Thursday, May 28, 2015

Color Pen Review: Pilot Fude-Makase Color Brush Pen Extra Fine

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My first time reviewing a pen system with a wide range of colors didn't go so well.  I'm sure you guys remember the Uni Mitsubishi Pure Color F.  Since then, I've reviewed several wonderful fude pens available in a wide range of colors, and I'm honestly happy my first was the worst.  By finding what I didn't want in a pen from the start, I was able to really appreciate the great pens that came later, pens like Pentel's Touch and today's review, Pilot Fude Makase Color Brush Pens.

I think you guys have figured out by now that if Jetpens offered a full color set, rather than just buying one or two and seeing if I actually like the pens, I'll go whole hog and just collect em all.  This was true for the Pure Color F, for the Pentel Touch (although I did at least know that I liked the way the pens were built before I splurged), and it's true for the Fude Makase.  I justify this impulsiveness by telling myself I'm doing my readers a service- by committing to the whole set, you guys know whether the bulk savings are worth it.

The Pilot Fude-Makase Color Brush Pens are available for individual purchase for $3.30 each on Jetpens, or you can buy the 8 color set for $26.00, or $3.25 per pen.  Of course, I bought the 8 color set because I'm impulsive   I just love spending money I love you guys and only want to give you the best.  You can always thank me for my brave financial sacrifices by A: Donating through my Paypal donate button on the left there, B:  Buying something cute from my shop, like the cyclops makeup pouch shown in this post, C: Buying something spendy at a show D:  Commission me for a lovely custom piece of artwork! You can also show your support by linking my posts to your friends, retweeting my content with a link, and other very public displays of affection and adoration.   You guys did know it's been a lifelong dream to be ~popular~ right?  Help make that happen, tell your friends, link me on your blog, give my work some credit! 

Your support keeps my rent paid, feeds my cat, enables me to produce more work, and helps me buy the supplies featured on this blog.  From this point on, donors who send me $10+ and leave me their mailing address will receive a copy of my pocket Marker Review Guide, a handy little guide that covers almost all of the very expensive markers I've reviewed in the past.  Donors ALSO get priority requests in terms of what I review, they just need to mention it in the comments section of their donation or purchase.  Non-donor suggestions are considered, but it's often prioritized by what I care about and what I can currently afford.  As you guys might have guessed, this blog is totally a not-paid position in my baby small business, and while I enjoy writing it, it's sometimes difficult to juggle updating, freelance, and conventions.  Any help or signal boosting you guys provide is always much appreciated.

So enough with the shill, on to the pens!

The Pilot Fude-Makase Color Brush pens are so photogenic, I just had to take some glamour shots of them and the equally beautiful Pilot Touch pens with their adorable case.  I just love how classy the Pilot Fude-Makase pens look- with their ecrue bodies, adorable ink-drop shaped view windows, and color coordinated caps. 

The Pens
But how do the pens hold up as pens, rather than just desk candy?  Let's take a look and find out!

Jetpens only carries the Fude-Makase pens in Extra Fine, a size I really don't use often, but I knew that when I ordered these.  Having a good extra fine is handy for small details that you don't want to pull the tech pens out for.  My black pen arrived with ink already in the view window, which is worrying, as that tends to be a sign to me that the pen is about to run out, or that air pressure has affected the ink.  This happens a lot when I fly, and I blame sending the package across the country rather than Jetpens or Pilot.

The colors available for the Fude-Makase are nice, and fairly true to the pen cap, albeit a bit lighter than promised.

The Field Test

The Fude-Makase Extra Fine is indeed that, extra fine. Just look at that little nib!  It's a bit soft, which can turn mushy fast if you're heavy handed like I am or if you're trying to force your Extra Fine to pull juicy lines without a bigger pen for backup.  I personally found this pen so fine that it was difficult to ink with, but if you're lighthanded and looking for a good fude pen, the Makase is a strong choice.

As with the Pentel Touch pens, the nonphoto blue affects the color the pen puts down.  The pink is much less blue without the non photo blue, but with the npb, it's almost purple.  This is just something to keep in mind, depending on how you plan on using these pens.

Fortunately, the non photo blue doesn't seem to clog up these pens as it did with the Foray Stylemark pens, although I do worry that with lighter colors, the non photo blue may stain the nibs if you don't remove all the non photo blue from the nib.

And unfortunately, there's a bit of smudging if you ink with Fude-Makase over non waterproof black ink, even if you wait 24 hours between inking.

The Verdict

If you want a lot of color, but you don't want an extra fine nib, I high recommend the Pentel Touch fude pens I reviewed not so long ago.  If you are looking for a finer nib fude pen, I think the Fude-Makase are a fine choice, and I had one in my own pencil case until it exploded on the plane ride back from TCAF.  These are not the pens to pick if you have large areas to fill, or if you can't pull back on being heavy handed, nor if you're looking for one fude pen to rule them all.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Brush Pen Review: Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Brush

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In the past, when I wanted to do inks for a piece I intended on watercoloring, I usually pulled out FW Acrylic Ink, or Winsor Newton Bombay ink and a brush to do my inking.  I knew both of those inks were waterproof, and I liked the dynamic look of brushwork, but I didn't like that inking even a small piece took up a lot of time.  I had to set things up JUST SO, and I couldn't easily take it on the go.  Recently I became acquainted with the waterproof Sailor Mitsuo Aida, and I haven't looked back (too hard).  About the time I found out about the Mitsuo Aida, I discovered Akashiya Sai's Outline Brush, which uses a waterproof (pigment based, maybe?) ink as well, and I decided to give it a shot.

This pen is probably meant to be used with the Akashiya Sai watercolor brushpens that I reviewed a couple years ago, but I have to admit, I'm not fans of those pens, and would probably use this pen with one of the many other watercolor markers or pens available on the market.

For the purposes of this review, I'm going to pull out a couple other brushpens for comparison- the Pentel Pocket Brush, and the Pilot Pocketbrush Soft.

To the Left: The Pentel Pocket Brush To the Right: The Akashiya Sai Outline Pen

The Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Brush pen is a little thinner than your usual brushpen, and may take a little getting used to.  The tip is a brush made up of nylon bristles, similar to the Pentel Pocketbrush.

From Left to Right:  Pentel Pocketbrush, Pilot Pocketbrush Soft, Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Pen

Of the three, only the Pilot .has a rubbery, single unit nib

The Field Test

I did the field test on watercolor paper, since that's the paper I'd be most likely to use when using the Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Brushpen.

The brush tip on the Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Brush handles a lot like the Pentel Pocket Brush- it's far easier to deliver fat lines than it is to pull fine lines.  As this pen is not refillable, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it as a go-to brush for large areas of waterproof black fills, but that's what it seems best suited for at the size I draw.  I let the ink dry for at least 24 hours before I move on to the next step- stretching the paper.

 This is the paper after it's been saturated and the water is left to stand.  Usually this is the point when I discover that a waterproof pen isn't so waterproof, but the Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Pen really holds its ground.

For comparison, on the left is a piece inked with the Mitsuo Aida, my other waterproof pocket pen.  The piece on the right was inked with the Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Brush.  Neither one show any signs of bleeding or running when water is applied and left to dry.

The real test always comes when I start applying color.  The Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Brush's ink held up well to erasing, it holds up well to stretching, and it held up fairly well to the addition of watercolor.  In a color application, the Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Brush's ink is a little bit gray compared to vibrant color, but some of this may have happened when I erased the pencil underneath.

The Verdict

If you like the Pentel Pocket Brush, but wished it was waterproof out of the box, the Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Brush might be the choice for you.  I'm not the biggest fan of nylon bristled brush pens, as they have a tendency to drybrush, but I know many artists love the drybrush effect, and if you're one of those artists, the Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Brush is a great pick.  When purchasing this brush, be really careful, as the other Akashiya Sai brushes are NOT waterproof, only the Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Brush is waterproof.  The Akashiya Sai Pigment Outline Brush is $5.25 on Jetpens.

If you do NOT want a nylon bristled brushpen, but still want a waterproof brushpen, I highly recommend the Sailor Mitsuo Aida, a pen I've been using often.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Brush Pen Review: Pentel Kirari Portable Brush Pen

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I suppose I'm pretty susceptible to well written spin.  As a kid, I was convinced that Mondo fruit drinks would be all that was promised, as a teen, I firmly believed I needed one of those translucent Apples in order to achieve ultimate teen coolness.  And as an adult, if you can write spin good enough, I'll probably fork over the money.

On the Jetpens site, the description for the Kirari Portable Brush pen sounded extremely promising.

This Kirari brush pen contains bold ink in a gorgeous, light metallic body. Simple and sophisticated, this pen will add a touch of class to your collection. The medium nylon brush tip is excellent for creating dramatic stroke variation in calligraphy and illustrations, and the lightweight plastic body makes the pen easy to carry. This pen comes with beautifully vivid black pigment ink that is lightfast and water-resistant. Also enclosed is a small pamphlet, which contains diagrams demonstrating how to write beautiful Japanese and Chinese characters.

Two black pigment ink FP10 cartridges are included, and additional cartridges are available separately.
I mean seriously, doesn't that sound like you're getting something good?  It's certainly more enticing than the Pentel Pocketbrush listing, Pentel's other major bristle nibbed brushpen.
Bring the elegance of Asian calligraphy to your artwork and writing. These high-quality brush pens from Pentel can form thin lines or thick lines, creating a variety of effects. Writes smoothly and conveniently refills with cartridges. Each pen comes with 2 refill cartridges. The Pentel Pocket Brush Pen for Calligraphy and the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen + 2 Refill Cartridges listed on our site are the same product but the former is branded for Japan and the latter is branded for the US.

So what sets the Kirari apart from the Pentel Pocketbrush?  Let's open the package and find out!

The Packaging

The Kirari comes in a plastic clamshell case with two ink refills.  If you aren't hot on the ink that comes with it (it's a bit grayish), you can refill empty cartridges with any ink but acrylic.  I wrote a post about refilling existing empty ink cartridges awhile back that might be helpful!

Included in the package is a little pamphlet in Japanese that covers basic strokes.

The Pen

As soon as I uncapped the Kirari, I realized it was basically a pink Pocketbrush.  I pulled out my 4 year old Pocketbrush for comparison.

There's four basic parts to both the Kirari Portable Brush Pen and the Pentel Pocketbrush: the cap, the nib, the ink cartridge, and the body of the pen itself.  Visually, the only real difference is the color of the body, both pens are made of lightweight plastic.

An issue common to both Pocketbrushes and Portable Brushes is that if the ink cartridge isn't jammed onto the tip, it'll get stuck in the barrel and leak everywhere.  You can remove it with tweezers or needle nosed pliers.

Because the Pentel Kirari is so similar to the Pentel PocketBrush, I didn't bother to do a field test, as I've used a Pocketbrush for years.  I don't personally care for the Pocketbrush, or the Kirari by extension, for inking, but I do use it for fills.  The bristles have too much snap for what I usually want, and the Pentel Pocketbrush is prone to giving a drybrush effect.
The Verdict
The Kirari is basically a Pentel Pocketbrush, at a higher pricepoint- $16.50 vs $13.50.  The additional three dollars doesn't net you a metal-bodied pen, as the Kirari is just a plastic pen with a metallic finish.  In my opinion, you're better off just buying a regular Pocketbrush for your money, as the two pens are pretty much identical from a performance point of view.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Convention Prep: Comprehensive Artscow Review

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In the past year, I've become very concerned with the scalability of Nattosoup Studio.  While sales were on the rise, the majority of sales were commissions completed while at the convention, which was taking a toll on my health.  These sort of sales have a very low final profit ceiling- I can only sell as much as I can produce, and travelling to conventions ate up most of the money I made. It didn't help that very few of these commissions ever resulted in any followup at all, as I saw no uptick in Tumblr, Twitter, or blog views following conventions.  I was really discouraged for awhile and sincerely debated just cancelling the rest of my shows for that year until I could solve the problem.

I knew that the only key to making more money was to start offering products that could be produced at a lower cost.  8.5"x11" and 11"x17" prints never really sold for me, so while those have a HUGE profit margin, they weren't really an option.  Months of browsing Artist Alley Network International introduced me to the company Artscow, and sparked my interest in their services.  Artscow is a Hong Kong based company that basically acts as a fulfillments service- a step between ordering things at a huge markup from companies like Shutterfly and having your own China-based merchandise supplier.  It's great for smaller fish like myself, who can't justify ordering large amounts of merchandise, but would like to add some variety to our tables for an affordable price.

At Anime Weekend Atlanta this year, I finally got my opportunity to check out some Artscow products in the wild.  Kristen Bailey (@digitoonie on Twitter) had some fantastic large Sailor Moon pencil bags, and I was really impressed with the print quality.  I decided to sign up for their newsletter, and wait for a sale to strike.

Sales are KEY to ordering from Artscow- you want a sale that takes off a significant portion of the asking price in addition to offering free shipping.  If you don't wait for a sale, you'll end up paying far more then you need to for items.  Sales happen on Artscow fairly regularly, although the items on sale are often random, so it helps to have a few designs handy that could work for a variety of items.  I've shared some of my promo codes at the end of the post- they're a great way to get started using Artscow, and they help me out in return!

Artscow Basics

The Site Itself

Step 1:  Make an Account

I often use guest accounts with sites I'm unfamiliar with but I HIGHLY recommend you go ahead and make an Artscow account.  This is hugely useful in a few ways:
  • You can sign up for the newsletter that lets you know about deals and coupons, which is the key to using Artscow.
  • You can accrue points for recommending people
  • You can save your finished designs, for easy reordering
  • You can save uploaded images in albums, so you can work on the go to make new designs.

After you make an account I recommend you either wait until you get your first newsletter with a deal you want to take advantage of, or you have a deal from my list at the bottom of my post that you want to take advantage of.  Artscow newsletters provide a link to items eligible for their deals, which takes the ambiguity out of utilizing their sales.  Once you have something in mind, it's time to start designing!

The Silverlight Designer

 For the purposes of this tutorial, I'm just going to go ahead and use an image that has been prepared to have a front and a back.  Keep in mind that this image isn't the correct size for something as large as a tote bag, nor was it designed to be used for this tote bag.  I just wanted to pick something I don't already have prepared, so I could go through the process step by step.

Once you have an item in mind, it's pretty easy to use Artscow's Silverlight application to customize it.  You don't HAVE to use Silverlight, but it's the most flexible means of making sure your image fits your item.  Silverlight does not work in Opera for me, so I have to use IE- you may find you have the same issue.

After selecting Silverlight Designer, it pulls up this applet:

Right now I have a completely blank canvas- Front, Back, and the Strap.  I'm going to make a new folder for this design, and upload my images to that folder.

I have a design for the front, and a design for the back ready to go. 

All you have to do is drag your design over! 

And use the fairly decent resizing and rotating tools to align your image.  This image was most definitely not designed for a tote back, so the alignment issues are on me, not on Artscow in this instance.

Once you've finished designing your item, you select Preview and Add to Cart (or save, ya know, whatever), and name your project.

And Artscow loads a fairly accurate preview!  If you don't like what you see, go back in and tweak unil it works for you.

Below is the coinpurse that the witch was designed for.  You can see it works a lot better than the tote bag.

First Order: Another Year of Watercolor Books

The first order I placed with Artscow wasn't for bags- it was for books!  I'd wanted to do a sequel to A Year of Watercolor, my 2013-2014 collection of mini watercolors, but I found color garage printing to be pricy and had a somewhat difficult time moving books at the price I had to charge to cover costs.  Artscow has a 2 year sale on their hardbound 24 page photo quality photo books, so I decided to give it a shot.

Setting up my book in Silverlight was incredibly easy and very similar to the process I covered above.  Additional pages were 3 cents a page, and as I wasn't sure if that meant total or per book, I kept my pagecount low.  I didn't have a code for free shipping, so I ended up paying a hefty $40 (which is standard for Artscow which is why I INSIST you wait on free shipping coupons) and waited a couple weeks for my books to arrive.

My books arrived in an Airmail cardboard box (which I had to sign for- you often have to sign for Artscow packages as they're coming from out of the country), and my books were very well wrapped and protected.  Each book was also individually shrinkwrapped, so I unwrapped one to check out Artscow's printing quality.

I have several photos below of the books themselves and the unpacking process so you can get a feel for my first Artscow Order

Usagi Drawstring Bags

I ordered some Usagi drawstring mini bags and some cyclops zipper bags about the same time I ordered my Another Year of Watercolor books, but they arrived a couple weeks later (just in time for MTAC) and the Usagi bags were hilariously misprinted.  I'm STILL trying to get Artscow to replace them, but the cyclops bags are fantastic.

I was SO careful lining up my images in the Silverlight designer.  It seems like these bags were just misaligned when they were sewn.  Too bad I can't sell them.

As poorly as the Usagi bags were aligned, the cyclops bags were fantastic.  Their photo material is fantastic- silky smooth, almost like satin, and colors print vibrantly.  When you order cosmetic bags, you get to select a zipper color, which is a really nice touch.

The bags even have a little zippered compartment on the inside!  The interior fabric isn't nearly as nice, but overall, I was tickled pink with the Artscow cosmetic bags.

You can order Another Year of Watercolor and my Cyclops bags from my Nattoshop.  Remember, your support helps make review posts like this possible and worthwhile for me.

Second Order: Usagi Coinpurses

Before I even got my first order, I'd placed my second (not very smart, I know).  Artscow had a deal that ALSO included free shipping, so I figured why not, and ordered some coin purses.  I've mentioned in the past that I'm honestly not comfortable with selling mass produced fanart merchandise at my table, so I kept my order number to 4, figuring it'd make a cute limited edition.

The coinpurses arrived shortly AFTER MTAC, which is a shame as I think they would've sold well.

Unlike the cosmeic bags, the coinpurses don't have an interior pocket, but they do have a reinforced seam and you can select your choice of color for the zipper.

My Usagi Coinpurses are available in the Nattoshop!

Third Order: 10 for $20 Coupon- Eyemasks, Notepads, and Witch Coinpurses

When I'd placed this order, I was pretty familiar with how Artscow worked and what to expect from them.  I'd gotten a coupon for 10 items for $20 and eyemasks were part of the deal.  I knew what I had to do.

Another 10 for $20 deal was memopads which I stupidly thought would be sticky pads (they're not!)  I ordered these for an ALA giveaway- they're advertising my watercolor comic, 7" Kara, and include the ISBN.

The print quality is pretty good, and it's an allover print design.  The only issue is that the ink so heavy on Kara's head that it's a bit of a resist for writing.  These are also a little expensive for just giving away, but I'm really hoping to make tabling a ALA worth my money.

Bonus Goofy Eyemask Fun!

You can order my Kawaiimasks from my shop!  They're available in Genki (the blue eyes) or Shoujo (the purple eyes).

General Advice for Using Artscow

  • Sign up for their newsletter.
  • Wait for GOOD sales- a combination of discount AND free shipping, as their shipping is very expensive.
  • Be prepared to wait a long time- order several months in advance to make sure you can catch a deal and to give the packages time to come from Hong Kong.
  • The return process hasn't been an easy one for me, so if something arrives wrong, make sure you take COPIOUS photos


Recently Artscow sent me some referral coupons that I'd like to share with you guys.  As someone who uses Artscow, and is familiar with their prices and how the site works, I honestly think these are a good deal.  If you're interested in trying Artscow out, using these coupons has two benefits- it saves you money and it earns me money, which is great if you're a fan of the blog or generally consume my work.

1. Any 10 selected items here for $20 
Coupon code: ZCRAYSALEMCCAN, Expires on 07-12-2015) 
You can also use the code: ZCRAYSALERHR3M
 This is similar to the coupon I used for many of my coinpurses, Kawaiimasks, and my notepads, and I recommend it!

2. $0.99 Custom Allover Print Tank Top with Free Shipping. 
Coupon code: Z099TANKTOP5UNBQ, Expires on 07-12-2015 
I'm really excited about trying this one out for myself, as I'd like some Nattosoup uniforms for conventions! 
3. $0.99 Personalized Cosmetic Bag with Free Shipping. 
Coupon code: ZSBY2SQ24, Expires on 07-12-2015

More Codes You Might Like:

These are only good for single items, but it's a great way to do prototypes on the cheap without a large commitment.

Mousepad for $0.99 (additional $3.99 afterwards): 
Coupon Code: Z099MOUSEPADTXF6Z

Watch for $3.99 (additional $6.99 afterwards):
Coupon Code: Z399WATCHESNUU5Q

Leggings for $2.99 (additional $9.99 afterwards): 

Coupon code: Z099LEGGINGSB8BV7