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The Inkblot, Issue #002 -- Drawing Pens
September 15, 2008

Issue #2: Drawing Pens

The Inkblot is your cartooning information resource. From art supplies to drawing lessons to tips from the pros, you'll learn what it takes to be a cartoonist!

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  • 1. Introduction

  • 2. Pen Points

  • 3. Felt-Tip

  • 4. Roller Ball

  • 5. Mechanical Pens

  • 6. Brushes

  • 7. A Final Word


Welcome, Cartoonists, to another award-winning, blockbusting, sure-to-be-a-smash-hit issue of The Inkblot!

In this issue, we will be discussing another of the Cartoonistís most important art supplies:

The Pen!

The pen is possibly the most important of all of your supplies as a cartoonist because itís the tool out of which flows the ink that makes the lines that produce your cartoons. After the pencil lines are erased, all that is left are the ink lines made by your pen. Because of this, choosing the right type of pen can be one of easiest, or the hardest, decisions of your cartooning career. Certainly one of the most important.

Why? Because there are literally hundredsónay, thousandsóof different types of pens to choose from.

Now, as with the pencil, there is no absolutely perfect pen for everyone. It doesnít exist. You have to decide for yourself what works best, and what youíre the most comfortable with. How do you figure this out?

By experimenting. Experience is the best teacher.

As a beginner, itís natural to use whatever supplies those around you are using. When I started cartooning, I used the traditional metal dip pens, because that was what the cartoonists around me were using, and what I was taught with. Over the years, Iíve used countless different pen types. There are some I like, and some I donít. But invariably, the ones I donít like are loved by other cartoonists. Everyone is different.

Now letís talk pens.

Like I said earlier, that are lots of different pens, but they all come down to a few basic categories:

  • Pen points
  • Felt Tips
  • Roller Ball
  • Mechanical Pens
  • Brushes

ďOK, wait a minute, you say. Brushes? A brush isnít even a pen, so why are you even talking about them?Ē Because a lot of cartoonists donít use pens at all. They ink their cartoons with brushes. But more about them later.

Pen Points

Letís talk a little bit about pen points. These are those dip-pens that I referred to earlier. This type of pen is composed of two separate parts: a metal pen point, and a wooden or plastic holder. The cartoonist dips the pen point into black, waterproof ink in order to draw.

These types of pens are considered the ďtraditional cartooning penĒ by a lot of artists, because they are first type of pen used by modern cartoonists. After all, the do bear a strong resemblance to the old-fashioned quill pens used by our ancestors.

So why, you might ask, with all of our modern technology, are there still people drawing with old metal dip pens? Well, for one thingÖtheyíre awesome!

Dip pens are my favorite kind of pen to use for cartooning, not only because I was first taught with them, but because they are so flexible! Depending upon the kind you use, you get many different types of lines. They provide effects that still have yet to be equaled by other types of pens. With a dip pen, you donít get uniform lines of all the same thickness, but the thickness of the line changes as you draw. Look closely at the cartoons in your local newspaper sometime, and pay close attention to the lines. In some cartoons, youíll notice that as the line curves, the line gets thicker or thinner. These are the cartoons that are most likely drawn using a dip pen.

There are many, many, different types of dip pens. If youíre serious about cartooning, you owe it to yourself to head down to your local art supply store and pick up different kinds, a bottle of black, waterproof ink, and try them out.

Be warnedÖdip pens take practice to use. You just donít pick them up and start drawing. You will spend a lot of time, and a lot paper, making lines and squiggles to figure out which ones you like best. Also, even after youíve mastered them, you have to spend some time ďbreaking inĒ each new pen point you buy. Being metal, new pen points usually have a thin layer of oil on them that can cause the ink to ďblotĒ as you try to use them. When I get a new point, I spend an hour or so drawing a bunch of lines to break it in. I know some cartoonists, however, that prefer to burn the oil off by holding a match to them. I even know one cartoonist who sticks the new pen point in his mouth to suck the oil off!

Yes, pen points can either be wonderful or a headache, but they are certainly an adventure. Also, I have my favorites.

Speedball A-5 and C-5

These are two of my favorite pen points. They are relatively easy to use, plus the points are made of two layers of metal, which makes a nice little ink reservoir, so they hold more ink than other pens. They make nice lines, which hold up better in the reduction process than almost any other pen Iíve ever used.

Reduction process?

The cartoons you see in your newspapers arenít original size, but are reduced to a smaller size to fit in the newspaperís columns. If youíre planning on having your cartoons published, then you will have to consider whether your drawings will still have good, solid lines that wonít disappear when they are reduced in size. You may have to experiment to figure this out, but the basic rule is this: the thinner the pen line, the faster it will disappear. Iíll talk more about this in later Inkblot issues, and on the website.

Back to the pen points. I tend to use the A-5 for lettering, and the C-5 for drawing. The C-5 has a wider point that gives a good flexible line. The A-5 is also flexible, the point isnít as wide, and I find that better for lettering. But hey, thatís just me.

For examples of cartoons made using this type of pen point, check out the work of Charles M. Schultz, the famous creator of Peanuts. All his cartoons were drawn using the Speedball C-5.

Hunt Globe Bowl

This is another great pen point that I have a lot of fun using. Itís very flexible, and is great for the beginner, because itís pretty easy to use. The lines are crisp and even, and hold up great even in the smallest reductions. It doesnít last as long as the Speedball pens, though. Because itís so flexible, it loses its nice point fast, so get a bunch of them when practicing. As pen points go, theyíre pretty inexpensive.

There are a lot more pen points, but these are my favorites. Again, donít just take my word for it. These same pen points may work well for you, or they may not. Just experiment with every different point you can get a hold of to find the one you like best.


These types of pens are everywhere, and can be purchased at almost any grocery store, drug store, or even gas station. They are also one of the easiest types of pens to use. They come in many different shapes and sizes, and can give different effects. However, you must use care when using felt tip pens and markers, because they tend to bleed. Therefore you canít use them on regular typing paper. A thicker, smoother paper is best. (Weíll talk more about paper in later issues). I use felt tip pens for sketching sometimes, and larger markers for inking large, black areas, but I know a lot of artists that use them exclusively. Common felt tip pens are the ones made by Sharpie, Flair, and Magic Marker.

Roller Ball

When Iím on the go, or just donít have access to a good bottle of ink, or am in a hurry, this is the type of pen I use. Roller ball pens have a little metal ball in the point of the pen, around which the ink flows. This is NOT to be confused with the ďball pointĒ pens. Roller balls are much more fluid, and donít dig into the paper as much as a ball point. There are many different kids of roller balls, but two of my favorites are the Uniball Vision fine point, and the Pilot V5 Precise.

Mechanical Pens

Many artistsónot just cartoonistsóuse mechanical pens. The mechanical pen holds ink within its barrel like a roller ball or ball point pen. The difference between mechanical pens and roller ball pens, however, is that they have interchangeable tips, and are refillable, holding waterproof ink. They are widely used by illustrators, designers, and architects. The cool thing about mechanical pens is that they make a nice, uniform line, and almost never ďblobsĒ ink onto your drawing.

However, like the dip pen, mechanical pens take skill gained by practice in order to use effectively. They are best for making straight lines, and many cartooning friends of mine use them for drawing the borders around panels, and for lettering. The mechanical pen doesnít make curved lines well, however, and are difficult to use at an angle; the pen must be held vertical to the paper. Also, the mechanical pen requires frequent cleaning, and can clog if you arenít careful.

For these and other reasons, many donít bother with them. But I would still recommend that you try them out. Many cartoonists use them and love them. You might be one of them!

There are many different manufacturers of mechanical pens, but one of the best is Koh-I-Noor, with their Rapidograph pen. They are sold singly and in sets, along with different tip sizes, inks, and cleaning tools.

Another type of mechanical pen that is gaining a following, especially in the manga art community, are Copic pens. Like traditional mechanical pens, Copic pens come in different sizes, with interchangeable tips, and refillable ink. They also require care and cleaning, and some skill to use. However, unlike the traditional mechanical pen, Copic pens have soft, brush-like tips, similar to a felt-tip marker. This allows you to be able to make both pen and brush lines with the same tool. The can be expensive, but are easy to use, and are provide a great variety of line.


The brush is perhaps one of the oldest tools in the world used for both drawing and painting. Itís also one of the most flexible, and therefore requires a lot of practice to use. But once mastered, itís a fabulous tool. Lines can be drawing thin or thick, and in any variety. Itís also very good for filling in large black areas.

Brushes require perhaps the most care, because the ink, if left on the brush, eats away at the bristles. As many a cartoonist has attested, waterproof ink is the absolute worst thing to stick your brush into. However, in cartooning there isnít any other choice. If you want your cartoons to be permanent, you have to use permanent ink.

This rule has perhaps changed somewhat, due to the wonderful advances in computer in the past few decades. You can scan your cartoons into computers to make changes and color them; you can even draw your cartoons right into a computer by using an electronic drawing pad. Itís still a good idea, if you plan to draw with a physical pen and paper, to use waterproof, permanent ink. All of the pens Iíve listed above use this type of ink, even the markers and felt-tips. This way, if you spill something, or if a corner of your drawing gets wet, the ink wonít run.

Because of this, you must wash your brushes frequently and well. This type of care is harsh on brushes, especially poorly made ones, because when you wash brushes you must gently pull at the bristles to get the ink out. The bristles of cheap brushes, Iíve found through sad personal experience, will easily fall out, even during the first cleanings. The glue used in cheap brushes to hold the bristles in can also soften and be torn during cleaning, causing bristles to later fall out into your ink and your cartoon when drawing. So when buying brushes, get the very best you can afford.

A Final Word on Pens

Thereís a lot more I could say on the subject of pens, and there are still a ton of different kinds out there to explore, but when you come down to the basics, there are only two rules to follow when considering the tools of drawing:

  • Use what you are most comfortable with
  • Use what makes your cartoons look great

And that's it for this issue. I hope you found this information helpful. Have fun experimenting with all kinds of different pens. And, as always, happy drawing!

We'll see you next month!

Michael Richards
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