Pentel makes a ton of brush pens. Even narrowing it down to just their selection of synthetic hair, bristle-tip brush pens leaves at least four separate product lines, all variously including “brush pen” in the names, though there are a lot of discrepancies in naming between Japanese import products and localised North American releases, too.
This has led to some confusion over the years given how often I recommend the Pentel Pocket Brush specifically. It doesn’t help that the Pentel Pocket Brush is now available in a bunch of different flavours, even though it’s the exact same pen under the hood. There is only one Pentel Pocket Brush in terms of the actual brush and ink refill.
The Pentel Pocket Brush is about 5.4″ capped and 6.125″ posted. This is a very “normal” sized pen when compared to regular writing pens like ballpoints, but it’s short for a calligraphy pen — hence it being a “pocket” brush.
The Pentel Pocket Brush being a pocket brush means there’s a Pentel standard brush, and that’s the original Pentel Brush Pen line.
The Pentel (Standard) Brush Pen line includes six (6) difficult-to-distinguish brush pens: Extra Fine, Medium, Broad, Tsumi, Suki, and Washi. These pens are 7″ capped and up to 7.75″ posted, depending on the length of the specific brush.
According to Jetpens, these brushes differ in the denseness of their bristles: “[f]rom densest to least dense, they are: Broad, Washi, Medium, Tsumi, Suki, and Extra Fine.” Higher bristle density typically means the brush tip can hold more ink, leading to wetter or broader application.
I only have the Pentel Brush Pen in Extra Fine, because I figured it’d be the most useful to me. I’d love to test all the other variants at some point, but look, I ain’t made of money. If you’d like to sponsor the purchase of the rest of the standard pens (and maybe the pigment and art brushes too?) and an expanded comparative review, we can talk or I guess you can just toss in $70. :P
One important difference out of the gate is the fact that the Pentel Pocket Brush uses a pigment-based, lightfast, and waterproof ink while the Pentel (Standard) Brush Pens use a dye-based, water-soluble, and not lightfast ink.
Both hold up well against alcohol-based ink, but I was surprised that the Standard Brush actually holds up decently against dye-based fountain pen ink, too. Watercolor and water both cause the Standard Brush’s ink to run, but to a lesser extent than I expected. It’s not waterproof, but it doesn’t dissolve instantly upon contact with water, either.
Both are refillable with proprietary refills, but while the Pocket Brush has small, cartridge-style refills, the Standard Brush has huge, reservoir-style refills with much greater ink capacity. The entire barrel of the pen is its refill.
The Pocket Brush is only compatible with its own specific refills, but the Standard Brush is compatible with refills for Pentel’s Art Brush (sometimes called a Color Brush) and Pigment Brush series, allowing it access to a variety of color refills, as well as a pigment-based, water-resistant (black) refill.
So while Pentel Standard Brush Pens uses black, dye-based ink out of the box, it has options after you use up the first refill. The Pentel Pocket Brush has no such options, unless you DIY.
The brush on the Pentel Pocket Brush is ~10 mm long and just under 3 mm at the base. The brush on the Pentel Standard Brush is also ~10 mm long, but closer to 2 mm at the base. This means the Pocket Brush is denser, which means it holds more ink, which means it’s wetter, which means it’s a little bit harder to control and get fine lines out of.
It’s wild how much of a difference this actually makes.
The Pentel Brush Pen in Extra Fine really can accommodate extra fine to a degree that’s never been possible with the Pocket Brush. Other brush pens in a similar class to the Pentel Pocket Brush, like the Kuretake #13 and #8, also can’t compare.
The reservoir-style refill of the Standard Brush means you can squeeze it to encourage ink flow. You can roughly see how much ink is available for “immediate” access by the brush tip in the clear feed section of the pen.
You can’t make the brush drier, but you can make it wetter. This allows the pen to achieve a truly amazing range. The contrast between dry, extra fine strokes and the wet, extra broad strokes is ridiculous.
The main downside of this is that squeezing the reservoir is very imprecise.
Through normal use, ink flow will eventually get very dry. At some point, you have to squeeze for more ink. If this happens to coincide with you wanting wetter, bolder stokes — great!
But if not, it’s basically impossible to squeeze only enough to get the amount of ink flow you want for extra fine lines. The only way to go back to drier, thinner lines is to use up the ink in the brush tip and to be careful not to squeeze again.
I remember this frustrating me a lot when I used the Pentel Standard Brush (and Pentel Art Brush) in the past, which led me to double down on my love of the Pocket Brush, since it was at least predictable and consistent, even if it was wetter. It’s hard to do extra fine linework with the Pocket Brush, but I had other pens I could sub in for the those lines, anyway.
Still, the difference in precision and available control between the Extra Fine Standard Brush Pen and the Pocket Brush is extremely noticeable. Maybe it’s worth the annoyance of having to squeeze more ink into the tip every now and again to not have to swap tools entirely for the fine lines?
I don’t remember the last time I used a Pentel Standard Brush or Art Brush — it’s probably been like a decade? So honestly, I was kind of shocked at just how good the pen was and how satisfying it was to get such a range from it.
The squeezey reservoir ink barrel has its disadvantages for sure, but they feel like quirks I could get used to pretty fast, now. Maybe I was just too impatient before? Being able to just buy different ink refill options without resorting to syringe-filling is nice, too. (On the other hand, the design of the opaque reservoir barrels and the slotted opening makes it more difficult and messy to syringe-fill Standard Brush refills if you did want to explore other ink options.)
The Pentel Standard Brush is about $6-8 in extra fine. Some of the denser brush options cost a bit more. The Pentel Pocket Brush, meanwhile, is $12-14 for a standard pen, or $15-20 if you go for one of the special edition bodies. Standard refills are about $2-3/ea while Pocket refills are $5-6 for a 4-pack, but the standard refills have much more ink in them.
As a product that’s been localised for the North American market though, the Pocket Brush is way easier to find and is generally available even at big box art stores like Michaels. This accessibility is important for younger artists who have to ask for tools from parents or relatives. The Standard Brush is only available as an import product, so you’re stuck with a scant few specialty retailers.
When compared directly to the Standard Brush, the “pocket” aspect of the Pentel Pocket Brush is much clearer. Each of the Pocket Brush’s properties — the smaller form factor, the smaller cartridges, the permanency and waterproofness of the ink, and even the lack of ink choice — are specifically there to make the Pocket Brush more convenient.
And so the Pentel Pocket Brush is a much more convenient pen, and I still love it a lot! But the Pentel Standard Brush is more powerful and has more flexibility in terms of options. After all, it comes in five other sizes I haven’t tested yet. :P