjunction with water-based mediums as well as alcohol inks, and can be used for line art under alcohol marker work.

While older batches of “Micron” branded counterfeits had tell-tale signs in their logos, with slightly bolder fonts and odd spacing, newer batches of the fakes are far more convincing. Still, fakes are obvious when you study them closely. The construction of the pen barrel and cap will be inferior, and it won’t take long to see the flaws. Rough edges on the plastic, nibs that are crooked or off centre, ink that leaks inside the caps, and ink reservoirs that rattle inside the barrel are common.

Other brands, such as Superior, have also released their own fineliner pens that are designed to look a lot like Microns without going so far as to actually call them Sakura Microns. Picutred above with real and fake Microns is a Superior brand Micro-Line fineliner. For the most part, the fakes and copycats are still excellent fineliner pens (unless you were unlucky enough to get one that was already dry, or leaks like an open faucet), but the ink within them is likely not what you were hoping for. Fake Microns are not waterproof, and might not work well under alcohol ink either. Despite the word “pigment” appearing on the barrels, they may or may not even be pigment inks.

To avoid getting tricked into purchasing fakes and copycats when shopping for Microns, stick to local retailers who can verify their source, or trustworthy online options. When ordering Microns from Amazon, look for the listings that are fulfilled through an Amazon warehouse and are eligible for Prime shipping, as these will have come from a legitimate Sakura products distributor. Avoid third party sellers of Sakura products on Amazon and eBay, particularly if the price is too good to be true (it is), and avoid buying Sakura products on Chinese marketplace sites such as Wish or AliExpress.

Note: Pigment vs Dye Inks

Pigment based inks, which are a suspension of pigment in a water-based medium, are inherently lightfast and will not fade or colour-shift due to light exposure over time. Most high end art fineliners and all gel inks are pigment based inks. Pigment inks tend to also usually be good for use with and under alcohol ink.

Dye based inks are dyes dissolved in a water-based medium, and are not lightfast. These also tend not to be the best choices for working with alcohol ink. The benefit is that dye based inks tend to come in a wider variety of diverse and vibrant colours at a cheaper cost.

Alcohol inks refer to inks that are composed of an alcohol base rather than a water base, and tend to be dye inks (not lightfast). Alcohol inks are a favourite of marker-loving illustrators, as they blend well and do not chew up paper like a water based marker.

The water- or alcohol-base of an ink is what determines whether or not it is waterproof, not the pigment or dye property. Gel inks, though inherently lightfast and generally quite permanent once dry, are usually not waterproof. Keep in mind that “water resistant” and “water proof” are not the same thing.

Sakura Pigma Micron PN

Rating: 9 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

The Micron PN (Plastic Nib) is the same classic pigment ink based fineliner we know and love, but with a strong, tapered plastic nib that allows for excellent control in line variation. While these do come in different colours like the fineliner version, do not be fooled! The black ink PN features a beautiful light teal in the barrel writing.

Staedtler Pignment Liner

Rating: 10 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

Equally as good as the Sakura Pigma Micron fineliners, these technical fineliners are often marketed more toward drafters, architects and other non-artist professionals, but I love them for art too. In fact, they’re still one of my absolute favourites! My only complaint is that they don’t come in quite as wide a size and colour range as Microns do, and it’s definitely harder to find them open stock in art supply stores for a reasonable price. I currently only own black ink pens in 01, 03, 05, and 07.

Copic Multiliner

Rating: 10 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

Copic, the kind of Alcohol markers, has their own pigment based fineliner pens. The Multiliner is their “disposable” fineliner line, and the Multiliner SP is the refillable version with replacement nibs and reservoirs available.

Multiliner is available in 003, 005, 01, 03, 05, 07, 1.0, brushes

Multiliner SP is available in 0.03, 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.25, 0.3, 0.35, 0.5, 0.7, small brush

Copic also sells fountain pens (Copic Drawing Pen) in Super Fine and Broad nibs.

Multiliners are available in 10 ink colours: black, cool grey, warm grey, sepia, brown, wine, cobalt, olive, pink, and lavender. All of these can be purchased open stock, in 4-pen same colour sets (005, 01, 03, 05), or in the “Four Colour” 03 set (Sepia, Wine, Cobalt, and Olive). The black is also available in a 4 pack of the other sizes (05, 08, BS, BM) and larger sets with and without the brushes.

I tend to reach for these over my other pigment liners when doing alcohol marker illustration because of the large size range (only my Microns rival the size range of my Copic Multiliner collection), the colour options that compliment my markers so well, and the simple fact that they are specifically formulated to be virtually instantly alcohol ink proof. I don’t have to wait to pass over these with alcohol ink on most papers.

They also have a very sturdy, rounded nib that has not shown any signs of wear and tear from being run along the edge of a metal ruler. (My Microns and Staedtler Pigment Liners have.)

Pilot DR Drawing Pen

Rating: 10 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

The final “10 out of 10” recipient on this list, the Pilot DR Drawing pen is another great pigment ink fineliner. It feels a lot like the Staedtler Pigment Liners to use, but there’s one big way that these differ: the caps. Pilot has put an advanced ink circulating system in place in these caps that keeps the ink in the nib fresh, which means this pen is wet and ready to go from the first stroke every time you use it. No false starts!

My one complaint about this pen is the price. $4.50 USD, which is almost $6 CAD, for a single pen is a little steep! Compare this to $4.29 CAD for a Staedtler Pigment liner open stock, or $3.25 CAD for a Micron. (Note: I have seen pens called “Pilot Drawing” listed cheaper, but they are visually different barrels, and may not have the fancy high tech caps.)

STA Pigment Liners

Rating: 9 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

One of my favourite budget pigment liners, this Chinese brand knows their stuff! STA Pigment Liners are very similar to the Staedtler Pigment Liners in terms of ink quality and nib reliability. They are water- and alcohol-proof, and the pens available on the cheaper Asian sites like Wish and AliExpress tend to be legitimate products. If you’re willing to wait for slow shipping from China, these pens are an excellent choice.

I’ve noticed both through using various art supplies and watching review videos from other artists that a lot of brands out there have fineliner pens that look a lot like STA Pigment Liners, including the ones sold by Pentalic and Marabu. I strongly suspect that STA operates a private label manufacturing service in addition to selling their own brand, and that some (if not all) of the apparent dupes out there for STA products are indeed manufactured by the same company.

Marabu Graphix Fineliners

Rating: 9 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

Marabu products come to us from Germany, BUT many of their pens do look like they may in fact be manufactured by STA. Their pigment fineliners are no exception. (I cannot confirm that they are, so don’t hold me to it!) These fineliners came in the Jazzy Art Box collaboration between Jazza and SmartArt Box in a 02, 04, 08 & Brush set, providing a nice selection of in-between nib sizes you don’t normally get in starter packs from finliner manufacturers.

Marvy Uchida

Rating: 9 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

These are my favourite budget pigment fineliners out there! This is a Japanese brand, but unlike Sakura products, it seems that Marvy products on Wish, AliExpress, etc. are legitimate. These are available in one of the largest size ranges I’ve seen, and they perform just as well as the 10s above. Personally, these are the pens I keep in my travel pen wrap. They perform exactly the way I want and expect them to, but they’re cheap enough I don’t mind the risk of damaging or losing them. These or STA are my recommendation if you want to purchase reliable pigment fineliners from the Asian market sites.

Derwent Graphik Line Maker

Rating: 9 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

If you’re a fan of Derwent products (and why wouldn’t you be? They’re great!) then you’ve probably heard of their Graphik pens. They have the Line Maker fineliners and the Line Painter fine tip acrylic paint pens. This is the Line Maker, the pigment fineliners. I only have one of them, a 01 from last year’s Inktober themed ScrawlrBox offering, so I don’t feel like I can give it a thorough enough testing and review to call it a 10, so I called it a 9. Mine in particular appears to have a leak at the butt end of the ink reservoir, but it still performs like new.

Montana Sketchliner

Rating: 9 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

Another Inktober subscription box acquiry, this time from last year’s Sketchbox Premium Inktober box, this 01 pigment fineliner by Montana Cans. Despite the name sounding like an American state, this is actually a German brand that specializes in spray paints and acrylic paint markers.

Artline Drawing System

Rating: 9 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

Artline is an Australian brand of art and drafting supplies, and the Drawing System pigment fineliners are their technical fineline pens. These are yet another great alternative to some of the more well know brands above, and may be one of the better choices financially for artists located in Australia and New Zealand. I got this pen in the February 2019 ScrawlrBox, and I rated it a 9 rather than a 10 simply because I cannot pass fair judgement of a line of products based on just one pen.

Pentel Energel

Rating: 9 out of 10
✘ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

The Pentel Energel is a precise ballpoint gel ink pen. This one in particular produces a 0.7mm line. It isn’t waterproof, but that’s not surprising for a gel ink. It is alcohol ink proof, and it’s a very smooth flowing pen in general.

Pilot V-Ball & Hi-Techpoint

Rating: 9 out of 10
✘ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof *

The Pilot V-Ball and Hi-Techpoint gel pens are another excellent gel ink option for artists and designers. Both of the pens I tested produce a 0.7mm line. Although Hi-Techpoint pens are sometimes still sold in 05, the focus seems to have shifted to the V-Ball line. The Hi-Techpoint pen tested is over a decade old and still going strong. The V-Ball pen came to me in the March 2019 ScrawlrBox, and proves to be an improvement on the Hi-Techpoint.

  • The V-Ball gel ink formula is both waterproof when dry and stands up well to alcohol inks. The Hi-Techpoint ink does smear under alcohol ink after drying, but since the particular pen tested is over a decade old, I will not assume that any Hi-Techpoint labelled pen purchased today would also fail that test.

Sharpie Ultrafine & Sharpie Pen

Rating: 9 out of 10 for the pen, 6 out of 10 for the ultrafine marker
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof *

The Sharpie Ultrafine is the finest tipped Sharpie marker on the market. Since the purpose of this blog and accompanying video is to rate fineliner pens, the ultrafine marker gets a 6 out of 10. That is NOT to say that Sharpie Ultrafine markers are a bad product. Not at all! They’re an excellent permanent marker. As a fineliner, however, they’re lacking. They smudge under alcohol inks, and feather on most papers.

The Sharpie Pen is Sharpie’s fineliner pen, and though it isn’t specifically labelled pigment ink, it must be. This one is in the “fine” tip, but Sharpie Pens are also available in “extra fine” and “medium” needle points as well. This pen does stand up to alcohol ink, and before I had the fancier pigment liners above, this pen is what I used.

Both are waterproof, as expected from Sharpie!

Simbalion dual Art marker

Rating: 9 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✘ Alcohol Ink Proof

This dual tip fineliner / marker came with my 36 pan Simbalion student watercolour palette, and it’s surprisingly good! The marker nib is similar in size to a standard Sharpie marker, and the fineliner tip is a standard 05. It is waterproof, which is good considering it came with a watercolour set, but it does smudge under alcohol ink. A surprisingly 9 out of 10!

Uni-Pin Pigment Fineliners

Rating: 8 out of 10
✘ Waterproof * | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

I own a standard size selection of the black Uni-Pin pigment fineliners, as well as a 01 dark grey and a 05 light grey. They’re made by Uni-Ball, which is a brand from the Mitsubishi Pencil Company. Yes, that Mitsubishi!

The reason I didn’t rate these a 9 or a 10 is because they aren’t completely waterproof. They’re very close, but my test sheet does show smudging at the line stop points where a little more ink was put down. They’re still great for using under alcohol inks, on their own, or overtop of anything. If you want to use these under water based mediums, let them dry for a significant period of time first, or hit it with some heat to really set the ink.

Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pens

Rating: 8 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

PITT artist pens are the professional quality line fineliner and brush pens offered by Faber-Castell. Those of you who’ve watched my YouTube channel for any length of time, or if you’re checking back here in the future when I have far more blog posts up, will know that I love Faber-Castell in general. That said, I’m not fond of their PITT pens.

A standard 4-pen starter pack comes in the sizes S, F, M, B (brush). You may notice that those sizes aren’t numbers, and there lies the biggest reason why I don’t like them. I looked it up on the Faber-Castell website to finally end the mystery, and here are their sizes: XS = 0.1mm, S = 0.3mm, F = 0.5mm, M = 0.7mm

So in other words, the fineliner pens from the PITT line are indeed the standard 01, 03, 05 & 07, and the 4-pack that comes with a brush pen is 03, 05, 07 & Brush.

PITT pens contain pigment India ink in an acid-free, pH-neutral formula, making them archival. They’re also odourless, and promise not to bleed through paper.

All good things, and I completely understand why some people love them. They are indeed waterproof and good under alcohol inks as well.

My other complaint about the fineliners is the cap design. The large clips on the caps are not completely flat, nor are they a simply curve, and they’re quite a tight fit. This means that while most of my fineliner pens hang nicely from a thin wire in my pen case and slide side to side, on and off easily, these clamp down and don’t move. They’re hard to put on the wire, hard to take off the wire, and don’t easily slide to the side to make room for other pens. My other reasons for not liking the PITT pens comes from the brush pens, so refer to tomorrow’s post for more information.

Tombow Fudenosuke

Rating: 8 out of 10
✘ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

Fudenosuke pens are excellent plastic nib calligraphy and art pens from Tombow. Since Tombow is more geared toward calligraphy and other forms of fancy hand lettering, their pens are specially designed to fulfill different niche needs among hand lettering enthusiasts, and aren’t necessarily an artist or technical fineline pen. I include them because they are often marketed to artists, have been seen in art subscription boxes, and do end up being used for this purpose by artists around the world.

The standard single-ended Fudenosuke pens come in WS-BS (soft) and WS-BH (hard) nibs, and are available in a rainbow of colours. The dual tipped pens are all the same hardness, and come in black/black and various colours (plastic nib and marker bullet nib), or black/grey in plastic nibs on both ends.

These pens perform fairly well with alcohol inks, but are not waterproof. Use them last when working with water based mediums, or use something else. For lettering, calligraphy, and alcohol ink illustrations, these are great!

Pentel Arts Sign Pen

Rating: 8 out of 10
✘ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

The Pentel Arts Sign Pen has a firm marker-like nib that is not very flexible and comes to a fine point. The nib allows for a wide range of line widths, and changing line width as your go is easily controlled.

For writing, line art under alcohol ink, and ink-only illustration, these are excellent. Where they fall short is the fact that they are not waterproof in the slightest.

Kuretake Zig Writer for Vellum

Rating: 8 out of 10
✔ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

Another treasure discovered through ScrawlrBox (June 2018), the Zig Writer is a dual ended pigment ink pen with a 1.2 rounded marker nib on one end and a plastic nib fineliner point on the other. It’s like having a classic Sharpie on the other end of a Micron PN, without the odour.

The Writer for Vellum, specifically, is formulated to be permanent on “slippery” papers such as vellum, tracing paper, and waxed papers.

Pentel Arts Hybrid Technica

Rating: 7 out of 10
✘ Waterproof | ✘ Alcohol Ink Proof

This is yet another excellent technical ballpoint pen featuring gel ink. Mine is a standard size 04, which is not something you normally see in a gel ballpoint. The reason it is rated low is because it claims to be highly water-resistent, but it isn’t. It also smears under alcohol ink, which makes it worse than both the Pilot gel ink pens and the other Pentel gel pen on this list for illustrators who favour Copics and other alcohol ink markers.

Staedtler Triplus Fineliners

Rating: 7 out of 10
✘ Waterproof | ✘ Alcohol Ink Proof

These triangular barreled fineliners from Staedtler feature a 0.3mm fine tip and Staedtler’s “Dry Safe” technology, which means they can be left uncapped for days without drying out. For writing purposes, or for drawing by themselves, or for use on top of (last layer details and line art) other mediums, these are excellent. They are not, however, waterproof or alcohol ink proof. The nib size is also not indicated anywhere on the barrels or caps; I had to look that up. They’re available in 30 colours, which match Staedtler’s other ink products.

Stabilo Pen 68

Rating: 6 out of 10
✘ Waterproof | ✔ Alcohol Ink Proof

Although the Pen 68 is a pretty good felt tip marker, it is not what I would call a pen in the fineliner pen sense. It’s a marker. They feature a 1mm rounded marker nib, 47 colours, and can be left uncapped for up to 24 hours without drying out. If the barel doesn’t feature a paint brush symbol indicating it’s water soluble, then it’s waterproof (like the one I tested), but neither formulas perform well under alcohol inks.

This was another 2018 Inktober boxes acquired item, from the September 2018 ScrawlrBox, and I included it because it insists on calling itself a pen, rahter than a marker.

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