At Walgreens recently, I spotted the ArtSkills Brush-Tip Markers, an 8-piece set proclaiming to have a “flexible bristle design.” Images on the back of the packaging showed individual bristles on the brush tip. I did a double-take because this entire set was $6.49.
Bristle-tip brush pens are usually $6-8+. Each.
I didn’t buy them immediately, but curiosity got the better of me, and I went back for them a few days later. There’s no way these could be any good, right??
I don’t normally look at art supplies at non-specialty stores, so I’m not familiar with the ArtSkills brand at all, but they had several other marker offerings at Walgreens, including a set of alcohol markers and some double-ended, felt-tip brush pens — all were sets of 8 markers for under $10 a set. (Spoiler: I got them all.) At these price points, they’re obviously intended for kids more than even beginner hobbyists. Right next to them in the aisle were a bunch of Crayola crayons.
Bristle-tip brush pens have individual plastic bristles that make up the brush, in contrast with typical compact felt-tip brush pens and markers, which have felt fibers shaped into a brush form (or a fine tip or a chisel tip). Individual bristles can form a super fine point — finer than any felt-tip, but they can also spread out to deposit large amounts of ink, giving bristle-tip brush pens superior flexibility and versatility at an obvious extra expense.
Bristle-tip brushes also tend to be easier to damage, so what’s a bristle-tip brush pen doing in the kid’s supply aisle?
Well, it turns out the ArtSkills Brush-Tip Markers are a big, fat lie. These are felt-tip markers.
In fact, these are shitty felt-tip markers.
The mostly opaque marker caps made it impossible to tell at in-store, but a marketing photo I found online does straight-up shows the felt-tip brushes, despite indicating in the product copy that there are “[f]lexible bristle nibs.” Hell, the photo even shows the extremely poor quality of the felt tips.
As soon as I uncapped the first marker, I could see that the felt brush tip was deformed and frayed. It was never going to be able to produce anything resembling a fine line. The damaged tip made trying to predict how a line was going to look pretty much impossible, as it shifted around depending on the angle and pressure.
Only the very tip of the brush is flexible, which both makes its line range limited and makes it easier to (further) damage the tip.
All of the other markers in the set had similar quality tips — some were so frayed that it did almost look like they had bristles. I was amazed, honestly.
The felt used in pen and marker tips is usually highly compact. It’s a porous material, to allow for the ink to come through, but the pores aren’t usually noticeable. The ArtSkills marker looks like a bunch of long felt fibers got smashed together, but they didn’t hold well? The felt is rough and the fibers are huge, so they catch up things and get pulled around, leading to a horribly frayed nib. For all of the marker tips to be so visibly damaged on arrival really speaks to the poor quality.
The more I looked, though, the more it kind of seemed like the felt “bristles” were on purpose, but this isn’t how bristle-tip brush pens are supposed to work! You don’t bind the bristles together at the base?! And more than just the very tip should be “flexible bristles.” If the actual intent was for the tip to be able to splay out the bristles like above, then this is just extremely poor design: those bristles are never, ever going to come back to a fine point.
If anything, this is a terrible fusion between a felt-tip and a bristle-tip brush that has none of the benefits of either. Also: not all of the markers had visible “bristles,” so there was no consistency anyway.
All felt-tip brushes wear down over time and become frayed, but it usually takes a while, and it’s usually not that dramatic. Compare the above to the Tombow Dual Brush, my go-to felt-tip brush pen/marker:
ArtSkills’ packaging for the Brush-Tip Markers indicate that they’re “great for” lettering and journaling. As a category, brush pens are great for lettering because the ability to create different line widths with a single tool is great for lettering. Unfortunately, these markers suck at that.
I’m not good with brush-style Western calligraphy in the first place, but these markers sure don’t help.
These markers have water-based ink that are pretty thin. They’re streaky and don’t really layer well, but this part was expected at least.
Yeah, this set cost $6.49, which comes out to 81 cents a marker.
These markers are for kids. I didn’t really expect them to be good. But I also didn’t expect to be blatantly lied to about what kind of markers these were?? They’d still be hilariously bad even if I knew going in that they were felt-tip markers, but I’m really disappointed that the marketing for the ArtSkills Brush-Tip Markers is so factually wrong.
Bristle-tip brushes are categorically different from felt-tip brushes. It’s like buying a bag of whole coffee beans, but inside it’s just exceptionally bad instant coffee? Even if you expected the beans to be bad because they were so cheap, you still don’t expect it to actually be instant. And for the instant to then be the worse instant you’ve ever had is just an extra punch in the face.
I’m gonna give these markers to a friend’s three year-old, but to be honest, I’m sure even a kid would be able to tell these are bad markers. 😬
Like, Crayola’s markers are also felt-tip. They’re not brush shaped, just fine points, but still, they aren’t fraying at the tip before you even use them for the first time. Those nibs are compact and generally last as long as the ink inside the marker.
These ArtSkills markers… you’re likely gonna want to throw them out before they even run out of ink.
Maybe I shouldn’t have expected there to really be a budget bristle-tip brush pen.
Pentel is probably the most well-known brand in the category. They have several prominent lines of bristle-tip brush pens, and these ArtSkills markers sort of mimic the shape of their reservoir-barrel pens. I haven’t heard of any low-cost alternatives, especially for colored pens/markers. Most bristle-tip brush pens only come in black, and despite their usefulness in Western brush calligraphy, they’re still primarily created by Japanese companies for Asian calligraphy and art.