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An introduction to paint pens

by Ben Platt February 10, 2022

An introduction to paint pens

The humble paint pen has been with us for years and their popularity and reach amongst artists continues to grow. From street artists to fine artists, paint pens are a powerful creative tool that delivers paint immediately when needed, without mess or hassle. 

We are going to take a look at some of the paint pens available to artists and how artists make use of them.

By the end of it we hope that you will be convinced to pick up a paint pen and give them a spin.

The paint pens of today owe their origins to the marker pens of the 50’s which used a highly resistant solvent based ink that would adhere to most surfaces and dry both quickly and with a permanent finish. Old makers consisted of a pen barrel filled with ink and a wadding connected to a nib that would wick the ink and draw it up into the tip for writing. They served all kinds of purposes, initially for marking resistive materials like glass and metal barrels. However they quickly found use in the hands of graphic designers, sign writers and other practitioners of the arts.

Since then the design has been refined. Each pen consists of an internal reservoir filled with ink or “paint” inside the pen’s body. On refillable pens the head screws onto the body and features a fibre tip and a valve system. The pen tip is pressed down and draws the ink into the tip. It is recommended to keep some paper towel for blotting any excess ink as pens will often flood (release a big blob of ink) when used for the first time. Lastly a plastic cap keeps the tip from drying out, and stops paint from potentially leaking into your pocket or pencil case.

The paint inside most paint pens is an acrylic ink. A highly fluid form of paint which has all the same binders and pigments as standard acrylic paint. It might seem a little confusing when calling this paint an ink, but the term is used interchangeably when regarding the colour in these pens.

Each brand has its own paint recipe, but the richly pigmented paint ink inside of the pens is highly permanent and resistant to fading. It can even be blended whilst it is still wet between different colours. For porous surfaces varnish is optional, but on non-porous surfaces such as glass, metal and pvc a spray on varnish will be needed to seal and protect the ink.

Art created with Posca pens by UK based artist *Korp as feature on the **Uni-Ball blog.

So why would an artist want to keep a paint pen handy?

Fine artists will keep paint pens around because they are great for applying small dots of colour, such as dotting the reflected light in a pupil or dots of moisture on a bead of water. They are useful for making small touch ups or for signing a painting, something some people try to avoid doing with a brush.

Street artists love them because paint markers will adhere to most surfaces like brick, plaster and concrete in particular. They are the perfect companion for spray paints, helping with the finer detail cans are unsuited for. Some street artists prefer just to use paint markers for smaller projects, like painting panels or individual bricks on a wall. The variety of sizes these pens come in gives a graffiti artist a wide choice of pens to choose from and allows for an acute freedom of expression.

Illustrators, sketch-bookers, designers and crafters all appreciate the punchy colour they add to a piece of work. The smooth way the ink dries and the high opacity of many of the colours available. They are supremely suited to card making and similar craft projects. Suitable for murals and sign-writing work on glass. Not to mention they will draw on paper, cardboard, ceramics, textiles, wood, acetate, glass, stone, pumpkins and near anything else you can think of. You can see why all kinds of artists find ingenious ways to make use of them.

So which one do you pick? All paint markers can be mixed and matched but you will probably want to do a few tests before you go all out on a project, just to be on the safe side. We offer a wide array of markers and you might prefer one kind or want to dip in and out of a few brands for the colours they offer. Never be afraid to give another brand a go.

Uni Posca Paint Markers

POSCA pens are unmistakable with their colourful caps and iconic logo.

Chances are if you think of a paint marker one of these iconic pens comes to mind. Sometimes used as a byword for paint pens, the Posca paint pen is rightly well known and well loved. Originally conceived by the Japanese stationery company Uni Mitsubishi Pencil, the Posca pen launched during the 80’s to immediate success with graffiti art communities in urban centres and their influence spread from there. 22 colours and 4 sizes has expanded to 8 sizes and 55 colours. Each pen is loaded with opaque acrylic ink, is water resistant when dry and features a mixing ball inside the pen’s body. Posca pens will adhere to most surfaces including unglazed ceramics, stone, fabric and silicone style plastics. Easily sealed with water-based varnish or heat treated on fabrics, they remain permanent, bright and highly opaque with even single layer coverage. If you are even a little curious about trying a paint marker we can think of no better ambassador than the Posca pen.

Liquitex Professional Paint Markers

Artist quality acrylic paint in a pen. Featuring 2 sizes, 2mm and 15mm tips.

Launched in 2013, the Liquitex paints company took their expertise in acrylic paints and made their own take on the paint marker. What sets the Liquitex marker apart from its contemporaries is the pigment inside the ink. Liquitex markers utilise the same artist grade pigments as their professional range of paints. This gives artists access to professional quality paints in a highly convenient pen. Due to the nature of the pigments used each pen is marked to indicate its opacity from opaque to transparent.

Marabu YONO Markers

Yono markers have a simple yet bold look.

You Only Need One, a marker suited for pretty much every situation. Marabus boldly named paint marker was launched in 2021 and is the most recent brand of paint markers we have. They boast a robust ink which is highly suited to writing on a wide range of surfaces across 28 colours, which include metallics and fluorescents. They serve as an alternative to the Poscas, offering a chance to try an exciting new range of pens as well as a chance to expand their palette.

Montana Paint Markers

Montana markers are a 100% match for their spray paint equivalents.

Montana offers its own range of paint markers tailored to graffiti writers and street artists. Their range of colours offers a one to one match for their Montana Gold range of spray cans, meaning the two can be combined in a single art piece without concern that the colours or hues will not match and obviously stand out. All colours are water and abrasion resistant, feature a high lightfastness rating and do not reactivate when sealed with Montana spray Varnish for additional protection. All pens in the range are refillable and also have replaceable nibs.

Pebeo 4Artists Markers

The oil based ink provides a strong colours with a gloss sheen.

A slight departure from other paint markers as they use an oil based paint for their ink in place of the water-based paint of other brands. The oil based ink is highly water resistant once dried. They dry with a glossy look and maintain no colour shift once it dries, unlike acrylic colours which have a tendency to dull slightly as they dry. These paint pens do take longer to dry however, and will bleed noticeably more on and through paper if it hasn’t been prepared. They work best on a primed surface, gesso on paper or canvas will suffice. They work especially well for fine artists using oil paints and on unglazed ceramic surfaces. Please note they must be cleaned with a suitable oil painting solvent while wet where required.


*Korp's homepage - https://www.korporate.co.uk/

**Be inspired by POSCA artists blog - uniball.co.uk/blog

Ben Platt
Ben Platt

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