Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Watercolor Brushpen Review: Sakura Koi Watercolor Brushpens

Today would have been my father's 63rd birthday.  Happy birthday, Dad.

Watercolor markers and brushpens are very popular right now.  Zig Clean Color Real Brush pens were recently the rage amongst crafters and stampers, calligraphers love Tombow ABT watercolor brush pens, and many artists and illustrators enjoy Winsor and Newtons watercolor markers, but there are many other options on the market.  Sakura, the company that brings us Gelly Rolls and Microns, has long been a player in the affordable watercolor market.

Sakura Koi's watercolors are available in three formats- dry pan watercolors, watercolor tubes, and watercolor brush pens, also known as the Koi Coloring Brush Pens.  All types can be activated with water, but only the watercolor brush pens utilize the Sakura Koi blender pen.

The Stats

  • Solid Nylon Brush, similar to Zig Art and Graphic Twin, Tombow ABT
  • Easily available in sets- 6, 12, 24, 48
  • Available openstock from the Sakura Koi site for $2.49, some colors are available on Amazon, lowest price on DickBlick
  • Sets are also available on DickBlick and Jetpens
  • Blender pen sold separately
  • Color coordinating caps
  • Single tip
  • Can be blended with water or colorless blender
  • Dye based ink
  • Plate finish paper recommended
  • Ink is not fade resistant
Digital Color Chart

Colors available in the 12 Pack

Sky blue
Yellow Green

Colors Purchased Open Stock

Aqua Blue
Colorless Blender
Light Cool Gray
Fresh Green
Rose red
Coral Red
Raw Sienna
Dark Brown
Woody Brown
Naples Yellow
Salmon Pink
Sap Green

Techniques for Koi Watercolor Brushpens

Basic Shapes & Shading with Sakura Koi Coloring Brush & Water Brush

The Packaging

The package is heavyweight plastic, meant to withstand travel.  It closes with a tab system that seems fairly secure, far more secure than tape which other brands often use.

The back reads:

Achieve fine, medium, or bold brush strokes by changing the nib pressure

The dye-based inks blend easily to create a multitude of color hues

The special 'blender' pen creates seamless washes and color gradations (available separately)

Ages 14+

The Markers

These markers only have one tip- a large nylon brush with plenty of give.  In many of the tutorial videos, you can hear an audiable squeak as the nib moves across plate-surface paper.  These nibs are designed to take a lot of pressure and abuse.

Koi Coloring Brushes lay down a generous amount of ink on application.

Compared To Other Watercolor Brushpens

From top: Sakura Koi Coloring Brush (2), Zig Clean Color Real Brush (2), Zig Art and Graphic Twin (2), Zig Brushables (2), Marvy Le Plume (1), Tombow ABT (1) .  See bottom of post for links to these reviews.
 Sakura Koi Coloring Brush Pens are relatively small compared to other watercolor brushpens, as they only have a single tip.

From top:  Marvy Le Pen, Zig Brushable, Zig Art and Graphic Twin, Zig Clean Color Real Brush, Sakura Koi Coloring Brush
 The Sakura Koi Coloring Brush has a fairly large brush given the size of the overall pen, a bit smaller than the Art and Graphic Twin, but close in size to the Brushable.

Top to bottom:  Sakura Koi Coloring Brush Pen, Zig Clean Color Real Brush, Zig Art and Graphic Twin, Zig Brushable, Marvy LePlume, Tombow ABT

Comparison shot of the double sided markers.

From top to bottom: Sakura Koi Coloring Brush, Tombow ABT, Marvy LePlume blenders

The Swatch Test

Sakura Koi Swatch Test- Nattosoup

Blending marker into marker worked fairly well, although color did not carry as far as I would have liked.  I generally blend dark into light, and go over the area I want graduated with the light marker again.

Color blends moderately well with the Sakura Koi blender- with waterbased markers, blenders pick up color and move it forward, rather than pushing the color to the back of the paper as alcohol blenders do with alcohol based markers.

Felt that the Tombow Colorless Blender worked quite well with these watercolor markers.

The 12 pack and the markers I'd originally purchased openstock did not have any usable skintones, so I ordered additional colors from the Sakura site to round out my collection and give me the necessary material for the upcoming field tests.  These came packaged in a non-descript cardboard box.

I was very pleased with these markers in general after swatching, and pleased specifically with the colors I purchased openstock for the field test.  Colors were swatched in a Strathmore Watercolor journal.  Dyes held their color well even after water was added.

The Field Test (wet)

Sakura Koi Field Test-Nattosoup

Field test was completed on Fabriano cotton rag watercolor paper.  Illustration was inked with the Copic and waterproof Sailor Mitsuo Aida.

Used a masking tape palette for this application, as well as a couple natural fiber brushes and a cup of clean water.

Marker to palette application is very pale, will take multiple layers to build up.

 Direct application to the cotton based watercolor paper while paper was damp chewed up the paper.

Blender handles different than an alcohol blender- handles differently from application of water with brush as well.

I recommend a violet over the Sakura Koi Magenta

Areas where the paper was abraded by the brushpen's surface tend to feather when additional layers are applied.

Layers tend to displace prior layers, rather than layering and effecting the visual perception of prior layers.For the field test, I didn't really use the 12 piece set I'd purchased.

Raw sienna was used for the freckles.

The photos on the package indicate a dry application, which led me to believe I was misusing the markers.

Using a brush allows for a more painterly look, due to natural variations in how much water is held within the brush and applied.

These don't take layering as well as other brands do, and are more difficult to blend.  If you aren't used to these markers, it's wise to go in with a game plan before starting, as you won't be able to make corrections easily.

Caps really do not indicate ink color, so make sure you refer to your swatches rather than relying on your caps.

The Field Test (dry)

Sakura Koi Field Test Continued (make sure the video is up and working before posting this)

I apologize that I don't have in-process photos of this portion of the review.  I thought I had a video (and I might, somewhere), but at this time, I do not.

Colors are very saturated when applied directly to the cold press, woodpulp watercolor paper.  Although they can be blended somewhat, they do not blend enough to create areas of contrast in terms of saturation.  I ended up blending out the background green with water, as it was too overwhelming, but that's the only area I used water on.  I used the Sakura Koi blender for everything else.

I was dissatisfied with how these markers handled when used entirely for dry applications, and I don't personally feel like the blender does a good enough job blending colors together, or blending colors into white to handle these markers alone.

The Verdict

For best performance, you should treat your Sakura Koi watercolor markers as you would other watercolor markers.  I personally found the dry application to be garish and over saturated, but with judicious use, that can be used to your benefit as well. 

Cheaper and easier to acquire than Zig Clean Color Real Brush pens, as they're less popular.  If you like what you see in my videos and blog post, I recommend you go ahead and buy the large set.  Not only will it save you money overall, but it will save time over ordering multiple sets or ordering open stock.

Comparable Waterbased/Watercolor Markers

Clean Color Real Brush
Zig Brushables
Zig Art and Graphic Twin
Tombow ABT
Lyra Aqua Brush Duo
Distress Watercolor Markers
Winsor Newton Watercolor Markers

For even more waterbased and watercolor reviews, please check out my Review tab above this post.

Examples of Sakura Koi used for Calligraphy

Hand Lettering with Brush Pens Tutorial by Calligrapher, Joanne Fink

Blend Koi Markers Like Watercolors - Rainbow Color Demo ft. Lisa Engelbrecht  

Koi Brush : Hindi Calligraphy by Inku Kumar

Brush Calligraphy by Inku Kumar

Other Sakura Koi Reviews

Art Supply/Product Review, Sakura Koi Coloring Brush Set -Gray (Chibi Lemi Painting)

More about Brushpens for Inking and Art

Choosing a Brushpen for Art- Jetpens Blog