Owl Ink Review: Zebra Brush Pens

Owl Ink Review | Zebra Brush Pens Review


Zebra brush pens are highly regarded as some of the best brush pens for lettering beginners, and I’d say they deserve that reputation.

They are available in three tip sizes – extra fine, fine, and medium. I own all three, and compare them here.


Owl Ink Review | Zebra Brush Pens Review


Owl Ink Review | Zebra Brush Pens Review


Owl Ink Review | Zebra Brush Pens Review


Extra Fine Brush

The Extra Fine brush is great for those who struggle with thin upstrokes. I think this is the most challenging part about learning brush lettering — I’m STILL figuring out how to be consistent with my upstrokes!

Because the tip is so tiny, even if you are a bit heavy-handed on the upstroke, it still looks fairly thin.

However, the Extra Fine tip size also writes a bit on the dry side. Just as gel pens with 0.3 tips tend to be scratchier and more skip-prone than 0.5 or 0.7, sometimes the ink flow just can’t keep up with the pen.

Fine Brush

In my opinion, the Fine brush is the juiciest of the three. It’s like the Goldilocks porridge of brush pens — the tip is wide enough for smooth ink flow, but still fine enough to easily create hairlines.

Medium Brush

I was not a huge fan of the Medium brush at first. Compared to the dainty Extra Fine tip, the Medium tip felt like a pair of clunky ’90s platform shoes. I kept getting “bottom-heavy” letters, which happens at the the transition between downstroke and upstroke.

However, with some practice, I found that it IS possible to get really nice line variation. It was just harder to achieve than with the firmer Extra Fine.


Waterproof: One really awesome thing about these pens is that they contain waterproof ink! I ran a waterbrush over some scribbles and they stayed completely legible. Not even a smudge. I’m impressed.

Size Variation: With 3 sizes to choose from, I can easily pick the best for the project at hand — whether it’s a quote, an envelope, or a gift tag.


Fraying Tips: These are designed as disposable brush pens and as a result, the felt tip does wear down pretty quickly :/ You can prolong the pen’s life if you write exclusively on butter-smooth Rhodia paper or marker paper, but understand that eventually your tips WILL lose their springy hairline-creating abilities.

Not Refillable: Unfortunately the brushes are not refillable. I’ve heard of people prying off the end cap and syringing black ink into the pen barrel to “refill” the pen, but I haven’t tried this myself.

However, that doesn’t mean you should throw out your dried-up brushes! You can create some pretty cool textured effects with a dry brush.


Owl Ink Review | Zebra Brush Pens Review
California is about as dry as this pen right now #CAdrought



Overall I’m a fan of the Zebra brush pens and would definitely recommend them to any beginning lettering artist. They are firm enough that the tips doesn’t squash easily under a heavy hand, but flexible enough to achieve dramatic thicks and thins.

Many experienced artists swear by these as well. Check out Matt Vergotis on Instagram for serious Zebra brush inspiration — he achieves amazing line variation with the Medium brush here.



A quick little demo of yesterday's post

A video posted by Matt Vergotis (@mattvergotis) on


ALSO, an extra tip– if you live within close proximity to a Daiso (it’s like a Japanese dollar store), you might occasionally get lucky and find these brush pens in the arts/stationery aisle. The packaging differs sometimes, but it’s the same pen.

I hope this review has been helpful!

Here are some more of my own brush lettering samples :)


Owl Ink Review | Zebra Brush Pens Review


Owl Ink Review | Zebra Brush Pens Review


Owl Ink Review | Zebra Brush Pens Review

Owl Ink Review: Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens

Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


In my latest JetPens order, I picked up a super cute pen called the Kuretake CocoIro!


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


The CocoIro is a little pen that gets its name from the Japanese words for heart (kokoro) and color (iro). Supposedly, the name means “color of your heart”. A little cheesy, but sure!

The CocoIro pen actually consists of two separate parts: the refill and the pen body.


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


Pen bodies are available in many charming colors like Duckegg Blue, Sunflower, and Kiwi. They definitely have a cute, Instagram-ready appeal! I am partial to neutrals though, so I chose Black and Warm Chestnut.


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


Ink refills are available in a selection of colors as well. In addition to basic black, they also come in dark muted colors (sepia, bordeaux) and light cheery colors (mint, rose).


To assemble the pen, you just remove the cap, stick the refill into the hollow body, and screw it in.


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


One thing that slightly bothers me about this pen is the fact that the butt of the refill sticks out. I understand that Kuretake wanted to make the pen cute and compact, but why?? -_- It looks fine with the black pen body, but odd with any other color.

I deal with it by posting the cap and trying to forget it exists.


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


Lettering Test

Here is the performance test of the two brush tips I tried: the bristle brush and the super fine brush.


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


First I tried the “Super Fine Brush” tip inside the chestnut colored pen body.  I was actually quite surprised by how firm the tip was! Firmness is good though, as it allows for more control during those super-skinny calligraphy upstrokes.


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


However, I did notice that pressing down firmly on the brush would cause it to become misshapen. I could reshape the brush tip by pressing it against the paper, but I imagine it might not withstand that sort of abuse for long.

I would compare the tip firmness to another Kuretake pen, the Fudegokochi Super Fine.


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


Next up was the “Brush Type” tip inside the black pen body. This performed like any bristle tip —  pretty juicy but also capable of the dry brush effect if you write quickly.


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


The ink, while black, is not SUPER dark. Kuretake also has no specs on the archival quality or lightfastness of the ink.

The tip is comparable to the Pentel Pocket Brush.


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


Something interesting to note: the refills themselves are quite large, and the grip section is thick enough to be used on its own. Because you don’t necessarily need the pen body, I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks prefer using the refill alone.


Overall, I really like the CocoIro! I don’t know why it has taken me so long to try it. They are very reasonably priced and I definitely see myself using them in future lettering and calligraphy projects.


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens


  • Just so CUTE!!!
  • Lightweight, ergonomic shape
  • Affordable price
  • Refillable
  • Extra fine brush is nice and stiff for precise lettering
  • Bristle brush has nice line variation


  • Butt of refill sticks out, looks silly
  • Super fine brush tip may wear out easily
  • Ink is not SUPER dark, more like off black
  • Matte surface texture picks up lint and stains over time


Owl Ink Review | Kuretake CocoIro Lettering Pens

Review: Canon CP910 Selphy Compact Photo Printer

Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review

We interrupt our regular pen and paper programming to bring you this gadget review: the Canon CP910 Selphy compact smartphone printer!

I’ve been wanting a compact, instant photo printer for a while now. I really enjoy scrapbooking, but I usually don’t print my photos right away. In the past, this has led to a backlog of scrapbooking entries… I fall behind, and then I’m very unmotivated to catch up.

I love cute Polaroid-style cameras like the popular Fujifilm Instax, but I realized that it isn’t the most cost-effective. Because the photos are printed the moment you click the shutter, you waste film on shots of people blinking or being caught off guard.

A phone printer provides the advantage of letting you review your photos, select the best shot, and even edit in your photo editing app of choice.


I sifted through dozens of reviews and unboxing videos, ultimately narrowing the selection down to three choices: the Polaroid Zip, Instax Share, and the Canon Selphy.

Polaroid Zip

Pros: Small, ultra-pocketable size for traveling. Convenient sticky backing for instant use in scrapbooks or journals!!

Cons: The device is expensive, and so are the special ZINK paper refills.

(Side note: for a fantastic and very detailed review of this printer, check out Priya’s review of the Polaroid Zip on her blog, The London Parchment!)

Fujifilm Instax Share

Pros: Super cute and trendy polaroid frame. Photos print in retro-style color.

Cons: Also expensive due to special polaroid cartridges. Color accuracy is poor (if you aren’t specifically looking for the retro fade effect)

Canon CP910 Selphy

Pros: Most affordable and offers the best color accuracy. Takes a variety of refill sizes (postcard and smaller)

Cons: Not very portable, slow printing time, and must be plugged in to operate.

With all of the above pros and cons in mind, I chose the Canon. I bought in on Amazon, and it arrived a few weeks later.

Unboxing & Setup


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


The Canon Selphy arrives in a box that includes the printer, power cable, ink cartridge, warranty card, film paper, and instruction booklet.


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


Setup is pretty simple — plug the cable in, insert the cartridge, load the film paper, and you’re ready to go! I had it up and running in less than five minutes.

First, plug your printer in. Then, unwrap the cartridge and pop it into the printer body. There is a specific orientation that it goes in, but it’s not hard to figure it out.


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


Load the paper into the tray. Be careful not to touch the paper, or your photos will have fingerprints! The paper tray snaps securely into the front of the printer.


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


The paper tray has a lid, which protects the paper from dust when not in use. I keep the lid on most times, but when you are ready to print, flip the top cover where it says “Open” to expose the paper.


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


To connect your smartphone to the printer, navigate to your Wi-Fi settings. You’ll have to enter in a password, which is included in the setup documentation.


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


The only way to print from your phone is to download Canon’s specific printing app, Canon PRINT. It’s free on the iOS app store.

Side note: Here you can see the other photo apps I use.  Would you be interested in a blog post about my favorite photo editing apps? 


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


The app interface is pretty clunky and could use some work, but it is relatively easy to use. You can select multiple photos at a time, which is pretty convenient.

As a test image, I used the InstaCollage app to make this quick collage of a cactus shop that I visited last month!


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


The Canon Selphy printer runs on dye-sublimation technology, which uses heat to transfer colored dyes onto the photo paper. It does this in four passes: yellow, red, blue, and a shiny clear coat.

With each pass, you can see the image emerge. Four passes may seem slow, but it is actually quite fast! So fast that I didn’t capture the printing process in time for the cactus photo, so I did another test with a collage of my recent hiking trip.


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


I was pleasantly surprised by how accurately the Canon Selphy printed the colors shown on my phone screen. The colors would probably be more crisp with an actual printing service, but I thought it was very close. There was slight blurring, but only around text or borders– such as the caption and frames that I added to the collage.

Once the picture is done, it can be picked up right away. Because of the clear coat, you don’t have to worry about touching the paper now– the photo will be completely dry and ready.

Ok, back to the cactus photo.


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


You can see that there are two perforated bands on either side of the photo– I believe this extra paper is for the printer feed. Simply fold at the perforations, and they snap off easily. A slightly toothy edge is left, but it doesn’t really bother me.


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


What did bother me was that parts of my collage were cut off with the perforations, but I think this was due to the dimensions of my collage app and not due to the printer itself.

You can then clip the edges with a corner rounder, or cut it into any desired shapes!


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


Overall, I am very happy with my purchase! It may not be as novel as the cute polaroid-style instant snapshots, but it is great for my needs.

With an instant printer, I am encouraged to document my life more frequently. I already use my phone as my main camera, and now I have a quick and easy way to make my own prints that are ready for scrapbooking!


Owl Ink | Canon Selphy CP910 Photo Printer Review


You can find the Canon CP910 printer on Amazon. Apparently the CP910 model I just reviewed has been replaced by a newer model, so it is actually cheaper now!

These are not affiliate links and I am not connected to Amazon in any way, I just bought this for myself and wanted to share it with you all.

Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils

Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


This is part of an ongoing series where I review some of my favorite creative tools!

I first spotted Blackwing pencils on the Instagram posts of various artists I follow, and was intrigued by these supposed “high end pencils”. The more I saw their sophisticated colors and giant, shiny ferrules, the more I needed to try one for myself!

Eager as I was, it actually took me quite a while to get my hands on one. As a Blackwing newbie, I wanted to sample one of each since the different pencils contain varying lead grades. However, Blackwings are only available in packs of 12 at most retailers… and since they aren’t cheap (about $22 for 12), an entire box is a hefty pencil commitment!


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


If you’re lucky though, you can find single versions in little brick-and-mortar shops for about two dollars. I picked up a few at Maido in San Jose, and one at CW Pencils in Manhattan. (I’ve also spotted “eligible singles” at both Kinokuniya branches in San Francisco and NYC, as well as FLAX Art in San Francisco.)


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


The original Blackwing lineup consists of three models: the Blackwing MMX, Blackwing 602, and Blackwing Pearl. Here are some details:

  • Blackwing MMX: softest and darkest graphite, matte black lacquer with gold text, gold ferrule, and a white eraser. This is the only pencil that has a slim gold band printed near the ferrule.
  • Blackwing Pearl: medium graphite, shiny pearl white lacquer with black text, gold ferrule, and a black eraser
  • Blackwing 602: hardest graphite, shiny gray lacquer with two sides of gold text, gold ferrule, and a black eraser. This pencil has Blackwing’s motto, “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” printed on the body.

The soft MMX lead wears down rather quickly, and is best for sketching. Both the Pearl and 602 have better point retention, and are great as general-use writing pencils. In terms of smoothness, they are all very smooth — a quality that becomes apparent if you write with a Blackwing for a while and then switch back to a cheap school pencil.

It’s hard to tell in these photos, but there really is a slight variation in darkness/lightness as you go from the MMX to the 602.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


In terms of sharpening, all of them sharpen very well. Cheap pencils tend to have misaligned graphite cores, which mean they frequently snap while sharpening. Quality pencils like the Blackwing have meticulously aligned cores, so they did not have any issues  — even with an older, slightly dull sharpener.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


They also have large erasers housed in shiny oversized ferrules. I honestly think the gold ferrule is what leads me to reach for Blackwings more often than any other pencil (oooh, shiny!). The eraser can be extended by inching it up from the metal casing, or swapped for other erasers of varying colors.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


The Apple-esque colors of white, gold, black, and “space gray” make them lovely eye candy on my desk, and pretty props for my photos.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


If you do decide to splurge on a whole 12-pack of pencils, it is a worthwhile purchase. The packaging is nicely done, with a minimal sleeve and a nice matte black box that definitely worth keeping.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


Another noteworthy pencil point to mention is that Blackwing offers a seasonal limited edition release, called Volumes. To those outside of the stationery lovers’ circle, a limited edition pencil may seem like a strange thing to be giddy about, but even those with no affinity for stationery can at least appreciate the thoughtful design that goes into these special releases.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


A recent release, Volume 211, is inspired by the 211-mile John Muir trail that runs from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney. Its natural-wood finish and rustic brown eraser really evoke the woodsy, outdoor spirit of John Muir — making it the perfect match for the Field Notes Shelterwood!


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


As a calligraphy artist, I have found a designated use for the 602 as my envelope sketching pencil — its lead is light enough to be easily erased, yet dark enough that I can see it on colored envelopes. I’ve used up quite a length of this pencil making wedding envelopes and sketching out name cards.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


I’ve also been experimenting with pencil calligrapy (penciligraphy?), and have found the soft Blackwing MMX capable of creating very elegant line variation. To accomplish this, I treat the pencil like a dip nib or brush tip — press harder on downstrokes for swells, and lighter on upstrokes for hairlines.


Owl Ink Review: Palomino Blackwing Pencils


I’ve been using Blackwings in regular rotation for a while now and there’s just something about them that is really unique. Part of the pencil’s allure certainly lies in its chic appearance and the cult mentality of the creative folks that use them!

That being said, it also has an extensive and fascinating history, which covers legendary animators, musicians, and authors like John Steinbeck. History buffs can read about it on the official Blackwing website.

Review: White Inks for Calligraphy

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink


I recently had the opportunity to test some white inks, and wanted to share my findings. Specifically, I wanted to see which white inks were best for calligraphy.

Here are my results! I hope you’ll find this helpful :)


White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

White Calligraphy Inks

These inks are either marketed as calligraphy inks or are popular within the calligraphy community. (You can click on the image for a larger view)


 White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Dr. Ph. Martin’s Pen-White – ★★★★

  • Very thick right out of the bottle
  • Requires diluting with distilled water
  • It is ~magical~ once dry, crisp and very opaque
  • Handy eyedropper for easy diluting in separate container

Verdict: Worth the hassle of finding the perfect ink-to-water ratio because it is fantastic when diluted properly.

Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleed Proof White Ink – ★★★★

This is hailed among many calligraphers are the holy grail of white ink! My coworker was kind enough to let me take a dip out of her bottle to test it out.

  • VERY thick and pasty — even thicker than the Pen-White
  • Requires more diluting with distilled water
  • Crisp and opaque once dry
  • Similar to the Pen-White

Verdict: Best ink for the price. Since you are diluting it so much, the tiny bottle will go a long way.

J. Herbin Dip Pen Calligraphy Ink – ★★★☆

  • Lower viscosity and thus writes straight from the bottle.
  • Better ink flow, smoother to write with
  • Less opaque, fades significantly as it dries.

Verdict: I give this ink points for convenience, despite its low opacity. Plus, it is perfect for the rustic/vintage chalkboard look that is quite popular.

Speedball Calligraphy Ink – ★★★☆

  • Only $2! An easy purchase if you are just trying out white calligraphy
  • Bottle shape makes dipping easy
  • Must be diluted with water
  • Quite opaque once dry
  • Less smooth and dries with a bumpy finish

Verdict: If you are going through the trouble of patiently diluting your ink, you might as well go for Dr. Ph. Martin’s.

 J. Herbin Dip Pen Pigmented Ink – ★★☆☆

  • More watery and less opaque than the other J. Herbin white
  • If you write too slowly,  ink drips off the nib
  • If you write quickly, not enough ink is left on the page resulting in faded letters

Verdict: I don’t really like it :(

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

White Comic Inks

Comic artists use white in many ways — adding highlights to eyes and hair, or covering up small mistakes. Many manga artists use the same G nib that is popular among calligraphers, so I figured it was worth a try.

These inks are VERY thick — almost all of them need to be diluted with water to be usable, and it took a lot of trial and error to get the right ink-to-water ratio for all of them. Once diluted, I was pleasantly surprised by how well some of them worked as calligraphy inks!

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Copic Opaque White – ★★★★

  • Very thick out of the bottle, requires diluting
  • Smooth once diluted
  • Very opaque and crisp when dry
  • Annoyingly tiny bottle
  • Kind of expensive for the size

Verdict: The most opaque of the comic inks, if you can get past the price and the frustration of scooping the ink out of the tiny bottleneck.

Deleter White #1 and White #2 – ★★★★

  • Very thick out of the bottle, requires diluting
  • Smooth once diluted
  • Opaque when dry
  • #2 is waterproof!

Verdict: There isn’t much difference between the two, but I found #1 to be slightly smoother.

IC Comic Art White and Super White -★★★☆

  • Very thick out of  the bottle, requires diluting
  • Not as smooth as Deleter inks
  • Super White is very opaque when dry

Verdict: The regular Art White is mediocre, the Super White is much better.

Kaimei Manga Ink – ★★☆☆

  • Thinnest manga ink – thus, surprisingly smooth out of the bottle
  • Decently opaque when dry
  • Annoying caveat: chalky bubble effect

Verdict: Pretty decent, but with one MAJOR caveat. The pigment settles to the bottom, so when you shake the bottle to mix up the ink, a mass of bubbles forms. As you write, your pen leaves a trail of tiny bubbles that dry inside your calligraphy, making it look rough and messy :/

Kuretake Comic White – ★★☆☆

  • Very thick out of the bottle, requires diluting
  • Not cooperative with the paper I used
  • Difficult to write with
  • Not very opaque once diluted

Verdict: This is one comic ink that cannot really be used as a calligraphy ink. It works on some papers, but not on others — not worth the gamble


Some examples of my favorite inks in action…

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Dr. Ph. Martin’s Pen-White

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bleed Proof White

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Speedball Calligraphy White

White Calligraphy Ink Review | Owl Ink

Dr. Ph. Martin’s Pen-White on a light gray envelope


There are some other white inks that I’ve heard about, but not yet tried. Eventually, I hope to try all of them…

Note: All product photos from JetPens.com and DickBlick.com. Review photos by me.

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