Review: Sakura Pigma Sensei 6pc Set

The Sakura Pigma Micron pen has been a relied-upon tool for many artists, including cartoonists, for years.

But what is this Sakura Pigma Sensei set? I picked one up out of curiosity a few years ago and finally got around to trying it out recently. The lag time between my buying random things and my getting around to using and reviewing them continues to be comical, I know.

Sakura Pigma Sensei 6-piece set
Sakura Pigma Sensei 6-piece set.

There are actually two Pigma Sensei sets, a 6-piece set and an 8-piece set. Both are marketed as “manga drawing” sets, and even the Japanese parent company indicates they’re “ideal for manga drawing.”

I got the 6-piece set, which includes a pencil, an eraser, and four felt-tip pens. The 8-piece set ditches the eraser and adds the other three pens in the series, which are all chisel tips.

Sakura Pigma Sensei interior leaflet
Sakura Pigma Sensei interior leaflet. Why is the 0.4mm specifically for lettering?? And then the 0.6mm and 1.0mm are just being used to add extra outlines? The example drawing is pretty inconsistent.

I’m always perplexed by the inclusion of chisel nibs in tools for drawing (and coloring)… am I the only one who never uses them to draw? (I only ever use them for calligraphy.)

The only thing I can think to use them for is to fill large areas, but a brush or a very broad bullet tip can do that just as well — and while allowing for more control! The chisel gives a certain character to sketches, which I guess can be carried into a looser style of finished drawing, but at the very least, a chisel tip seems counter to most typical manga styles, so they feel extra weird as part of the Pigma Sensei series.

Maybe you’re just supposed to use the chisels for speed lines?? Or lettering? Chisels could be good for some bold, shouty words, or maybe sound effects?

But yeah, I just got the 6-piece set.

Sakura Pigma Sensei 6-piece set
Initial test scribbles with the components of the set.

The eraser that came with my set only has a generic Sakura label, but newer photos for the set now include the Sakura SumoGrip, while earlier ones had the Sakura Foam W eraser. I’ve used the Foam W before, but to be honest, almost all block-type plastic erasers feel the same to me. The one I usually use is the Pentel Hi-Polymer eraser.

My nameless Sakura does seem to be a bit less effective than the Pentel eraser though.

All of these erasers claim to be “low dust” and that the dust “sticks together for easy clean up.” This has never, ever been my experience, and I don’t even think I erase very aggressively. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Drawing with Sakura Pigma Sensei
Low dust my ass. Left: Drawing with the 0.4mm pen. Right: Drawing with the 0.3mm pen.

The pencil included is the Sakura 127, a 0.7mm mechanical pencil. The included lead graphite’s hardness is HB (confirmed by the set’s interior packaging/leaflet).

I used 0.7mm pencils for a long time, but these days, I prefer 0.5mm and a softer graphite — usually 2B — but the Sakura 127 is perfectly usable. Harder and thicker graphite means it’s slightly less likely to break in transit (and in use), making it a more practical choice, maybe. You can always refill the pencil with a softer graphite if you prefer, and I think 0.7mm remains the most popular width, so it’s no surprise that’s what was chosen for the set.

The pencil itself is narrow, with ridges along the grip — a common design. You can pull out the metal clicky part at the top to reveal an eraser. This eraser works fine, but I almost never use erasers on mechanical pencils because 1) I don’t want to accidentally click out more graphite, and 2) I rarely erase small areas and it makes way more sense to use a big block eraser if I’m going to erase a whole under-sketch.

Comparison of Sakura 127 eraser, included Pigma Sensei eraser, and Pentel Hi-Polymer eraser
Comparison of Sakura 127’s eraser, the included Pigma Sensei eraser, and Pentel Hi-Polymer eraser VS HB and 2B graphite.

No one cares about the pencil and eraser in this set though. :P

The Sakura Pigma Sensei pens included are bullet tips with 1.0mm, 0.6mm, 0.4mm, and 0.3mm widths.

The tips are hard, compact felt. These are not brush pens. The nibs of the larger three pens extend out from the barrel a bit and come to a point at the tip of its designated size — this means you can get slightly larger strokes out of it if you draw with the tip at an angle, but you can’t really change the width of a stroke mid-stroke as you could with a brush pen.

The 0.3mm pen is a technical pen — the nib is a tiny bit that extends out of a metal sleeve, so there’s no difference if you draw with the nib at an angle. It’s functionally the same as the Sakura Pigma Micron of the same width (which, confusingly, is not the “03” Micron, but the “02” one).

Sakura Pigma Sensei 0.3mm pen VS Sakura Pigma Microns
Sakura Pigma Sensei’s 0.3mm pen VS Sakura Pigma Microns of similar sizes. The 02 Micron (0.3mm) pen here is pretty old and hasn’t been used in a while, so unfortunately, it doesn’t demonstrate the proper width as accurately.

I really, really like the variety of nib widths in this set and think it’s much better than similar sets of Microns, in part because only the 0.3mm is a tech-style pen.

Tech pens were originally made for architects, not cartoonists, and architectural drawings are often guided by rulers, which means they’re meant to be held at a 90 degree angle to the paper. The larger, extended, bullet-style tips of the Pigma Sensei make the pens a lot easier to use because, after all, people do not usually draw at a 90 degree angle.

When using tech pens at an angle, the metal sleeve where the nib comes out in tech pens often rubs against the paper and sometimes, tech pen nibs wear down at an angle, which messes up their precision. That’s not a problem here with the 1.0mm, 0.6mm, and 0.4mm pens, and the 0.3mm is small enough that it’s not a big deal.

I also think the 0.3mm nib, the smallest size in the Pigma Sensei series, is the point of diminishing returns for most artists. The Micron line goes as small as 0.2mm (the 005 pen) and 0.15mm (the 003 pen), but those nibs get increasingly fragile, and few artists really need to go that tiny.

Drawing with Sakura Pigma Sensei
Drawing mostly with the 0.4mm pen with some black fill with 0.6mm and details with 0.3mm.

Meanwhile, the larger sizes of the Pigma Sensei are great for filling in large areas (who needs chisel tips?), as well as encouraging looser linework — which I think is a nice bonus.

It’s already too easy for artists to get sucked into fine details and precision work without taking in the overall drawing’s composition and structure, and extra fine nibs only encourage this. Tiny nibs also tend to encourage artists to death grip their tools and hunch over their drawings, stressing out their hands, wrists, back, and neck.

Fine nibs definitely have their place, but as I said, I don’t think it’s common for most artists to need anything smaller than 0.3mm, and the 1.0-0.3mm range included in the Sakura Pigma Sensei set already allows for a great deal of flexibility.

Drawing with Sakura Pigma Sensei
Kingfisher drawing primarily with the 0.4mm and 0.6mm pens, with a minor appearance of the 1.0mm pen in the branch.

“Pigma” refers to the pigment ink used in the pens, which is waterproof, alcohol-proof, and fade resistant. Pigma ink is archival quality and won’t bleed or run when colored over with pretty much any coloring tool. That’s why they’ve long been popular with so many types of artists. That’s also why Sakura has so many different Pigma lines, including Pigma Micron and Pigma Graphic.

Sakura Pigma ink properties
Sakura Pigma ink properties from their corporate website.

The Pigma Sensei pens are plain, black plastic pens with a plastic clip. The tip size is etched in the top of the cap, but the pen body only includes the pen name.

Sakura Pigma Sensei 6-piece set
The Sakura Pigma Sensei pen sizes are only shown on the cap. Why.

It really annoys me that the tip size wasn’t included prominently on the pen body.

My pens included sticker labels on the ends that also denoted the size, but I’m not sure if this is standard. And anyway, these labels are still hard to read at a glance, and I just wish the pen itself made its size less of a mystery. It sounds like a minor inconvenience, but the time spent checking and rechecking the size of each pen before you use it adds up!

Drawing with Sakura Pigma Sensei
The Pigma Micron has bold, clear labeling! Why is the design for the Pigma Sensei so mediocre in comparison?

It was weirdly difficult to figure out the MSRPs for the Sakura Pigma Sensei sets. Many retailers don’t include a list price, only their actual price. It was also hard to find the prices for the individual items in the sets. While they’re available separately, it seems like only a few specialty suppliers offer them that way.

Regardless, I think the sets are pretty good deals. $2-3 a piece is pretty average for both pigment pens and plastic erasers. Good mechanical pencils will run you at least $5, though I don’t really feel like the Sakura 127 qualifies as particularly good, or even notable; it’s just average. I checked my receipts and I got the Pigma Sensei set on sale for $9.24, a nice deal!

MSRP Average Actual Price
Sakura 127 mechanical pencil $7.46 $5.00
Sakura SumoGrip B80 eraser
$2.50 $2.00
Sakura Pigma Sensei 1.0mm
$2.49 $2.00
Sakura Pigma Sensei 0.6mm $2.49 $2.00
Sakura Pigma Sensei 0.4mm $2.49 $2.00
Sakura Pigma Sensei 0.3mm $2.49 $2.00
Total of Above Items $19.92 $15.00
Sakura Pigma Sensei 6-piece set $15.39 $10.50
Sakura Pigma Sensei 1.0mm chisel $2.49 $2.00
Sakura Pigma Sensei 2.0mm chisel $2.49 $2.00
Sakura Pigma Sensei 3.0mm chisel $2.49 $2.00
Total of All Single Items $27.39 $21.00
Sakura Pigma Sensei 8-piece set $22.49 $15.99

I really like this set!

It’s good bang for your buck. It has a variety of pen options, and I think it’s a great starting place for those just diving into inking. The pencil and eraser are a little superfluous, but they do round it out as a complete drawing kit — this is everything you need to sketch out a drawing and ink it.

The only other thing I’d include, for a true comic drawing kit, is probably a raised ruler. :P You can freehand those comic borders, but do you want to?

Example comic panel featuring all the pens in the Sakura Pigma Sensei 6-pc set
Example comic panel featuring all the pens in the Sakura Pigma Sensei 6-pc set. Panel borders were 1.0mm; lettering and bubble was 0.6mm, most of the character was 0.4mm, with some details and the background in 0.3mm.

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.