Copic Sketch Marker Review

My brush pen collection is growing rapidly. Instagram knows me far too well and often shows me short brush lettering videos, many of which involve the Copic Sketch Marker. I’d never used a Copic product before and decided that this looked like a good one to try out.

The pen and tips 

Copic are a well-known Japanese brand and pitch their products towards artistic and creative uses – think designers, illustrators, artists, crafting. The Copic is a double-ended permanent marker; one end is a brush tip and one is a broad chisel marker. Given that I am still continuously practicing and fiddling with brush pens, I always buy a version in black. There is an episode of Frasier where he decides to take a variety of dates to the same restaurant so that the only difference between the evenings would be the company, and he could therefore objectively isolate the date as the cause of his enjoyment or dissatisfaction. The same can be said for brush pen testing. Always getting black means I won’t be sidetracked by loving the colour and not the pen!

Chisel end
Chisel end
Brush end, showing a little bit of disfiguration where I've used it!
Brush end, showing a little bit of disfiguration where I’ve used it!

The brush end is a flexible tip with no discernible individual brush fibres. You may recall that my difficulty in controlling individual brush fibres was one of my key dislikes about the Muji brush pen. As with many tips like this, I find they soften over time and take on the shape of my pressure. This has happened over time with the Copic and the brush tip is ever so slightly flattened. I find this helpful as it’s adapted to my style of writing and its increased softness means an easier, thicker line.

The ink

When Copic say black, they really mean black. Unlike many experiences I’ve had with brush pens there is no loss of saturation towards the outside of your strokes. The line left is completely black. There is also a tremendous amount of bleed through on all the papers I’ve tested and sometimes has left a mark on what’s underneath – this wasn’t great when I used the Copic at work (white desk, oops). Obviously this is to be expected from a permanent marker and such a saturated ink but does rule this pen out for casual usage in notebooks.

One positive I find about this pen is its shape – it is an oval / squashed rectangle shaped which means no rolling on the table and it sits very steadily in your hand when writing with no rotation of the barrel.

Oval shape of the Copic Sketch marker
Oval shape of the Copic Sketch marker
Size of barrel compared to a Palomino Blackwing 211
Barrel size compared to a Palomino Blackwing 211

You can’t post the lids on this pen. This doesn’t bother me because I find that it has a comfortable weight and length without posting and the lids are quite light anyway so wouldn’t add too much value. Here’s how it measures up against a fairly new (and blunt) Palomino Blackwing 211.

It’s also refillable, the chisel and brush tips are replaceable, and they come in fantastic multicolour sets – there is a huge range of colours and shades available (the internet tells me there are 358!). So if, like me, you dislike disposable-ness and throwawayism, this is a pen you could keep for a very long time if you treat it right.

How I use the Copic Sketch marker

I use the Copic for brush lettering only, so I haven’t tested the chisel tip of the pen. I’m always slightly regretful at the addition of chisel tips because I have no use for them and I feel like it is half the pen’s potential wasted. However I understand the need for this end given the normal use of the Copic in creative pursuits. Chisel tips are obviously useful for shading and colouring and I’m told that the Copics are wonderful to use for blending colour although I haven’t been able to test this out only having it in black. It’s a shame that there’s a potential that this pen isn’t fulfilling for me but I was interested in the pen because of its reviews as a brush pen – I did consider whether I could use the chisel tips for a new and different kind of lettering but it’s extremely chunky and flat and not conducive to the lettering style I’m trying to foster.

As I’ve been testing it out I’ve noticed that I gravitate towards it for lettering that I would like to display. I think this is down to a combination of things – the ink is wonderfully black so it gives a great, professional look to your lettering, and it’s very easy to use consistently so I don’t need to repeatedly draft words.

Obviously I’m not an expert at brush lettering and using this pen does highlight areas that I would like to carry on improving. In particular, my letter joins are still a little shaky and my spacing can be slightly uneven. Onwards and upwards on that though.

Shaky joins!
Shaky joins!

Bleedthrough examples

I’ve been asked to do some brush lettered place cards for a friend’s wedding later this year (very exciting!) and I think I would use this pen for such a purpose. I’ve tried the Copic out on some place-card paper and there isn’t any bleed through – this is at a paper weight of 175gsm.

Place-card lettering with the Copic
Place-card lettering with the Copic
No bleedthrough at 175gsm!
No bleedthrough at 175gsm!

This is compared to a parchment style paper with a weight of 100gsm:

Test lettering

Ever since doing my Quill London brush lettering course I’ve been trying out the same pen tests involving practicing down and upstrokes primarily. Also I try and practice my alphabets because I’m developing my own style as I get more familiar with brush lettering.

Test drills
Test drills
You can just about make up a slight pressure mark at the end of thick strokes. It doesn't detract from the look but I think it's noticeable.
You can just about make up a slight pressure mark at the end of thick strokes. It doesn’t detract from the look but I think it’s noticeable.
Lower case letters, individually spaced and a joined up effort.
Lower case letters, individually spaced and a joined up effort.
Upper case and a test sentence
Upper case and a test sentence
Some size tests. I've put in "natural" because this size is where I naturally feel most comfortable writing with the Copic. It's quite difficult to achieve neat small lettering as it's hard to get the balance of thick and thin lines right with this pen at such a small size. Large lettering is a lot easier when you have more control over the pen, but I'd suggest leaning towards a larger character size when using the Copic to make the most of its brush tip.
Some size tests. I’ve put in “natural” because this size is where I naturally feel most comfortable writing with the Copic. It’s quite difficult to achieve neat small lettering as it’s hard to get the balance of thick and thin lines right with this pen at such a small size. Large lettering is a lot easier when you have more control over the pen, but I’d suggest leaning towards a larger character size when using the Copic to make the most of its brush tip.

In summary

I would really recommend this pen is used for your special brush lettering projects but I would steer clear of using it in any type of business-as-usual notebook because the ink is so black that the bleedthrough will waste all of your pages! This will not produce rustic looking lettering for you; it’s strong and bold on the page. It’s very comfortable to use and I think it has been designed with the end user in mind – its oval shape keeps it still on a desk which is probably very handy if you’re using a multitude of Copic pens on a project and the flatness of it means it’s very steady in the hand.

For my purpose of brush lettering the Copic provides a fantastic differentiation between thick and thin lines and I think this differentiation has improved with use as the brush tip has softened and adapted to the pressure of my lettering. It’s a shame that I can’t really find a use for its chisel tip but I’m not going to hold this against the Copic because it’s probably a reflection of my lack of diverse applications for markers!

I also really appreciate the ethos of buying tools and reusing or repurposing them and the fact you can refill and replace parts of this marker is a good testament that Copic themselves believe in the quality of the Sketch marker. Despite its potential longevity it generally costs around £6, which is affordable for the purpose of buying a few pens for brush lettering but bear in mind that if you’re after a multipack or out to build up a collection, this price point could make for an initial expensive outlay. I really enjoy using the Copic Sketch marker, particularly for relatively large brush lettering, and I feel it showcases my ever-evolving style well. It’s a brush pen I would always like to have in my toolbox from now on.

Brush Lettering: Workshop and Brush Pen Review

In late October I attended a wonderful brush lettering class run by Quill London. The session is for beginners and is hosted by Emma Block and Teri Muncey who both use brush lettering in their careers in illustration, styling and design. I had a great time, met some lovely people, came away with a piece of wall art (!) and some good quality supplies, and indulged this newfound hobby of mine.

The class flew by and over the course of a couple of hours we practiced upper and lower case lettering, numbering styles, pattern-making with the brush (useful when producing cursive letters like S and lower case E) and created our own statement piece. I chose the sentiment “work hard, stay humble” because it’s a solid motto in life (and nice and short in case I was terrible at brush lettering). When I got home I decided I would put it up above the desk as a little motivator to carry on with this hobby and as a small piece of decoration. I think it fits, and seeing it makes me very happy, especially because it’s not perfect.

An evident part of the class was the demonstration of individual style. Everyone’s brush lettering style was different, whether it was through letter spacing, darkness of the ink used, difference between thick and thin brush strokes, slant, etcetera. This is definitely one of the appeals of brush lettering to me; each person’s is unique and I genuinely don’t think you could produce “ugly” script. I’ve definitely developed my own style and I’m not really sure where some attributes of my “font” come from, as I don’t necessarily write with these decorations with other pens. Tall letters like D, L, and H have a small loop at the top, and long letters like G, J and Y have a small loop at their tails.

Although we used a paintbrush and bottled ink during the class, I have actually acquired a few brush pens during my stationery shopping sprees. I have tried them out and doodled with them, but I wanted to hold back on judging their performance until after I’d taken this lettering class so that I could get a better grasp of the basics. I certainly didn’t want to judge my lettering using brush pens in case I could use them for better results; a bad workman always blames his tools, after all.

Since the class though I have been doodling away much more with the brush pens and have put together some thoughts on how they write according to my preference. Disclaimer! I am no expert at brush lettering and very clearly need to continue practicing. These are my efforts after practicing for a couple of weeks.

The pens I’ve been trying out are:

  1. Muji calligraphy pen.
  2. Kuretake brush pen. I can’t actually find a link for this online, mostly because the Kuretake packaging is all in Japanese. Its vital statistics are probably very obvious on the packaging to a trained Japanese eye. I picked it up at JP Books in Soho.
  3. Tombow ABT brush pen. I’ve got this in black, green and cerulean.

I’ve tried these pens out on bog standard printer paper because ink generally has good contrast against it and it doesn’t attract any particular soaking in.

This pen has a very soft, flexible brush nib and is the closest brush pen I’ve tried to an actual paintbrush. The ink is very black and the pen is clad in signature Muji style.

The pen is a good shape to hold and takes pressure well. You need to use this fairly slowly to get a consistent line and the brush fibres are quite obvious, particularly when writing round letters. Writing quickly or getting carried away with flicks means that you lose the density of the line easily and although. this can provide a pleasing handwritten effect, for me I find it makes my script look messier, like my brush was running out of ink and I didn’t think ahead to ink it up.

I found this pen the hardest to control and I think it shows in my script. I find it difficult to keep my sizing consistent and differences in thick lines vs thin lines seems more evident with this pen than with the others.

It is priced at £2.50 so is a good way of getting started with brush pen lettering and Muji shops are quite accessible in London and online. I’m not sure I’m going to continue using this pen for script too often, but I’m going to give it a go with brush sketching; the natural brush look may be better suited to this use than lettering for me.


 

The Tombow ABT is a dual ended brush pen with a fine tip at one end and a brush tip at the other. The fine tip writes very smoothly and produces a very clean line.

image

This brush nib is not as flexible as the Muji brush pen, which is better for my style of writing. However, I find it difficult to achieve a striking difference between thick and thin lines to give that authentic brush lettering look. I’ve seen several videos on Instagram of brush artists producing some absolutely beautiful script with these pens.

So far I have found the hardest aspect of brush lettering overall to be achieving a consistent and yet thin line. My thin lines tend to get a little jumpy and broken and the Tombow pen shows this disjointedness. With this pen however I actually really like the effect of not trying to achieve the thick and thin contrast, but instead applying a consistent pressure. I used this pen for lettering my boyfriend’s anniversary card and used this technique rather than an alternating heavy/light pressure. This is how it came out on the envelope.

The ink runs very well and doesn’t jump. Writing at speed does not seem to affect the consistency of the line and it blends well so that if you need to go back and fill in a small line or join two letters together, the overlap in ink isn’t immediately obvious. This is very useful for me because I’m not quite there yet with joining up letters and my natural brush lettering style seems to be more isolated letters.

So far I would recommend this pen. It comes in a huge array of colours which means that getting used to using the Tombow will come in useful for all kinds of writing and crafty needs. Looking at the pictures of all three sets of script I think it’s close between the Tombow and Kuretake as to which pen wins on overall lettering appearance.


 

Is it just me or can you just tell from the lettering of the pen name that I like this one best? Or does the word “Kuretake” just lend itself well to being written and looking pretty? I was a bit afraid of using the Kuretake pen at first because it seemed very stiff and I didn’t want to apply pressure to the nib for fear of bending it out of shape. Once I’d got over this ridiculous fear though and used it as it is meant to be used… I loved it.

For the same amount of pressure as the Tombow and Muji, this pen produces the thickest and blackest line and the blackness does not fade with speed or with less pressure. It has a pleasing squeak against the page that makes you feel like the brush fibres aren’t going to come apart and produce any scratchiness in the letters, and the resultant line is extremely smooth. I’m quite prepared to admit that I like this pen so much because it’s very forgiving and it’s certainly true that inconsistencies in thin lines in particular are not as obvious using this pen – in my opinion this makes it a great choice for a beginner to use and get good results from fairly quickly.

Close up of Kuretake lettering

I also think the Kuretake is most satisfying to use because it has the best contrast between thick and thin lines which gives the script its artisan look. However it seems quite hard to come by, and strangely I haven’t managed to found it online yet.

So those are my thoughts so far! Kuretake is an easy winner, and the performance of the Tombow pen makes me want to keep trying because I’m convinced I will achieve lettering perfection with it if I apply a good few more hours to practicing with it. I’ll carry on trying out the Muji pen but I don’t think it’s for me with my lettering style and pressure. I’m going to keep my eye out for affordable brush pens and continue trying them out as I think they are a very adaptable way of using brush lettering in everyday life, whereas the paintbrush and bottled ink duo seem more suited to large lettering or specific designs. Do you have any suggestions? Which out of the three I’ve tried do you think looks best with my style? I’d be thrilled to hear any feedback!

If you would like to try out Quill London’s workshop you can find them here. They sell out quite far in advance so get your name on a waiting list of pop it in the diary for a few weeks time to look forward to! I’m going to their Modern Calligraphy class this month and I’m excited already!