April 5, 2009


This week: Tiny little metal ball

So most of you probably recognize this:

A Pentel Pocket brush, the finest brush pen on the market. Real bristles made of some sort of high grade polymer that maintains a razor-tip after years of use. Cartridge-loads with that special super-fine pigment Japanese ink that can sit in bristles for weeks without clogging them, and it's waterproof (when allowed to cure for a day) to boot.

If you're like me and you go long periods without using a tool though, you may have trouble with even the Pentel's finely ground ink settling a little bit. Unless your cartridge has a tiny metal ball in it.

About a year after first purchasing my pocket brush nearly 5 years ago, I needed new cartridges, so I went and got some, and found that the new cartridges I bought all had tiny metal balls trapped inside, to stir the pigment when moved or shaken, like a spray paint can. Needless to say having another little bit of cool gadgetry added to my favorite drawing tool delighted me. The cartridges I'd bought before had no metal balls, so I assumed that the metal balls were a new upgrade, one I was very happy with.

Next time I needed new cartridges, I bought them, opened them, and...no...balls.

Thank god I had the thought to rifle my garbage for my last cartridge. I cut the little ball out and jammed it into the new ball-less cartridge, and it worked great. There was no design difference except one was missing a ball, and the flexible plastic allowed me to push the ball in without damaging or expanding the cartridge and ruining the airtight seal.

I have never since found cartridges with balls, and I check every time I'm in a store that has them. They must have been discontinued for some reason, perhaps expense.

So, if any of you should ever be lucky enough to buy a pack with the metal ball inside, here's how you keep hold of it:

Go to a sink, because you'll need to be someplace you can get dirty and easily clean up, and you'll also need to do some rinsing.

First, unscrew the back off and pull off the cartridge lust like usual.




Now tip the cartridge open-end down so the ball is on the open side, and cut the butt end off with a sharp exacto. This is the part where being near a sink is really useful.




Now you can tip out the tiny metal ball. Cute, isn't it? Now quickly, rinse it off.



Now fetch a new ink cartridge. I keep mine in an old cigarette case that belonged to one of my great-grandparents.



Put the tiny metal ball on the end just like this:


If you somehow had access to a stainless steel ball-bearing of the same size, then you could use that.

Now, with the ball in the end of the cartridge, push it back in place. It will be forced through the seal and into the cartridge with no harm to any of the parts, I assure you.




Now close the pen like usual!

Next week: hoop, cone, and vase

28 comments:

B2-kun said...

Good piece of advice thanks to your keen observation skills. I had never come across an Pentel FP10 cartridge with metal ball bearings. I thought that was a feature of the Kuretake cartridges. I will start saving the metal bearings from my spent cartridges from now on.

Rivkah said...

Ah! The mythical perfect pocket brush pen. I've always wondered the brand and what they looked like. So it's actual tiny bristle at the tip? Because all the online pictures make it look like most felt tipped brush pens.

matt said...

Rivkah: NOOOOOOOO not at all! They're real, high-quality bristles, and I've used the brush pen to ink many a comic. I used it almost exclusively for the Aquaman comic and for my piece on the Awesome anthology, and for the brush parts of my Flight comic, and much of Out of water. And if you liked Craig Thompson's Carnet de Voyage, most of that was drawn with the brush pen. It's a fantastic tool.

Raluca Z said...

Two questions that have been nagging me ever since I got my hands on a Pentel brushpen.

1. Does that particular Pentel ink come in inkbottles too? I've been searching the net for it but it seems not. Up until now it's the best ink I've ever encounter and I would love to have it available for dip pens and brushes?

2. Because I was out of ink cartridges and they are not available in my country (I had to get them online and wait until they arrived and I was sort of pressed by a deadline)I did something I shouldn't have done. I used an empty cartridge and filled it without another sort of ink (it was two years ago and I don't really recall what ink it was ). Anyway it clogged the brush . Shortly afterwards I removed the ink and cleaned the brushpen thouroughly (water and soap for the bristles and water and some alchool for the inside, like one does to a pen) However I don't think I did a good job - that brush pen never worked as it used to afterwards, even with the proper ink. Do you know a way to clean brush pens in this cases? I don't have my hopes high for that one brushpen in particular (R.I.P)but I guess many novice users (or those that can't find replacement cartridges) would skip the "don't use other type of ink with this pen" line and end up ruining the tool.

Thank you for this post - I might try recycling tiny metal balls from other tools if they fit the cartridges.

Hugo Sleestak said...

I'm amazed that I've never heard of these, and that no art supplier I've bought from seems to carry them. Blick, for instance, carries a "Pentel brush pen" with a "flexible nylon tip" in their "Gifts for Children" dept. That's it. The information I've found online (at wetpaintart.com)indicates that the Pentel pocket brush bristles are synthetic, but if they work, that's all that matters. Matt, I've mentioned my preference for filling (or refilling) my Pitt markers with Rapidograph ink. Would you rate the Pentel ink as better / more permanent / more archival? Thanks for bringing another great tool to my attention!

matt said...

Raluca- 1:No, it does not, though that'd be great.

2: I did that to my real first pocket brush, and had to get another. Remember how in the post I mentioned that the ink they use is very special? What it is is, the Japanese have found some way to grind pigment finer than anyone else, and have figured out a mixture to suspend it in that can sit in a brush without letting the ink cake and dry hardly at all. Even technical pen ink (which I'll remind you are renowned for clogging) has too large ink pigment particles, and once those get into the brush, it's toast. I'm sorry to say, but your poor brush is dead. No amount of soaking in any solution will make it totally right again.Bury it in the back yard in a baby shoe box.

Hugo: I'm not sure if you were correcting or confirming on the synthetic bristles, but I did mention that they were a polymer of some sort in the post. It's hard to miss, when the brush is new before you get ink on them, they're vivid white. As for ink differences, it's not a question of which is better, it's a matter of no other ink will work in the pocket brush without killing it outright or drastically altering it's performance. You CAN use other inks in the relative of the pocket brush, the Aquash brush, which has the same great kinds of bristles, and I'll do another post on those. But they have a different dealy-do in between the ink and the bristles, and on the pocket brush that dealy-do is very finicky. Why not use the aquash instead, then? Er...well, I'll get to that when I post about those.

Bobby Vardar said...

I bought my first one years ago and was so afraid that they'd be discontinued that I stockpiled loads of cartridges which I'm still working through. As a result, I've never seen one without a ball. Thanks for the heads-up on that! I think they're sometimes described as Pentel Calligraphy brush pens - maybe just in the UK.

matt said...

Bobby- You're probably the reason none of the rest of us can find any, you lucky bastard!

KT said...

I remember the standard blue fountain pen cartridges I used to use at school coming with tiny plastic balls inside (people used to collect them). That could be another potentially easier source of things to shake up the pigment if you can't find ones with the metal balls.

Hugo Sleestak said...

Thanks Matt. No, my comment about the synthetic bristles wasn't a correction OR a confirmation - simply a comment. I was just very curious about the archival quality of the ink, and how it compared to other kinds of ink. That's all.

matt said...

It's lightfast and acid free, but how it compares to rapidograph I don't know, mon account of I never used a rapidograph before. They scare me.

Greg H said...

I've had these pens for years but haven't had any luck finding replacement cartridges in Australia. Even tried at a stationery shop during a Tokyo stopover last year. "Gomenasia."

Same story as Raluca; resorted to refilling the old cartridges. Had to thin W & N ink to get it to flow, but the result was an unsatisfactory grey line. Cleaned the brush and it seems to be no worse for wear.

Raluca (or anyone), where do you find the replacement cartridges online?

matt said...

Greg- Here: http://www.islandblue.com/store/product/8351/PENTEL-POCKET-BRUSH-PEN-REFILL/

and you'll have to wait for them to be in stock but cheaper here: https://www.jstationery.com/product_info.php?products_id=760

Greg H said...

Thanks, mate. Love your work.

Now all I have to do is get somebody to start supplying Schoellershammer Bristol Board to this forsaken continent....

Anton Emdin said...

Greg, you can buy them in Oz from Wills Quills: http://www.willsquills.com.au/AquaBrush.html

They're in Sydney, but will ship Oz wide. You can also get nibs there. Recommended.

Greg H said...

Even better! Thanks Anton!

Raluca Z said...

Hugo: You asked about a comparison of inks. I have used rapidographs before and I used them with Kooh-i-noor ink. I have - and I am currently using - Windsor and Newton black ink (with dip pens and brush) and Pentel ink with the brush pen.

waterproof: Windsor and Newton, Pentel (after let to dry properly)
and Kooh-i-noor (same but not used with brushes)

blackness(how many strokes it takes to get a black fill - black): one - Pentel; several but it generaly depends on the paper- Windsor and Newton; several to a lot and you'll still get a browish tint to your black - Kooh-i-noor

clogs: Pentel - eventually (after a looong time); Windsor and Newton - it does and quite fast that is why I dillute it; Kooh-i-noor - yes, that's why we all hate cleaning rapidographs.

dries: Pentel - fast; Windsor and Newton - fast(comparable to Pentel); Kooh-i-noor - have to wait a while

archival: Pentel and Windsor and Newton - yes, I don't recall about Kooh-i-noor, looking back at some 5 years old drawings done in it - looks pretty ok and the same to me - so I guess it is.

Is there anything I missed about inks? Anyway overral from my point of view Pentel ink is the best I've encountered so far - until they decide to have a inkbottle version of it - I'll stick to Windsor and Newton.

Hugo Sleestak said...

Raluca Z, you more than nailed it for me, without a crumb to be swept away. Thanks much.

matt said...

Raluca: Thank you so much! That was really helpful of you.

On a side note, I've been shocked to see in this thread how many folks use and like Windsor and Newton ink. It's literally the worst ink I've ever encountered, in my opinion, but I know plenty of folks who'll swear up and down by it. I'll take Dr. P.H. Martin's bombay or hi carb, Deleter, Speedball super black, Pelikan, Higgins black magic, F&W or even Koh-ih-noor (which I also hate)over it, myself.

There is no accounting for taste with inks.

Raluca Z said...

matt: About inks I guess it depends what qualities you're looking for in an ink (if it suits your purpose) and also on the availability of one product in your country.

I'd love to try out other types of inks but I'm a little reluctant to buying inkbottles with inks over the net (possible transport casualties).Out of the ones mentioned I have tried only one other brand Pelikan and it failed to produce that black I was looking for in one sweep (or several but not a lot)it flows nicely in pens though and as far as I recall it is not waterproof.

The feature I like the most about Windsor and Newton is that shiny blackness that remains as black as it can get after letting it dry properly and even after you've erased the pencils. With other inks after you erase part of the intensity of the black line goes away - part of the pigment is removed from the paper.I've heard people say that is what they hate about W&N and they prefer a rather smooth and matte look to their black.

As you said it's a matter of taste. Hope it was helpful my quick review

Hugo Sleestak said...

Me, I've never used Winsor Newton ink. Day in and day out, I use two kinds of ink. Higgins Black Magic for use with croquill pens, and Yasumoto Liquid Sumi ink for brush work. The Sumi ink is waterproof, has a matte finish, and smells a little like pine. My favorite ink of all is the Yasumoto Sumi Ink Stick, which you grind into ink and mix with water yourself. It's not waterproof and is best in brushes, but it goes down beautifully and can be as thin or thick as you like, since you are basically the ink maker.

matt said...

I have a comic tools reader working on a highly detailed analysis of several inks right now that she'll post on her blog and then I'll post that here, and in that post I'll also be including interviews with several cartoonists, specifically ones who like inks that I don't, and why. This really is a subject where it's pure taste, and there is no good or bad that will be even a little universal.

cartoonmonkey said...

If you can find the "pentel pocket brush" pen, (with the large black barrel) in an EF (extra fine tip with a BLUE cap) version:

(I get these at a Japanese bookstore, and they have no english writing on the packaging at all, but they're by Pentel, and meant for doing Kanji)

It avoids having to deal with the cartridge problem at all, by merely dipping the whole end of the brush pen into your ink of choice. Squeeze the barrel, and draw up a bunch of ink, towel the brush off.

This brush has the same fibers as the pocket brush, although not quite as portable. I prefer it's weight actually.

(I've found non waterproof Pelikan 4001 to be ideal on Kinko's copy paper..) Using this combo, you'll get some of the sharpest lines known to man, since the copy paper is made to have ink fused into it without bleeding. 4001 is crucial for this though..

I abandoned trying to deal with cartridges on the pocket brush long ago. Wish it was re-fillable without using a syringe!

Sarah said...

i have also spent quite a bit of time with the pentel brush pen cartoonmonkey is referring to. i'm a bit paranoid about them exploding with that squishy squeezy barrel but thus far, they haven't. The ink can get thicker after a few months and become a bit awkward to work with but this is easily fixed with a new barrel. they do last for quite a long time and i have to agree with cartoonmonkey, the weight of them is nice. in addition to being fatter, they are also longer so i think it just feels more balanced in general. what is especially great it that they come in several vibrant colors (i've seen red, pink, brown, green and yellow so far but i'm sure there are more).

Coop said...

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JoBi said...

I'm doing an experiment. Bought two pens. I emptied one cartridge and filled it with plain Talens india ink.

Did it more than six months ago (I don use it every day) and still no clogs, no problems.

Georg said...

I ordered new Pentel carts two weeks ago (from the same company that had previously shipped them without metal balls) and this time they came with the metal bearings!
I’m not sure whether the ink itself has also changed in its composition, it doesn’t look more saturated, anyway. But now it’s seemingly more difficult to write the refills dry and much of the ink remains inside the cartridge.

matt said...

Georg: I'm totally confused by your last two sentences, could you re-phrase them for me, please? I particularly don't know what you mean by "write the refills dry."