The Tombow ABT marker, often called the Tombow Dual Brush, has been my go-to water-based marker for ages.
So I was pretty excited when a version of the marker with alcohol-based ink, the Tombow ABT Pro, was announced — everyone wants a piece of that “Copic alternative” pie, huh? I’ve noticed that naming things “pro” has begun to invade the art supply world a lot recently, too…
The Tombow ABT Pro is exactly what it says it is: an alcohol-based version of a decades-old marker.
Like the ABT (or Dual Brush; I’ll use these names interchangeably throughout this review), the ABT Pro is a non-refillable, dual tip marker, though it swaps the bullet tip for a chisel tip, as is typical for alcohol-based markers.
The alcohol smell is obvious, but not overwhelming. The brush tip is a little stiff at the base, so not as flexible as some other markers, but still handles pretty comparably. The chisel tip has a kind of rounded base, which makes it more difficult to wield, I think, but that end isn’t for delicate maneuvering anyway.
As a marker unto itself, it’s fine. But as a new version of an old marker, and as a newcomer in a crowded alcohol-based marker market, it’s the comparisons that are most important, right?
Tombow ABT Pro VS Tombow ABT (Dual Brush)
I’ve always liked the design of the Tombow Dual Brush, so I’m glad the ABT Pro is so similar.
Like the Dual Brush, the ABT Pro is about 7.5″ capped, but it’s a smidgen thicker in diameter. Aside from that and the marker body color, the only real difference is the size of the smaller cap, which is smaller and much more discreet on the Dual Brush, since it covers a bullet tip instead of a chisel tip. The Dual Brush also doesn’t have a roll-stop on its smaller cap, which allows for both the small cap to post on the big cap, and for the big cap to post on the small cap — a really nice feature.
Unfortunately, the ABT Pro’s caps do not post; the bigger one can stack on top of the smaller one, but it doesn’t snap in. The smaller one doesn’t fit over the larger one at all. This is disappointing.
Otherwise, both markers have prominent tip-type indicators, the name of the marker, and the color code on body. There’s no color code on the caps, but since the body design is so clean, it isn’t really necessary. (Unlike with Copic, whose body design is kinda cramped and the color code there is teeny tiny.)
Though their color codes suggest they should be roughly the same color, the Tombow ABT’s N75 is slightly lighter than the ABT Pro’s PN75 (Pro Neutral 75?). The difference is more negligible once you layer them a few times, though the water-based nature of the ABT/Dual brush causes paper to pill little when layering, which you can see above, while the paper just absorbs all the alcohol ink.
Water-based ink dampens and loosens paper fibers in a way that alcohol-based ink doesn’t, so layering isn’t really advised and mixing/blending on most papers isn’t really possible. This is why alcohol-based ink markers became popular in the first place.
Still, water-based inks are great for adding quick value or color to drawings, especially in sketchbooks, where the ink doesn’t show through the back of pages (though it may warp them slightly). The brush tips of the two markers are similar, though the ABT Pro’s is slightly wider at the base, which makes it little less flexible.
I really wish the ABT Pro had a bullet tip like the ABT though. If anything, it’d make more sense to me to have a bullet tip on the Pro and a chisel on the regular dual brush. I know chisel tips are great for covering large swaths of color, but… so are brush tips.
The application I see chisel tips used in the most are in architectural drawings and mockups, but I’m also not sure why the benefits of alcohol-based inks (blending and color softness, mostly) are desirable in that context? Why wouldn’t water-based inks work just as well?
But maybe architects just want that “pro” feeling that comes with less streaks? Alcohol-based inks have a lot of advantages over water-based inks, and that, of course, shows up in the price.
Infuriatingly, the Dual Brush typically comes in sets of 6 and 10, while the ABT Pro comes in sets of 5 and 12. Dual Brush has come in various (limited edition) sets of 12 in the past, but the only current one I could find was the one with their 12 new colors (the first new colors in 29 years, apparently), which is at a price that offers no volume discount, probably because it’s special.
The ABT Pro sets also don’t really offer much of a discount, but the product is still very new, while the original ABT Dual Brush has been around for decades.
|Tombow ABT (Dual Brush)||Tombow ABT Pro
|Price (Singles)||$3.19/ea MSRP||$5.99/ea MSRP|
|Price (Small set)
||$16.99 MSRP, set of 6
|$29.99 MSRP, set of 5
|Price (Medium set)||$26.99 MSRP, set of 10
|$69.99 MSRP, set of 12
The Tombow ABT Pro is faithful to the design of the original Dual Brush, and thanks to that, it definitely feel like an upgrade of the marker. Water-based markers serve a different purpose than alcohol-based markers though, so I’m not sure a comparison is really fair.
Alcohol-based inks absorb better into paper, allowing for less streaking, effective blending and mixing, more vibrant colors, and so on. Water-based markers don’t bleed through paper and are way cheaper. These statements apply to markers of all brands, and Tombow’s ABT and ABT Pro are no different.
Tombow ABT Pro VS Winsor & Newton Promarker VS Copic Sketch/Ciao
At $5.99/ea for singles, the Tombow ABT Pro costs the same as the Winsor & Newton Promarker and Promarker Brush, which is also non-refillable.
Performance is similar, though the Tombow sees more of the speckling issue when blending colors. Tombow’s markers are 9mm in diameter compared to W&N’s 12-15mm, which makes them more comfortable to hold for me, but your preference may be different.
However, singles of the Tombow ABT Pro are more expensive than singles of Copic Ciao ($5.49/ea), which are exactly the same as the Copic Sketch (which is what I have on hand to test/compare with), but with 0.4 mL less ink capacity.
And Copics are refillable.
Honestly, I think the performance of most alcohol-based markers is really similar. They all blend pretty well and have impressive color saturation.
Most differences are in the physical properties of the marker itself, such as marker body shape, or brush length, rather than the properties of its ink. For the heavy or frequent user, other factors like color availability and refillableness are also really important, and I think this is why it’s an uphill battle for any brand trying to dethrone Copic.
The above page is colored with the Tombow ABT Pro, and the below is colored with Copic Sketch.
Copic’s brush tip is a bit more flexible, allowing for longer, curvier brush strokes, but other than that, the two markers perform really similarly, and I don’t think anyone could tell at a glance which was done with which if I didn’t tell them.
So then it just comes down to price, right?
Copic Ciao is almost always the cheapest for singles and they’re more likely to go on sale than any other brand due to Copic’s ubiquitous presence at most art retailers. They’re refillable and come in more colors, too.
I don’t understand why more would-be Copic competitors don’t go for the refillable factor. With performance almost a non-factor, their only possible edge has to be either in design, price, or convenience. So far, most seem to be losing on price, and design depends too much on personal preference to be reliable. Refillability is a huge convenience factor, and it seems like that least they could do is match their main competition?
The Tombow ABT Pro is a solid marker. It has a nice, familiar form factor for Tombow Dual Brush fans looking to upgrade, but unless you just really love the long, thin, marker body shape, I don’t see any reason to choose it over Copic, or whatever other alcohol-based marker you’re already using.