Finding a better fountain pen for drawing comics

Fountain Pens

Drawing in oil paint on a large canvas with a brush always seemed pretty natural to me but I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding that same comfort while drawing with a pen or pencil on paper.  But since I want to start drawing a comic strip, it would be pretty useful to feel good about drawing with pen on paper.  I have tried Rapidograph pens numerous times throughout the years and have never been happy with the results.  Robert Crumb manages to create very expressive lines with his Rapidographs – but they just don’t work for me.  In fact, most pens leave me feeling like the line is dead and cold rather than being alive and expressive.

I’ve been trying to find what other comic artists prefer in pens – and was glad to find recently that there are a number of artists working with non-dip fountain pens.

Not being versed in fountain pen nib lore and culture, I thought it might help future discussions on forums or with pen sellers to have some images to illustrate my current pens and the types of drawings that I’m working on.

I bought this Rotring Fountain Pen from a local art store about ten years ago.  I can’t find the model name or any information about it online.  It’s all metal and has a nice weight, even if the body is a tad slim. The cap doesn’t stay posted well so I leave it off while drawing.  Please leave a comment if you know anything about this pen.  I would really love to at least know the model number.

Rotring Black Fountain Pen with cap

Rotring Black Fountain Pen with cap

Here are a few close-ups of the nib…

Rotring Black Fountain Pen Medium "M" Nib

Rotring Black Fountain Pen Medium "M" Nib

Rotring Black Fountain Pen Medium "M" Nib

Rotring Black Fountain Pen Medium "M" Nib

Drawings

This little sketch is about 1 and a quarter inches tall.  Still working with the black Rotring’s “M” nib.  It’s difficult to get tiny detail in the eyes and shadows and hashing.  The figure on the left is supposed to be holding a small toy – but when the ink started blotting and pooling I abandoned hope of making that work.  I’m sure that I need a more narrow tip pen.

Small sketch made with Rotring Medium "M" Nib

Small sketch made with Rotring Medium "M" Nib

I later purchased this Rotring – which I believe may belong to their line of pens known as “Initial”.

Rotring blue Initial pen with cap

Rotring blue Initial pen with cap

This pen has a Fine (“F”) nib – but looks almost exactly like the Medium (“M”) nib on my other Rotring.  If there is a difference, I’d say the Medium nib actually looks slightly smaller. This makes purchasing a new nib all the more confusing because I want a nib that writes somewhat similarly to the black pen’s medium nib while being just slightly more narrow.

The ink converter broke for this pen – and the converter in my black pen doesn’t fit well in the blue so none of the drawings in this post were made with the blue pen.

Ink

Sheaffer brown fountain pen ink BOM#728-8563

Sheaffer brown fountain pen ink BOM#728-8563

Smudging, pooling, blotting

How much the pooling is related to nib – or to ink … I don’t know.  Smudging happens because the ink doesn’t dry instantly and I get careless.  That’s not a big deal to me – but I do want to find a good flowing, wet ink that won’t flood out of the nib and expand the weight of the line. …it’s tough to explain and that one issue alone really deserves a separate post later.

ink smearing on a 1" sketch

ink smearing on a 1" sketch

I know the following image makes no sense.  I was trying to draw several small toys but the heaviness of the line obscured any detail so I gave up trying.

ink pooling on a very small 1" sketch

ink pooling on a very small 1" sketch

I’m not unhappy with the look of the following sketch – but with my current Rotring “M” nib, this took a lot of additional care to avoid pooling too much in in the lines.  This sketch, from top to bottom is not much more than 1 inch.

small 1 and a half inch sketch of stilts

small 1 and a half inch sketch of stilts

Questions

  • So which pens and nibs would be better for drawing small scale comic strips?
    • I’m mostly going to be drawing in small sketch books.  I currently have two sketchbooks
      • one 3.5″X 5.5″ Moleskine plain paper book
      • and a “hand*book” which is 5.5″ x 5.5″
    • I’m leaning towards a Pelikan m200 after hearing rave reviews from Elwood H. Smith
  • And which inks would be better at producing a clear, clean, expressive line?
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13 thoughts on “Finding a better fountain pen for drawing comics

  1. Thanks for dropping by.

    I don’t know if Rotring’s typically get a lot of respect in the pen community, but I really have liked it.

  2. For the thinnest of lines, you would probably want to look for a Japanese brand fountain pen as the nibs run much thinner than their western counterparts. I also want to point out that you are Moleskine paper… to which many, many inks are going to bleed and spread regardless of the pen/nib/ink because it’s simply not suited for water based inks. (Try Rhodia/Clairefontaine)

    I love my M200, but the nibs are probably going to be as thin as you would like for sketching. The pen is a piston filler and that means it holds a ton of ink – which can be good/bad, if you are looking to change ink colors often.

    I’ve tried many brands/colors of inks and while I could share my favorites, I find that those selections end up being quite personal – though some are known to be better saturated than others. I have many inks reviewed on my blog, biffybeans.com, and the FPN is also a good resource. Note that any ink used in a thinner nib will tend to not be as dark & vibrant as one used with a thicker nib.Check out Goulet Pens – as they sell ink samples so you can try before you buy.

    Hope that helps!

    • I’ve tried three times to register on FPN and each time something goes wrong. I can register and then log in – but I don’t have any permission to click on any link or view any page. I can do more with the site as an anonymous, un-authenticated guest than I can when logged in. I’ve contacted their admin team and that’s a slow process.

      Your point about Moleskine paper is well taken. I’ve been drawing in a sketch book called “hand+book”, which has a slightly toothier paper than the Moleskine.
      And I have a larger sketchbook (can’t remember the brand) which is a much better quality paper for inks. But I’ll look out for the Rhodia/Clairfontaine pads when I go back to the art store.

      The strangest thing is happening – I’m beginning to like my black Rotring pen more and more. I got another pen last weekend and will post about it here soon.

      Richard Binder has a pdf print out for comparing nib widths. I went through that and found that my “M” nib was somewhere, something like the… well, I haven’t really figured that out yet.

      I really like brown inks too – but I grabbed a bottle of Noodler’s Black this weekend and really like it. It’s much blacker than the Pelikan Brilliant Black which was used in other posts here.

      Thanks so much for visiting and taking time to respond. I hope you’ll come back.

  3. Well, I have heard that Lamy extra fine nibs are used to create very thin lines, however I have not been able to get one and now it seems they are discontinued. Regarding the inks, I am a big fan of sheaffer’s brown, it is muy daily ink and my personal color of choice. It does not bleed or feather badly, actually it is better than some mont blanc inks (mont blanc turquoise is a good example of a bleeding ink). And believe me, I have bleeding problems constantly because I prefer using broad nibs.

    You should try noodler’s X-feather.

    • I almost bought a Lamy EF pen this weekend. I tried out a bunch of fountain pens in the art store and was amazed to discover that the Lamy EF pen actually had a much thicker line than the Lamy Fine. I was writing with both at the same time – both with the same ink on the same paper. The store clerk was also pretty surprised.

      I think Stephanie might be right about the paper being the cause of the bleeding/pooling with the Sheaffer ink.

      Thanks so much for visiting and taking time to respond. I hope you’ll come back.

  4. I have some reservations about what you are trying to achieve in your work with a fountain pen but…

    I’d go Japanese if you really want fountain pens with thinner lines that operate well.

    http://www.jetpens.com/Tachikawa-Linemarker-A.T-Sketch-Pen-0.1-mm/pd/7247
    Review: http://rozwoundup.typepad.com/roz_wound_up/2011/05/a-new-fountain-pen-from-tachikawa-linemarker-at.html

    This Pilot pen is also fantastic and I would say it will be more durable and less prone to clogging since it doesn’t use permanent ink. The finest line available I’ve found imported in a script fountain pen from japan. This Japanese ex-fine pen is perhaps two sizes thinner than a western ex-fine
    http://www.jetpens.com/Pilot-Penmanship-Fountain-Pen-with-Ergo-Grip-Extra-Fine-Nib-Black-Body/pd/4007

    That said, I would not advise any of these for cartooning. Dip pens are used in cartooning because of their ability to create an expressive line, fountain pens are not comparable to this because most are stiff and do not produce an expressive line.

    You will get much better results from a high quality porous point pen. They feel like a fountain pen on paper and require less fuss. These aren’t the felt tipped pens of the seventies I can assure you.

    Try the Copic Multiliner. Incredible craftsmanship and replaceable nibs and ink refills. None of the fuss of either drafting pens or fountain pens.
    http://www.jetpens.com/Copic-Multiliner-SP-Black-Ink-Marker-Pen-0.1-mm/pd/3385

    And if you want to blow away and absolutely change your mind about how expressive and elegant a felt tip pen can be try this. http://www.jetpens.com/Tombow-Fudenosuke-Brush-Pen-Hard-Blue-Body/pd/5035 it is technically a brush pen but the flex is so controllable by pressure that it feels like a dip nib. I’ve seen people who can’t or won’t use kolinsky brushes nearly explode with the sudden realization that they didn’t have to fake sculpted lines anymore. If any pen could challenge a cartoonist to reconsider what they could do with the line quality of their work. THIS IS IT.

    BTW I have mostly only used Jetpens but other importers sell all of these I think.

    • Thanks for all the great tips.

      I haven’t had time to post back in a while with an update on my search for the perfect pen but I recently got the Kuretake No. 40 Brush Pen and I really like it. I wouldn’t go so far to say that regular fountain pens are out of the question for comic art and drawing, but a brush does give the line an amazing life.

      I haven’t tried any old-style dip nibs just because they’ve always seemed cheap and dinky to me. I have to admit that I don’t like the extra overhead and formality of getting set up and having pots of ink at my side. I like to draw where I’m comfortable – and that’s usually means in my recliner. So dip nibs and proper brushes aren’t high on my list. The Kuretake brush pen solves a lot of that with connivence, high quality, and a great feel.

      Since I just plunked down a bunch for that pen, it may be a while before I buy anything else, but I’ll definitely keep your list of tips close at hand.

      Thanks again!

  5. Just a bit of advice with the Kuretake #40 brush pen. The synthetic versions work just as well. I’m not sure why, I can’t say when exactly, but Kuretake has mastered synthetic fibers.

    Try the #8 you’ll be amazed that the quality of the brush, it’s snap, it’s point, and it’s line quality are equal to the #40 and it cost a lot less. Plus you get a whole new pen each time.
    http://www.jetpens.com/Kuretake-No.-8-Fountain-Hair-Brush-Pen/pd/2672

  6. That’s a “rOtring Freeway”! I have one exactly like yours, mine’s an F. These are very good, they sport the same nibs as the mythical rOtring 600 fountain pens (of which I have a couple, including a 600G Newton fitted with a 18ct F nib, one awesome pen).
    I also have a couple Initials, one with a metal silver barrel and an F nib and another with a black acrylic barrel with an M nib. Despite some bizarre designs (to say the least) like the Core and the Skin, rOtring fountain pens are of very good quality and they usually are great writers.
    Don’t know about Kuretake’s #8 or #40 brush pens as I have never used them but I do love my Pentel Pocket Brush Pens, couldn’t live without them!

    • Thanks for taking time to reply. I had searched for long hours and not found any pen that looked similar. I’m definitely going to buy a few more!

  7. It is a Rotring Freeway 🙂 I saw that this post is from last year and maybe by now you know the model name, but I guessed it couldn’t hurt. I have the same one in blue and with the same nib size and used it for the past year and a half. Great piece! 🙂

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