Review: Pilot Pocket Brush Pens - Hard & Soft

Welcome to the first of a few product reviews. While I work mainly digitally for commercial work, I am constantly doodling and sketching when I'm away from the computer. Sitting on the couch equals drawing for me, and I have a small pocket book that lives in my back pocket for those rare times when I'm let loose in public. There is no real substitute for a good quality sable brush and a pot of ink, but for those times when you're out and about and want something that gives you a variable line - you need to find something easy, not fussy and pocket-friendly, and no-one does this better than the Japanese these days.

I'll be doing a big review featuring brush pens that have 'real' synthetic hair, but for now let's ease into a couple of disposable pens that serve a different purpose; doodling.

The Pilot Pocket Brush Pens - Hard and Soft

Pilot Pocket Brush Pen - Hard

Pilot Pocket Brush Pen - Soft

Images copyright & courtesy of Jetpens

Firstly, these aren't brushes. They are flexible points fashioned into tapered points that give you a variable line depending on the angle and pressure used. I like these sort of pens for quick sketches for myself or others that don't require the patience of brush work. Also, at functions and parties, after a couple of glasses of red wine, the hand gets a little lazy, and pens like these offer a tighter line and more control.

Look and feel

Capped, both the Pilot Pocket Brush Pen - Hard [PILOT SV-30KK-B] and the Pilot Pocket Brush Pen - Soft [PILOT SV-30KS-B] look identical. Except the soft version is black; the hard a dark blue.

Both are light, comfortable pens that sit comfortably in the pocket. The design is nothing special, but hopefully when you're drawing with these people won't be looking at the pen!

The tips are where these two differ. The Hard version has a small pointed tip mounted on to a flexible base, whereas the Soft pen is a felt or rubber moulded flexible point.

While the soft-tipped pen resembles a brush more, I must say here that it is less satisfying to use. The point tends to lag behind, and get stuck in a bent position for a moment, not snapping back like one would expect. Plus there's the noise; a squeak! Yes, this baby squeaks on every stroke. In a noisy environment it won't make a difference, but when quiet it is quite off-putting. It's not like the soothing scratching of a dip pen, this is a mouse-like squeak that drives me nuts!

The hard-tipped version feels much better to use, and I find myself reaching for it more often than not.

Quality of line

Both pens are capable of producing lines of varied weight, depending on the pressure used. The soft pen looks a little more like a natural brush line, while the hard tip looks more pen-like. The differences on paper are pretty minimal, as you can see below.

Pilot pocket brush pens comparison

If you are wanting to make long, fast, sweeping strokes the soft is a little better, but both tend to run dry towards the end of the stroke. The pens were made to write Japanese characters; short small strokes, and don't have a wet enough flow for large drawings. But for smaller sketches, as I've shown here, they are fine. (The pages below are A4, so they give you an idea of the scale.)

Here are some quick sketches (doodles, really) to give you an idea of what I use the pens for. I've never used these over pencil lines, so I can't tell you how they erase. I have occasionally smudged the lines with saliva to make a wash or shading, and they give a nice purple hue. I know that sounds a bit gross, but it gives it a nice, soft look!

Pilot Hard -Test Sheet

Pilot Soft - Test Sheet


As you can see from the samples above, both pens give similar results. The soft samples are a little looser, probably due to that fact I felt less in control of the line.

But the end product isn't the only thing to consider. It's how you feel using a tool that makes you want to use it more. It was easier using the hard brush. The soft was a chore, and I had to work hard to get any sort of detail. For loose, flowing work, I think the soft would be better, but if you want to draw angles and smaller shapes, the mushy point just can't handle it.

Both pens are fun to use, but the squishy, squeaky tip of the soft pen was a deal-breaker. If you are after a good all-purpose doodle pen with a variable line, I would try the Pilot Pocket Brush Hard. It's certainly not the perfect pen, nor a brush replacement, but for me it's the best I've found yet.

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EDIT (5th June, 2010):
I recently went to The States for a conference and found that I would pull out the Pilot Soft Pen far more often than any other brush pen - real hair or felt tip. For some reason my drawing has become faster, and a lot of the other pens cannot handle this. It may be that from using the pen a lot (to sketch people on the subway, etc) that I have become more used to it and therefore can get better results. In any case, at the time of writing, I am using this pen a lot for sketching, and felt I should mention it here. I gave it a bad rap above. But yes, it still squeaks - but I never noticed that out in public, only in the quiet studio.