Best permanent fineliners for ink and wash

February 20, 2019 | 50 Comments

I’m nearly exclusively a fountain pen girl (I’ve been using them since my primary school days) so I don’t use fineliners much – practically never when it comes to sketching.

I do have a bit of a collection (from my architect’s days) but really don’t know which is the best. So I need your help!

Which permanent fineliner do you use the most? Is one better than the others?
What thickness do you use? ( I guess that some of you have a few different thicknesses in your kits)

Thanks in advance!

For more about why I use a fountain pen please refer to this post and to see a comparison of fineliners with fountain pens see here.


  • Marja says:

    Before I bought my Platinum 3776 Century fountain pen with the ultra extra fine nib I used the Micron and the Steadler with the finest tip for drawing/sketching and writing in my Bullet Journal. I preferred the Micron. Past tense, yes, because nothing can beat the experience of the UEF on my Platinum 3776. And I am, always have been and always will be a fountain pen user.

    • Diana Ryman says:

      Marja – have you ever used the Platinum Carbon desk pen? It also has an ultra extra fine nib, but I’ve been told (by a reputable pen company) that the 3776 is not as fine as the desk pen. I wonder if you’ve tried both and can give me a comparison. I’m looking for the very finest line I can get with a fountain pen….

      • Jenny Kosarew says:

        Diana, if I may interject, the finest fountain pen nibs I have are the EF nibs on my Pilot Penmanships). They are hard to find here in the UK but they are available on Amazon and JetPens carries them in the US. They are cheap pens but they do the job and they are definitely finer than my Platinum Carbon pen. They also seem to cope quite well with pigment inks. The nib is interchangeable with the ones on some other Pilot pens, so if you tried one and liked the nib, you could enquire about other Pilot pens.

        I’ve also read that the Platinum DP-1000AN desk pen is finer than the carbon pen as it has a narrower feed channel, but I have not tried one myself. I would also be concerned whether it could cope with pigment inks, if that is a relevant issue for you.

      • Marja says:

        Diana – I have not tried the Platinum Carbon desk pen, sio I cannot compare this with my Platinum 3776 UEF, which is finer than the Platinum Preppy 0.2. And I had to buy mine in Japan, as they are not for sale in Europe. I do suggest using a somewhat wetter ink.

      • Diana Ryman says:

        Thanks Jenny and Marja!

  • Sabrina says:

    Hi Liz,
    my favorite permanent fineliners are the Faber-Castell Ecco Pigment. I have the whole range from 0.05 up to 0.4, my most used sizes are 0.3 and 0.1. I like the grip and how they feel in my hand (for that reason I hate Microns… they have wonderful deep black ink but I just can’t stand how they feel in my hand!)
    The other permanent pens I use are Tombow calligraphy pens. I like how you can vary your line, and they are great for lettering.
    But most of the time I use my fountain pens.

  • Kay Finlayson says:

    I’m a fan of the Sakura Pigma Microns. They don’t really like drawing over pigment, but are flawless for sketching on paper. I like that they come in so many sizes and are completely permanent and waterproof. I mostly use 03 for sketching closer and intermediate planes and 01 for distant planes. I usually write in my journals using 05. I’m working up to using a fountain pen, but I still keep reaching for the old faithful Microns.

  • I like th Rotring tikky liners. They last a long time and have lots of point options. I find the micron dry out fast and the tips don’t last. The Rotrings are hard to find in the stores. I have gotten them on amazon. But now I mostly use a platinum preppy .02 for my everyday pocket sketchbook. I just taught a class here in San Francisco at Arch about Fountain Pens for Sketching. Filled up fast and I will be teaching it again. I did apply to teach it in Amsterdam but was not selected. And I am registered for the symposium, very excited, it looks like a fabulous sketching city! See you there! Eileen

  • Russell Petcoff says:

    I like to use a Sharpie art pen. It dries immediately, which allows me to color right away. They also don’t leak. I’ve used Microns, but found they leak when not handled properly. I’ve also used fountain pens, but they bleed when watercolor touches them. I’ve tried Noodler’s and Carbon Platinum ink in them and still get bleeding when water touches them.

    • RE: Micron leaking, I was wondering if it was just me. I had a Micron and was happy with it until it leaked, and since then I’ve been afraid to try them again. Guess I’ll strike them off my list!

      • Dan says:

        I think this is new – I’ve been using Microns for decades without problems, but almost all the ones I’ve bought in the last 1-2 years leak like crazy.

  • I’ve used the Sakura Pigma Micron, the Faber Castel Pitt Pens and the Steadler but I prefer the Uniball Signo pens for drawing. I can only find the Micro 207 at the moment but I prefer the one that’s a little thicker. I used these exclusively until I started using fountain pens but I still have them in my sketching kit for back up in case I run out of ink.

  • Bridget Greer says:

    I generally use a platinum preppy with platinum carbon ink, or my Lamy 2000 with registrars ink. As for the fine liners, I think I must have at least one of each brand, and I don’t prefer one over the other. What I’d love to find is a 0.2 0.4 and 0.8 in a 50% grey. If anyone knows if these exist, let me know!

  • Jude Oliver says:

    Prefer the feel of a fountain pen but in western Canada can’t easily get hold of permanent ink for my Lamy Safari and Joy. Noodlers (bulletproof) doesn’t smudge in my experience after drying a few minutes but I think it clogs the nib and both the converters I have don’t seem to fill well despite trying absolutely everything. (Of interest I just noted that the label says it does not smudge on CELLULOSE paper…). I’ve just ordered a Platinum Desk Pen with XF nib to try that out. For convenience I like the Microns in 0.3 and 0.5 especially now as I have learned how to refill them!

  • Diana Ryman says:

    Liz – I’ve used (it seems like) every fine liner on the market in a search for the finest line and the most permanent, waterproof ink in a tip that doesn’t wear out super quickly. I’ve narrowed my preferences on these points to the Deleter Neopiko – Line 3 pens (avail. in .03, .05, .1, .2, .3, .5, .8, 1.0, 2.0 and brush). I really love the two smallest sizes for sketching. These are available from Jet Pens. My next best favorite is the Rotring Tikky pens, but they aren’t available in the super fine sizes. My third best favorite is the Faber Castell Pitt artist pens, not as many tiny sizes and the tips wear a bit faster than the Deleter & Tikky.

  • Raffaele Ciccaleni says:

    My favourite fiber tip fineliner was former Rotring Xonox 0.2 / 0.3.
    Now it seems it has changed firm and name: Tikky by Papermate.

  • P R says:

    Staedtler .03 … It dries quickly

  • John Winters says:

    Hi Liz, greetings from AZ. I generally use mircons in the 0.1 range and copic fineliners in a basic 0.03, 0.1, 0.3 and .7 mm respectively. I much prefer fountain pens, HOWEVER!… here in Arizona there is so much elevation change that travelling with my fountain pens even just to Phoenix can be disastrous. Have you ever seen what happens to a shampoo bottle or toothpaste? Same thing with a fountain pen. I don’t prefer fine liners but they don’t seem to have the same issues as fountain pens. I may just travel with my copics as opposed to my beloved Falcon because of this.

    • Tracy D says:

      Same here! I live near Mt. Rainier National Park and often sketch at elevations up to about 6500 ft. My Platinum Carbon desk pen wasn’t having any of that lol. The kit I keep in my car has Micron pens now…I tend to use 01 and 005. Not as nice as the fountain pen, but I also don’t have to replace clothes if I get a blob of permanent ink on my shirt lol.

  • Jjbrynteg says:

    I use a uni-ball vision elite 0.8 and find it is really smooth and great for quick sketching.

  • Joanna Tseng (@Artlyfestyle) says:

    For me, it is either the uniball vision when I don’t want my fountain pen to explode on a flight or I’m up at higher elevation or a unipin 06 pen in my tiny sketchbook with thinner paper but through a pivot here and there, I can get some awesome line variation.

  • I won’t use disposable non-refillable plastic pens on principle, because I think it’s indefensible in the light of plastic pollution. (And I wish more people would stand up and shout about this – because it’s another reason why fountain pens are so much better!) But back in the day, when I was a graphic design student, I used Rotring pens a lot – a Rapidograph, and then a Rotring Variant with nibs of different thicknesses. They’re great pens, and if kept clean they flow smoothly and are pretty indestructible as they can be taken apart to clean thoroughly if they do ever become clogged. So I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Rotring if what you want is a reliable unwavering single thickness of line – but never, ever, any kind of single use throw-away pen.

    • Jennifer May says:

      I have been using Sharpies, but am increasingly aware of plastic pollution living on an island. The Ultra fine Sharpies are my go too pen, but in the light of what is happening worldwide, I recently bought the Sailor fountain pen and with Liz’s recommendation the Lamy Joy pen, and archival ink. I travel and sketch so this is rather a lot to carry, but my concious tells me this is the way to go. Buy a refillable, washable pen so I am in total agreement with you about the plastic problem and our overuse of pens that are thrown away so soon. Thank you for jogging my memory-as it’s almost spring- to get that pack of fountains pens ready for travelling.

    • Denise Robotham says:

      I’m with you Deborah. Refilling most fineliners isn’t hard and the points can be trimmed to last for ages. I put a couple of pointers on how to do this on a post below

  • CherylP says:

    I’ve been using the Pigma Micron for over 20 years because it’s truly archival (don’t get it in your clothing!). I started using them in scrapbooks and on photos because they don’t fade and don’t damage photos, but I like them so much I also use them for journaling and inking sketches for watercolor. I prefer the 03, but they come in a variety of sizes. I always have a couple on my desk, in my purse (with a sketchbook), and in my oil and watercolor paint bags.

    The negative is that the nibs will eventually wear down – before you run out of ink. I wrap a piece of tape around the barrel so I know they’re just for scratch notes, not art or archival. But they last for years.

  • Susan King says:

    Uniball Vision. Available in 2 thicknesses. Steve Reddy’s recommendation!

  • Dee Robotham says:

    I too use fountain pens to sketch with most of the time, a selection of Lamys and Preppys mostly. However, I like Copic Multiliners because they are mainly metal rather than plastic, cutting down on pollution and are refillable with Copic’s own cartridges. Also you can buy replacement points.. Also I have found that Faber-Castell Pitt Artist pens can be refilled with ink from a bottle by removing the end cap carefully with pliers, removing the fibre ink reservoir and popping it into a bottle of drawing ink. Let it soak for a while and replace it into the barrel and push the end cap back into place. I find around 30 seconds in the ink is enough to last a while and doesn’t make it too messy. I’ve only used this with my S and F pens, but guess it might work with their brush pens and so on.

  • Mary Meakin says:

    Pigma Micron is the best for me with watercolours. The ink is fully waterproof and the ink glides smoothly. The only snag is that the nib is quite delicate so it tends to get pushed into the body of the pen after a while. I don’t like Uni Pin finelinera as they can be a bit scratchy and the ink doesn’t flow consistently.

  • Tonya says:

    ‘Just lurking here and have really enjoyed the comments–and have put many items on my Amazon wish list. Thanks!

  • Denise Robotham says:

    Just thought of a better way to refill the pens using a cartridge refilling syringe, (available on ebay, sometimes called blunt needle syringes), and that is to pull out the point, complete with the metal surround, and just put a few ml in with the syringe…. much cleaner! I’m with Deborah Rehmat. Our art should not be polluting the planet.

  • Kate Burroughs says:

    My favorite fineliner pen is the Copic Multiliner with replaceable ink & tips and the silver barrell. I have it in 3 sizes and use them all: 02, 05 and 07. The ink lasts a long time, it writes well over watercolor and is smooth as you draw with it. I have also used Microns: tips don’t last long nor does the ink; Pitt pens; Staedler and Zig Millenium.

  • Carmel Campbell says:

    If I am to use a marker pen it is the Sharpie ultra fine pen. They are inexpensive and hard to destroy. I tend to have a heavy hand so usually destroy the tips of other markers especially the Microns. I usually have one or two Sharpies in my bag with a cheap sketchbook. I have tried to move away from Sharpies as I have heard they fade. However I love them. When it is not convenient to use a fountain pen or my fountain pen runs out of ink they are my safety net. You can hold them close to the point for a firm line or further back for a lighter fine line.

    • Jennifer May says:

      Carmel, I have been using Sharpies for quite a few years and they don’t seem to fade or go brown with age. This is why I like them so much, as many others do.

    • Jennifer May says:

      I don’t find the Sharpies fade nor turn brown with age. And don’t print accidentally on the facing page in a sketch book, which some other makes do over time. I love them.

  • Diane Harvey says:

    I’ve ben very happy with the Steadtler pigment liners! Been using them for about 4 years, have a handy set with plastic carrier – .01, .03, .05 & .07 – mostly use the .01 & .03 & replenish them as needed. These always go with me when sketching plein aire, dry quickly and are waterproof!

  • Janet Stritychuk says:

    I found the Microns started to leak upon frequent flights from Ontario to BC in Canada.

  • Jeff Ong says:

    I like the Copic Multiliner mainly because I can change the parts when it wear out. 0.2 for thin line and 0.5 for thick line.

  • Paul says:

    Liz, The best archival, lightfast and waterproof fineliner depends on a number of factors. The paper’s surface texture (roughness), along with surface and internal sizing will dictate how smooth/uniform a line you will get and how quickly the ink will be absorbed, and be dry enough to paint over. The speed at which you draw is also an important factor. Some of the fineliners lay down more ink than others. The drier fineliners will not be able to keep up with your fast sketching, especially on the slightly textured S&B Alpha paper. For the speed and line width (pen nib size) you prefer I would recommend the Staedtler Pigment Liner in a .05 or large tip? The Sakura Pigma Microns are also very good and available in different colours, you might enjoy their brown ink. You might like the very smooth (less drag) feel of the uni-ball Vision Fine tip pen. Their micro tip is finer but has a “scratchier” feel. Make sure it says “waterproof/fade-proof” on the pen barrel. An alternate to the fineliners is the Sakura Pigma FB (Fine Brush). It will give you a bolder variable width line which you might also really enjoy. It could be used to complement a fineliner. Definitely try these out on all of your favourite papers. I have tried the Faber-Castell Ecco Pigment liners but they are NOT as waterproof as the F-C Pitt Artist pens which is another viable option for you with coloured inks. Copic Multiliners are also available in a brown ink. The above pens are listed in my personal order of preference, be it as it may :o). Good luck in your search!

  • Hi Liz- greetings! I seem to be alone in flying the flag for UniPin fineliners. I always use them and always 0.1mm (although I sometimes overdraw a few lines in 0.5mm). I like the way the line flows especially using my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook, my sketchbook of choice – though appreciate the line can be a bit scratchy on rougher paper. Great discussion ?

  • I use the Sakura Micron Pigma pens – always have – and I must confess to it being a love/hate relationship. The ink is great, but the tips can be pretty hard to work with, especially in the larger sizes like .5. You have to hold the pen almost perfectly perpendicular to the page to get a nice line. I recently picked up a Copic Multiliner in Warm Grey .3 as the color reminds me of a drawing pencil – soft, subtle, goes with everything – but I have yet to do real tests with it and watercolor.

    I admire all those who say they only use fountain pens out of concern for the planet. I do use fountain pens for my writing, but I’ve found that the waterproof ink needed for sketching often dries up and clogs my pen before I use it. I have a 1.5 year old and I’m trying to get art in when I can, still, but it often means I can’t count on consistently sketching.

  • Cora Brown says:

    For worry-free travel, I use Faber-Castell PITT pens in three sizes (F – 0.5 mm, S – 0.3 mm and XS – 0.1 mm). The XS is fantastic for capturing tiny details such as text on small objects. I mostly use black, but also really like the sepia ink. Sometimes I use PITT pens over watercolor because they don’t get thicker and darker the way my fountain pens do on a watercolor base.

  • dana says:

    Hi Liz! I absolutely love a cheap pen called the Bic Intensity Fine. Used it for everything, that is until YOU got me obsessed by fountain pens. So I had a Q about that. I have 2 Lamy joys now, but need to purchase a finer nib, so far i have all the calligraphy ones and a steel medium. You mentioned a few months ago that you were going to do an update on your thoughts on the extra-fine gold Lamy nib. Wondering what changes you are wanting to make with it. Thanks in advance!! LOVE your sketchbooks

  • Kate Powell says:

    I just don’t. There is so little ink in one that you quickly build up a trash pile in a week of sketching. Once I went back to fpens I realized that unless you become a FP addict (yup a bit of one) you spend less, have better more expressive lines, and have less of an impact in the world of pollution. I talk a lot of about FPens and what I’ve learned by using them — it has been a game changer.

  • Shannon Paugh says:

    This post has me curious to experiment, but I fear it would be a dangerous path of more spending. Fineliners are my instrument of choice and my go-to is Staedtler Triplus 0.3mm. They’re easy to find, inexpensive, are thin enough (sometimes challenging w/o online ordering), but mostly just feel so right in my grip, very comfortable. I like their thin profile, too, and they don’t take up much room in a bag, pouch, or stretch out (and prematurely destroy) a penloop. Sharpies are my backup.

  • Dan says:

    I’ve used Microns for decades, but the quality seems to have dropped off dramatically in the last year or two. Unfortunately, the only others that are readily available around me are the Zig Millenium and the Staedtler Pigment Liners, neither of which I’m very fond of. I’ve used the refillable Copic Multiliners some, which were OK, but if I’m going to be refilling pens I’d rather just use my trusty old tech pens (of which I have a really absurd collection). I have tried the Faber-Castell Eccos and liked them, but I have only been able to order them from CultPens, I haven’t found them here in the US.

  • alec turner says:

    No Pilot Drawing Pen, I love them in 02 size.
    I have the rotring tikki too.
    Micron, I threw them all after one seemed to dump it’s contents through the nib.
    The disposable copic multiliners are good and now come in grey and sepia same as the unipin.

    I’m currently sketching using a uni powertank 05 with pressurised pigment ink, very fluid.

  • Ted B. says:

    I’ve been an ink pen user for years, yet inexplicably I find myself using #2 wood-pencil lately for architectural sketching and notetaking recently.

    For years I’ve been refilling Pentel Fountain/Stylo and Pilot Varsity “disposables” with Qwink …and I’m a slave to the Pentel Signpens. But they’re not lightfast nor watercolor friendly. I have an extensive fountain pen inventory, but none that I feel like risking with truly-waterproof ink. I may buy some inexpensive pens from Goulet for Carbon ink in the future., but I’d really like some good gray and yellow-sepia ink options.

    I recently bought several Sakura Sigma Graphic 1-2-3s, the Sigma PNs and the Sigma brush-series to try something archival, they’re much-more sketch friendly than the Sigma technical-style pens. The PN-series is a writing-tip rather than an artist/archtect’s pen, and it does flood-thru and bleed-thru the page.

  • Roxe Anne Peacock says:

    I have found Sakura Microns not to be waterproof. I love them for ink drawings. I was hoping to use the micron pens with ink and inktense wash. Well, the ink muddied my painting. Maybe it was due to using cold press Strathmore watercolor paper. I have purchased Arches hot press block paper to try next. I did the exact same po painting on two different brands of cold press paper with the same results. I do have dip pens, fountain pens, crow quill etc.I will be trying other methods with different inks. I even let the micron ink dry overnight before adding the wash.

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