Review: Sailor Shikiori double-sided brush pen

Sailor Shikiori (“four seasons”) refers originally to a line of bottled fountain pen inks featuring 20 seasonal colors. Shikiori is also used to describe subsets of multiple Sailor fountain pen lines with body colors that match those ink colors. There are also Sailor ballpoint pens with Shikiori body colors.

And finally, there’s a set of double-sided brush pens/markers called Sailor Shikiori, featuring those same 20 colors.

Sailor Shikiori double-sided brush pens
Sailor Shikiori double-sided brush pens in two colors: Chushu 仲秋 (“mid-autumn”) and Shimoyo 霜夜 (“frosty night”).

The Sailor Shikiori brush pens supposedly feature the exact same ink as in the bottled ink line, so they are dye-based, water-soluble inks.

As usual, I didn’t get the full set to try and stuck with the two colors I thought were closest to grey since my use of water-based ink pens and markers is more or less limited to adding midtones to ink sketches.

Sailor Shikiori double-sided brush pens
Both caps on the Sailor Shikiori brush pen post, but the smaller cap has to be posted upside down, which is weird and annoying.

The Sailor Shikiori brush pens are slick looking, but I wish the pen color was more prominent when the pen is capped. The end of the larger cap is colored, as is the grip section of the brush end (a tiny slice of which is still visible when capped), but the small cap is warm grey on all the pens for some reason, and the fine tip has no color designation.

I wish the smaller grey cap were colored instead — it might make the pen more overwhelming visually, but the entire selling point here is the colors of the Sailor Shikiori inks, right?

For some reason, there’s also no written color indicator on the pens. There are no color codes, and the color name (in Japanese or English) isn’t printed anywhere. If you buy singles, some retailers will helpfully include a product sticker with the color name, but that won’t be the case if you buy the set.

Drawing of a Magellanic penguin with Sailor Shikiori Chushu
Drawing of a Magellanic penguin with a Sailor Shikiori brush pen (chushu). Fine tip is very fine; brush tip is a little unwieldy for detail work, but fills in nicely.

The brush tip on the Sailor Shikiori (it feels weird to call this the name of the pen, since it’s really describing the color line…) is ~9 cm long and ~4 cm at the base. It’s relatively sturdy with just a little bit of flex on the tip. It feels like a more controlled version of the Tombow Dual Brush, which is nice!

The brush tip is still too unwieldy for any kind of detail work though, given its minimal flex. I also didn’t like it for Chinese or Japanese writing, as the brush really needs to be able to bend more for all the strokes to not blob together.

Meanwhile, the fine tip on the Shikiori is quite fine. There’s almost no flex, and it writes like an 0.5 mm tech pen. This makes it more usable and attractive to me. I almost never use the fine end of the Tombow Dual Brush because it’s just not very good or useful.

Sailor Shikiori VS Tombow Dual Brush
Left to right: Sailor Shikiori brush tip, Tombow Dual Brush brush tip, Sailor fine tip, Tombow fine tip.

Unfortunately, both Chushu and Shimoyo are darker than I’d want in a midtone.

Chushu is similar in [color] value to Tombow ABT (Dual Brush)’s N45, though the hue is more purple and less neutral. Shimoyo is, of course, much bluer, but also fairly close in value. There are other Shikiori colors that are lighter in value, like Fuji-sugata (wisteria purple), but they’re not necessarily hues I want to shade in.

Given how dark the two pens I have are, I’m tempted to use them just as regular inking pens rather than midtone pens, but being water-based means they smear more readily with the moisture from my fingers, which is more frustrating when inking than when coloring.

Sailor Shikiori VS Tombow ABT (Dual Brush)
Hue and value comparison, Sailor Shikiori and Tombow ABT (Dual Brush). I’m pretty impressed with how closely the cap colors match the actual colors.

The full set of Sailor Shikiori brush pens is about $40, which is very similar to the actual cost of a 20-pack of Tombow Dual Brush pens (though MSRP is closer to $55).

However, while much-beloved in the fountain pen world, Sailor isn’t well-known or commonly available at most North American art retailers, and single markers from the Shikiori set are hard to find. Jetpens has them for $4/ea (pricey for a disposable pen), while this shop I’m unfamiliar with has them for $2.50/ea (closer to average). But the Shikiori being available online-only makes getting a replacement for your most-used marker a bit of a pain.

Eurasian bullfinch drawing with Tombow Fudenosuke and Sailor Shikiori Shimoyo
Eurasian bullfinch drawing with Tombow Fudenosuke and Sailor Shikiori (shimoyo).

I don’t have any experience with the original Sailor Shikiori fountain pen inks, but despite claiming that they’re the same as the inks in the brush pens, direct comparisons show considerable differences. If the brush pens are supposed to be a more convenient way to use those specific inks, then I think it’s failed there, and as an art tool, only having 20 colors is very limiting.

The Sailor Shikiori pen performs well and feels like an upgraded version of the Tombow Dual Brush, but its small color selection is a huge handicap while its roots as a fountain pen ink don’t really show through. Unless you really like the specific Shikiori colors (or approximations thereof), I probably wouldn’t suggest these over another line of dual brushes, even if the quality is a bit better than most.

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.