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Feb
15

Craft: A Review of the New Koh-i-nor Rapidosketch Pen

The reason I buy all of my art supplies online isn’t just because it’s cheaper: I’m a sucker for picking up pretty much any new drawing tool I happen upon in a “bricks and mortar” store.  I usually manage to avoid the temptation, but last week I found myself in the local Michael’s dropping off some things to be framed (50% off framing sale going on now, y’all!) and as a wandered through the drafting isle, I saw this–the new Koh-i-nor Rapidosketch pen:

21013-1025-1-2ww-m

You’re probably familiar with the Rapidograph pen from the same company.  They’re pretty much the industry standard technical pen.  I have a set, which aside from a few replaced points, is about ten years old and I use them mainly for panel borders and balloon outlines.  They are, though, not particularly great for working in a sketchbook.  The problems here are mainly two things: First, there’s inconsistent ink flow at high speeds.  When working a little more slowly, as on an original comics page, they’re perfectly fine, but for quick casual sketches they tend to “skip” pretty frequently.  Second, they can tend to really dig into the paper you’re drawing on and this can be a real problem, especially of you’re working on flimsy paper such as those Moleskine tablets that folks really seem to love.  (Yeah, sure, Robert Crumb seems to be able to sketch with them fine, but, Hell, that’s ’cause he’s Robert Crumb.  Normal people can’t sketch well with Rapidographs… trust me.)

If you’ve seen any of my random sketchbook pages I occasionally post, you know I tend to sketch directly in pen.  My normal tool of choice is the Rotring Art pen, which, in addition to having neither of the above faults, also features a “split” point which causes it to preform like a really tight crowquil, giving you just a bit of line variation.  This Rapidosketch thing, though, seemed like it was worth a try.  Based on the name, I assumed it was designed specifically for sketching–and the box even boasted the Viagra-like claim of “consistent performance,” an allusion, I assumed, to the Rapidograph’s well-known inconsistent ink flow I mentioned above.  All signs pointed to a cool new pen.

Things began to sour a bit, though, when I got home and started to investigate the pen further.

First off, it comes with no instructions.  If you’ve used Rapidographs before, this is not a big deal, but if you’re new to this stuff I can imagine it would be a bit mystifying to try to figure out–particularly since if you store them incorrectly they tend to clog up.  On a similar note, although it came in the same packaging as a Rapidograph, the little circle indentation where the circular “wrench” (for removing the pen point) would normally be  is empty.  This is a recipe for disaster, as you really need to remove the point before re-attaching a freshly-filled ink reservoir or else you’re essentially pressuring your ink through the point mechanism and you’ll be dealing with a leaky pen right off the bat.

pen_in_case

As I took the pen apart in preparation to fill it, I noticed that it’s innards looked suspiciously like the innards of a regular old Rapidograph, as you can see below:

mechanism

While there’s some new sheathing around the mechanism, it’s pretty similar–and my technical pens are pretty old so I may be comparing old apples with new oranges here.  Out of curiosity, I removed the points, and as you can see, they’re pretty darned similar:

points

But, hey, for all I know, the interiors of those points could be radically different and the Rapidosketch could really be some new design intended for sketching!  I loaded the thing up with ink and gave it a roll.

First off, there’s no discernible difference in the line quality between this pen and a regular Rapidograph pen of the same size:

hatch

To get a true feel for the pen, I cranked out a page of sketches–my usual subjects: hands and drapery.

sketchbook_021509

If there’s a difference between this pen and a regular Rapidograph technical pen, it’s far too subtle for me to discern.  I experienced fewer problems with intermittent ink flow than with the standard technical pen, but I’d chalk this up to my technical pen’s being nearly a decade old, not to some substantive design difference between the two pens.  Similarly, the Rapidosketch seemed just as likely to tear into the page, and–just like a Rapidograph–encountered problems working on paper with any tooth to it.

The verdict: As far as I can tell, the supposedly-new Rapidosketch pen is just a regular old Rapidograph that’s been “rebranded” with a different-colored barrel and cap–and is being marketed somewhat deceptively with the new name “Rapidosketch.”  If you’ve already got a technical pen and enjoy sketching with it, you’ll gain nothing from buying a Rapidosketch.  And if you’re looking for a technical pen that’s more suited to sketching than a regular Rapidograph, this ain’t it.

25 comments

2 pings

  1. Isaac says:

    Very useful review, Ben! I’ve seen a few of those Rapidosketches around, and I wasn’t sure what they were.

    What’s more, I’m really curious now about the Rotring art pen you mentioned. How hard do you have to press to get that crowquill-like action out of it? Does it bend or smoosh over time?

  2. Isaac says:

    (Also, does the Rotring pen only use those cartridges, or can it be manually refilled? Perversely, one of the things I like best about the Rapidograph is the little ritual of refilling its reservoir form the bottle.)

  3. Ben says:

    There’s actually very little “give” to the rotring point. You don’t really get a huge range of line width out of it. When I draw with it I don’t consciously alter my hand pressure the way I do with a brush or nib–but I’m just using it for casual sketching.

    I’m pretty sure the Rotring is what Jason Lutes draws pretty much everything in BERLIN with other than panel borders and the like, so you can certainly get more nib-like effects out of it if you want to.

    I’ve not yet noticed any change to the point in my pen over time and I’ve had it for a year or two and use it pretty regularly.

  4. Ben says:

    Oh, yeah: the cartridges. You can use cartridges, but if you want to use your own ink, you can buy a “Piston-Fill Converter” that you can see at the DickBlick page I linked to in the post:

    http://www.dickblick.com/products/rotring-art-pens/

  5. Underground cartoonist artwork says:

    Robert crumb would definitely enjoy reding this, but I am not sure he reads the stuff online. As for his use of a Rapidograph, I think he’s like the rest of us . . . definitely pencilling in pages and then going over them with the techinical pen.

  6. Ace Corona says:

    I bought a Rapidosketch, and after leaving it vertical over night, it got clogged up. I’m new to this whole technical pen thing, so I didn’t know what to do.

  7. Isaac says:

    The thing to do now, Ace, is to clean out all the dried ink. They sell a Rapidograph cleaning solution, but if you want to do it on the cheap, make a 2:1 mix of water to Windex and soak the clogged parts in that mix overnight. (Important: put them in a sealed container or keep them far from your workspace. Windex puts off some nasty fumes.)

  8. Ben says:

    Ace – They can seem kinda temperamental at first, which is why I was surprised they came without any instructions. But you should store them vertically–as you’re doing–and with the points up. They tend to work best if they’re used fairly regularly as well. As mentioned in the post, I much prefer the Rotring Art Pen for casual sketching, and it’s much, much easier to deal with maintenance-wise. I leave my Rotring laying in my pencil case along with my other drawing stuff and I’ve never had a day of trouble with it.

  9. Ace Corona says:

    Thanks, Isaac and Ben. I think I might have stored mine with the point down. That might be why it got clogged. I can’t believe it came without instructions! That left people like me high and dry!

  10. Isaac says:

    For what it’s worth, I keep mine horizontal, just on the surface of my desk, and I don’t have a lot of clog problems. But I use that pen nearly every day, so it doesn’t have a lot of chances to clog.

    They’re fickle machines, those Rapidographs. I’d almost recommend buying more than one, so you can disassemble one of them, to get a sense of just how complicated they are.

    The one non-obvious thing you can do that will totally ruin a Rapidograph, by the way, is to remove the small plastic cage / cap on the back (butt) of the pen assembly. That holds a weight that is attached to a very fine wire filament threaded through the whole pen. (When you tip the pen back and forth, that’s the weight you hear tipping forward and back.) The filament is part of what keeps the inner chamber of the pen from getting clogged up, and if you let it slip out of the pen even a little bit, it’ll get bent and the pen will always get clogged henceforth.

    Otherwise, it’s all just a question of keeping the thing clean, not bending the nib, and so forth.

  11. Josh Latta says:

    You know, for what it’s worth. Microns are pretty great.
    I push down on the tips to loosen them up and get a pretty wide variety of lines with pressure.
    Of course there is a landfill with my name on it becasue of my heavy handed use of them.
    I think I might order a Rotring Art Pen, though.
    I’m still looking for the right tools.

  12. Ben says:

    I tend not to use Microns only because they don’t seem to penetrate below colored pencil. I do roughs in non-photo blue colored pencil and then if I use Micron over that, when I erase the page after inking, the Micron ink that’s over NP blue tends to go away.

    If it weren’t for that, I’d definitely use them much more…

  13. Isaac says:

    I was never really satisfied with the darkness of the Micron pens’ ink. I did like the variable line they’d give if you broke them in. Now, for those sorts of chores, I just use a crowquill (or hawkquill, I guess, technically)—but like you, Josh, I still feel like I’m looking for the right tools.

  14. Josh Latta says:

    I don’t erase, which is why I’m a-okay with microns. No, it’s not because I’m a vigoroso that never makes mistakes, it’s just trace my roughs so they’re isn’t much in the way of stray lines. Of course that means I draw each panel 4 times counting inks…

  15. newbie says:

    heyyy do u guys know if either of these pens (rapidograph or rapidosketch) draws on glass? I paint pens to draw on glass, but even the extra fine point seems to be too thick!!

  16. Isaac says:

    I would not recommend using a Rapidograph or Rapidosketch for drawing on glass.

    It’s definitely not what they’re designed for, and they’re expensive, finicky tools.

    The ink doesn’t dry very quickly on glass. (I just tested it on the bottom of my coffee mug.) I don’t think it’d be permanent, even after it dried. And the nib is not going to work well on glass at all.

  17. Ben says:

    A fine point Sharpie would probably work well on glass.

  18. newbie says:

    yeah , right now i use a sharpie paint pen (extra fine point). Like I said, those lines seemed to be quite thick for my requirements. So, am just looking at other alternatives.

    I read somewhere that we an draw with Rotring Rapidograph on glass followed by a layer of varnish. That way, its supposed to stay on glass.

    But like u guys said, these pens are very expensive. I wouldn’t want to buy them if I cant use them on glass!!

  19. Dave says:

    I loved the Rapidoliner disposables which I don’t think they make anymore, so I went with the Rapido sketch and have had a number of problems with my .5 tip. I’ll try the Windex and water solution posted above. Even though I convert all my images for posting, I still prefer the way the RapioSketch feels on the paper as opposed to the Micron or Sharpies.

  20. Ben says:

    @Dave – I think there’s now a Rapidograph pen that uses pressurized ink. The idea is to have a more regular ink flow, but I’m guessing that it’d help with the clogging issue as well.

  21. Niv says:

    Thanks for the review! I was wondering what the difference was.

    I´ve been using Rapidographs for sketching for ages, and be it luck, local humidity, or whatever, I have never had clogging issues even in my .13mm (I keep them in a tin can on my desk point up). I do give my pens a good daily workout though since I use them for so many things including general writing, so that could be part of it.

    I wanted to start experimenting with colored ink so I´m going to buy a couple more pens. If there is no difference, I think I might just get a Rapidosketch; for some reason, it is 5$ cheaper than the Rapidograph and comes with a bottle of Ultradraw ink to boot. Maybe the Rapidosketch is made of cheaper materials? The nib plastic seems different. Who knows…

  22. Lauren says:

    My mother (82 years old) bought the Koh-I-Noor Rapido Sketch pen at Michaels and like everyone says it came with no instruction. She says she filled the inkwell and cannot get ink to come out. Can you give me simply instructions of her to get the pen going? She will use it to sketch the outlines for her paintings and has wanted one for a while and was very disappointed that there are no instructions. Thanks

  23. Ben says:

    @Lauren – You may need to tap the pen point on a sheet of paper for a while to get the ink flowing initially. This can take a while, but once it gets going you won’t have to do it any more unless you let the pen sit around and dry up. Occasionally you have to “flick” Rapidographs to restart the ink flow–you just turn it upside down over your shoulder, as if you were throwing salt over your shoulder for good luck. Always store them point-up when not in use.

  24. Stacy Searle says:

    Rapidosketch pens actually have a slightly sturdier shaft (thicker and shorter) than the technical pen. This allows for a more “sketchy”
    movement of the pen with less risk of bending/breaking the shaft.

    I exclusivly use Rapidograph pens for my art.

  25. Michelle Boilard says:

    Je me demande pourquoi c’est si compliqué d’entretenir ce fameux stylo On a toujours les doigts noircis Moi j’ai besoin de ce stylo pour le rouging est-ce que le Rapidograph ferait quand même

    Quelqu’un peut me répondre sur ça

    Merci

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Feb. 16, 2009: Good and hard says:

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