Mastering Watercolor Brush Pens: The Complete Guide to Techniques, Tips, and Choosing the Best Pens for Your Style

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Watercolor brush pens have soared in popularity over the last few years. Unlike traditional watercolors requiring multiple brushes and mixing pans, these handy pens contain water-soluble ink in the brush tip so all you need is a pen and some water to create gorgeous paintings!

With their versatility, convenience, and endless creative possibilities, it’s no wonder watercolor pens have become a favorite medium for artists, hand letterers, illustrators, urban sketchers, and anyone who wants to add a splash of watercolor to their work.

But with so many pen sets and styles available, how do you know which option is best suited for you?

In this complete guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about watercolor brush pens, from the different tip types and ink formulas to essential techniques. You’ll also learn how to select the right watercolor pens based on your artistic goals and preferences.

Whether you’re a beginner looking to try this exciting medium or an experienced artist hoping to expand your skills, you’ll find tips to help you master watercolor pens and create beautiful, vivid artwork. Let’s dive in!

The Top 5 Best Watercolor Brush Pens

With the sheer amount of watercolor brush pens available, deciding which ones to try first can feel overwhelming as a beginner. To help narrow your options, here are 5 of the best watercolor brush pens that artists love for their high quality and versatility:

1. Tombow Dual Brush Pens

Tombow Dual Brush pens rank among the most popular for their blendable, water-based ink and easy-grip barrel shape. With 96 vibrant colors to choose from, their versatility makes them a top choice for beginners and professionals alike.

Pros:

  • Nylon brush tip creates thick and thin strokes
  • Smooth ink formula blends seamlessly
  • Barrel shape provides control
  • Affordable price point

Cons:

  • Ink can pill on some paper types

2. Pentel Arts Aquash Water Brush

The Pentel Aquash line features water brushes with actual brush tips and water reservoirs built into the pen body so you can paint anywhere without carrying extra water. The fine tip allows for detail and control.

Pros:

  • Real brush tip made of soft, flexible fibers
  • Holds water inside the pen for painting on-the-go
  • Fine tip great for detail and small areas
  • Pocket-friendly size

Cons:

  • Tiny water reservoir needs frequent refilling

3. Arteza Real Brush Pens

Arteza’s Real Brush pens offer the experience of using traditional watercolor brushes but with the convenience of a pen body. The fine yet soft brush tip replicates the bend and spring of real bristle.

Pros:

  • Microfiber brush tip ideal for detail
  • Mimics real watercolor brushes
  • Vivid, highly pigmented ink
  • Sets available in 60+ colors

Cons:

  • Brush tip requires gently drying after use

4. Sennelier Aqua Brush

The Sennelier Aqua brush features a wooden handle with a supple, natural brush tip well-suited for travel watercolor sketching. The fine point offers control for adding pops of color.

Pros:

  • Real red sable brush tip
  • Wooden handle great for travel
  • Allows exact, detailed watercolor effects
  • Professional quality at affordable price

Cons:

  • Only available in small size

5. Sakura Koi Watercolor Brush Pens

Sakura Koi are an affordable starter option for beginners thanks to their easy-to-use design and vivid colors. The flexible nylon tip allows for blending and gradating hues.

Pros:

  • Accessible price for beginners
  • Flexible brush tip
  • Bright, highly pigmented ink
  • Available in 18 colors

Cons:

  • Fewer color choices than premium brands
  • Nylon tips wear down quicker

This selection covers high-quality brush pens suited for various styles and experience levels. From Tombow’s blendable ink to Sennelier’s travel-friendly wood handle, you’re sure to find the right pens to unlock your creativity and try new techniques!

How to Choose the Best Watercolor Brush Pens for YOU

Once you’ve sampled a few watercolor brush pens, you may find yourself wanting MORE (artists tend to hoard art supplies). But all pens are not created equal, so it helps to know what features to look for when selecting products tailored to your unique style and goals.

Here are the key factors to consider in your quest for the ideal watercolor brush pens:

Brush Tip Material

Watercolor brush pens come with either synthetic nylon tips or natural hair brush tips.

Nylon tips are the most common style. They have springy flexibility perfect for blending and gradating colors. However, the firmness of the nylon fibers provides control for detail work. Replacing the nylon tips periodically restores a worn brush.

Natural hair tips mimic the softer, looser feel of traditional watercolor brushes. They allow more diffusion and irregularity since the hairs splay as you paint. This organic quality works well for blending and expressive florals or landscapes. The downside is they lack the precision of nylon for detail work.

Water-Soluble vs. Permanent Ink

Watercolor brush pens contain either water-soluble or permanent ink.

Water-soluble ink dissolves and blends when touched with a wet brush. This lets you soften hard edges and seamlessly blend colors. The tradeoff is it can reactivate and bleed if you layer more washes on top.

Permanent ink won’t reactivate once dry. This allows coloring small areas without bleeding. But the colors won’t seamlessly blend either. Permanent ink is better for mixed media pieces using watercolors alongside pen ink.

Color Selection

Having a range of hues to mix is key for vibrant watercolor effects. Aim for at least 12-24 colors in your starter set. Basic primary and secondary colors allow the most mixing flexibility. You can always supplement with additional packs in specific hues.

The more saturated and highly pigmented the ink, the more intense and blendable the colors will be. Student grade inks appear more transparent.

Sets with warm, cool, light, and dark variations of each hue are ideal for mixing realistic skin tones, shadows, and more.

Portability

Do you want to sketch outdoors and travel with your pens? Opt for compact pen sets with water brush reservoirs so you don’t need a water cup. The Pentel Aquash, Sennelier Aqua Brush, and Winsor & Newton Brush Pens include this handy feature.

Slim, pocket-sized pens like Sakura Koi are also convenient for tossing in your bag. You’ll just need a small water spray bottle.

If portability isn’t a concern, larger marker-style pens offer more ink capacity and thicker barrel grips.

Budget

As a beginner, start with an affordable, student-grade option to discover what types of brushes and techniques you enjoy before investing in professional pens. $15-25 per set is reasonable for introductory brands like Sakura Koi or Tombow Dual Brush.

For upgrading to artist-quality, expect to spend $30-50 for a premium set like Arteza or Winsor & Newton. The difference lies in richer pigmentation, better blending, and high lightfastness.

Individual full-sized pens can run $3-5 each depending on brand. Building your own customized palette allows focusing on your go-to colors.

Techniques

Think about your artistic goals and what brush pen techniques you want to practice. Do you love vivid florals and blending? Abstract painting? Comic illustrations? Hand lettering? Certain pens excel at different creative effects.

For example, brush pens with real sable hair tips create lovely blended botanicals. Nylon-tipped pens are better for calligraphy and ink outlines. Permanent ink works for mixed media.

We’ll go over techniques in more detail shortly!

Paper Texture

Paper texture and tooth significantly impact your results with watercolors. The ink sits on the surface of smooth papers. This allows vibrant colors but limited blending.

Rougher cold press watercolor paper allows the pigments to seep in and create diffusion, but can dull bright hues. Hot press is perfectly smooth for chromatic colors with no blending.

Mixed media sketch paper offers a nice middle ground for beginners. Try a few types to see what paper suits your style.

Now that you know how to evaluate watercolor brush pens, let’s look at some recommendations!

Best for Blending & Shading

  • Tombow Dual Brush Pens – The long nylon tip seamlessly blends Tombow’s liquid ink.
  • Arteza Real Brush Pens – The soft microfiber tip diffuses ink smoothly. Vibrant, highly pigmented colors.
  • Pentel Aquash – Real water brushes allow graded washes and shading without a water cup.

Best for Detail & Illustration

  • Sakura Koi – Fine yet flexible nylon tip. Permanent ink for outlines.
  • Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens – Precise brush tip and waterproof ink perfect for illustrations.
  • Pentel Pocket Brush Pens – Tiny nylon tip makes this set ultra portable.

Best for Calligraphy & Hand Lettering

  • Tombow Dual Brush Pens – Many colors plus blendable black ink for modern brush calligraphy.
  • Arteza Dual Tip Markers – Chisel tip and brush tip in one marker!
  • Ohuhu Dual Tip Brush Pens – Fine tapered tips create skinny upstrokes and downstrokes.

Best for Travel Sketching

  • Sennelier Aqua Brush – Compact size with water chamber and real sable tip.
  • Winsor & Newton Cotman Brush Pens – Skinny size with short brush tip perfect for detail drawing.
  • Pentel Pocket Brush Pens – Tiny yet mighty, these stash in any bag or pocket.

Test pens on practice sheets first before diving into finished work. Spend time playing with water to ink ratios, pressure, layering speeds and other variables that alter technique.

Now let’s get into how to use watercolor brush pens and essential techniques to master.

Watercolor Brush Pen Techniques for Beginners

Here are some of the most common techniques to help you get the most out of your watercolor pens for different painting styles and effects:

Blending & Gradating

Blending refers to softly transitioning between two or more colors. This creates a seamless gradiation rather than harsh edges.

To blend with brush pens:

  • Use pens with water-soluble ink like Tombows. Permanent ink won’t soften and melt when wet.
  • Layer your darkest shade first, then overlap lighter colors, blending with clear water in between.
  • Work quickly before previous layers dry for seamless diffusion. Slow blending creates hard edges.
  • Add plenty of water to both the paper and brush tip. Too little water prevents smooth blending.
  • For flat washes, apply pigment with the brush tipped sideways. Add more water to grade the tone.
  • Lifting and dabbing a damp brush will also lighten intense colors.

![Blending color swatches from dark purple to light purple with watercolor brush pens]

Detail & Precision

The best pens for detail have firm, springy nylon tips that taper to a fine point. These allow you to paint intricate florals, complex textures, tiny elements, and more.

For tidy details:

  • Use brush pens with synthetic nylon tips versus soft natural hairs. Nylon maintains its point better.
  • Choose permanent ink like Sakura Koi for crisp edges and no bleed.
  • Lightly sketch out elements first so paintings stay precise.
  • Brace your hand on a table for stability.
  • Use the tip for thin lines. Turn for wider strokes.

![Painting intricate feathers and florals with watercolor brush pens]

Flat Wash Technique

Washing an entire area with smooth, even color is easy thanks to the flat edge of brush pen tips. This builds vibrancy quickly.

To create a flat wash:

  • Apply ink using the broad side of the brush tip instead of the point.
  • Use pens with wide tips like Tombow for larger washes.
  • Start at the top of the area you want to fill and work your way downwards with vertical strokes. Overlap rows slightly.
  • Add water with a wet brush to create gradations, or leave saturated for blocks of color.
  • Vary the pressure as you stroke to make soft color changes.

![Filling a square space with a flat wash of blue watercolor using brush pens]

Dry Brush Technique

Removing pigment with a dry brush creates scruffy textures perfect for fur, foliage, weathered wood and more.

The dry brush method involves:

  • Lay down a layer of rich color using your brush pen.
  • As it’s still wet, use a clean dry brush to lift color away in areas.
  • How much you disturb the ink creates variations in texture.
  • Dab gently to rough up the edges and blend color. Scrub more firmly to create highlights.
  • Let the underlying paper texture influence the effect.

![Creating fur texture in a fox painting using the dry brush technique]

Splattering & Spattering

Flicking small drops of ink from the brush tip produces the impression of textures like grass, stars, rain, and more!

To splatter:

  • Load your brush tip with a juicy amount of ink so it easily flings off.
  • Tap the tip firmly on your palette to remove excess and prevent blobbing.
  • Hold the pen horizontal over your paper and flick your wrist. The ink should spray out in tiny specks.
  • Adjust the pen height for finer or heavier splatter. Move around for random distribution.
  • Let the spray fully dry before adding color underneath to prevent bleed.

![Green ink splatters resemble grass texture]

Outlining & Borders

Dark outlines create pop and definition. Borders contain the scene. Water-resistant ink prevents bleeding even when coloring inside the lines.

For clean outlines:

  • Choose permanent ink like Faber-Castell Pitt pens. The color won’t budge when you paint layers inside.
  • Draw outlines after laying initial washes so you can match line weight to colors.
  • For comic-style illustrations with black outlines, use a brush pen in dark black ink.
  • Let outlines fully dry before erasing pencil sketch marks to avoid smudging.

![Hot air ballon scene outlined in black ink before painting]

The beauty of watercolor pens lies in the many ways to apply color! Mastering these essential techniques will give you a solid artistic foundation. Feel free to get creative with your own experimental effects too.

Now that you’re familiar with brush pen materials and techniques, let’s go over some frequently asked questions:

Watercolor Brush Pen FAQs

Can you mix different watercolor brush pen brands together?

Yes, you can mix and match different brands of watercolor brush pens depending on the ink composition. However, some budget student-grade inks may pill and act oddly when blended with professional inks. Doing small swatch tests first on scrap paper helps you check for compatibility.

For the most control, stick to using pens within the same brand and ink formulation. Or you can designate certain brands for layering and others for outlining.

How do you thicken up thin, watery ink?

If your brush pen ink seems overly diluted, there are a few quick fixes:

  • Use less water when wetting the brush tip to maintain more pigment.
  • Allow layers of color to fully dry in between applications.
  • Add a tiny amount of gum arabic to the ink palette to increase viscosity.
  • Switch to higher quality brush pens with more concentrated ink pigmentation.

What type of paper works best with watercolor brush pens?

For best results, use paper specifically formulated for watercolors. Good options include:

  • Cold press watercolor paper (140lb or higher) – The textured surface allows the ink to absorb with nice blending.
  • Hot press watercolor paper – Ultra smooth, this yields vivid colors but less gradation between hues.
  • Mixed media sketch paper – The thicker paper stands up well to wet mediums and has enough tooth for beginners.

Always avoid regular copy paper as it buckles and leaks ink through when wet. Heavyweight mixed media paper or proper watercolor paper works best.

What’s the difference between watercolor brush pens and markers?

While they may look similar at first glance, there are a few key differences:

  • Brush pens use flexible, brush-like nylon, sable, or microfiber tips. This allows shaping strokes in unique ways.
  • Markers have firm, plastic tips with chisel, bullet or fine points. They create uniform strokes.
  • Brush pens contain water-soluble ink that activates and blends when wet.
  • Markers use permanent, acrylic-based inks that stay put.
  • Brush pens are meant for wet watercolor techniques.
  • Markers work best for solid coloring, comic inking, and hand lettering.

So in summary, brush pens create artistic watercolor effects while markers offer bold, consistent coverage.

How do you clean dried out brush pens?

If your watercolor brush tips get crusty with dried ink, try the following to revive them:

For water-soluble ink, run the tip under lukewarm running water while gently massaging it. The water will dissolve the dried ink particles.

  • For permanent ink, carefully wipe the nib with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol using a cotton swab. Don’t scrub too hard.
  • Once the nib is clean, thoroughly rinse until the water runs clear.
  • Gently wipe the nib dry with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture.
  • Store the pen tip-down so ink inside can re-saturate the bristles.
  • Avoid letting them dry out by always recapping tightly after use.
  • For really stubborn buildup, you may need to carefully trim the tip with small scissors.

Can you use watercolor brush pens for hand lettering and calligraphy?

Yes, watercolor brush pens are great for hand lettering and faux calligraphy styles! The ink flows smoothly and evenly. Look for these features when selecting brush pens for lettering:

  • Tapered Tips – Thin ends allow you to create fine upstrokes and downstrokes.
  • Brush Nylon – The slight spring offers more line variation than firm plastic tips.
  • Rich Black – Choose an opaque black ink rather than a watery gray shade.
  • Permanent Ink – Your crisp letters won’t bleed or warp.

Practice making thin upstrokes and thick downstrokes. Angle the pen as you write to flair letters out. Add color by filling in letters with other brush pens after outlining.

How should you store watercolor brush pens?

To keep watercolor brush pens juicy and prevent premature drying, follow these storage tips:

  • Store horizontally – This keeps ink saturating the tip instead of pooling in the body.
  • Nib side down – Let gravity keep ink flowing toward the nib.
  • Cap tightly – Securely capping pens is vital to prevent evaporation each time you use them.
  • No extreme temperatures – Don’t leave pens baking in hot cars or freezing in cold weather.

Following the manufacturer’s instructions is always wise too. Some may recommend storing upright or on an angle. But horizontal with nib down is safest.

What type of paper allows the smoothest ink blending with brush pens?

For seamless, gradient-like blending, hot press watercolor paper is best. It has an ultra smooth, non-textured surface that allows pigments to melt together freely. The downside is less diffusion for that ethereal watercolor look.

Cold press paper has enough tooth to encourage subtle texturing and backruns if desired. But the pleats still allow colors to blend smoothly for shading. It’s a great beginner choice.

Harder drawing papers like Bristol can make blending difficult. The colors sit heavily on top. Stick with papers made for wet media.

Wrap Up

As you can see, watercolor brush pens open up a whole new artistic world compared to plain markers or standard brushes. With so many techniques to try, it may feel daunting at first. Be patient with yourself as you practice and develop confidence.

Aim to enjoy the creative process and make mistakes! Testing different papers, pens, and effects will help you unlock what feels best for your own style.

While watercolor brush pens make capturing lush colors simple, they do take some skill to fully master. If you feel like you’ve plateaued, look into online classes to refine your skills or learn new tricks from experienced artists.

No matter where you are in your watercolor pen journey, remember that regular practice is the key. Set aside time to draw out ideas, make color swatches, and simply play every day. Before long, you’ll gain the muscle memory and intuition for turning out gorgeous work.

For more watercolor brush pen inspiration, follow talented artists using this medium on YouTube and Instagram. Seeing their pieces can ignite new ideas.

Thanks for learning the complete ins and outs of fabulous watercolor brush pens! I hope this guide gave you a helpful overview of available products, techniques for getting started, and tips for choosing pens tailored to your own artistic style.

Let me know in the comments about your favorite brush pens or any other questions as you delve into mastering these handy watercolor tools!

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