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Equipment: How to Choose a Waterproof Pen and Ink for Watercolour

Ladybug entomological illustration by Lizzie Harper

Equipment: How to Choose a Waterproof Pen and Ink for Watercolour is a guest blog from KT of Goldspot pen shop.

Ink and watercolour is a classic, intriguing combination that creates some really amazing effects when accomplished with the right tools.  Black outlines define a beautiful watercolour painting that jumps off the page!

Fig illustration with top wash of watercolour

Do you want to know how you can create ink and watercolour pieces that affect people?  Well, you are going to need the right tools for the job.  I am going to walk you through what makes for a good watercolour pen and review my top pens and ink that are designed for watercolour work.  Let’s begin!

What Makes for a Great Watercolour Pen and Ink?

What makes for a good pen or ink when it comes to watercolour?  Here are the things to consider:

What Makes for a Great Watercolour Pen and Ink: Waterproofness

Arguably the most important, you want to find ink pens or ink bottles that are labeled waterproof.  It can get confusing as they may say “water-resistant” as well as some terms that mean the opposite, which we look at in the next section.

You need a waterproof pen or ink so there is no bleeding or smudging of any kind when you apply your watercolours to it.  A quality ink will allow you to draw beautiful, strong lines without any bleeding or transfer of colors.

pen and ink techniques, crab, cancer,

Crab with top wash of watercolour

What Makes for a Great Watercolour Pen and Ink: Avoid “Water-Soluble”

It is likely you’ll come across a couple inks and pens that are labeled water-soluble or water-based.  Avoid these like the plague!  Water-soluble inks and pens are made with water and will run when you start painting with watercolour.  A safe rule to follow is that any pens you find that don’t state they are waterproof or water-resistant are likely to be water-soluble and won’t work well with watercolour paint.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly Aglais urticae natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper

Small tortoiseshell butterfly Aglais urticae life cycle illustrated in pen and ink with watercolour top wash.  If the inks had bled, the butterfly would have been a disaster.

What Makes for a Great Watercolour Pen and Ink: Pigments

It can be, at times, unclear if the pen is waterproof, especially with foriegn pens or inks.  You can look for “pigments” or “pigmented ink.”  If a pen or ink is labeled that it is made with pigments, this is a sign that a pen is very likely waterproof.  Pigments are tiny colored material that does not dissolve in water, so they are not water-soluble or water-based.

What Makes for a Great Watercolour Pen and Ink: Ink Dry Time

Another thing to consider is how long the ink takes to dry!  Applying watercolour too soon can cause bleeding, fading, or smudging.  For most inks, you want to wait at least an hour or two hours for the ink to dry onto the paper.  If you are a fast sketcher or just want better dry times, there are fast-drying inks that only take a few minutes to be completely dry and smudge-proof!  We recommend our top fast-drying ink below, so keep reading.

Red spider mite Tetranychus urticae natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper

Red spider mite Tetranychus urticae pen and ink with watercolour top wash.  The fast-drying ink dried within 20 minutes, allowing immediate work into the illustration.

What Are The Best Waterproof Pens For Watercolour

Let’s review the top-rated pens to use for an ink and watercolour project.  We suggest trying out a couple of these so you can find your personal favorite!

1. The Uni-Ball Signo Gel Pen

On the top of our list we have a great, beginner friendly gel pen that works wonderfully for any watercolour project.  The Uni-Ball Signo is an affordable waterproof pen that draws straight clean lines that never gives unwanted ink blots on your paper.  We’ve found the Uni-Ball to be a favorite for quick ink and watercolour work that we can always rely on and have several laying around.

2. Sakura Pigma Fineliner Micron Series

Our second on this list is a fineliner, particularly the Micron Series by Sakura.  A fineliner is a great type of pen that creates beautiful, professional lines that are straight, thin and just look great.  The Sakura Pigma is completely waterproof and we’ve found it to be one of the best pens to use for ink and watercolour paintings.

Sakura pigma Micron 0.1 inkpen, used to do the ink work under the top watercolour wash on this Cherry illustration

3. Fountain Pen by Visconti

We recommend considering a fountain pen that you can load up with your own ink.  If you foresee working with ink for more than a year, disposable pens get expensive, and the very best ink for use with watercolour can only be bought as an ink bottle (not to mention with a fountain pen, you can get various colored inks to play around with!).

Oil seed rape Brassica napus.  I use disposable pens and get through 20 – 50 a year depending on the jobs I get commissioned to do.  Maybe I need to consider shifting to a fountain pen?

Our favorite fountain pens are from the company Visconti.  Our favorite fountain pens for watercolour artwork are the Visconti pens from Goldspot Pens.  Visconti has a diverse range of fountain pen options.  A fountain pen works wonders for ink and watercolour projects.  You can scroll down to our ink suggestions and combine it with a fountain pen ink and the result is unbeatable.

4. Uni-Ball Impact Gel Pen

This is another great gel pen option for watercolour.  The pen is completely waterproof and fade-proof.  You should consider giving the Impact Uni-Ball Pen a try. But before you buy, you need to check out drawings made with it, as the lines are broader than many gel pens and may not be the best for very detailed ink work.  The Impact does amazing outlines and so makes for a good little watercolour pen.  It can work especially well for cartoon or comic styles.

5. Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen

Using a brush pen for your ink and watercolour work is a really neat option that I know some of you will want to go with.  Tombow’s Fudenosuke pen is a seriously great option for watercolour.  It is waterproof even though the labeling is fairly confusing as it mentions water-based and pigmented ink, but we went with it and it does great with watercolour paints.

A brush pen is a neat option that gives you the new ability to change the width of the line you are drawing by changing your pressure applied to the pen.  This allows for some really creative use of ink and watercolour that I’d love to see how people use to make unique ink brush and watercolour creations.

Mallard duck Anas platyrhynchos natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper

Mallard duck Anas platyrhynchos duckling.  This illustration was done in pencil, but would be a perfect candidate for a brush pen.

6. The Unipin Fine Line

This is an interesting and fun waterproof pen we found and really enjoyed.  The drawback is that when using an eraser we find the ink fades and blurs, but if that’s not a problem, this is a great pen for your project.  It draws really nicely and feels natural in your hand.  The Unipin Fine Line is definitely an option to consider.

Quince pen and ink illustration with watercolour top wash – completed using my favourite of these recommendations – the Unipin Fine Line 0.1

7. Winsor and Newton’s Fineliner

I am a big fan of Winsor and Newton and find their products to be a great addition to any artist’s toolbelt.  Their new finliner works great with watercolours, so I had to include it on this list.  Even better, the fineliner comes in various sizes and colors that you can choose on their website!

Winsor and Newton’s new fineliner pen works with watercolour really well and is an overall very professional pen that you can use for your next project.

Rainbow agama lizard natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper

Rainbow agama lizard Agama agama pen and ink.  Completed some years before Winsor & Newton bought out their fineliners, but now I’m excited to try similar subjects with these new pens.

8. Pocket Brush Pen from Pentel

I needed to add another brush pen to this list because they’re so fun.  The Pocket Pen from Pentel is a keeper.  The pen was originally created to be used for japanese calligraphy and draws beautiful brush strokes and is made with waterproof ink that is suitable for watercolour.  The brush tip is very sensitive so it easily changes the width of your lines.  This is both a pro and a con.  It gives you so much control and feels great when you master it, but it is easier to make a mistake.  We highly recommend this pen if you are used to drawing with brush pens.

9. Parker Pens

If you are enticed by the idea of a fountain pen to use with watercolour, another top recommendation is the Parker fountain pen from Goldspot.  Kaweco is a historic brand that has been known to produce very smooth and beautiful drawing and writing pens for over 100 years.  The Kaweco Sport and Kaweco Liliput are two fountain pens that are praised for their beautiful drawing lines.  If you get one of the best inks for watercolour into one of these pens, it becomes a very good option for ink and watercolour.

Parker pen

10. Assorted Pens from Faber-Castell

Faber-Castell is a truly historic brand that was founded in 1761.  You heard that right, this pen company was founded over 250 years ago!  They are still crafting beautiful pens, from fountain pens to fineliners and brush pens.

The Pitt Artist Pen set they released is an amazing set of fineliners and brush pens that are all waterproof and made with high quality India Ink.  This is definitely a good option for ink and watercolour, and it gives so much variety to play around with!  You get 4 fineliners and 4 brush pens that gradually increase in size.  Faber-Castell has a history of great craftsmanship and with these new waterproof pens, you have an alluring option to check out.

Cedar of Lebanon pine cones with watercolour top wash – completed with Faber & Castell Ecco pigment 0.1

Best Ink for Watercolour

What matters most with any of the pen options we looked at in the previous section is the ink that’s in them.  For many of them, you can’t be certain you are really getting the highest quality ink.  In my experience, the best ink for watercolour comes in a bottle right from the manufacturers.  Here are our top picks for a waterproof ink to use with watercolour.

Wind pollinators natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper

Wind pollinators showing close up of individual flowers

1. Platinum Carbon

Our top recommendation is Platinum Carbon Ink.  This is a black ink that has a beautiful texturing done over it that gives it a pure natural black appearance.  Platinum Carbon is a permanent waterproof ink resistant to any smudging, fading, or bleeding.  Needless to say, it works incredibly with watercolour.  If you don’t know which ink bottle is for you, this is our recommendation.

Platinum carbon ink

2. de Atramentis Archive Ink

The de Atramentis Archive is another of the best ink options for watercolour.  This is a black ink that has less texturing than the Platinum Carbon while still presenting a professional matte black appearance.  The number one benefit to this ink is that it is extremely waterproof and a fast-drying ink.  This ink dries in just a few minutes and can be used with watercolour right after for no distortion or transfer of color at all.  Out of all the inks on this list, the de Atramentis may just be the most waterproof and fastest drying.

Plum Prunus domestica.  Pen and ink with watercolour top wash.  Fast drying inks really simplify this technique!

3. Speedball Super Black India Ink

Our top recommendation for a pure black ink is Speedball’s Super Black India Ink.  Most people don’t know that most inks that are in pens are actually made with black mixed with various other colors like blue and grays.  If you want truly pure black ink, you want to go with India ink.  Speedball has made a great waterproof India ink for use with watercolours that you should definitely check out.  It is a solid black that makes for some very strong borders and outlines.

4. Sailor Kiwa-Guro

I really like Sailor as a company.  They are a historic Japanese brand that creates top-quality fountain pens and inks.  The Sailor Kiwa-Guro is a really great ink that is fully usable for watercolour and ink artwork.

Kiwi-Guro by Sailor

The only problem with it is that it has been reported that if you leave it in the bottle for several months, it can lose its waterproofness.  This brings it lower on my list as this could be a real problem for watercolourists who are looking for a long-term ink for their work.  If you do not mind that, this is an amazing ink that looks beautiful with watercolour.

natural hsitory illustration sparrow

Ink retaining its’ waterproof quality is essential for diagrams such as this male House sparrow done for the RSPB Spotlight Sparrows book

5. Winsor and Newton Ink

We have another high-quality Winsor and Newton product: this is their high-quality waterproof ink.  The Winsor and Newton ink is a great beginner ink.  It has a cute matte black color to it that looks really good for cartoon or comic styles, and modern styles.  The ink takes two hours to dry, but is a great waterproof and fade-proof option when it is completely dry.

How To Find The Right Pen and Ink For You

The most important thing in buying any art supplies is finding what works best for your style and preferences.  I advise that you research several of these pens and inks to find what’s best for you, and, if you have the opportunity, I would recommend picking up a few of these so you can try out first-hand which is your favorite.

Let us know in the comments which you found to be your favorite!  We hope you find your perfect pen and ink for your artwork.

ladybug with outstretched wing diagram

Ladybird Coccinella septempunctata diagram with outstretched wing in pen and in with watercoloour top wash

 

9 comments

  1. Thank you so very much for this information…. I had read before spending so much on Dr Ph Martin ink,although I am impressed with them so far especially on drafting film.I am just starting out so I have much to learn. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Judith, my absolute pleasure. I love Dr Martins inks. Good to know they work on drafting film, that’s new info to me.

      We all always have so much to learn, dont be daunted! And good luck.

      Yours
      Lizzie

    1. Hi Tony
      Apologies for the delay in getting back to you. Yes, I particularly love Doctor Martins Ph inks; the hydrus ones claim not to fade in the light and really give a kick to coloured work. Thanks for asking. x

  2. I use the W&N Drawing Inks with a speedball dip pen. I find it very thin, flowing, and easy to work with. Surprisingly, perhaps, for an ink so thin, I’ve never had it drip all over my paper, or blot on me 🙂 – I’m surprised that you’ve found it takes 2 hours to dry, though; mine’s always been touch-dry within 2 minutes, though I leave an ink drawing for about 10 minutes before I add watercolour over it. Are you using a different W&N ink, or have I stumbled on a superpower I never knew I had…? (crosses fingers for the superpower, though admittedly ‘makes ink dry quick’ would be a bit of a lame one!)

    1. Hi Jane, that’s interesting. I’ll pass on the query to the guest blogger and see what they say. Thanks for the comment, Ill get back to you!

  3. I like the Rotring Drawing Ink that is suitable for rapitographs too. I use it with dip pens though as it is not safe for fountain pens because it can clog them in the long run. I read the other day though that there is a company that developed a fountain pen that is suitable for India Ink. If that is indeed the case I’ll probably buy one of these pens, as India Ink is the most permanent, waterproof and fast drying type of ink. Not to mention that is easy to find everywhere contrary to the waterproof fountain pen inks.
    I don’t really like the felt tip drawing pens as their nibs don’t last that long.

    1. Thanks for this. Personally, I’ve never got on with nib pens, I think perhaps I’m not fastidious enough so they end up splotching. But then I also like the drawing pen nibs, but I do get through them at some speed. Not great in terms of sustainability and re-use. Isn’t it funny, a lot of the old tried and tested materials (like rotoring ink) are the best? Good luck finding the fountain pen that takes it, and do let us know how you get on if you do invest in one. Thanks for taking the time to add a comment, and for sharing your knowledge. x

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Lizzie Harper