Technical drawing pens have a number of special features, which make them quite different from other pens. At the same time, there are different types of technical pens, and the differences between the types may be important to you. So, we thought it was time for an article to tell you more.
This article covers some general background information and a bit about the different types of technical pens that are available. It then has a table, showing you the features of the technical pens we sell. Finally, there are some links to places you can go for more in-depth information.
Originally, technical pens were used for drawing the sort of diagrams and designs more commonly produced using CAD (Computer Aided Design) software now. Some people still prefer to do their technical drawing that way, and these pens have found other fans, for drawing and writing.
A technical pen will normally be available in a range of line widths, sometimes conforming to ISO standards. We have pens from 0.03mm to 2.0mm, and 14 widths in between.
They will usually produce a more stable line than most pens, with very little variation in width along the stroke.
They have permanent and waterproof pigment black ink (sometimes other colours too), suitable for drafting.
They have 'needle point' tips, and if the tip isn't metal, it will have a metal surround to allow you to use the pen along the edge of a ruler or other template.
A Brief History of Technical Pens
The earliest technical pens were adjustable callipers, with the line width altered by changing the distance between the legs. They were used like a dip pen, dipping them in ink regularly during use. Along with the development of fountain pens, technical pens became capable of carrying their own ink, and much more convenient to use. By the 1960s, most technical pens consisted of a tubular feed for the ink to flow, with the ink held in the barrel. Technical pens of this type are still being made today, and give the most precise and predictable line widths.
Most later pens sacrifice some precision to be easier to refill, and to be easier to use, needing little or no maintenance.
Technical Pens or Drawing Pens?
We're really talking about technical pens here, but since most technical drawing has been replaced by CAD, one of the most common uses for such pens is now drawing and sketching. Many artists love the predictable lines and the range of widths available.
Steel-nibbed technical pens generally work best when held at 90° to the paper. The plastic-nibbed variety can be used much more like a normal pen, and are generally easier to use for sketching.
Types of Technical Pens
The technical pens available today fall into three main categories - the classic steel-nibbed pens, disposable pens, and refillable pens.
Classic Steel-Nibbed Pens
These give you the most predictable lines. They are filled with pigment drawing ink, either from a bottle, or using cartridges.
The nib sizes of these pens are quoted in mm, and represent the line width you can expect, unlike the relatively arbitrary numbering of disposable fibre-nib drawing pens.
They are generally cheap to run, as the bottled ink is cheaper than buying refills, but the pens are more expensive to buy in the first place. They also need more careful maintenance than other types. If the ink is allowed to dry out inside the pen, it can be difficult or even impossible to clean the nib unit out again. Although nib units can be replaced, the cost is usually close to the cost of the pen. If properly cared for, however, these pens will last for many years.
Bottled drawing ink gives you the choice of a range of colours that generally aren't available in other pen types.
These are the easiest types of pens to use and maintain, because you just throw them in the bin when you're done. They are cheap to buy, but can work out expensive in the long run if you use them heavily, because replacing the whole pen is generally more expensive than replacing a refill, or just refilling with ink.
The nib sizes of these pens is given as a number but these aren't an actual line width in mm. It's more a relative thing. Some brands state the line width separately, others don't.
If you tend to lose pens, or you value ease and convenience more than usage costs, disposable technical pens can be very good quality, and cope well with professional use. There is a wide range of different pens of this type available, all with black ink, and quite a few available in other colours too.
With some of these, you replace the refill and nib unit in one - the whole centre of the pen is the refill. With others, you can replace the nib units separately - more fiddly to do, perhaps, but you don't need to replace perfectly good nibs, and if the nib wears out before the ink, you're not throwing away usable ink.
Nib sizing is variable - some are simply relative numeric, others specify exact line width.
Refillable pens can be a good compromise - cheaper to run than disposable pens, but without the maintenance problems of steel-nibbed pens. Compared to disposables, you also get a nicer looking pen, as the barrels are designed to last, and are often made from metal.
There are a couple of pens that aren't proper technical pens, but which are worth mentioning here. These have many of the attributes of technical pens - needle point, stable line, quality ink, etc - but with the advantages of a normal rollerball pen in being smooth-writing and easy to handle. The Pilot G-Tec-C4 writes a 0.2mm line and has a 10-colour range; the Uni-ball Signo Bit 028 writes a 0.2mm line in 5 colours; and theUni-ball Signo Bit 018 has the world's finest rollerball line at 0.13mm, in black only.
Faber-Castell also have a reference section on their site for technical pens. It's a bit less detailed than Staedtler's PDF, but covers quite a few extra subjects, like templates, compasses and drawing boards.