Review: Tombow Dual Brush

I’ve been using the Tombow Dual Brush for years, but writing the review for the Daiso Color Brush made me wonder if I actually like this marker or if it’s just that I’ve been using it for a long time.

While marketed exclusively as the Tombow Dual Brush in the US, the original name of the marker is the Tombow ABT. It’s a (surprise!) dual tip marker with water-based ink. One end is a brush tip; the other, a bullet tip.

Tombow Dual Brush
Tombow Dual Brush in a random notebook with kinda slick paper.

The marker has a slick, no frills design that I really like. Tip indicators and color code on the body are clear and easy to spot, and the different cap designs make it extra easy to tell which end is which.

Only the larger cap has a roll-stop, but both caps can post on top of the other cap, which is probably my favourite aspect of the design.

Two Tombow Dual Brush markers with caps posted
Two Tombow Dual Brush markers with caps posted. Posting the smaller cap on the big one looks hilarious, but it works!

At 7.5″ capped, the Tombow Dual Brush is longer than the most other markers and pens, which average ~6″.

This can make storing and traveling with the Tombow Dual Brush annoying since many pen and pencil cases aren’t long enough. I like the balance of longer pens and markers, but the inconvenience of traveling with them means they stay home most of the time.

With the large cap posted, it’s 8.125″ long; with the small cap posted, 8″. The main body is ~10mm in diameter, fairly average. The brush tip is about 12mm long and 4mm at the base. The bullet tip is 1mm in width. This gives the marker a ton of versatility in use.

Drawing of a vulture with Tombow Dual Brush N75 & N55
Drawing of a vulture with Tombow Dual Brush N75 & N55.

The bullet tip is great for underdrawings, so you can build up an entire drawing in markers without switching to another tool, like a pencil. I almost exclusively use the Tombow Dual Brush in greyscale and think visible underdrawings are interesting in sketchwork, but a light blue marker could be a handy substitute for a non-photo blue pencil, too.

After a base drawing is established, value (shading) can be added quickly with the brush tip, which is especially handy in covering large areas.

Drawing of a kestrel with Tombow Dual Brush, N75, N55, N45.
Drawing of a kestrel with Tombow Dual Brush N75, N55, N45.

Over time, the felt brush tip can begin to deform somewhat: the shape becomes less solid and “fuzzier,” which makes precise mark-making more difficult. The worst of it is brush strokes having stray lines on the side, rather than being completely solid.

Tip deformity is an issue with almost all brush tip markers though, sometimes even alcohol-based ones, but it’s definitely more common in water-based markers, and it’s usually just the brush tip.

The felt in the bullet tip is much firmer and compact, so it holds its shape better, but brush tips need to be soft and flexible, so they’re more vulnerable as a result.

Gradual tip deformity in Tombow Dual Brush
Four Tombow Dual Brush markers arranged from least and most deformed tip. Some tips wear faster than others despite comparable usage.

But tip deformity isn’t a huge issue for me because I never use this marker for “serious” work. Instead, the Tombow Dual Brush is used mostly in my sketchbook to add value to studies or casual comics.

Because water-based ink doesn’t show through the back of the page or bleed, using it in my sketchbook doesn’t affect my ability to draw on both sides of a page, which is my preference. Sometimes the page can warp slightly depending on the paper weight and how many layers of marker I’m putting down, but it’s generally not noticeable.

Drawing of a coyote with Tombow Dual Brush and Tombow Fudenosuke
Drawing of a coyote with Tombow Dual Brush and Tombow Fudenosuke on 110 gsm sketchbook paper.

The ink isn’t really made to blend, so streaking is common, but putting a lighter color down over a darker one will “soften” the darker color. Tombow advocates rubbing marker tips together to blend colors prior to applying ink to the page, but while this might make sense for lettering, I think it’s too imprecise and kinda weird for coloring.

On slick, smooth, “marker” paper, which isn’t very porous, it takes longer for the ink to dry on the page, so you can sort of mix colors while they’re wet. I dislike marker paper though; high dry times means smear city, but once the ink does dry, mixing becomes impossible — even with highly, blendable alcohol-based ink markers — which means streaking is prominent.

Sketchbook paper, even smooth sketchbook paper, tends to be more porous, so the Tombow Dual Brush dries quickly, making it great for sketchwork — but here, too, streaking is pretty prominent over large areas, since ink mixing doesn’t happen once the ink is dry, and the ink dries fast.

No bleed through is great though!

Reverse side of the coyote drawing, then with birds sketched over it
Left: Reverse side of the coyote drawing; some ghost indentations is all. Right: Same reverse page, but now with additional sketches on top. You can barely tell there’s a drawing on the other side of the page anymore.

Most of the weaknesses of the Dual Brush — lack of blendability, non-waterproofness, brush tip deformity — are weaknesses of water-based ink markers in general.

And to be fair, I haven’t tried very many other water-based markers, but that’s because the Tombow Dual Brush has never really disappointed me. It performs solidly for my uses. I do like it! And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a widely available staple in even the most basic of art supply stores.

Open sketchbook with comics drawn on both sides of page, shaded with Tombow Dual Brush
My 2021 Hourlies spanned 6 pages, front and back. All shading was with the Tombow Dual Brush. Both pages shown here have more drawings + marker use on the reverse side, but you can’t tell at all.

Singles retail for $3.19, but it’s common to find them between $2.00 and $2.50, and there are numerous sets available. I actually don’t know of many markers in this class off the top of my head, so I don’t know if this price is average, but it seems plenty fair to me.

Most other brush tip markers with water-based ink market themselves specifically as “watercolor” brushes, like the Akashiya Sai watercolor brush, which only comes in sets but averages to $1.80-$2.00/marker.

Are there better markers in this class than the Tombow Dual Brush? Probably. For letterers and calligraphers, a marker that is less prone to tip deformity is probably preferred, and even though I think water-based markers are weaker than alcohol-based ones in this attribute, surely there exists a water-based marker that is a bit better at retaining its brush tip? I’m not a letterer though, and the Dual Brush is good enough for me.

Drawing of a Harpy eagle with the Tombow Fudenosuke and Tombow Dual Brush
Drawing of a Harpy eagle with the Tombow Fudenosuke, Pentel pocket brush, and Tombow Dual Brush.

About the author

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