Pen Comparison: Archival Ink

Reported by Cassandra Darwin

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I love pens.  Always have.  Probably always will.  And after buying hundreds of different kinds I know that some are (much) better than others.  Here is a quick comparison of just a few that I happened to have handy – I tried to narrow the selection down to dark colors with pigment ink.  First I’ll do a quick review of each pen, then describe a water test I conducted, and finish with summary of all the important facts.

Starting from the top of the picture:

Martha Stewart “Writing Pen” from EK Success

  • Acid-free and archival pigment ink
  • Available in 10 colors
  • 0.5 mm fine tip for writing and drawing
  • $1.99
  • Easy to hold, smooth writing, and color coded on both ends of the pen.  Have not had any problems with bleeding on different paper media.

Copic “Multiliner

  • Pigment ink that is waterproof and compatible with Copic markers
  • 4 nib sizes for colors and 7 nib sizes plus two brush sizes in black (0.05 black was tested)
  • Available in 6 colors
  • $2.95
  • This is like the Rolls Royce of pigment pens. Compatible with every medium, writes smoothly and easily. I plan to get more sizes and may look into buying the more expensive refillable version.

Pigma “Micron” Pens from Sakura

  • Pigment ink is acid free, archival, waterproof, and fade proof
  • 6 nib sizes (black 0.45 and 0.5 mm sizes were tested  – although my chart below has the wrong sizes listed)
  • 15 colors available
  • $2.79
  • This has been go-to pen for a long time. I have even been using some of the same pens intermittently for 10+ years without any sign of drying out. My biggest complaint is that the nib sizing numbers don’t correspond with the nib size – size 08 is actually a 0.5 mm nib.

Gelly Roll Pens from Sakura

  • Archival ink that is waterproof and fade resistant (not pigment ink)
  • The Classic Gelly Roll (solid cap) comes in two nib sizes and 11 colors
  • The five other varieties of Gelly Roll (clear and glitter caps) are avilable in 40+ colors with a variety of metallic and pearl finishes
  • $1.39 – $1.69
  • These are certainly the most affordable option in my comparison, and maybe even the easiest to find in stores.  But the roller ball gel ink does require steady pressure to get an even writing line.  And the Metallic Gelly Roll did not survive my water brush test (below).

Pigment Pro from American Crafts

  • Acid-free archival pigment ink
  • $1.99
  • This pen has been discontinued, but I wanted to include it because this was my first time using it.  I’m not sure if it had been sitting at the store for too long, or what the story was.  But I pulled it out to use it for the first time and it was all dried up!

Click the image below to enlarge see writing examples for each of the pens.

I figured it would be a good idea to test with a wet paintbrush to see which pens can be used with watercolors and markers.  Below is a writing sample for each pen on watercolor paper.

Then I used the water pen to get each line of writing thoroughly wet.  All of the pigment pens passed with flying colors.  But of the Gelly Roll pens, only the Classic version resisted the water – the other metallic varieties had a little to a lot of smearing from the paintbrush.

So what I discovered after this test, is that I really should stick to the pigment pens for my archival projects or anything that may get wet with watercolors, markers, etc. I still like the Gelly Roll pens, but I will only use those for certain projects and everyday use.

Taking price and color/size availability into consideration, the Pigma Micron pens are the best option for me. But if anyone wants to splurge and buy me a present, feel free to get me any combination of the Copic Multiliner sets.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a favorite pigment pen that I didn’t mention? Leave a comment and let us know!

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9 Responses to Pen Comparison: Archival Ink

  1. Avatar
    Works From The Attic by Linda November 30, 2011 at 8:37 am #

    Thank you for this comparison. I do a lot of work with pens and have always used the Microns but have wondered about the others. Now I know! Thanks again! Have a wonderful holiday season!

  2. Avatar
    Kathy November 30, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    I don’t use the Gelly Rolls because of their inconsistency. I do like the Micron pens….I wish you had tested the LePen line….I love the way they write and the bold colors. Will have to water test them myself!
    Copics are always a great product; wish they were a little cheaper! Thanks for the great info.

  3. Avatar
    nina November 30, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Wonderful article – thank you! I have a good stash of Zig writers – I love these pens. I’ve had them around 15 years and they’re all good as new, except that recently my chocolate and black have finally run out of ink. I will keep the Microns in mind as I sometimes have trouble finding the Zigs locally…

  4. Avatar
    Kristina November 30, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    I’m wondering about the colors..the Copic seems more of a charcoal gray than black? the Micron looks MUCH darker, a true black. Is this accurate?


  5. Avatar
    c.darwin November 30, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    Both the Copic and Micron pens are black, but because the Copic line is super fine it looks much lighter. I didn’t have a thicker Copic to add to the comparison. Maybe santa will bring me one. 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Bellatrix December 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    GREAT INFO. Thank you!

  7. Avatar
    Marissa December 4, 2011 at 12:59 am #

    I LOVE the Micron pens! I’ve have mine for over 12 years and they are still going strong! I purchased a fine tip set and a calligraphy set back when Creative Memories used to sell them. I still use them to this day!!

  8. Avatar
    c.darwin December 4, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    One of my sets is circa 1998 from Creative Momories as well. I just can’t seem to wear them out.

  9. Avatar
    Barara December 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    My go to pen is also Micron. I have several sizes and I love them. I have tried the Sharpie fine point and they dry up and the nibs get messed up! I’ll stick to my Microns.