Whether you’re detailing a sketch, inking a comic book, or drafting a floor plan, you’re going to need a super precise pen that’s tailor-made for the purpose. We’ve rounded up some of the best technical pens on the market.
While technical pens vary across designs, they share one thing in common: they are specifically designed for creating lines with uniform precision.
How they achieve that may vary from pen to pen: most use a tiny nib—as opposed to ball roller or a felt tip—typically made from metal or plastic. The result is a pen that bites into the page and only creates lines where you want them. This is fantastic for precision drawing, use with rulers and straight edges, and for sketching tiny little details that any other type of pen would blot up with an uneven flow.
Technical pens aren’t all-purpose, however: they aren’t for jotting quick notes, or for quickly lashing sweeping lines across the page. Instead, think of them as like little scrimshaw knives that carve the page and leave ink neatly in the scars with deliberate intent and steady precision. Fittingly, they also tend to require care and maintenance, since tiny ink channels and nibs are more likely to dam up with dried ink if you don’t clean the parts between uses.
That said, there’s no other kind of pen that delivers the “carving” sensation of a dip pen with the precision of a mechanical pencil. Let’s have a look at the contenders:
What to Look for in a Precision Pen
The pens we’ve gathered here run a bit of a gamut, with a range of approaches to how the ink meets the paper as well as quality-of-life features. There are three main things to consider when looking for a precision pen:
- Tip: Most precision pens use a specialized tip that resembles a mechanical pencil. A tiny metal tube holds a nib—nibs can be plastic, or a bit of metal wire—which is scratched against the paper, delivering consistent, precise lines, albeit with slow and deliberate motions. Other precision pens merely scale down the roller ball you would find in a regular pen. These feel more like regular modern pens, but are more likely to skip or blot the ink.
- Maintenance: It’s easy to ruin a precision nib pen if you don’t clean it after every use. The parts are so tiny that dried ink can permanently n the mechanism. If you find value in having an old-school ritual, you can go that route. However, if you’re looking to make things easier on yourself, you can instead opt for disposable pens or pens with replaceable parts.
- Refills: Again, we have a trade-off between convenience and control. Pens that have a permanent reservoir are manually refilled from an ink bottle. It’s trickier, but it means you can use any brand of ink you like. Other pens have a cartridge system. When the ink’s out, you throw out the old cartridge and pop in a new one. The only catch is it limits your options to whatever inks are provided by the pen’s manufacturer.
And with that, it’s time to look at our selection of pens.
Best for Beginners: Ohto Graphic Liner Needle Point ($9)
If you read the above intro spiel and are thinking, “look, I like drawing thin lines, but I’m not looking for a pen that’s tricky to use and needs maintenance.”
OK, fine. The Ohto Graphic Liner Needle Point is a solid starter option. It’s cheap, it comes in a set of assorted sizes, it’s black (the most popular color for lines in the whole world), it’s disposable, and most importantly, it actually uses a tiny roller-ball tip. You know, like the pens they have at the bank, only these are meant for precision inking. That means you won’t struggle with a learning curve as you might with a true technical pen (but you also won’t get quite the same precision or flow).
For the $9 price, you get six pens, each at different sizes that range from a 0.3 mm tip to 1.5 mm. They won’t need to be disassembled and cleaned between uses, you chuck ’em when they’re empty, and you get a nice sample pack of different size tips to help you figure out what your preferred line thickness is.
Again, the roller-ball tips mean that the Ohto Graphic Liners aren’t true technical pens, which generally do not use roller-balls (nibs, remember?). You won’t be scratching into the paper with these to leave your lines—which is a plus or minus, depending on what you’re looking for.
Best Budget Option: Sakura Pigma Micron ($10)
From here on out, no more roller-ball pens. But that doesn’t mean you need to go full bore with a super expensive, maintenance project of a pen just yet. See: the Sakura Pigma Micron.
Here, we’ve got another set of six disposable pens with tips that go from very small, to less very small (i.e., 0.20 mm up to 0.50 mm). And, much like the Ohto, these pens have black ink. That’s pretty much a constant in this list. If you’re looking for technical pens that have white ink, then this list isn’t going to get any better for you. That said, you can get Sakura technical pens in a range of other colors—just not in this particular pack.
The price here is also pretty similar to the Ohto. The real difference between the Ohto and this pen, then, is the tip. No roller-ball here: the Sakura uses a nib, like a true technical pen, albeit with a little plastic tip (rather than a metal one). This means it won’t roll like a “normal” pen, but rather scratch along the surface, like the other pens on this list. This is a great option for moving one step further than the Ohto by using a true technical, nib pen but still allowing you to avoid maintenance, as the Sakuras are cheap and disposable (and wildly popular).
Best Traditional Option: Koh-I-Noor Rapidosketch ($25)
This list would be remiss if it did not feature at least one product that provides the true technical pen experience. No fancy tricks with the Koh-I-Noor Rapidosketch: it’s a traditional design with an integral metal-tipped nib and a refillable ink reservoir. This is one of those pens that you use, then carefully empty and clean after each use. It’s also angled toward the artsier user, with a tip that works in any directions without hitching on the paper.
There are easier pens to use, disposable in part or whole, but if you like the idea of going old school—regularly disassembling your pens on a cloth spread over a coffee table, like some kind of fastidious hit-man oiling their gun parts before attempting to assassinate Charles de Gaulle—this one’s for you. It’s also the only metal-tipped drawing pen on this list.
There is a bonus for going fully manual: you’re not limited by proprietary, pressurized cartridges, meaning you can easily use any brand or color of ink for refills (though, do check to see if said ink is compatible with a technical pen).
And, as it so often does, old school means less waste. With a traditional pen, your goal is never to throw parts of it away. With careful maintenance, you’ll have every part of this pen forever. This set includes one pen and a bottle of ink for refills, which should last you a long time.
Best Premium Option: Copic Multiliner Set ($64)
Copic technical drawing pens are a top choice for hobbyists, semi-pros, and professional comics artists. See, back in the late 1980s, the manga industry was booming, and it needed color markers that would work well with photocopiers (“Copic” is derived from “copies”). They also came up with the liner pens to compliment them with precision points and waterproof ink that wouldn’t smudge when colored over. The Copic Multiliners were the result and remain an industry standard.
While this is the priciest item on the list, it’s still a pretty good deal. For the price, you get ten pens, covering a range of tip sizes.
But wait, there’s more: these pens, despite their reasonable pricing, are reusable. On top of that, each pen uses a replaceable ink reservoir and features a replaceable nib, each of which fit easily into the aluminum bodies of each pen. These things are totally modular, so, if you “ruin” a nib or ink-flow mechanism, the pen isn’t ruined at all—just the replaceable bits.
Brass tax: the Copic sets the industry standard when it comes to fine ink work that you can color over without bleeding, and features pop-in/out ink cartridges and tips—combining the ease-of-use of a disposable pen with the longevity of a refillable one.