Can You Dip Brush Pens In Water?

Brush pens are a delight. These handy tools are portable, colorful, and versatile. They also allow artists to achieve many effects without the bother and mess that can come with paints. The sleek designs can also bring a new element to lettering, much like traditional calligraphy brushes without the need for a separate inkpot. But if you want to add water to the mix, there are some options.  

You can dip a water-based brush pen in water. However, leaving a brush pen in water will cause you to lose ink. Alternatively, consider adding a wet pen to your set to layer over your work. Lastly, try wetting the paper first and then applying the brush pen to achieve unique watercolor effects.  

Brush pens have advantages over traditional watercolor and calligraphy brushes due to holding ink in their reservoir. Changes in pressure will provide a new stroke while keeping the pen on the page, allowing continuous color flow. They also allow art to easily shift into places between watercolor and ink, expanding creative options. But they do take some adjustment and experimentation in order to use them to their full capabilities.

How To Dip Brush Pens In Water

Dipping brush pens in water is easy; you dab the pen in and then use it. However, the length of the dip impacts how watery and translucent the ink appears. So a lengthy dip will dilute the color far more than a quick and shallow touch.

It is not recommended to dip the pen far into the water or let it soak. You lose ink and risk watering down what is in the reservoir. Left in too long and be left with a water pen devoid of color.

When starting out with dip pens, it is an excellent idea to play around with a scrap piece of paper of the same quality you wish to use for your art. The thickness and quality of the paper will impact strokes and ink intensity, just as it does when using a traditional watercolor set. Once you are familiar with the pen and how dips in water change the strokes and color, you’ll feel more confident making your art.

When You Shouldn’t Dip A Brush Pen

You should not dip a brush pen in water if it isn’t water-based. However, this isn’t a common issue. Brush pens are typically sold with water-based inks. They promote themselves as being a less messy alternative to using a watercolor set, with the advantages of being able to use them for lettering and drawing.

However, there are some brush pens out there aimed primarily at those who specialize in calligraphy or drawing, such as Manga. These are typically only sold in black, but some come in colors. These pens are not always water-based. Thus, if you have some unidentified pens mixed in with your sets, it might be wise to test them before giving them a dip.

To test the pen, draw a squiggle onto a piece of paper. Wait until you are certain the ink has thoroughly dried. Once you are satisfied the ink has dried, take a wet brush and run it over the ink. If it is water-based, it will bleed. If it isn’t, the lines will stay fixed.

If it turns out you have a mixture of water-based brush pens and permanent ones, keep them in separate cases, so you don’t accidentally mix them up. It can be fun to use both. You can use the water-based for backgrounds and add permanent line work with the other. But you must make sure you don’t dip the latter into water. It’s not suitable for the cup or the pen.

Using A Water Brush With Brush Pens

Another useful technique is using a water brush with your brush pens. A water brush is like a brush pen that only holds water. This makes them more portable than a typical brush and a cup of water. You simply uncap the water brush and put it to work. It also means you don’t have to keep lifting the brush to re-dip. Like a brush pen, you control flow and brushstroke through pressure.

You can use the water brush in two ways:

  • Apply water after using the brush pens
  • Wet the paper with the water brush, then apply the brush pens

Applying water after using the brush pens is an excellent technique for blending and lightening specific areas while keeping the intensity and defined lines in the rest of the piece. It is also a great way to get a very transparent wash without diluting and “losing” so much ink from your brush pen.

Making the page wet is an ideal way to create backgrounds. Again, this uses less ink than dipping your brush pen and will cause the colors to blend and flow with grace and beauty. Once the paper has dried, you can layer additional colors on top. A spot of the wet brush or pen dipping can also add dimension to a piece.

How Paper Impacts Using Water With Brush Pens

Paper impacts your art, regardless if you dip your brush pen or apply water before or after using your ink. For example, if you want to really wet the paper before applying color, you’ll struggle with 90-pound paper. This is because it tends to scrunch up into ripples when wet. Whereas 140-pound paper is more robust but also won’t take ages to dry, like some of the higher weight choices.

The texture will also impact the way paper holds the water and ink and influence brush strokes. Texture comes in three primary forms:

  • Hot press
  • Cold Press
  • Rough

Hot Press Paper With Water And Brush Pens

Hot press is your typical photocopy paper smooth. Thus, with watercolor paper, this paper will feel slick and silky to the touch. Hot press paper is an excellent choice if the majority of your work is going to be detailed lines. However, you’ll need to practice using water on it because it is harder to control the bleed and wash. This can produce a stunning look but also obscure and wash away areas you’d hoped to keep defined.

Because of the unpredictability of hot press, it may be preferable to dip the brush pen for the pieces you want to have a watercolor touch. This might give you more control of such an unpredictable surface.

Cold Press Paper With Water And Brush Pens

Cold press has a slight texture, giving you greater control with washes without being so bumpy that it is difficult to create nice lines. Thus, cold press is one of the most popular choices when using brush pens since it can easily swing between the two styles.

Rough Press Paper With Water And Brush Pens

Rough press paper has an incredible amount of texture. It can be very difficult to draw a neat, hard, fine line on this surface, so it is unpopular for drawing. However, it does work very well for washes and blending. So if you are considering doing a mostly hazy, washed pieces, this is a great choice, especially if you are going to begin by wetting the paper and layer with strokes from a dipped brush pen.


You can dip brush pens into water if they use water-based ink. This can be a fun method to do certain sections of a piece. However, you might find that wetting the paper first will use less ink for large background washes. Another ink-saving method is to draw first, then apply water with a water pen. Also, the control, bleed, and flow will be impacted by your choice of paper.

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