Tombow Dual Brush Pens (ABT)

Reported by Kristine Fowler

Unlike many other paper crafters, I have to admit that one of my least favorite techniques is hand-coloring. I think the reason I dislike it, is because I am generally in a hurry when I create – and I quite often don’t have the time that I think it takes to color properly. With that said, while I don’t do it often, I do hand-color sometimes, and have tried various methods and medium over the years.

Most recently, the coloring medium I find myself relying on are the Tombow Dual Brush Pens (ABT). I was introduced to these pens last fall at the CreativFestival in Toronto, and since then I’ve picked up quite a few of these markers and added them to my toolbox.

Since I am partial to supporting local businesses first, I buy the Tombows at my local scrapbook store – The Memory Keeper for $3.29 ($CDN) each. All pens are priced individually, and no sets are available. At another local retailer, Curry’s, they are priced a bit less at $2.99 ($CDN) each but for me, their location is a little inconvenient to attend. At Curry’s though, you can purchase sets of 10 pens for a slightly discounted $29.17. For those of you Stateside, if you are interested in purchasing the Tombows, try, where they are currently listed at $1.91 ($USD) a piece, and sets of 6 markers are available for $10.49 ($USD) – a substantial savings. I have never ordered from them, but it might be worth the investigation given their pricing – of course when ordering online, shipping & handling charges need to be factored into the equation as well.

Tombow Dual Brush Pens are available in 144 colors, and they feature as you might have guessed; two tips. The one end is the flexible nylon fiber ‘brush’ tip which I love. It works like a paint brush and you can use it to create fine, medium or bold strokes by simply changing the pressure on the point. The other end hosts a ‘fine’ tip which is great for drawing borders, writing and coloring tight drawings.

The ink in the Tombows is water based and thus is non-toxic, acid free, and odorless. Each pen is 7 ¾” long and the brush caps are colored to match the ink inside. Unlike Copics, the pens are not refillable and the tips are not replaceable but so long as you keep the lids on them tightly and don’t inadvertently damage a tip, they should last a long time.

One thing in particular that I like to do with the Tombows is watercoloring. After stamping my image with permanent ink on watercolor paper (yes, watercolor paper is recommended to get optimum blending potential), I color the edge of my image with the Tombow. Then, using a regular paint brush dipped in water, I blend the color toward the center of the image creating a graduated colored effect. If necessary, I can go back and add more color to certain sections of an image to achieve shadows, or blend some areas with more water to achieve highlights. The cards below were created using this technique.

I’m not sure what is special about the ink in the Tombows, but it watercolors beautifully. I have tried to achieve the same effect with other waterbased markers and have been disappointed with the result. Other markers tend not to work as well with this technique, and you are left with very distinct ‘lines’ of color as opposed to the Tombows smooth graduated appearance.

Another great feature of the Tombows is that the inks from two or more pens can be blended to create custom colors. Here, I took 2 different colors – a blue and a yellow and drew directly on an old CD (any other non-porous surface would also work). I then took a water brush, and ‘blended’ the two colors together. As you can see, I have now created a lovely green. I can now use this green, together with my waterbrush to paint an image of my choice. Blending custom color is a great way to maximize your investment and perhaps limit the number of markers you need to buy in the long run.


  • Flexible brush end eliminates the need to buy pens of varying thickness.
  • The brush tip holds its shape well even after much use and considerable pressure.
  • The fine tip is firm enough that even with varied pressure, strokes are of consistent thickness.
  • Ink is water soluble – so clean up is easy if you happen to get messy.
  • Because the ink is water-based it is also odorless – great news if you’re sensitive to smells.
  • The brush and the fine tip are fed from the same ink reservoir, ensuring exact colour matching.
  • Dual tip design makes them more economical than purchasing pens with only a single tip.
  • Ink is acid-free – so great for scrapbookers.
  • The caps are slotted, which means that they won’t roll of the table when you least expect it.
  • The ink is blendable – using either the colorless Tombow blender or a regular water brush – so they are great for watercoloring.


  • They are not refillable and the nibs are not replaceable.
  • Purchasing a full set would be a significant investment. Perhaps not so much as some of the other ‘professional’ quality markers, but certainly more than your average set.
  • Because they are water-based they are non-permanent and thus colored images will run if exposed to water. Eventually colored images will also fade over time if exposed to too much direct light (this is typical of any water or dye-based marker or ink and is not a fault in manufacture).
  • The barrel of the marker is round thus it is possible for an ‘uncapped’ marker to roll off the table onto the floor.
  • In my experience they are a bit tricky to find. Because they are positioned as a ‘professional’ artist material, you won’t likely find them at Michael’s or in the craft section at WalMart. You’ll have to look to an art supply store, a scrapbook store, or some other type of specialty shop. Once you find your source though, this won’t be a problem anymore.

Despite these disadvantages, I would rate the Tombow Dual Brush Pens an 8½ out of 10. Inability to refill, and cost weighed heavily on my judgement, although I do suspect that if they were refillable, they would cost even more, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain! You can’t have everything I suppose.

For more information about how to use Tombows – I suggest that you to visit this site and then choose Creative Pens from the Menu at the left. There are 4 video clips that offer great tips and I found them all to be full of useful information.

Have you tried the Tombow Dual Brush Pens? How do you think they compare to some of the others markers out there? We’d love to hear what you think! Leave us a comment and let us know!

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10 Responses to Tombow Dual Brush Pens (ABT)

  1. Avatar
    Marie August 15, 2008 at 1:10 pm #

    Great work. Can you give us the credits for the products in the bunny card?

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    Cori S August 15, 2008 at 1:19 pm #

    I LOVE my tombow markers. They work great! It is a shame that you can’t buy refills for them, but I think they’re cheaper to replace than Copics.
    They work great w/ other mediums too, such as chalks, Prisma pencils.

  3. Avatar

    I would like a comparison between Copic and Tombow. Do you have something that you can put together? I have the Stampin Up markers and am dissappointed in them. The tips are not holding up.

  4. Avatar
    Kristine August 15, 2008 at 3:04 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Marie: Here’s the credits for the bunny card.

    – Bunny image is by Penny Black
    – watercoloured using Tombow markers (let me know if you want the specific colour numbers – I’ll have to look them up)
    – Sentiments by Close To My Heart from the All My Love set.

    I love the idea of a direct Copic vs Tombow comparison!! I’ll definately be putting one of these together — and might just throw in another brand or two. Watch for my review to post here on Craft Critique in the near future!

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    Jen August 16, 2008 at 4:23 pm #

    I really appreciate all the reviews on different coloring systems, so hard to get consistent info elsewhere!
    I have several Tombows, and agree completely with your review although I don’t have any other kind of marker. I also think they are great for coloring rubber directly then stamping- I love the different watercolor effects you can get this way.

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    Christine August 20, 2008 at 9:47 pm #

    Hi thanks for the review on the Tombows. I have started collecting them and just buy a few at a time. I am yet to try them on watercolour paper. A comparison with the Stampin Up markers would be great too.

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    Scrubbysue March 14, 2009 at 5:02 pm #

    thankyou very much for this review. My recent purchase was based on it and I look forward to seeing some wonderful results. = )

  8. Avatar
    Anonymous December 13, 2009 at 10:38 pm #

    Good Morning!!! is one of the most outstanding innovative websites of its kind. I take advantage of reading it every day. I will be back.

  9. Avatar
    Heather March 30, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Just came across your review as I was researching the Tombow markers. Given the great review I think I will be placing an order soon. I just wanted to share this websire for any of you in Canada. The sell the pens in sets of 9 plus a blender pen for $15.00 and the individual ones are under $2.00. I have used this company for Tombow adhesive refills as it is also an an excellent. The are a US company but have shipping from Calgary and Toronto.
    Free shipping on orders over $50…
    I usually have a bunch of my friends get together and order.

  10. Avatar
    Claudia August 2, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Thank you for this page that I just found in trying to decide if I want to invest in a large selection of Tombow markers. I have only a couple of Tombow markers and I have a couple of Copics. (Up to this point I have mostly used Lyra colored pencils for the ability to shade. They are a great pencil although not inexpensive at all.)

    With the Tombows and the Copics that I do have, the Copics dried out despite being stored carefully AND in a ziplock bag. I hardly ever used the couple of Copics that I purchased and was shocked that they dried up. The Tombows are older and have not dried up. They are stored the same as the Copics and other markers.

    Can you tell me the best way to store markers? Lying flat, I would assume, but some say standing upright like in a pencil cup. Hmmm…. what do you think.

    Thank you for any responses I get. I really like this site and will save it for future use.