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:


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.


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:


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:


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:


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


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.


2 pings

Skip to comment form

    • Isaac on 2/15/2009 at 2:26 pm

    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?

    • Isaac on 2/15/2009 at 2:29 pm

    (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.)

    • Ben on 2/15/2009 at 2:54 pm

    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.

    • Ben on 2/15/2009 at 2:56 pm

    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:

  1. 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.

    • Ace Corona on 2/15/2009 at 8:45 pm

    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.

    • Isaac on 2/15/2009 at 9:43 pm

    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.)

    • Ben on 2/15/2009 at 9:58 pm

    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.

    • Ace Corona on 2/15/2009 at 10:27 pm

    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!

    • Isaac on 2/15/2009 at 11:03 pm

    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.

  2. 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.

    • Ben on 2/16/2009 at 9:45 am

    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…

    • Isaac on 2/16/2009 at 11:04 am

    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.

  3. 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…

    • newbie on 3/18/2009 at 10:05 pm

    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!!

    • Isaac on 3/18/2009 at 10:30 pm

    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.

    • Ben on 3/19/2009 at 7:02 am

    A fine point Sharpie would probably work well on glass.

    • newbie on 3/19/2009 at 1:46 pm

    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!!

    • Dave on 2/5/2010 at 10:35 am

    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.

    • Ben on 2/5/2010 at 11:18 am

    @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.

    • Niv on 2/11/2010 at 5:39 am

    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…

    • Lauren on 7/21/2010 at 3:13 pm

    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

    • Ben on 7/22/2010 at 10:00 am

    @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.

  4. 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.

    • Michelle Boilard on 3/30/2014 at 10:52 am

    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


    • songryder on 8/30/2015 at 9:16 pm

    Hey guys,
    I feel like this is probably a very elementary question to you. But I was given a Rapidosketch pen as a gift. I can’t figure out how to get the ink to flow. I filled the little resivoir and shook it a bit & now I see ink just above the steel nib. But no ink flow. What am I doing wrong?

    And y’all are right—selling this thing w/out instructions is felony dumb.

    • Ben on 8/31/2015 at 11:06 am

    @songryder Kinda hard to diagnose just from your description, but I’d not shake it. Sometimes I find that I have to do some tapping on a blank sheet of paper to get the ink started. Once going, though, you shouldn’t have to do that.

    • SAUNA on 9/1/2017 at 9:57 am

    Theres a chance that the manufacturer added a bit of very thin “oil” into the nib to protect steel from oxidation, similar what they do with new crow quills. That would explain why everyone has issue on the first use, specially on the thiner nibs. An experienced user is like to “intuitively” diagnose and solve some issues like driving an old car XD.

    Althou all the things they say to sell them, technical pens ARE NOT simple things, they are very diferent from a simple pencil or brush, theyre not rollerball pens and i would dare to say they far more complicated than fountain pen.

    With all that, I still like them XD. But only because I couldnt find anything better yet XD. IMO, the main problem isnt the design perse, but that they are still awfully overpriced. Just think about it, some mechanical pencils and rollerball pens cost more (materials, new technology) to produce than these tech pens should cost, never the less they cost 4 or 5 times more.

    I believe R. Crumb still carries one on his pocket

    • Lucy Quimby on 2/23/2020 at 5:03 pm

    I gather from the comments that Rapidograph nibs can’t be used in a Rapidosketch pen – is that correct? If I want another size nib I need to get Rapidosketch, same as my pen? and nice hint about the Windex to clean….

    • Ben on 2/25/2020 at 3:45 pm

    @Lucy – It’s been a while since I wrote this, but I believe the nibs from regular old Rapidograph tech pens should screw right into the barrel of this one. As per the post, they seem to be pretty much the same pens.

    • Nikoli A."Penny" McCracken on 4/14/2020 at 3:25 pm

    I’m retired now, mostly I worked in aerospace, and used Leroy pens and sets for most
    of my 34 years as a technical illustrator, graphic artist, oil, gas, and nuclear power drafter, even geophysics and oceanographic illustrations.
    I still have al my tools, and occasionally, I still use them. I have TWO sets, featuring
    the standard Leroy lettering, plus a different style. Plus, I have bigger templates so I could do huge titles when needed. I also have Greek templates in several sizes, plus
    even some for maps, mining, and even weather maps. I also own almost every template that Timely Templates ever designed.
    As for how to fill them? Take the tops apart, hold the small plastic reservoir vertically. Carefully fill it with your choice of inks, though the black inks work the best. As for cleaning, buy a Denture Cleaner! It sends little electric shocks through the water reservoir and gets rid of dried up ink. (There are professional cleaners for drafting
    pens, but they are a bit pricey.) Take the entire pen apart if it is really dry, and clean all the components before restoring them to use.
    While the name ‘scriber’ is accurate, most of us used to call them ‘bugs.’ I had all my tools stored for quite awhile. I had dreamed that, as I worked over a hot drafting board, that someday, I would do this work for fun. Well, that didn’t happen. I became disabled. And then I needed eye surgery. Recently, I opened all my tools from their several cases and looked then over. They were a bit dusty, so I cleaned them all,
    and restored them to their cases. I looked on eBay and Amazon to see what they would cost today. I was very sorry to see that K & E had pretty much, gone out of business. If you would like a source for more templates, Google “Letraset.” They
    may still be in business. I even had one Leroy template which had Old English lettering. Some dufus stole it! As for the cost? I couldn’t believe they have gone so cheap. Over the years, I must have paid over $4,000 for all my tools! (But every dime I spent on them was tax-deductible).
    My eyes have improved, and I am getting ready to have a go at art for fun. I have
    a small drafting board that fits on the kitchen table, and just maybe, I can enjoy them all again. Yet, as a young woman, I caught a lot of flack from male engineers. If
    they weren’t sexually harassing me, they were telling me that “You’re taking a man’s job!” I don’t miss that part of my work.

    • Ben on 4/15/2020 at 1:48 pm

    Hey, Penny – Thanks for the comment! Yeah, I was also surprised Leroy sets weren’t going for more money. That said, though, it’s hard to find one with all the parts. People still very much use tech pens… but they do seem to be fading a bit popularity-wise to Microns, a felt-tipped tech pen. I still love and regularly use my Rapidography tech pens both because I like the line better and because they’re refillable rather than disposable like the Microns.

    • Pip on 9/16/2020 at 12:48 am

    The difference is actually pretty well known. The Rapidograph, Isograph, all the tech pens, are held straight up. Those sizes really mean something, and with proper use on proper materials with proper maintenance you make those rated lines. They may make marks if you fall off 90°, this comes to play when you use them on paper. Tips collects “fuzz” easy and they do not perform as designed with a lazy hand. Boom. In comes Rapidosketch. The tip is not completely flat and the end of the wire is polished. It does not require 90° to write, and this has a tiny bit of line variation. It’s almost like a tech pen with a slight mod to make it more comfortable to hold, if a traditional technical pen is uncomfortable for you.

    • diodorus on 11/17/2020 at 7:17 pm

    Hello! What about the rapidocraft pens? Do you know how those differ? I can find very little info about those. (I’m especially interested in finding out if the ink reservoir is bigger, which is something I’m looking for.)

    • Ben on 11/17/2020 at 10:34 pm

    I’m afraid I don’t know anything about those. Please, though, come back and leave a comment if you discover anything interesting.

    • elizabeth newman on 4/28/2021 at 5:02 pm

    Can you use a rapidograph nib to replace nib on rapidosketch? Do you have to replace nib much? Thank you.

    • Ben on 4/28/2021 at 5:16 pm

    I don’t have the pen anymore… But I’m pretty sure you can. I think it’s the exact same barrel.

  1. […] [Craft] The New Koh-i-nor Rapidosketch Pen Link: Ben Towle […]

  2. […] Ben Towle: Cartoonist, Educator, Hobo […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.