The Copic Mutiliner can do anything. These pens come in hundreds of colors and a wide variety of nib styles, ranging from .03 to full brushes. They draw smooth and confident lines with minimal smudging or bleeding, even when marking over other layers of pigment.
They also work on a variety of textures and materials. I often draw on rough wood panels and mix ink with unconventional media like red wine, tea, and soot. These pens allow for a remarkable degree of detail and fidelity in the messiest situations. The black ink comes close to a true black on paper, there’s a little bit of warmth to it that comes through on wood.
The only weakness of the Copic Multiliner is their half life. A few hours of drawing can deplete the finer nibs, and a few minutes of aggressive use can ruin the brushes. This is doubly true on wood panels. You can burn through hundreds of these pens if you’re not careful…
Copic MultiLiner SP
The Last Emperor
Copic’s Multiliner SP is the king of all pens. It draws like the traditional Multiliner, but comes with replaceable nibs and ink cartridges so it can last for years. The thick aluminum body gives it a light but substantial feel in hand, as if to remind you that the pen is in fact, mightier than the sword.
These pens are an ode to another era, when we invested in the tools we used and passed them on to younger generations. They demand to be treated with respect, and used for serious work only. Design a skyscraper with the SP, but don’t you dare doodle.
Uniball Vision Elite
My Desert Island Pen
The Vision Elite is a friend for life. The streamlined shape and smooth plastic barrel mean that they sit comfortably in your pocket and never pick up lint or catch your hand when you’re fishing for change. They also draw smooth, bold lines that stand the test of time.
The Vision Elite does bleed, profusely, and smudge if you’re not careful. The line weight can be uneven, but with some practice you can create an expressive range of weights with a single pen. I’ve also had some luck modifying the ball points to create thicker or thinner lines, but your mileage may vary. I almost exclusively use these pens for my work notebooks and casual doodles.
Staedtler Pigment Liner
The Well Respected Man
The Staedtler’s narrow barrel, matte grey material, and short cap convey a sense of precision and professionalism worthy of its conspicuously German name. If you want to impress people wandering by your desk, this pen is a great option.
In my experience, Staedtler pens tend to bleed through paper and leave sloppy, cowardly lines on rougher surfaces. The narrow barrel is uncomfortable for me to grip for long periods of time, but if you have small hands this might be the pen for you.
Sakura Pigma Micron
The Working Man’s Multiliner
You could do worse than the Pigma Micron. These pens draw smooth, clear lines and don’t bleed much. They also come in a variety of sizes and colors, making them a worthy (and somewhat cheaper) alternative to the Multiliner.
Faber Castell PITT Artist Pen
Faber Castell artist pens are perfect for the well-to-do dilettante. These pens draw beautifully and come in a wide range of grays, sepias, sanguines, and other premium color palettes. They come in distinctively packaged sets, perfect for catching you eye in a store and making you think “hm, maybe I should try drawing.” Their logo is two knights. One is killing the other with a pointed stick. Very European.
These pens are designed for expressive, painterly drawing rather than precision. The range of nibs is narrow, and they do bleed a bit. For my particular style of illustration, I found these to be difficult to work with. I wish they had finer tips, and were more readily available for individual purchase.
The Diamond in the Rough
These pens bleed, smudge, and draw globby lines. They can also be amazing, expressive tools in the right hands (not mine).
Not Actually French
The LePen is a beautiful paradox. It’s called “le pen,” and manufactured in Japan. It’s clean and precise, but manages to bleed a bit more than it should. The shiny plastic barrel feels cheap and a bit too light in the hand, but with that comes a sense of freedom the Multiliner SP will never give you.
The Prairie Home Companion
Prismacolor pens are Minnesota nice. They’re comfortable in the hand, and draw cleanly. Like the Faber Castells, these tend to come in sets that seem more geared towards “Junior’s first manga” than working artists.
Uniball Vision Exact
Feel the Bern
The Vision Exact is the conscientious, blue collar cousin of the Vision Elite. It draws thick, bold lines and bleeds unapologetically. Use this pen when you have a point to make, loudly.