• Top 15 Best Japanese Calligraphy and Brush Pens to Buy Online 2020 - Tried and True! 1
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Top 15 Best Japanese Calligraphy and Brush Pens to Buy Online 2020 - Tried and True!

Thickening at the slightest application of pressure, but also able to come to a fine point. Shifting easily from dark to light and back again. Calligraphy (or brush) pens are invaluable tools not just for calligraphy or the writing of Chinese characters or illustrating wall scrolls, but also for a wide variety of Western and fusion art as well. And quality matters.

Japan is known for calligraphy, for ink art, and for stationery, so wouldn’t it make sense that some of the best calligraphy pens come from this island country? In order to introduce you to a few, we ordered the 15 most popular brush pens from Japan’s e-commerce giants (such as Amazon, Rakuten, and kakaku.com) and tested for the following:

1. How Well It Writes
2. How the Ink Transfers and Its Depth of Color
3. How Thick It is

This is how we tested and found the most exceptional Japanese calligraphy and brush pens.
  • Last updated: 10-30-2019
  • 641 views
Table of Contents

How to Choose a Japanese Calligraphy and Brush Pen – Buying Guide

We’ll get into how we tested and compared all our calligraphy pens, but before that, we want to introduce three things you should look out for when picking out a calligraphy pen.

① Find a Calligraphy Pen that’s Easy for You to Write with

Roughly speaking, there are three types of tips on calligraphy pens: stiff, soft, and straight-up bristles. However, even if they are of the same type, all calligraphy pens differ greatly in how they perform, depending on the brand.
Basically, with tips, you want to make sure it fits your level and purpose. You need to make sure that the character and firmness of the tip is suited to you and the piece you’re planning.

Stiff Tips are the Kindest to Beginners

Stiff Tips are the Kindest to Beginners
Writing with a stiff-tipped※1 calligraphy pen kind of feels like signing a yearbook with a permanent marker. It’s perfect for beginners who only get to use a calligraphy pen once a year or so. Not only do your lines comes out consistent, the flicks and tips at the ends of characters, known as hane※2 and harai※3, are comparatively easier to achieve.
Stiff tips are good for addressing postcards and envelopes for festive occasions. Since it’s easy to work your way down to a very fine line, stiff-tipped calligraphy pens are also often used for backgrounds and depictions of movement and sound effects in manga.
※1 硬筆: stiff tip (literally, stiff-tipped writing instrument, such as a pen or pencil)
※2 ハネ: hane (the little flick up at the end of certain strokes)
※3 ハライ: harai (the thinning out at the end of certain strokes)

Softer Tips Make It Easier to Achieve Thick Lines

Softer Tips Make It Easier to Achieve Thick Lines
This feels more like a brush than a stiff tip. Soft-tipped※4 calligraphy pens utilize what can be described as a soft sponge as their nib. Like their stiff-tipped counterparts, soft-tipped calligraphy pens do feel a bit like a permanent marker, but you need a bit of practice before you can achieve those nice hane and harai.
However, it’s easier to draw thick lines with a soft tip, rather than a stiff tip–so it’s better for large work, such as addressing letter-sized envelopes. It’s also invaluable as an art tool, as many use it when they need to cover large areas in solid black.
※4 軟筆: soft tip (literally, soft-tipped writing instrument)

Bristle Tips Give You the Same Look and Feel as a Traditional Brush

Bristle Tips Give You the Same Look and Feel as a Traditional Brush
If you’ve already experience with shodo, or Japanese calligraphy, then try a bristle-tipped※5 calligraphy pen. It’s the most similar to an actual brush. It allows for the most nuanced strokes, the dramatic thickening and thinning of lines, as well as hane and harai. However, it feels different from your run-of-the-mill marker or pen and takes quite a bit of practice to master.
But you can use it to craft a widely varying, very natural and almost crude look. Bristle-tipped calligraphy pens are also available in colors other than black, making them suitable art tools.
※5 毛筆: bristle-tipped (literally, brush)

② Find a Calligraphy Pen with Serviceable Ink

It’s important to check both the kind of ink the calligraphy pen utilizes, as well as how the ink transfers onto paper and how deep its color is.

Dye-Based Ink Spreads Well and is Vibrant in Color; Pigment-Based Ink Doesn’t Bleed and is Light-Fast and Water-Resistant

Dye-Based Ink Spreads Well and is Vibrant in Color; Pigment-Based Ink Doesn’t Bleed and is Light-Fast and Water-Resistant
Most inks used in calligraphy pens are either dye- or pigment-based. Dye-based※6 ink is similar in color and consistency to India ink, which is often used in artist pens and for inking and outlining comics. However, it fades and blurs quite easily. You shouldn’t have a problem, though, if you’re just addressing a postcard or writing on an envelope.
However, if you are planning to use the calligraphy pen for art, try pigment-based ink. Because pigment-based※7 ink dries quickly, it doesn’t smear or blur, even with the use of solvents. The only thing is, there’s not as many calligraphy pens that utilize pigment-based ink around and so not as much choice. Figure out your priorities before settling on a type of ink.
※6 染料: dye
※7 顔料: pigment

Pay Attention to How the Ink Transfers onto Paper and How Deep Its Color is

Pay Attention to How the Ink Transfers onto Paper and How Deep Its Color is
The best calligraphy pens–the ones that are easiest to use–are the ones where the ink transfers onto paper with little fuss and the color is just as intense as you want it. However, there’s no way you can really check the ink short of trying it out. If you do end up going to a stationery store, try writing common things, like your name and numbers in both script and cursive.
There are also calligraphy pens with paler ink, which is used in Japan for sad occasions, such as funerals and wakes. (One popular myth as to why this has become tradition is that the paler color looks as if it was diluted with tears.) There are lighter calligraphy pens designed solely for funerals, but it’s more practical to get dual-tipped pens that can write in both grey and black.

③ Find a Calligraphy Pen That’s Suitably Thick

③ Find a Calligraphy Pen That’s Suitably Thick
Calligraphy pens are categorized by whether they’re suited for bold※8, medium※9, or fine print※10. Certain thicknesses are better for certain situations. Thin pens, for example, are good for fine work, such as art, addressing postcards, or copying sutras; medium pens are good for everyday calligraphy; thick pens are good for poster work and big, dynamic lettering.
However, take any labeling with a grain of salt. Thickness is greatly swayed by the length and firmness of the pen tip, as well as the skill and habits of the calligrapher. The same pen can perform differently in different hands, so if possible, test out calligraphy pens before purchase.
※8 太字: bold print
※9 中字: medium print
※10 細字: fine print

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them
Now to introduce the 15 most popular Japanese calligraphy and brush pens that we ordered and the process by which we tested them.
{The Products We Tested}
1. Mitsubishi Pencil New Brush Pen (三菱鉛筆 新毛筆)
2. Platinum Pen Co. Souhitsu Hanekofude (プラチナ万年筆 双筆 跳ね小筆)
3. Zebra Soft-Tipped Calligraphy Pen ~Fine~ (ゼブラ 筆ペン 軟筆~細字~)
4. Zebra Calligraphy Pen Thick and Fine ~Dual-Sided~ (ゼブラ 筆ペン 太・細~両用~)
5. Zebra FudeSign Medium (ゼブラ 筆サイン 中字)
6. Pilot New Brush Pen Medium (パイロット 新毛筆 中字)
7. Pilot Colored Calligraphy Pen Fude Makase (パイロット カラー筆ペン 筆まかせ)
8. Akashiya New Brush Pen (あかしや 新毛筆)
9. Akashiya Sai (あかしや 彩 Sai)
10. Kuretake Bimoji Cambio (呉竹 美文字 完美王)
11. Kuretake Fountain Brush Pen (呉竹 万年毛筆)
12. Pentel Kirari (ぺんてる きらり)
13. Pentel PentelFude ~Medium~ (ぺんてる ぺんてる筆 ~中字~)
14. Pentel FudeMoji Autograph Pen (ぺんてる 筆文字サインペン)
15. Tombow Pencil Co. Fudenosuke Keichou Twin S (トンボ鉛筆 筆之助 慶弔ツインS)
We then tested for each of the following things:
Test ①: How Well It Writes
Test ②: How the Ink Transfers and Its Depth of Color
Test ③: How Thick It is

Test ①: How Well It Writes

Test ①: How Well It Writes
First, we tested how well each calligraphy pen wrote.
We tested for flexibility, whether our strokes had a clean finish, and whether each pen was more suited for beginners or advanced users. We then graded the pens on a five-step scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: Even Beginners Could Master Bristle-Tipped Calligraphy Pens, as Long as the Tip Had Some Firmness to It

The Big Takeaway: Even Beginners Could Master Bristle-Tipped Calligraphy Pens, as Long as the Tip Had Some Firmness to It
Only one calligraphy pen earned an A+ on this test: Pentel’s PentelFude. Even though it was a bristle-tipped pen, which usually takes skill to use, there was a good firmness to the tip that made the pen easy to control for beginners. Pens with softer bristles allowed for smooth, flowing strokes, but were difficult to control for those not already used to drawing with brushes.
As for stiff- and soft-tipped pens, there were products that squeaked when we wrote and nibs that had no give to them, which made it hard to execute hane, tome※11, and harai. They were pretty much markers posing as calligraphy pens and were rated quite harshly. Might as well just get a permanent marker instead.
※11 トメ: tome (the thickening at the end of certain strokes)

Test ②: How the Ink Transfers and Its Depth of Color

Test ②: How the Ink Transfers and Its Depth of Color
Next, we looked at how the ink transferred onto paper and how rich its color was.
We wanted to see whether the ink would get scratchy, or if we could accurately control the strength of color by how we held the brush. We then rated each product on a scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: Big-Name Brands are Consistent with Their Ink. Old Favorites Don’t Let You Down!

The Big Takeaway: Big-Name Brands are Consistent with Their Ink. Old Favorites Don’t Let You Down!
Products from Mitsubishi, Pilot, Kuretake, and Pentel all did well on this test. After all, big-name brands are usually pretty good about quality control, and a consistent amount of ink comes out of their pens. There’s no odd scratching or fading of color and you can get your strokes to come out to just the intensity you want.
In particular, old favorites like Mitsubishi Pencils’s New Brush Pen (ironic name), Kuretake’s Bimoji Cambio, and Pentel’s PentelFude positively shined; all three earned an A+ for their ink.
Mitsubishi Pencil’s New Brush Pen, by the way, comes out to a jet black. However, you can vary the shading depending on how you draw with it, which makes it suitable for almost anything, from addresses on envelopes to ink wash paintings.

Test ③: How Thick It is

Test ③: How Thick It is
Finally, we looked at stroke thickness.
We paid attention to whether or not we could vary the width of a stroke and whether a pen lived up to its claims (that is, whether it was really thick, thin, or in between). We then determined what kind of work each pen was best suited for.

The Big Takeaway: Bristle-Tipped Calligraphy Pens were About as Thick as Expected. But You Need to be More Careful with Stiff and Soft-Tipped Calligraphy Pens…

The Big Takeaway: Bristle-Tipped Calligraphy Pens were About as Thick as Expected. But You Need to be More Careful with Stiff and Soft-Tipped Calligraphy Pens…
Out of all the calligraphy pens that claimed to be suited for medium print, Kuretake’s Bimoji Cambio lived up most to its promises. Kuretake’s Fountain Brush Pen, which was labeled as fine, also lived up to expectations, utilizing a tip so thin that we could write letters with it.
With brush pens, as long as we could control the pressure of our strokes, it was easy to adjust for thickness. And the width of a single stroke was pretty much always what it said on the box.
However, stiff- and soft-tipped pens could differ greatly from product to product. In particular, while soft-tipped pens, such as Zebra’s Soft-Tipped Calligraphy Pen ~Fine~, allowed us some control over the width of our strokes, many of them could get quite thick, leaving us with a very broad line.

The Final Verdict: Top 15 Best Japanese Calligraphy and Brush Pens to Buy Online

Now to introduce the 15 best Japanese calligraphy and brush pens available online. They were ranked by how well they did on our tests and given an overall grade ranging from D to A+.
WritingD (Bristle)
Ink QualityD (Water-Based Pigment)
ThicknessSuperfine
Overall ScoreD
14. Zebra Calligraphy Pen Thick and Fine ~Dual Sided~ FD-501 1

14. Zebra Calligraphy Pen Thick and Fine ~Dual Sided~ FD-501

$5.80

WritingD (Soft)
Ink QualityB (Water-Based Dye)
ThicknessBold, Fine
Overall ScoreD
13. Zebra Soft-Tipped Calligraphy Pen ~Fine~ FD-302 1

13. Zebra Soft-Tipped Calligraphy Pen ~Fine~ FD-302

$4.95

WritingD (Soft)
Ink QualityB (Water-Based Dye)
ThicknessFine
Overall ScoreD
WritingD (Stiff)
Ink QualityC (Water-Based Pigment)
ThicknessMedium
Overall ScoreC
11. Tombow Pencil Co. Fudenosuke Keichou Twin S 1

11. Tombow Pencil Co. Fudenosuke Keichou Twin S

$3.80

WritingC (Stiff)
Ink QualityB (Water-Based Pigment, Black and Grey)
ThicknessFine
Overall ScoreC
10. Platinum Pen Co. Souhitsu Hanekofude 1

10. Platinum Pen Co. Souhitsu Hanekofude

$9.75

WritingC (Stiff)
Ink QualityB (Water-Based Pigment)
ThicknessSmall Brush※12
Overall ScoreC
WritingA (Bristle)
Ink QualityC (Water-based Dye)
ThicknessSmall Brush
Overall ScoreB
WritingA (Bristle)
Ink QualityB (Water-Based Dye)
ThicknessFine
Overall ScoreB
WritingB (Stiff)
Ink QualityB
ThicknessMedium
Overall ScoreB
6. Pilot Colored Calligraphy Pen Fude Makase 1

6. Pilot Colored Calligraphy Pen Fude Makase

$3.30

WritingA (Stiff)
Ink QualityB (Water-Based Dye)
ThicknessSuperfine
Overall ScoreB
WritingB (Bristles)
Ink QualityA+ (Water-Based Pigment)
ThicknessThin – Bold
Overall ScoreA
WritingA (Bristles)
Ink QualityA (Water-Based Dye)
ThicknessMedium
Overall ScoreA
WritingA (Bristle)
Ink QualityA
Thickness
Overall ScoreA
WritingA (Bristle)
Ink QualityA+ (Water-Based Pigment)
ThicknessMedium
Overall ScoreA+
WritingA+ (Bristles)
Ink QualityA+ (Water-Based Dye)
ThicknessMedium
Overall ScoreA+

Tips and Tricks on How to Hold and Write with a Calligraphy Pen

So, you’ve learned how to buy a calligraphy pen. Now, it’s time to learn how to write with one. Here’s a quick primer on ways to both hold and write with a calligraphy pen.

Hold the Pen with the End Facing up, as You Would with a Brush

Hold the Pen with the End Facing up, as You Would with a Brush
Lightly grasp the calligraphy pen with your thumb, pointer, and middle fingers. It’s pretty much the same as how you would hold a pen, but it’s important that you hold it with the end facing up. That way, it’s easier to control the thickness of your strokes and to achieve tome, hane, and harai.
People who aren’t used to using calligraphy pens usually end up using too much force, so remember to hold the pen gently. Furthermore, straightening out your posture will help keep your hand and arm from getting tired.

Control the Thickness of Your Stroke by Adjusting How Much of the Brush Comes into Contact with the Page

Control the Thickness of Your Stroke by Adjusting How Much of the Brush Comes into Contact with the Page
Learning how to flow smoothly between thick and thin strokes is key to making your work look more like it was drawn by a brush, your words more like traditional calligraphy.
For thin lines, draw with just the very point of the tip. If you can’t get your strokes to come out fine, it either means that you’re writing at an angle or with too much force, driving the tip of the pen into the paper. Focus on relaxing your hand and softly and lightly touching the page with just the very tip.
On the other hand, for thick lines, make sure you’re pushing not just the point, but the entire length of the tip against the page. This increases the area at which the brush touches the page, naturally resulting in a thicker line.

Practice, Practice, and Practice with the Help of Samples and Examples

Practice, Practice, and Practice with the Help of Samples and Examples
If you feel like you just can’t get the hang of calligraphy pens, slow down. Don’t expect to turn out a perfect calligraphy piece from the very beginning. Take time to practice. There are tons of practice books for calligraphy and brush pens, and if you don’t feel like dishing out more cash, there’s also free samples and guides online.
Honestly, you probably weren’t even that amazing with a ballpoint pen or mechanical pencil when you first started out. As long as you keep at it and don’t give up, you will see results.

Summary

We rounded up experts and members of our editing department, purchased the 15 most popular Japanese calligraphy and brush pens, and tested them all.
The PentelFude was crowned first and it is an amazing pen, but the lower-ranking products might be easier to use in specific situations. Be sure to keep the information we shared today in the back of your mind and use it to find the best calligraphy pen just for you.
Original by Nao Kondo; Translation by Jasmine Li

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