Review: Kuretake Karappo

Kuretake Karappo is a line of empty pens that you can fill with an ink of your choice. Three tip types are available: a 0.4 mm felt fineliner tip; a fine, felt brush tip; and a standard, synthetic bristle brush tip. The pens are intended for use with dye-based, fountain pen inks, and Kuretake also has an Ink Cafe mixing kit available with four base colors.

I’ve never jumped on a pen so fast.

Kuretake Karappo pens in Japanese packaging
Kuretake Karappo pens in Japanese packaging. The fineliner and felt brush use an ink wick and the bristle brush uses cartridges.

Since I’m boring, I filled all three pens with Pilot Iroshizuku “Kiri-same” grey ink.

The color comes out very consistently between them, though it’s a little light compared to the color of the ink when used with a glass dip pen, but that isn’t surprising since the dip pen puts a lot more ink onto the page at once, and the nib deposits the ink more densely, too.

Kuretake Karappo in three tip types, all with Pilot Iroshizuku Kiri-same grey ink
Kuretake Karappo in three tip types, all with Pilot Iroshizuku “Kiri-same” grey ink, on 110 lb smooth paper.

Kuretake Karappo 0.4 mm fineliner (with ink wick)

The 0.4 mm Karappo only has the option of an ink wick as a means to fill the pen. The pen comes with a plastic plug to seal the wick into the pen body once you’ve filled it with ink. This makes the pen single-use and disposable, since the plug can’t be removed once set, and the wick can’t be refilled anyway.

To fill the wick, you just dip one end into a bottle of ink. The wick soaks up the ink surprisingly quickly — it takes less than 30 seconds. You should remove the wick from the bottle once about 80% is full; since it fills so quickly, it’s still filling when you remove it, and removing it before it looks full prevents overfilling. But it’s not a big deal if you overfill; that just means you make a little bit of a mess. :P

Filling the Kuretake Karappo ink wick
Filling and installing the Kuretake Karappo ink wick.

The Karappo comes with two white dot stickers intended for marking your color and sticking on the end of the cap and the end of the pen body to indicate color. Worth noting: the 0.4 mm fineliner and the felt brush pen with ink wicks have identical pen bodies, so if you have both, you may also want a way to indicate which pens have which tip. I ended up just writing in Sharpie on the side of each pen.

The fineliner is supposed to be 0.4 mm, but depending on the ink you use, it may write closer to 0.5-0.6 mm due to feathering. Pilot Iroshizuku “Kiri-same” is a thin and low viscosity ink, so it soaks readily into paper instead of sitting on top.

Sika deer drawing with the Kuretake Karappo 0.4 mm fineliner
Sika deer sketch with the Kuretake Karappo 0.4 mm fineliner on 110 lb smooth paper.

The Karappo writes very well though and is comparable to the Sakura Pigma Sensei 0.4 mm pen since it has the same nib construction. The pen works exactly as advertised, and I’m really happy about it! It’s easy to fill, the ink color comes out accurately, and the nib is good quality.

If you’ve ever wanted a tech pen in a very specific color, this is for you! Just be sure to use fountain pen-specific inks, as I’m sure thicker, India ink-type stuff will overwhelm and clog the pen.

A 5-pack of Kuretake Karappo with the ink wicks is $12, which makes each one the cost of most single tech pens anyway ($2.40). Customisation without extra cost! — or, well, no extra cost as long as you already have a bottle of your favourite ink to use. Jetpens has singles for $3.50, which is kinda pricey for a tech pen, but not outrageous.

Kuretake Karappo fineliner and felt brush comparisons
Kuretake Karappo 0.4 mm fineliner compared to Kuretake ZIG Mangaka 0.5 mm and Sakura Pigma Sensei 0.4 mm. Kuretake Karappo felt brush compared to Tombow Fudenosuke (hard) in black and grey on 110 lb smooth paper.

Kuretake Karappo felt tip brush pen (with ink wick)

There are two versions of the Kuretake Karappo with the felt tip brush — one looks like the Karappo fineliner and uses an ink wick; the other looks like the Karappo bristle brush and uses ink cartridges. The wick version is single-use and disposable; the cartridge version is refillable and has nib replacements available as well. I ended up with the ink wick version by mistake, but presumably the nibs are the same in both versions.

Non-disposable felt tip brush pens have been something I’ve long thought would be a cool idea, but the fact is that felt tips deform over time and would eventually need to be replaced, along with the actual ink. The nib units on the cartridge-fill Karappos are attached to the grip section, so the grip is replaced when the nib is replaced, making the pen body the only part that’s reused forever. Still, reusing some part of any pen is better than a fully disposable tool?

Kuretake Karappo and similar pens
Kuretake Karappo and similar pens. All of these are disposable.

Though slightly smaller and finer, Kuretake Karappo’s felt tip brush is incredibly similar to the Tombow Fudenosuke (hard), which means it’s probably very similar to the Kuretake disposable brush pens and the Kuretake Fudegokichi — I just don’t have those on hand at the moment.

But being similar to the Fudenosuke is the highest compliment I can give to a felt tip brush pen. The Karappo has a fine, firm tip, which makes making thin lines much easier without taking any of the life out of the thicker lines. If the Tombow Fudenosuke Colors line doesn’t include the color you want, the Kuretake Karappo is your solution!

Sika deer drawing with the Kuretake Karappo felt brush pen
Sika deer sketch with the Kuretake Karappo felt brush pen on 110 lb smooth paper.

A 5-pack of the ink wick versions is $12, just like the fineliner, with singles on Jetpens for $3.50.

The cartridge version is $7.00 and comes with two empty cartridges and an eyedropper to fill them with. You can refill and reuse the cartridges, or use other compatible carts, including Platinum ink carts. It’s also compatible with the Platinum converter. Replacement nibs are $4.10, which is kinda pricey considering many entire felt tip brush pens are that price or cheaper — but very few felt tip brush pens come in colors other than black and grey, so.

Kuretake Karappo writing samples
Kuretake Karappo writing samples on 110 lb smooth paper.

Kuretake Karappo bristle tip brush pen (with ink cartridges)

I have been syringe-filling my Pentel pocket brush cartridges with fountain pen inks for a while now. It’s been a fun way to use my tiny ink collection outside of actual fountain pens (and a justification for buying way more of the exact same pen than I need), though admittedly, I have limited use cases for colored brush pens.

The cartridge-fill Karappos comes with two empty carts and an eyedropper that fits perfectly into those carts. Just squeeze the top and dip the eyedropper into a bottle of ink, then gently release to fill with ink. The measurement marks on the eyedropper let you know exactly where you should fill to (though it’s always better to fill less than that to avoid a mess). Once the eyedropper is filled, squeeze the ink into a cartridge.

Filling and installing the Kuretake Karappo cartridge with the provided eyedropper
Filling and installing the Kuretake Karappo cartridge with the provided eyedropper.

Each cartridge has a corresponding metal ball that you pop in after you’ve added ink to seal the cartridge. When you install the cartridge into the pen, the ball gets pushed into the cartridge.

The Karappo cartridges are very similar to standard Kuretake cartridges, so you can probably pop a standard cart in the Karappo if you wanted to use Kuretake’s standard (dye-based, water-soluble) ink.

Kuretake Karappo VS Kuretake #8
Kuretake Karappo VS Kuretake #8. It’s the same pen! Even the roll-stop on the cap is identical.

The bristle brush version of the Kuretake Karappo is basically the Kuretake #8 without a default ink. The brush unit is the same. It’s also the same brush that’s in the Kuretake #13. You can screw off the brush unit on the Karappo, the #8, and the #13, and they’ll all fit into each other’s pen bodies.

That being the case, the performance of the bristle tip Karappo is excellent. I really love the ink pooling and shading you get when using fountain pen inks in a bristle brush pen — it adds a lot of character to a piece!

Maned wolf sketch with Kuretake Karappo and Kuretake #8
Maned wolf sketch with Kuretake Karappo (Pilot Iroshizuku “Kiri-same”) and Kuretake #8 (default ink mixed with Pilot Iroshizuku “Kiri-same”).

Though I’ve been syringe-filling my Pentel pocket brushes with different inks, I only actually use them very occasionally. I prefer plain old black for standard inking, and as I pointed out for the Pentel Seiboku, it feels kind of like a waste of a good brush to use it just for adding grey. But for coloring, I’d need a way more substantial collection of inks (and pens to put them in) for them to be useful. So for now, I just occasionally use fountain pen ink in bristle brushes for accent color.

I’m sure a letterer would make way better use of these color options than me…

Rose sketch with Pentel pocket brush and fountain pen ink
Rose drawing with Pentel pocket brushes with fountain pen ink (Robert Oster “Astorquiza Rot” & J. Herbin “Vert Empire”).

The bristle tip Kuretake Karappo is $9.75 — less than the going price of both the Kuretake #13 ($12.78) and #8 ($11.99), which is kind of wild. Yeah, you need to provide your own ink, but bottled ink is a much better deal than cartridges anyway. Particularly if you’ve just got one color you want to refill with forever, the Kuretake Karappo is a much easier and intuitive solution than syringe-filling another cartridge pen.

That said, if you have extra bristle-tip brush pens lying around, you might still want to give syringe-filling a shot first. The eyedropper included with the Karappo is great because it’s the perfect size for the Kuretake cartridges and it’s harder to overfill, but while blunt syringes take a bit of getting used to, they’re also super cheap. A Kuretake #8 filled with Pilot Iroshizuku and a Kuretake Karappo filled with Pilot Iroshizuku perform the same.

Filling the Kuretake Karappo ink wick
Left to right: Kuretake Karappo bristle brush, Kuretake #8, Kuretake #13. (This #13’s brush is super worn and needs replacing, hence the lack of comparative sharpness.)

The Kuretake Karappo solves a problem that, honestly, probably very few people have: the need to have a fineliner, felt brush, or bristle brush pen in very specific color. But I’m super excited that these products now exist for that handful of people.

Color fineliners have existed a long time in products like Sakura Micron and Staedler Triplus. Color felt brush pens/markers have also been around a while, though usually in large brush sizes like the Tombow Dual Brush. The color Tombow Fudenosukes are some of the first color brushes I’ve encountered with very fine brush tips.

The above options cover a decent range of colors, but as far as I know, the Kuretake Karappo is the only way to fill a fineliner or felt brush pen with your own choice of ink.

Unlike with bristle-tip brush pens, you can’t really DIY an old fineliner or an old felt brush pen to add your own ink, so the Karappo is a really amazing option. (Actually, there are a lot of different black inks I want to try, and having the option to put them in a fineliner and a felt brush pen in addition to a bristle brush pen is very exciting…)

African wild dog drawing with all three Kuretake Karappos
African wild dog drawing with all three Kuretake Karappos. Fineliner for the undersketch and on the face and muzzle; felt brush on ears, cheeks, and the edges of neck; bristle brush for large strokes of fluff. Custom ink fill mechanisms aside — these are all just very good pens.

Meanwhile, color bristle-tip brush pens are very rare, with Pentel’s Color Brush line being the primary exception, but the DIY solution with syringe-filling is pretty accessible.

Still, if you don’t have a million extra brush pens lying around and/or just want a ready-made product that’s easy to use, the bristle brush Karappo is executes on its premise perfectly and is totally worth it.

Kuretake Karappo
Kuretake Karappo.

About the author

Kiri is a Seattle-based artist, writer, and (brush) pen enthusiast with over 12 years of convention vending experience and a lot of opinions.