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What’s That Pen You Use for Drawing?

Adding washes over an ink drawing in my journal.

Since the launch of my Studio Journal course, a lot of people have been asking about what pen I use for drawing in my journals. There are actually two types of pen that I draw with regularly: one for a waterproof line, and a different one for a watersoluble line.

(If you arrived at this post from some other direction and are wondering what the heck a studio journal is, or want to see some examples of the kind of drawings people are asking about, the first three modules of the course are free and open to everyone. The introductory video titled “What’s a studio journal?” in the Preparations and Preliminaries section will give you a quick overview, if you’re curious.)

In this post, I’m going to talk about the waterproof ink and pen(s) I use in my Studio Journal (like the first example sketch below), and a couple of alternative options for waterproof ink and pen(s) if you prefer cartridges over the bottled ink I use.

If you’re wondering why a watercolorist would ever want to use a watersoluble line or what pen I use for that, you might want to have a look at this Watercolor Jumpstart lesson about a special, simple kind of line-and-wash, or this Postcard Paint-Along that shows the techniques from that lesson in action.)

In my studio journal, I generally use waterproof ink, so I can come back later and add washes to my drawings without smudging the lines. You may see me using several different pens in the videos, but they are all the same pen (filled with the same ink), just in different body colors.

Pens and ink I use in my studio journal for waterproof line. From left to right: the Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen, the Pilot CON-40 converter, Platinum Carbon Black Ink, Platinum Carbon Ink Desk Pen, Platinum Carbon Ink cartridges.

The pen I use for drawing and traditional line-and-wash is the Pilot Metropolitan (about $20). I use different nib sizes, so the different colors are a way for me to tell them apart. The Metropolitan comes with Medium, Medium Italic, Fine nibs. The one you see in most of my videos, and that I use most often, is a Fine nib.

A less expensive pen made by Pilot that has a plastic body, but the same nib is the Pilot Penmanship pen (about $10).  Another option is the Pilot Kakuno (about $13). Both of these pens are also available with an Extra Fine nib. So far as I know, it’s not possible to order the Metropolitan with an Extra Fine nib, or to order a replacement nib. However, the Extra Fine nib in the Penmanship and Kakuno fits the Metropolitan, so I ordered a Kakuno in Extra Fine and swapped the nibs to get an Extra Fine nib in one of my Metropolitans.

Top: Pilot Metropolitan, Bottom: Pilot Kakuno (the Pilot Penmanship is very similar to the Kakuno).

Pilot also has some more expensive pens which are available with an Extra Fine nib, but I love the size and weight of the Metropolitan (plus, it’s still cheaper to buy a Metropolitan and a Penmanship or Kakuno and swap the nibs than to buy one of the really pricey pens just to get an Extra Fine nib).

All of these Pilot pens can take cartridges, but the ink in the Pilot cartridges is not waterproof. Cartridge ink is very rarely waterproof as most waterproof inks clog fountain pens. (More on a different pen option for cartridges in a moment.)

So, instead of cartridges, I use converters in my Pilot pens. The one that fits all the Pilot pens mentioned above is the Pilot CON-40.

Platinum Carbon Black Ink (look for “Carbon Ink” on the label. If it just says “Black Ink”, that’s their regular black ink which is NOT waterproof.

I fill my converter with Platinum brand Carbon Black Ink.  This is the only black waterproof ink that I have successfully used in all sorts of fountain pens without running into problems with clogging, even when I’ve not used a pen in a while. If I’ve left a pen unused for a month or two, I sometimes need to wipe the nib with a damp paper towel to get the ink flowing again, but I’ve never had to go through completely taking it apart and cleaning it with this ink. Every other waterproof black ink that I’ve tried has required a lot more care in keeping pens clean and flowing properly.

There are probably some other waterproof black inks that would also work well, so if you have one already, you may as well try it, but I’m not trying to maintain a list of “other waterproof inks that work” because I LOVE this Platinum Carbon Black ink.

CAUTION (when shopping): Platinum also makes a regular black Ink that is NOT waterproof. Another student just alerted me that there are listings on Amazon for the regular (non-waterproof) black Platinum ink that call it “carbon black ink”.  Be sure the bottle says “carbon ink”; or better yet, don’t order from Amazon. (Unless you are buying from the Amazon storefront of a reputable art supply store or manufacturer, I strongly recommend you not buy art supplies on Amazon because there are so many confusing listings and knock-off products.)

If you prefer to use cartridges rather than a converter, you can buy Platinum Carbon Black Ink in cartridges, but they DO NOT fit the Pilot pens. There are Platinum brand pens that are similar to the Pilot pens, and you would need to use one of those if you want to use cartridges.

In the Platinum line, the Plaisir is the most similar to the Pilot Metropolitan and the Preppy is most similar to the Pilot Penmanship. I like the nib slightly better in the Pilot pens, but overall these pens are quite similar. The Platinum Desk pen with the Extra Fine nib is another very nice option. This nib is finer and I think a bit more flexible. But overall, all of these pens are very similar in balance and nib.

I rarely recommend retailers, but in the case of Japanese art supplies, it can be hard sometimes to find a good source in North America. As of this writing, you can find all of these pens and inks at Jet Pens (jetpens.com). (This is where I usually buy pens and ink.) Goulet Pens (gouletpens.com) is another reputable retailer that carries both the Platinum and Pilot lines, and Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff (cheapjoes.com) carries the Platinum Carbon Black Ink and the Platinum Preppy fountain pens, but not the Pilot pens or the other Platinum pens.

Okay, pen freaks, get shopping and get drawing!

DISCLAIMER: I can say “get shopping!” without guilt because there are no affiliate links on my website and I don’t have any sort of product sponsorships. If you buy any this stuff, the only benefit to me is that you’re supporting manufacturers that make great products I really like to use and retailers that carry them, so hopefully I’ll be able to buy them again in the future, too. 🙂 I refuse to do paid promotions for products because I also get frustrated wondering whether someone really likes and uses a product themselves, or is just getting paid to promote it. That said, different artists and different styles of work benefit from different tools. You might hate a product or tool I love and can’t do without. Or you might have a different experience with a product because of your local climate or working habits or whatever. Please use your own judgment about what art supplies are right for you.

DISCLAIMER 2: If some time has passed since this post was written (summer 2022) or you live outside North America and the retailers above don’t work for you as sources for these products, you may need to do an online search. Please don’t write to ask “Where can I buy that now (or in my part of the world)?” There is no way I can keep up with what’s available all over the world, and retailers change their product lineups all the time . I would just be doing an online search on your behalf, and my search results on the west coast of North America don’t tell me what you can order in Argentina or Italy or New Zealand. If you do the search, you’ll get results tailored for your location.

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