(Excerpts from ART HARDWARE: The Definitive Guide to Artists’ Materials, by Steven Saitzyk © 1987)

A fiber tip is a collection of thin synthetic fibers that are roughly parallel to one another. The ink flows along the fibers with the help of capillary attraction and gravity. Fiber-tipped pens, or markers, were originally developed for graphic art use where permanence is second to convenience. Most artists’ pigments, because they are composed of solid particles, cannot be made to flow through a fiber tip, whereas most dyes are pure liquid and can. Dyes, therefore, are the colorant of choice. Since few dyes are as lightfast as the most fugitive of artists’ pigments, fiber-tipped pens, with rare exception, are not safe to use for fine artwork where permanence is the first consideration.

Many fine artists do not realize that there is a difference between materials made for graphic art use and those produced for fine art, and they often incorrectly assume that all artists’ materials found in art stores are made with utmost permanence in mind. Fiber-tipped pens are the best example of this confusion. When most fine artists see the label “permanent” attributed to markers, they do not realize that it only means that the colorant is waterproof, not lightfast. In graphic art materials in general, and fiber-tipped pens in particular, if it does not say lightfast on the label, it should be assumed it is not. And when it does say lightfast, it should still be used with some caution in fine artwork, because the lightfastness of these products often meets only the minimum standards that would be applied to artist-grade materials.

Graphic artwork is stored with a cover, and most writing is not done with display in mind but rather in books, or notebooks, which are left closed until used or read. Under these conditions, most graphic art materials and fiber-tipped pens would be considered durable. However, if exposed to direct sunlight or intense fluorescent light for even several hours, many of these materials will undergo visible changes.

Recent advances in the technology of dye making and fiber tips have allowed the manufacture of some lightfast markers. There are two types of such markers that have recently been made available-paint markers in 1983 and a limited selection of fine-point markers for writing in 1985. Paint markers have a fluid consistency of a thin paint, which will adhere permanently to almost any surface. They greatly resemble a lacquer paint. These pens, however, are not practical for ordinary writing. The nibs are often too large and the flow characteristics are not consistent. They are best for labeling, making signs, decorating T-shirts, and for artwork where precision is not crucial.

The Sakura Company has recently introduced a waterproof and lightfast (it claims lightfastness equivalent to one hundred years of tropical sun) marking pen called Pigma Micron. It comes in ten colors and black, and in three point sizes-0.01mm, 0.03mm, and 0.05mm. This pen is a revolutionary development. I have tested several prototypes over the years with poor results and this pen is the first successful version. It is only a matter of time before all marking pens use this technology. Until that time you should use extreme caution in selecting any marker for fine artwork.