Review: Sakura Pigma Brush Pens

So there are actually two lines of Sakura Pigma brush pens.

Sakura Pigma Brush pens
Sakura Pigma Brush pens… Top: Pigma Brush Pen (newer), aka Pigma Professional. Bottom: Pigma Brush pen (older).

The older Sakura Pigma Brush, with an uppercase B, is modeled after the Pigma Micron series of technical pens, the most well-known of Sakura’s extensive Pigma catalogue. The newer Sakura Pigma Brush Pen, with an uppercase B and P on the corporate site, is modeled after the Pigma Calligrapher series of chisel-tip pens. (Confusingly, Sakura has a Pigma Graphic series, which also has chisel-tip pens, but they’re felt tips instead of plastic.)

The newer Pigma Brush Pen has been rebranded in the North American market as the Pigma Professional Brush, though “professional” makes no appearance on the pen itself, which just reads Sakura Pigma (not even Pigma Brush!) and the tip size. Bundle packs of the pen in the US just say “Pigma,” with “Professional Brush” included as a subtitle, which I don’t really think does much to alleviate confusion…

The original Pigma Brush series only has one size of brush, and the series comprises the same brush in 9 different colors: black, red, blue, green, orange, brown, rose, purple and sepia.

The newer Pigma Professional comes in only one color (black), but three tip sizes: fine (FB), medium (MB), and bold (BB).

Both the Pigma Brush and Pigma Pro, as I’ll refer to them henceforth, are non-refillable/disposable felt tip brush pens.

Sakura Pigma Brush & Pigma Pro test lines
I’m just going to refer to these as the Sakura Pigma Pro (top three) and Pigma Brush (bottom).

Pigma Pro BB

The Pigma Pro’s tips are compact and relatively sturdy. The bold brush is long, though you can sort of tell from the shape of the brush that it isn’t meant to bend further back than where the width becomes consistent and cylindrical. The part that is flexible is extremely flexible though, and ~5mm of flex is still a lot of flex. (Altogether, the brush is ~13mm in length.)

This makes the pen feel kinda unwieldy. You can still get decently fine lines with the BB size, but it requires a lot of hand control and precision. It’s much easier and more intuitive to use the BB pen for bold, expressive lines, and I’ve always felt that large brushes like this are great for encouraging looser sketch work because it’s so hard to do detail work with them.

Drawing of a Stellar's jay with Sakura Pigma Pro BB
Drawing of a Stellar’s jay with Sakura Pigma Pro BB.

Large brush tips are also great for black fills since they can cover large areas quickly, and since the brush tip still comes to a fairly fine point, you can also edge into smaller areas with the same brush as long as you’re careful.

The flexibility of the brush tip can feel “flicky,” especially when doing calligraphy. In general, calligraphy involves more flicking motions because you’re lifting up the brush a lot more often when writing compared to drawing — and that’s where the variable brush width shows through the most.

You can go from very thick to very thin very quickly, but that might not be desirable. For (western) lettering, the Pigma Pro BB might be too flexible, but to be fair, brush lettering still isn’t something I’m very confident in.

Calligraphy sample with Sakura Pigma Pro BB
Calligraphy sample with Sakura Pigma Pro BB on lightly textured sketchbook paper. To get that extra broad stroke, you have to lay the brush basically on its side, which results in that squished tip visible in nearly all the strokes in “ALL TRADES.”

Pigma Pro MB

Compared to the BB, the MB’s brush tip feels pretty stiff. There’s ~2mm of flex on the 8mm brush. While this offers better control, it’s probably still too unwieldy for refined work.

It is easier to get smaller lines with the MB though, and this versatility allows you to do broad strokes (like the below wing feathers) and fine strokes (throat feathers and details around the eyes) without changing tools, which can be really helpful when field sketching or doing speed studies.

Falcon sketches with the Sakura Pigma Pro MB
Falcon sketches with the Sakura Pigma Pro MB.

The ink in the Pigma Pro is, like all other Sakura Pigma products, archival-quality, waterproof, and alcohol-proof, but the laggy dry time is much more obvious in brush application.

It takes 6-8 seconds for ink to be dry enough not to smear from lightly brushing your hand over it. That’s a long time when you’re sketching. You can see an obvious smear in the jay’s wing below, but there are various inky fingerprints on a bunch of the drawings included in this review if you look closely. :P

Canadian jay drawing with the Sakura Pigma Pro MB with smears on the wing
Canadian jay drawing with the Sakura Pigma Pro MB with smears on the wing.

Pigma Pro FB

The fine tip Pigma Pro is similar to most disposable fude pens like the Tombow Fudenosuke and Zebra brush pens. It’s on the more flexible end of the spectrum, with almost all of its ~2mm tip being flexible.

Unsurprisingly, this size excels at small, fine strokes, while its long, broad strokes are pretty lacking. Fat strokes with the FB pen dry up very quickly, even when you’re going deliberately slow. Yes, going slow enough will allow the ink flow to catch up with your stroke, but that defeats the energy and character that comes with using a brush pen in the first place. This characteristic can easily be taken advantage of for some pseudo-dry brushing though.

Drawing of a Stellar's jay with Sakura Pigma Pro FB
Drawing of a Stellar’s jay with Sakura Pigma Pro FB.

I think the Pigma Pro BB and MB are more interesting than the FB, but only because I already have other preferences for a fine felt tip brush pen. The FB is probably closest to the Tombow Fudenosuke’s soft tip brush, but I prefer the hard tip Fudenosuke for a reason! The extra flex of the FB erodes some of the control you gain from a smaller brush, and I personally find that annoying.

Still, the FB is the only pen of the Pigma Pro series that I’d consider for final inkwork, though it’s fine for sketching, too, of course.

Wolf drawing with Sakura Pigma Pro FB
Wolf sketch with Sakura Pigma Pro FB.

I don’t know that I’d recommend any of the series for western lettering and calligraphy, but again, that area isn’t my forte. I think the BB is too flexy (it’s sooo hard to write “O”s) and the MB isn’t flexy enough?

For Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, the extra flex in the BB and FB is nice since it gives more energy to the end of strokes, while the MB again feels too stiff. The Pigma Pro brushes are slightly longer than average (just over 6”, capped), but not quite calligraphy length. (Traditional Asian calligraphy brushes are longer than regular brushes because you hold the brush differently when doing calligraphy.)

Sakura Pigma Brush and Pigma Pro comparisons
Various Sakura Pigma Brush and Pigma Pro comparisons.

Pigma Brush

The original Sakura Pigma Brush has a long, thin brush tip, but it’s surprisingly firm. Only about 1.5mm of its 6mm tip is flexible. This makes it easier to control than you might expect, but the brush still requires a steady hand. If you have that though, the Pigma Brush is more versatile than any of the Pigma Pro series.

Its thickest line is just a little thinner than the Pigma Pro MB, while its thinnest are a little more delicate than the FB. This is an impressive range and is likely why the Pigma Brush line only has one size and is just in multiple colors.

Drawing of a chickadee with the Sakura Pigma Brush pen
Drawing of a chickadee with the Sakura Pigma Brush pen.

In fact, for a felt tip brush pen, the original Pigma Brush does a really good job of mimicking a bristle tip brush pen, which have individual brush hairs instead of being a solid, single-piece tip.

Bristle tip brushes tend to be more versatile and longer-lasting than felt tip ones because the nature of bristles makes them more durable — bristles will snap back into place and stay springy for a long time, while felt tips deform under pressure and can fray very quickly. The flexibility of the Pigma Brush and its initial ability to keep its sharp point, even when used roughly, really surprised me.

Pigma Brush VS Pigma Pro

Sakura Pigma Brush VS Pigma Pro FB
Crow drawings with Sakura Pigma Brush (left) and Pigma Pro FB (right).

If anything, the Pigma Brush feels a lot more “professional” to me than the Pigma Pro line. Its flexibility demands more skill in control, but it rewards you with its versatility.

It’s way easier to get tiny lines with the Pigma Pro FB, of course, but the Pigma Brush shows a lot more energy because it’s harder to maintain that delicacy. It can transition to thick lines more quickly and easily. You can see it in the two crow drawings above, but “energy” can also be a matter of preference — the crow on the right feels more refined and “finished,” I think.

It’s probably an unfair comparison. The Pigma Pro brushes have very different shapes compared to the Pigma Brush and fill a different usage niche. Which is better just depends on your preferences and control.

Sakura Pigma Brush pen tips
Top to bottom: Sakura Pigma Pro BB, MB, and FB; Sakura Pigma Brush.

Overall

The Pigma Pro MB and BB brushes, along with the original Pigma Brush, will be prone to brush tip deformation over time. Unfortunately, this is par for the course for large, felt tip brush pens (with water-based ink — it doesn’t happen as often with alcohol-based inks for some reason) and is one of the reasons I rarely use them in finished work. In the above photo, you can see the MB’s tip beginning to fuzz a little.

Like other pens in its class, the Pigma Pro FB’s felt tip has a plastic base, which I think gives it better durability. Fine tips don’t tend to deform as much over time — or at least, they don’t deform in the same way. Larger tips will start to “fray” and stop coming to a proper point, leading to stray marks, inability to make fine lines, and loss of precision and control. Fine tips tend to just blunt over time, making fine lines impossible, but without sacrificing control.

Coyote drawing with Sakura Pigma Pro MB
Coyote drawing with Sakura Pigma Pro MB. I think you can already tell that the tip is deforming on this one.

Sakura Pigma Pro provides good pens for loose sketchwork and studies, and maybe for some basic brush calligraphy. The FB brush may be suitable for final inkwork if you have excellent control. The BB and FB pens are very flexible for their class, while the MB is weirdly stiff. The 3-pack retails for around $13, while singles are around $4.50 (though you can get them cheaper if you bulk buy).

This is average to high for felt tip brush pens. As I said, Tombow Fudenosuke is a good alternative to the FB pen and those are usually $2.60-$3.60/ea. Aside from some difficult to identify and locate Daiso brush pens though, the Kuretake #33 is my nearest comparison to the BB pen. Unfortunately, Kuretake is a difficult brand to find at US retailers, and the #33 will cost anywhere from $8 and 14.

Not sure about an alternative for the MB, but I think that size is my least favourite of the set. The stiffness nullifies many of the advantages of having a brush pen in the first place, and it doesn’t help that for me, this pen was the first to fall victim to tip deformation, and that really affects performance.

Corvid drawings with Sakura Pigma Pro BB and MB
Corvid drawings with Sakura Pigma Pro BB (left) and MB (right) — despite the finer brush, the MB’s tip started deforming very quickly for me, leading to loss of precision. You can tell that I had better control over the brush with the drawing on the left, despite the BB being much larger and more flexible.

The original Sakura Pigma Brush pen, meanwhile, is an excellent all-rounder brush pen. It can be a good primer for those who aren’t sure yet about bristle-tip brush pens, especially since I can’t think of another felt tip brush pen that achieves this level of flexibility.

The Pigma Brush is often found in sets with some of the different colors; for example, the 6-pack retails for $13.59, which comes out to $2.27/pen. Singles retail for $2.99/pen.

This makes it a much better deal than the Pigma Pro, both in terms of price and versatility. I figure Sakura introduced the newer Pigma Pros to cover a few different brush types, but really, their original brush pen was already gangbusters.

Maned wolves with Sakura Pigma Brush
Maned wolves with Sakura Pigma Brush. You can sort of tell that the tip has begun to deform in the second sketch, but it was nice while it lasted!

About the author

Kiri is an artist, writer, and (brush) pen enthusiast in Seattle with over 12 years of convention vending experience and an inclination towards verbosity.