Micron VS. OHTO Artist Pens

Today we’re going to look at the two best disposable drawing pens I’ve ever used, the Sakura Micron Fine Line and the OHTO Graphic Liner. Despite their differences in design, they are both wonderful to use and produce beautifully detailed work.

I’m going to apologize ahead of time as, even by my standards, this is a rather long post. Hopefully though, you will find it useful enough to forgive me!

While I actually use several different brands of artist pens, I chose to do a comparison of the Micron and OHTO artist pen rather than a standard review of each individual pens because:

  1. They have enough important similarities that make them suitable for similar types of work as well as notable differences that make this type of comparison bothe easier to do and, hopefully, useful to readers.
  2. Both brands are pretty easy to get your hands on, inexpensive, and similar in price range.
  3. They are my two favorite disposable drawing pens, so I have several years of experience using them in all kinds of situations.

Very Brief Overview

Let’s begin with the basics, the obvious primary similarities and differences between the two brands.

Both the Micron and the OHTO are made in Japan and comply with ISO standards for technical and drawing pens, which means that the nib sizes are the size they are labeled as.  They both use archival-safe, waterproof, fade-proof pigment ink rather than dye based ink.

The main difference between the OHTO and the Micron is the ink storage and delivery system, which is actually a pretty huge difference.

Micron Fine Line Pens

With Microns being, arguably, one of the most popular disposable drawing pens on the market, especially in the Zentangle community, the changes are pretty good that if you don’t already have at least a few of them in your arsenal, you’ve at least heard of them.

Micron Fine Line Pens

I’ve been using Microns for years.  They’re great pens.  They create beautiful lines that don’t bleed or feather, the ink is consistent and doesn’t fade or wash out in mixed media projects, and they last a long time. 

I’ve used them on wood, cloth, paper (of course), and even stone.  In fact, I have rocks and stone tiles sitting outside that I used Microns on, and even after several years of exposure to the elements, the line-work still looks perfect.

Rather than an ink reservoir, the Micron uses a fiber core ink storage system similar to many markers.  As a result the ink flows from the nib a bit slower and requires almost no drying time once it hits the paper, which is one reason you’ll never see feathering from a Micron that’s in good condition.  Another benefit of a fiber core pen is that you won’t get any clumping or gobbing of ink on the nib.

The nib on a Micron is basically a tiny plastic tube; which is fantastic for smooth, skip-free ink flow, but  is fairly easily destroyed when you use it on a rough or heavily-toothed surface or you are heavy handed.

You do need to be a bit more careful with how much pressure you use with these pens, otherwise they will last for quite some time. I have Microns that are several years old and are still perfectly servicable.

Micron Nib & Ink Chart
Micron Nib Sizes with Corresponding Line Thickness

005 = 0.20 mm nib = 0.20 mm line
01 = 0.25 mm nib =  0.25 mm line
02 = 0.30 mm nib = 0.30 mm line
03 = 0.35 mm nib = 0.35 mm line
05 = 0.45 mm nib = 0.45 mm line
08 = 0.50 mm nib = 0.50 mm line

As you can see, the nib size and line thickness are the same.
Of course this is only accurate when the pen nib is in top condition, not warn, frayed, or bent.

Microns are available 15 different colors, 4 of which are available in all 6 of the nib sizes. These four “universal” colors are black, red, blue and green.

I own the complete collection of Sakura drawing pens, including the Microns, bullet tips, chisel tips, and the brush pens in ever color available.  All of the colored pens are sitting in a box in my craft closet right now because I just don’t really use them often enough to bother taking them out, primarily because I don’t really like the colors… which, as I’ve been told, is a personal problem rather than an issue with the pens. Which is true. I’m picky I guess.

On the other hand, I use my black Microns to death. Literally

They have to be completely, utterly, irrevocably dead before I toss them.  Then I hold a funeral where I say a few words, share fond memories of our time together and then I cry.

OHTO Graphic Liner Pens

I’m a bit heavy-handed with my pens, so when I saw the OHTO Graphic Liner Needle Point Drawing Pens on JetPens a few years ago, I decided to give them a try.

The Graphic Liner is a ‘free-ink’ pen, which means that, unlike the Micron, it has a hollow barrel rather than a fiber core that can, theoretically, eventually dry up.

OHTO Graphic Liner

The benefit here is that you always get plenty of ink with a smooth, consistent flow to pretty much the last drop.

The needle point is nice, especially from the perspective of someone with a heavy hand, because the tip won’t fray or bend and it doesn’t snag on toothier paper. But, it does skip on some surfaces, notably sandstone, which is not a problem with the Microns.

Just like the Microns, the OHTO Graphic Liner contains archival-safe, waterproof, fade-proof pigment ink, and just like the Microns, the OHTO is available with 6 different nib sizes (from 005 up to 10) that are, according the the manufacturer, comparable to traditional fiber-tip artist pens.

The first fact is as straight forward as it is important.  As far as ink quality and the longevity of your work is concerned, the Micron and the OHTO are going to give you the same results.

The second fact, while technically true, is somewhat misleading when it comes to comparing the OHTO to the Microns.  While both pens use standardized sizing when it comes to the nibs, and that sizing is accurate, the actual line thickness produced by corresponding nib sizes is not the same. Furthermore, it would be easy for one to assume, incorrectly as that might be, that the sizing is inaccurate.

I can assure you, the nib sizing is accurate, and has nothing to do with the varience in line thickness to nib size between the two brands. The apparent inconsistancy is due to the differences in the nib styles and ink release systems rather than poor measuring standards or misrepresentation.

Quite simply put, the OHTO delivers more ink that is wetter upon reaching the paper than the Micron does, therefore the line is thicker. It’s just a matter of adjusting down a size or two in order to get a similar line thickness.

OHTO Nib & Ink Chart
OHTO Nib Sizes with Corresponding Line Thickness

005 = 0.30 mm nib = 0.27 mm line
01 = 0.40 mm nib =  0.32 mm line
02 = 0.50 mm nib = 0.35 mm line
03 = 0.70 mm nib = 0.40 mm line
05 = 1.0 mm nib = 0.42 mm line
10 = 1.50 mm nib = 0.52 mm line

Unlike the Micron, the OHTO does not produce a line that is equal to the nib size. Additionally,  the OHTO does feather a bit. This too is due to the “free-ink” system delivering wetter ink to the paper.

My suggestion for getting the least amount of feathering would be to not hesitate in your strokes, just keep in mind that some degree of feathering is inevitable with the OHTO but, in general it is a tolerable amount compared to other brands.  I should also note that the more times you go over a line, the more likely it is that your going to get feathering and the amount of feathering will increase, which isn’t the case with the Micron.

As a final note on the OHTO, unlike the Micron, it only comes in one color… black.

Side-By-Side Comparison

The paper used to perform the tests is a standard opaque grid paper that can be purchased at pretty much any office supply store.  This sheet was the last one in the pad I had on hand, and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t bother noting the brand before tossing the empty pad in the trash.

As a concession to any differences in ink drying times possibly skewing the results, I waited one hour after finishing the test sheet before running the last six tests.  I really don’t think waiting that long was necessary as both inks dry pretty quickly, with the OHTO lagging by only about 5 to 15 seconds at most depending on the thickness of the paper.

Micron vs OHTO

The Tests

Just Add Water

For this one, I saturated each ink with clean water using a water brush.  With the paper I was using total saturation took about four strokes with the small Niji brush.  Both inks are waterproof, but the OHTO did a smidge better as far as retaining it’s color density and the Micron showed less of an inclination to streak.

Try The Tombow

Here I used the Tombow colorless blender, which is a water-based ink, to see how the ink held up.  Again I saturated the area, and as you’d expect the results were pretty much the same as when I saturated with clean water except that there was noticably more streaking from both pens.

Promarker Pass

This time I saturated the area with a Promarker blender, which is an alcohol-based ink, and again the OHTO did a little bit better than the Micron in relation to streaking.  Interestingly enough, there isn’t as much streaking with the alcohol marker as there is with water.

Erase Me

I set the timer and, using my trusty Tuff Stuff Eraser Stick, spent 30 seconds rubbing across the words “Erase Me!” with the same pressure I would use on a real piece.  That is to say, not hard enough to leave eraser marks or tear the paper, but hard enough to cleanly remove any pencil marks.

The OHTO clearly beats the Micron on this one.  The truth of the matter is that out of the 6 pens that I use regularly I haven’t found one that stands up to eraser better than the OHTO.  The only thing that does better is Noodler’s Bullet Proof Black Ink, but really, that’s in a class of it’s own anyway.

Smudge Test

After ensuring that my hands were dry, I ran my index finger across the words from right to left once.  Both inks reacted the same, in that they didn’t react at all.  Neither one cares if you touch it once it’s dry.

Do I Bleed?

This one’s pretty self explanatory, I wrote “Do I Bleed?” on the reverse side of the paper in each ink.

I should note that this is thin paper and while there is some bleed through with it, I haven’t actually experienced bleed through with either  the OHTO or the Micron on any other paper I use, not even regular printer paper.

As I see it, there is only one major difference between the OHTO Graphic Liners and the Micron Fine Lines as pertains to most of your drawing situations: feathering. Granted, the feathering is pretty minor with the thinner OHTO nibs and it really isn’t that noticeable on most of what you’re going to be doing with them, but if this is something you worry about then it’s a definite consideration.

A few minor differences are related to preference rather than performance.  These include such things as how smooth the pen moves over the paper, how much of a beating the pen can take, how much fading the ink will do when using an eraser, and how much bleed-through your going to get.  For the most part, in my opinion, there isn’t that much of a difference between the two pens to worry about any of these issues… at least not enough to make a complete switch from one to the other.

Final Thoughts

Both the Micron and the OHTO are excellent pens and a great investment that will serve you well for a very long time, no matter which way you go. I’d go so far as to say that they are the best disposable pens I’ve ever used, and they perform pretty evenly in real-world situations.

The only drawbacks of the Micron is that it is somewhat less durable and dries out more quickly than the OHTO.  Other than those two, relatively small, issues it outperforms almost any other drawing pen I’ve tried as far as line quality, longevity and ink properties are concerned.  It’s also superior to the OTHO when it comes to working on rougher surfaces such as canvas, stone or wood.

The OHTO does feather, which can decrease the line quality in some cases, and you will never get as thin a line as you will with a Micron, no matter what size pen you use.  Of course, it’s precisely the fact that I do get thicker lines with the OHTO that I prefer to use it for Celtic Knotwork.  It takes far fewer passes in order to get a good, strong line in that kind of work.

Where it outshines the Micron is is in durability and longevity.  Outside of my refillable pens, the OHTO is the longest lasting pen I’ve ever owned.  As an added bonus, once the pen has completely dried out it works really well for both embossing and precise image transfer from a template to your working surface.

Basically, it really just comes down to what you’re comfortable with and what your needs are, as to which of these two fine drawing tools to choose.  In my very humble opinion, choose both, after all you can never have too many pens!