If watercolor paint is your paint of choice, you probably have tried out several watercolor brushes, right?
But have you tried watercolor brush markers as well?
They are an ideal combination between a brush and a pen, made especially for working with watercolor paint.
In today’s article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about watercolor brush pens to get started.
What Is A Watercolor Brush Pen?
Watercolor pens consist out of two components. On one side you have a brush tip made similar to regular watercolor brushes. In case of the waterbrush pen, these hair are normally made out of synthetic fibers such as polymers.
On the other side of the pen, you have a reservoir that holds water, similar to the ink cartridge of a fountain pen. This water reservoir is the main benefit of using a watercolor pen. Since you can fill it with water beforehand and then use it at a later time. This makes these pens much easier to travel with and ideal for plein air painting.
How Do Water Brush Pens Work?
Normally when you are painting with watercolors, you constantly need to dip your brushes in water to mix or dilute colors. Since a filled brush pen already has water inside, you won’t need to do this.
When the waterbrush pen is in contact with the paper, water will automatically flow from the reservoir to the tip at a steady pace. If you need some additional water, you can squeeze the barrel a little to increase the water flow.
How to Use a Watercolor Brush Pen?
You probably already guessed that waterbrush pens are used in combination with watercolor paint. They work especially well with small pans of dry watercolor paint.
Pulling the water from the watercolor pans is easy. Place your brush with water reservoir on top of the pan and gently squeeze to release some water. Mix the water with the ink and apply it on the paper when you are happy with the color.
If you want to mix two or more colors together you can do that on a separate palette or directly on the paper, depending on your preference.
When first starting out, you might have some difficulty controlling the water flow while applying the paint on the paper. Releasing too much water at once will blotch your painting. Especially creating smooth gradients or washes requires a bit of practice.
You can check out the video below by Lindsay Weirich to get a general impression, on how to use a watercolor brush pen.
How Do I Clean My Watercolor Brushes?
When you want to change from one color to another, you are probably used to dipping your brush in a container of water to wash off the old paint.
But if you are using a water brush pen, you won’t have to do this. You can simply keep painting on a scrap piece of paper or towel. While doing this, the water from the reservoir will flush away the paint from the tip of brush.
If you are completely done painting you can clean all your brushes in a similar way. It’s a fairly simple and fast process.
What Paper Should I Use?
As always when you are working with watercolor paint, you will need some special paper to get the best results.
If you are using printer paper you will quickly notice that the paper starts to wrinkle because it can’t absorb the water properly. That’s why you will need to be using thicker paper that is made for watercolor paint.
To read more about the best paper to use, read our article on paper for watercolor painting.
Playing To Your Strengths
Waterbrushes are great, but they are not perfect. You can achieve even better results by combining the best of different tools and art media.
For example, water brushes make a great combination with watercolor pencils as well. Use the watercolor pencil to apply and blend colors to the paper. Then use the water brush to dissolve the pigment in water and turn it into watercolor paint. This is ideal for people that have problems with mixing watercolor paint directly on the paper.
You might also want to give fountain pen inks a try since most of them can also dissolve well in water. Use the water brush on an ink painting to create special effects that you wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise. Or you could just use a fountain pen to accentuate some lines after applying the paint to create a cartoony feel.
Brush Lettering With Waterbrushes
Besides using waterbrushes for watercolor painting, they are also often used for brush lettering and are sometimes used in calligraphy classes.
In this case, you can fill the reservoir with ink rather than with water. Although there are many different kinds of water brushes out there that are all different, most water brushes can be filled with not just water but certain kinds of ink as well.
For example, you can fill your water brush with your favorite fountain pen ink and draw beautiful letters. By squeezing at the right time and releasing some more or less ink you can control the thickness of the letters.
Another possibility is using the Copic marker refill ink with your water brushes. Since the tip of the water brush is different from the Copic marker brush you can get slightly different performance though. Since the flow of Copic ink with certain water brushes might not be as smooth as with Copic markers.
According to this post by JetPens, you can use fountain pen ink, drawing ink and Copic refill ink in your water brush. While acrylic ink, white/opaque ink, dip pen ink and glitter/metallic ink don’t work well or might even destroy your water brush completely.
In the end, it depends upon the water brush you are using and if you are willing to risk ruining your water brush. If you own a cheap water brush it might be worth giving it a try.
— Li’lHands Arts&Craft (@LilHandsPH) 9 July 2017
What to Look for in a Water Brush Pen?
Like any other type of art brush, water brushes also come in lots of different shapes and sizes. Keep the following things in mind when buying new water brushes.
- Brush Size and Shape: Water brushes normally come as round brushes or flat brushes. The point brush releases less water at a time and therefore work better for detailed work. The round brush normally comes in fine, medium or large size. The flat brush is great for covering big areas at once and applying washes of color.
- Brush Length: The length of the water brush is mainly decided by the length of the water reservoir. As a result, the longer water brushes can hold more water and need less refilling than the short brushes. On the other hand, the short brush can easily fit in a pencil case.
- Refilling the Water Brush Reservoir: Some water brushes have a removable top. You can refill the water brush by removing this top and pouring in new water. Other brushes don’t have a removable top. In this case, you need to refill the brush through suction. Squeeze the reservoir, submerge the tip into water and slowly release the pressure on the reservoir.
Although the suction method is easier and faster, it is almost impossible to completely refill the water brush pen through suction alone.
Brush Pen Reviews
Finding the best watercolor brush pen to buy isn’t easy. There are quite a few brands out there, each offering a brush pen with slightly different features. Here is a list of our favorites you might want to look for in the store or on Amazon.
Sakura Koi Water Brush Review
If you are new to using water brushes but already own watercolor paint, then the Sakura Koi Water Brush set is a great place to start.
This set will give you 3 differently sized round brushes; fine, medium and large.
You can choose if you want the long 9 ml variation or the smaller 4 ml sized water brush.
Whatever way you go, the flexible brush tip made out of nylon fiber is capable of producing fine lines and strokes, which makes it ideal for controlled blending, shading or adding highlights.
If you are a completely new to watercolors, you could start out with the Sakura Koi Watercolor Field Sketch Set. Depending on the set you choose, this set will give you 12 to 48 different colors AND a 9 ml refillable water brush.
Although this set seems pretty small, it comes with some neat features. It contains a detachable palette for easy blending of colors,
Although this set seems pretty small, it comes with some neat features. It contains a detachable palette for easy blending of colors, a placeholder for the water brush and a small sponge inside that you can use to clean the brush.
Yasutomo Niji Waterbrush Review
The Yasutomo Niji Waterbrush is another option that is popular amongst artists. They are originally made by Kuretake Japan but are commonly sold under different names as well.
They have a rather sharp point which is ideal for more precise control of the watercolors.
Kuretake water brushes are characterized by a small filter cap on the water reservoir that controls the water flow to the brush tip. However, if you want to refill it using from a running tap, it can be quite cumbersome to remove the cap.
You can buy the Yusutomo Niji Waterbrush in the sizes Small, Medium, Large and Flat.
Derwent Water Brush Review
The Derwent Waterbrush 3 Pack will give you a small, medium and a chisel tip brush.
They are marked by a different number and color so you can easily grab the one you need.
A special leak-proof valve will control the flow of water from the reservoir to brush tip made out of synthetic nylon fibers.
Derwent also offers a special set for complete beginners to watercolors.
This set includes the 3 differently sized water brushes mentioned above AND comes with a 12 pack of watercolor pencils.
You can use the pencils to apply watercolor to the paper. Followed by using the water brush to dissolve the paint.
The result will be very similar to using regular watercolor paint and a brush, but the pencils and water brush are much more portable and easy to store.