If you are looking for a roundup of pens to use with an Axidraw pen plotter (or any pen plotter, really!), then look no further. Find below some of my go-to pens. But first, how to make multiple color prints (and lining up your pens!)
Multiple Color Prints - How to Line Up Your Pens
Multiple color plots are loads of fun to make, but require a little extra effort. I highly recommend sticking with the same brand of pens so that you only have to do minor adjustments to line up your pens. If you use different pens, you may have to move the entire paper!
First, you will need to create a file you will use to register and line up your pens. In the top left corner of the file, draw a couple X's (I use the pen tool in Illustrator to draw lines, but you can use any vector software program such as Inkscape.)
At the start of the pen plot process, place your paper down, then very gently tape a small piece of paper in the top corner where your X's will be drawn (a paper small enough not to overlap with your design though!) Artist's tape is great for taping and if used gently, will come off your paper cleanly (but be gentle and slow in removing!)
When you switch out a pen, you will run your registration file to check that your pen is lined up with the previous pen. Each pen will draw X's in the top corner over the previous pen lines. If your pen isn't lined up, and is the same type of pen, you will need to tighten or loosen the pen holder until your pen is drawing the X's exactly over the previous pen. If you are using an entirely different pen, you may need to move the paper!
I recommend deciding on the colors in advance, separating out your design into separate files based on the colors, and running each file separately. When I switch out pens, I plot the registration file, and manually pause it if the pen isn't lined up. I make adjustments (tighten/loosen the pen), then resume the registration file plotting. I continue with this back and forth until the new pen is lined up as much as possible with the previous pen.
My Go-To Pen Recommendations
Find below some of my go-to pens. Please note, these are all disposable pen options! Many pen companies offer disposable pens, with a wide range of ink colors and effects available such as metallic inks and white ink.
If you would prefer to not use disposable pens, you can explore fountain pens (the TWSBI Eco comes highly recommended.) If you don't mind varying line width in your work, you will have access to a wide range of colors as well with fountain pens.
There are also technical drawing pens like the Rotring Rapidograph pen line, which is a refillable technical pen that comes in many line thicknesses and can be purchased used or new.
Pentel Dual Hybrid Metallic Pens
Bold, two toned metallic pen, works great on both black and white paper.
Sakura Micron Pens
Economical pen line, offered in basic colors in multiple line thicknesses.
Sakura Gelly Roll Pens
Sparkly metallic pens, cheap but difficult to work with. See my Axidraw blog post for more tips. White pen is FANTASTIC on black paper!
Solid and well priced gell pen, available in three line thicknesses in basic colors.
Expensive but great for fine detail! Limited color options.
Stabilo Fine Point 88 Markers
Cheap and colorful marker line. Great for creating CMYK prints, not good for plots that have lots of line overlap or fine detail. Available in one line width.
Le Pen Technical Drawing Pen
Cheap technical drawing pen, black only.
Copic Drawing Pen
Disposable fountain pen by Copic.
Marvy Uchida Fineliners
Another nice fine liner marker option.
Staedtler Pigment Liner
Rich black pen by Staedtler.
All Axidraw All the Time
But what if you want to learn more?! Check out these additional blog posts:
CMYK: Process Color Experiments and my Axidraw
How to Draw Generative Art with an Axidraw Pen Plotter
Pet Portrait Art: Experimenting with the SquiggleCam App
Dirt Alley Design was founded just off a dirt alley in San Francisco in December of 2016 by artist Michelle Chandra. Inspired by the beauty of street grids, Michelle invented maze maps in which she transforms street grids into mazes. In 2019, she began a new project - generative prints created with code and drawn with a pen plotter. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @dirtalleydesign where she posts new spirograph designs daily.