Staedtler Pigment Liner Review

I somehow managed to not review my favourite pigment/fine liner, despite it being one of the sketching tools that I use the most. While I know that the pigment liner from Sakura is more popular is stationery blogger circles, and Copic is thought to be the elite offering (it sure is in terms of price), Staedler’s pigment liners have been my go to pigment liners since I was a teenager, and they have always been the ones I compare all others to.

Pigment liner set bought at Cass Art in London

All pigment liners are expensive to purchase here, and Staedler is no different, which means that I always stock up on them when I go to Cass Art in London. This 6 pen set is always on sale, and you get a useful selection of pen widths. However, if you are just starting out, don’t buy a set – buy a 0.3 and a 0.5 and if you want to splurge add the 0.1 and the 0.8.

The full set: Calligraphy, 0.8, 0.5, 0.3, 0.1, 0.05

Whether you use Staedler pigment liners or ones from another brand (Sakura, Faber Castell, Copic, Uni-ball, etc), the 0.3 or 0.5 will likely be your base, bread and butter pen. I generally use the 0.3, unless I’m feeling shaky, I’m in a hurry and want to churn out sketches/illustrations, or I want to go for a dramatic effect, in which case I go for the 0.5 or the 0.8. The 0.1 is a pen that I use for the opposite effect – when I plan to use watercolour or an ink wash and I want the colour or wash to take precedent. The 0.05 is a pen that I used to use when I was younger and drew comics (it’s excellent for fine details), but I hardly ever reach for it now, unless it’s to work in small format with a colour wash of some sort following. It’s a fragile pen, so if you tend to lean on your pens, this one is not for you. How can you tell if you put a lot of pressure on your pens? Write a page with a gel ink pen and check the back of the page. Does it feel like braille lettering? Does your wrist hurt? Then you’re putting to much pressure to use this pen without ruining the tip, and you may have issues with the 0.1 tip as well. I used to write like that and it took some practice for me to be able to use these ultra fine tipped pens.

Line samples on a Moleskine pocket sketchpad.

So, why do I love the Staedtler pigment liner so much?

  • It puts down a consistent, black line. This seems obvious, but I’ve tried more than one pigment liner that puts down a dark grey or washed out black line and it’s always disappointing.
  • It’s a rock solid pen that won’t dry out, and has a robust tip. I’ve had terrible luck with Faber Castel and other makers where a capped (mind you, capped) pigment liner stopped writing reliably after a month or two. This has never happened with my Staedler’s, and I’ve had some for years.
  • The pen body. This is what makes the Staedler’s the best of the best in my personal opinion.
The Staedtler pigment liner’s pen body.

So, what makes the Staedler pen body so great? It’s a whole lot of small things that just add up. It’s light weight but doesn’t feel flimsy, and it has a matte finish with a subtle lined texture all around, so its easy to grip. It’s also a bit wider than many of its competitors, and unlike many of them, it has the pen width clearly marked on both the pen body and the pen cap. It also doesn’t have any sharp edges, which you’d think would be an obvious in pen design, but sadly isn’t. Finally, it caps and posts and uncaps with a solid click, and without having to apply a lot of pressure. You know the pen is capped and the pen is uncapped when you need it. And if you so care to uncap it with one hand, you can.

Here’s the 0.1 Staedtler in action. There’s a photo of the sketch I made after applying an ink wash (Sennelier Burn Sienna India Ink diluted in water and applied with a brush pen), and one of the same sketch after I applied blue watercolour.

Staedtler 0.1 pigment liner, and ink wash.
Staedtler pigment liner 0.1, ink wash and watercolour.

During a private tour of Nazareth last year (a present from my wonderful family in between chemo treatments), I met the guide’s young boy. His father told me that he wanted to be a clothing designer when he grew up, so I broke out my sketching kit and gave him every Staedler pigment liner that I had on me. His eyes lit up once his father explained what these pens were. If you have a budding artist, designer, sketcher, doodler in your life and you’re wondering which gift to give them, two or three Staedler pigment liners will always be welcome.

Surfers in the Sea

I went on a walk this morning, and as the wind was up, the surfers were out in full force. I decided to take a quick break and sketch them in my pocket Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook, and I used a Staedler 0.05 fineliner for a change. I used to love the 0.05 for the fine line it gave, but I haven’t used it for years, and while my neuropathy was bad I couldn’t have used it. As my neuropathy is improving with the weather, I decided to give the 0.05 a spin.
This was sketched on location and painted later on.

A sketch of surfers and a yacht in the sea, enclosed in a drawn frame and with a bit of text describing the scene on the top left corner.

The sketch as it was on location:

Surfers and yacht sketch as above, minus the text and with the sea not painted in blue.

And the original scene once I finished sketching:

A photo of a yacht in the distance and surfers in the sea

Decrepit Old Buildings Can Be Beautiful

A drawing of a decrepit, old building in central Tel Aviv. Painted only using the new Schmincke super-granulating watercolours (Galaxy, Glacier, Deep Sea, Forest and Tundra). The only exception is the yellow, which doesn’t exist in this range.

My review of these colours will probably be up this weekend.

30 Days of Drawing: Days 16-20

I decided not to take part in Inktober this year. Instead I’ll be drawing at least one page a day in my Stillman and Birn Pocket Alphas. You can see days 1-5 here, days 6-10 here and days 11-15 here.

I drew the first four of these days as scheduled and then the last drawing took much more time than I planned, so I decided to invest a little more time in it. While I was working on that I had an opportunity to submit a short story to a collection that doesn’t usually accept submissions. The deadline was tight, but I decided to go for it, which meant putting this challenge on hold. As I’m refocusing my energy on my writing I’m going to stretch this challenge to December (more on that in a later post). So far it has worked to get me more comfortable with working directly with ink and with a pared down palette and brush selection, so I’m happy with that.

All these were drawn on a Stillman and Birn Pocket Alpha with a 0.3 Staedtler fineliner and Schminke Horadam watercolours.

Birds of the Yarkon Park. A two page spread that took me two days to complete.
Big Thunder Mountain in Disneyland Paris. I miss going to the park, and participating in the runDisney weekend.
Daniel Rowing Centre, Yarkon Park. Not happy with the perspective on this one, but you learn from your mistakes.
Covent Garden Market, which I miss a lot, a lot. This was done with no underdrawing and I’m super proud of how it came out.

Black Eraser Showdown

Black erasers have become more common in recent years, with the Boxy perhaps being the most well known of the bunch. I have a few that I use regularly, and a few that just lounge in my stationery drawers waiting to be used. As I’m streamlining my sketching kit and the boxy is now the eraser I carry in it, I decided to test it out against the competition, starting with other black erasers.

Here’s the lineup:

In terms of price they’re all around the same price range with the Muji eraser being the cheapest of the bunch, and the dust catch and boxy being on the more expensive side of things.

I took out my Baron Fig Confidant, since I do all my pencil tests on it, and scribbled in it in a variety of pencils and even using a Caran d’Ache red blue pencil, though I don’t expect regular erasers to do well with coloured pencils.

The pencils that I used were the Blackwing 811 (a darker, softer pencil), a Viarco 3500 No. 2 (a standard HB pencil) and a vintage Eagle “Chemi-Sealed” Turquoise H pencil. These seemed like a fairly representative bunch of general writing pencils, at least in terms of graphite behaviour. Though I did later check them for art use, these erasers are meant to be used when writing more than when drawing.

I did a single eraser pass on the left hand side of the page, and on the right side I split each scribble into two and tried to erase it completely (leaving an untouched graphite barrier in between each side).

Then I tried to erase the coloured pencil, which I wasn’t expecting much success in, and here are the results:

A closeup on the one pass side. You’d normally not erase this way, but it does give a good indication of how good the eraser is going to be:

From left to right: Boxy, Dust Catch, Rasoplast, Muji.

A closeup on the H pencil one pass attempt. I deliberately pressed down on the H pencil, because from my experience H pencils are easy to erase when you apply little or no pressure to them, but they’re pretty tenacious if you apply normal or strong pressure on them.

Here’s the split scribble test above and the H scribble test below:

Finally the Caran d’Ache red/blue eraser test:

At this point I was ready to give the victory to the Boxy, with the Mono Dust Catch a pretty close second, the Staedler Rasoplast in third place and the Muji eraser trailing behind. The Boxy and the Dust Catch also had the easiest “eraser crumbs” to clean (long threads of the stuff, easily brushed aside), and the Muji had the smallest and the worst. None of the erasers damaged the paper, which perhaps isn’t surprising considering that they’re all pretty soft.

I’d also point out that none of these erasers are what I’d call “best”. They’re good erasers, but even the boxy left graphite ghosts behind. There are better erasers on the market, but these in general behaved better than average (even the Muji), and the Boxy and Dust Catch are pretty good. They held up well even against the Caran d’Ache red/blue pencil, which surprised me.

Even though these aren’t “art” erasers, I decide to try to draw some doodles in pencils, ink them with a fine liner and check how much ink each of these erasers lifted.

The pencil doodles.

Here’s the inking. You can see the pencil marks beneath, and I waited for the ink to completely dry before trying to erase the underdrawing.

Inked in.

The results were “ravishing” as to be expected:

All the erasers lifted a significant amount of ink, leaving the resulting ink grey and muted.

You can look at the closeup below and see just how much ink was lifted. These are all terrible for art use, which again, isn’t surprising. I drew an ink line for reference under these, just so you can see how much ink was lifted. Also the top line of left hand dude’s sleeve wasn’t erased so you can compare that too:

The Muji erased faired the best at this part of the test, although I still wouldn’t recommend using it to erase underdrawings.

Of the four erasers that I tested, the Boxy and Dust Catch are the best, and of these two the Boxy is the one I would choose, because of its compact size and its slightly better performance. None of these erasers are terrible, but if you’re investing in a good box eraser (and you should) the Boxy is definitely one to consider.

And why are these black? Presumably to not show dirt, though I find that both frivolous and counterproductive. If the eraser shows dirt, then you know that may need to clean it on a bit of scrap paper before using it, so that it won’t transfer that dirt onto your clean paper. However, I suspect that the real reason is that black erasers just look cool, and the rest is just plain marketing.

30 Days of Drawing: Days 1-5

I decided not to take part in Inktober this year. Instead I’ll be drawing at least one page a day in my Stillman and Birn pocket Alphas. It happens that there are just a few pages left in my first pocket Alpha, the one I got gifted by Stillman and Birn as part of their sponsorship of Gabi Campanario’s Urban Sketches Porto 2018 symposium class. I use multiple sketchbooks at the same time, and finishing and starting a notebook is always the hardest part for me. So I decided to challenge myself to finish my old Stillman and Birn pocket Alpha and start on a new one, by challenging myself to draw at least a page a day for 30 days straight.

I will be batch uploading these 5 days at a time, so here’s what I drew on the 17th of September until today, the 21st of September:

Caran d’Ache Fixpencil

Since I’ve been working from home I’ve had more time to dig into my stationery and art supply stash and add new things into my rotation. My favourite lead holder is a vintage Eagle Turquoise Prestomatic 3377, which is all metal and a little on the heavy side, but it’s a fabulous sketching tool. If I want to carry something lighter around I fall back to the all time classic Staedtler Mars technico.

Eagle Turquoise Prestomatic on top, Staedler Mars technico on the bottom

I use these lead holders as sketching tools, and so they normally hold B or 2B leads from Staedler, Mitsubishi, or Caran d’Ache. Good quality leads aren’t cheap, so I expect any lead holder I use to protect them sufficiently well, as well as provide a solid grip that works in many drawing angles. Any added bells and whistles, like clips, a lead sharpener or a built in eraser, are just not things that I’ll use, so I don’t take them into account when I decide whether to purchase a lead holder or not.

Caran d’Ache Fixpencil

The Caran d’Ache Fixpencil is not a new lead holder on the market, but it is a new lead holder for me. Something about its price range and design made me think that it’s a lead holder for people who like to write with lead holders, not so much for people who like to sketch with them. Lead holders ordinarily have a very functional, “tool-like” vibe to them, and not a lot of polish. Contrary to that, the Caran d’Ache Fixpencil is a sleek and polished thing of beauty.

Grip texture vs body texture.

Having used the Caran d’Ache 849 I was worried that the Fixpencil would have the same slippery texture, with a grip that isn’t up to the task. If I’m drawing with a lead holder, then I’m working fast and loose, and the last thing I want to worry about is the holder flying out of my hands. Unlike other lead holders, the Fixpencil doesn’t have a knurled or striated grip, but rather uses a sandpaper like texture on its grip section instead. As I shift my drawing angle a lot, I find that texture really unpleasant. I also wonder how superficial it is, and whether it will wear down to sleekness after a relatively short time.

The Fixpencil is a thing of beauty, with the same minimal branding as the 849, and the same clip and body design. Apart from the clip, there are no bells and whistles here, but that doesn’t detract from the holder. It comes with a B Caran d’Ache technograph lead, which is excellent.

Written on a Baron Fig Confidant

I watched an live streamed concert from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, and sketched the singer using the Fixpencil and a Leuchtturm1917 Sketchbook and it worked well. I would never use it as my main lead holder, as I don’t like the grip, but your milage may vary, especially if you plan to write and not sketch with it.

If you’re just starting your sketching journey I’d recommend the Staedtler Mars technico line, whether vintage or new. They are ugly ducklings, but they are great, relatively cheap workhorses. I’d recommend trying the Fixpencil before you buy it, as you may find its grip section as unpleasant as I found it, or it may be one of your favourite tools.

Urban Sketch: Election Day Tel Aviv

IMG_3907

A sketch on location of my polling station in Tel Aviv (don’t be creepy) on election day.

While I was sketching an elderly volunteer came for a chinwag in the shade, and then stayed and chatted for a good long while. I guess he was lonely. And later two girls came around selling cookies and lemonade for charity, so I bought a cookie and talked to them while they watched me draw and tried to sell their wares.

Schminke watercolours, Staedtler pigment liners, Stillman & Birn pocket Alpha.

Tel Aviv and London

Drawn with Staedtler fineliners and various markers. The actresses from the wonderful play “The Mystery of the Lost City Guardian (of Doom)”.