A familiar story: I needed a few extra bucks of stuff to get free shipping on Amazon, so I searched for brush pens and grabbed a cheap one I hadn’t tried before.

No? No one else does this? It’s just me? Well, that’s how I ended up with the Ohuhu Calligraphy Brush, the first piston-fill brush pen I’ve ever encountered.

What a fancy box!

I’ve never heard of Ohuhu, but $7.99 for a nylon bristle, refillable brush pen? That’s already a great deal. (The list price/MSRP is $25, but a quick poke around at other retailers suggests it’s never really sold for more than $10.)

And a piston-filler that’s also cartridge compatible? I figured it was a steal, even if it ended up being terrible.

The package arrived quickly, and the Ohuhu Calligraphy Brush came in a very slick, sturdy black box that opens and shuts with a heavy snap.

Definitely nicer packaging than usual, and for once, maybe actually packaging worth keeping since it has space to store both the piston-filler and up to three cartridges, only one of which you’d be using at any given time. The box also comes with some basic instructions regarding the two fill mechanisms.

The pen body is light metal with a smooth coating. It feels a little cheaply made for a $25 MSRP pen, but is just fine for a $8 pen. The cap is threadless but clicks on very securely. The pen squeaked unpleasantly when I twisted open the body, but it came apart easily enough.

I went for a cartridge first.

Ink cartridges: International short (top), Ohuhu Calligraphy Brush cartridge (middle), International long (bottom).

I wanted to see how the brush handled before I pondered over what kind of ink I wanted to put in it. I couldn’t find much information on the cartridge refills, but they look like they’re a proprietary refill, since they’re not a standard international cartridge size.

Standard is always easier to deal with than proprietary, but the latter would still be okay if I could find refills for sale anywhere, but they don’t seem to be available anywhere?

Perhaps the cartridges are meant to be temporary and the user is supposed to swap entirely to the piston-filler eventually?

Well, the cartridge ink is awful, so I did, actually, immediately swap to the piston-filler. I’m normally pretty adverse to taking out half-used cartridges (because how do you even store that, if you aren’t just throwing it away?), but I hated the cartridge ink so much.

Ohuhu’s instruction sheet describes the ink as “black-green”, but it’s just a very light black. I didn’t see any green tint like you usually do with blue in blue-black inks. And it wasn’t a grey.

It’s hard to describe that really unsatisfying black-that-isn’t-black enough, but which also isn’t grey, but that’s what this ink was. Even the Amazon listing admits it: “The included ink cartridges contain a small amount of carbon that prevents clogs. As a result, the ink included may not be dark enough.

In addition to being not black enough, the ink flow was incredibly inconsistent, which exacerbated the problem. It was never black enough, but sometimes it was bad and sometimes it was really bad. And sometimes the ink would appear to run dry? And I’d have to shake the pen to get it going, and it’d gush for a little while before going dry again. It was ridiculous, especially if the ink is supposed to have anti-clog properties.

The cartridge ink is terrible and not waterproof, but it is Copic/alcohol-proof, at least.

I put some Deleter’s Black 4 ink in the piston-fill. The concern with most thicker, waterproof inks in both traditional fountain pens and fountain brush pens is that as the ink dries out, it will clog the feed. For brush pens with natural hair bristles, dried ink can also damage the bristles. The Ohuhu, like most other bristle-tip brush pens, has nylon bristles, but even so, I only put a little bit of Deleter’s ink in.

The Deleter’s ink was, of course, richer and blacker than the cartridge ink, but this didn’t fix the pen’s other, and biggest, problem: the brush tip is terrible.

Ohuhu brush tip (left) VS Pentel pocket brush (right). Pentel’s is longer, but still easier to control.

This was really perplexing to me because I didn’t even think this could happen?? I have a ton of nylon bristle brush pens and the performance difference between the entire lot of them is mostly negligible. The differences amount to tiny variations in bristle length, pen weight, pen length, and such, but the brush tips themselves are virtually identical.

That the Ohuhu Calligraphy Brush somehow has a noticeably inferior brush tip is wild to me.

I think the individual bristles of the Ohuhu are thinner and less substantial than they are for other brush pens I have. This means the brush tip gives more easily when you put pressure on it, which makes it harder to control. And I think some combination of this and the snug cap also make the brush tip extra prone to fraying. It was impossibly hard to get a brush to settle into a fine tip. The bristles were always being pushed in every which direction.

I’ve had other brush tips fray from overuse before, but even still, I’ve never fought so much with a pen to get the tip to settle or to get it to make the kinds of shapes and strokes I wanted.

This pen suckkkks. Every stroke is thicker than I wanted it to be and end-strokes are a mess. And look at that terrible tip fray!

It was so unpleasant and frustrating working with the Ohuhu even just doing test scribbles that I didn’t even want to try drawing with it.

But I did. It sucked.

The thinness of the bristles makes the brush tip extra flexible, so despite Ohuhu’s comparatively short brush tip size, it’s much harder to control than even brush pens with longer tips (length also adds flexibility). This hurts maneuverability and makes it difficult to do things like change direction mid-stroke. And the fact that I couldn’t get the tip to settle at a proper point drove me nuts. I couldn’t get sharp end strokes. I couldn’t get thin strokes to be as thin as I wanted.

Compare the end-strokes of the Ohuhu with the Pentel’s, as well as the smoothness of the mid-stroke direction changes.

Swapping between the Ohuhu Calligraphy Brush and my tried and true favourites made the difference even more obvious.

My Kuretake #8 is a few years old at this point, but the brush tip is still fantastic. It has no problem holding a point and is very easy to control. My current Pentel pocket brush is a little beat up and does have some small fraying problems, but it isn’t nearly as bad as this brand new, out of the box Ohuhu brush.

Did I just get a defective brush tip??

Various comparisons. Regardless of inkflow, the Ohuhu’s strokes are always harder to control and thicker than desired.

I scribbled with the Ohuhu until the Deleter ink ran out, then popped the ink cartridge back in.

I got more used to the pen the more I used it. It became a little easier to maneuver the pen to get the kinds of strokes I wanted, even though I definitely felt like I was adjusting and compensating heavily for the pen’s shortcomings. I gave up on making fine strokes, but thick strokes were pretty okay.

The cartridge ink still sucked and was very inconsistent in its level of blackness though.

See how much lighter that middle flower is? And then at the bottom the strokes are dark again?? Look at that stray bristle on the brush tip, too. Gross.

I guess the saving grace of every bad pen is that it’s probably still fine for sketches, doodles, and other inconsequential scribbles that don’t require any kind of consistency or predictability.  The ability to easily fill the Ohuhu with any ink, without dealing with syringes or converters, is also still a huge plus.

I don’t think I’d ever recommend this pen, exactly, but my thoughts when buying the pen initially still stand: $8 for a piston-fill, cartridge-compatible, nylon bristle brush pen is a great deal, even if the pen sucks.

And don’t get me wrong: this pen definitely sucks.

But drawing is at least fortunate in that the tools matter a whole lot less than skill and stubbornness. I can still make some okay drawings with the Ohuhu. It’s just a bit harder.

Drawn with the Ohuhu Calligraphy Brush.

The Pentel pocket brush still has the top spot for me in terms of nylon bristle brush pens. It holds steady at around $12 and is widely available both online and at many art supply stores. It uses Pentel-specific cartridges, and while the cartridge inks could also stand to be blacker, they’re at least waterproof (and Copic-proof). It isn’t compatible with converters, but syringe-filling works just fine. I still think this is one of the best deals in terms of dollar to performance value.

The Kuretake #8 floats around $7-10 and is incredibly similar to the Pentel, if not better, depending on your personal preference. (The #8 has shorter brush bristles, lending itself to easier control, but a lesser range of line width.) It uses Kuretake-specific cart (not waterproof, Copic-proof when dry) and is compatible with the Platinum converter, but is less widely available than the Pentel.