This post contains affiliate links to Blick Art Materials, one of my favorite places to shop for art supplies. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for your support!
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!)
By the way, are you new to plotting?! Do you need a pen plotter!? Take 10% off an AxiDraw pen plotter and accessories with discount code DIRTALLEY10 when you buy directly from Evil Mad Scientist, the makers of the AxiDraw!
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!
The above spirograph-ish design was plotted with four different gelly roll pens in Medium thickness:
First, you will need to create a file you will use to register and line up your pens. There are two routes you can go with this.
If all your pens are the same brand, create a file with a couple shapes you will register against. Since my AxiDraw is the larger 11 X 17 version, and my designs are usually no bigger than 11 X 14 inches, I draw the shapes just outside the 14 inch space of my prints.
Plot the first color layer of your design, and place a piece of paper for the registration file beside the print you are plotting. Draw the registration shapes with your first pen!
When you switch pens, run the registration file with the second pen to check that your pen is lined up. While it draws the registration shapes, I loosen or tighten the pen holder and sometimes gently twist the pen until it is lined up. Some pens are easier to line up than others! I recommend drawing a lot of shapes so you have plenty of time to get the pen registered. With patterns that require tight registration, this extra effort is really worth it!
If the pens that you are trying to register are different brands, and you may end up moving the paper to register the pens, OR if you are using up the entire plotting space, you will need to very carefully tape a small piece of paper ON TOP of your print to register the pens.
In the top left corner of your registration file, draw a couple X's or curvy shapes (I use the pen tool in Illustrator to draw lines and shapes, 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 registration shapes will be drawn (a paper small enough not to overlap with your design though!) Artist tape is great for taping and if used gently, will come off your paper cleanly (but be gentle and slow in removing!) I recommend using 1/4 inch artist tape!
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 the registration shapes 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 shapes exactly over the previous pen.
If you are using an entirely different pen, you may need to move the paper! This is very tricky (i.e. annoying/aggravating) and I don't really recommend it unless you are dead set on a particular look for your work. Some pens happen to have the same barrel size and can be swapped in - I have found I can use Sakura Micron pens with Faber-Castell Artist Pitt Pens without any issues or need to move the paper.
The above CMYK plot was drawn with three Stabilo Fineliner markers (note, these pens may not be lightfast so keep your plot away from direct sunlight!):
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. You can check how the colors will interact using the Multiply blend filter in Illustrator.
My Go-To Pen Recommendations
Find below some of my go-to pens. Please note, these are all disposable pen recommendations! 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, I highly recommend the Lamy Safari Fountain Pen (extra fine nib, or fine nib starting out!) With fountain pens, you will have access to a wide range of inks and nibs although you may not be able to plot metallic inks using fountain pens (I haven't had much luck so far!)
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. Great for fine line work!
Sakura Micron Pens
Sakura Gelly Roll Pens
Sparkly metallic pens, difficult to work with. See my Axidraw blog post for more tips. White gelly rolls are FANTASTIC on black paper! Packs of gelly roll pens available from Amazon including metallic gold as a 6 pack and white gelly rolls as a 3 pack. There is also a megaset of 74 Gelly Roll Pens, which I first bought when I was starting out, and still use as a reference for all the color options! Can also recommend the Moonlight Gelly Roll pens which will fluoresce under UV light, and packs of metallic colors.
Pilot G-Tec Gel Pens
Expensive but great for fine detail! Limited color options. Assorted pack of different tip sizes available from Amazon. Recommend the copic multliner 0.03mm or 0.05mm for fineline work, individual pens can be purchased from Blick, and you can receive discounts when you buy these pens in larger amounts!
Stabilo Fine Point 88 Markers
Affordable 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. May not be lightfast. CMYK colors - use azure, pink and yellow. Also available as a set of assorted colors from Blick.
Le Pen Technical Drawing Pen
Marvy Uchida Fineliners
Another nice fine liner marker option with rich, bold colors. Assorted set of colors available from Blick.
Rich black pen by Staedtler. Lightproof, permanent and waterfast. Assorted set of 8 line tips available from Blick.
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.