How Do I Keep My Brush Pens From Fraying?


There’s nothing quite like a brand new brush pen. Crisp tip, juicy ink, defined strokes…

…until one day you realize the pen isn’t the same anymore. Lines are rough and uneven and the tip is fuzzy and frayed.

How do you prevent this from happening?

To keep brush pens from fraying, use them on very smooth paper, hold the pens correctly (at a 45 degree angle to the paper), and avoid shoving the tips or being unnecessarily rough while using them. Some fraying over time is inevitable as you use brush markers, but doing these things will help them last longer.

Read on to learn why brush pens fray, exactly how to keep them from fraying, and what to do with an already-frayed marker!

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A close-up of a very frayed brush tip.

Why brush pens fray

There are several things that can cause a brush pen tip to fray.

  • Holding the pen vertically while using it
  • Using the pen on rough paper (or other rough surfaces)
  • Shoving the brush tip on paper too often while using it
  • Being unnecessarily rough on the brush tip

Anything that repeatedly tears at brush pen tips will fray them, and using them the wrong way will wear them out faster, too.

Brush pens will fray eventually to some degree, even if you use them on smooth paper. That’s just what happens when they’re used a lot!

But if your pens are fraying fast and badly, it’s likely the result of one or more of these mistakes.

Bristle-tip brush pens don’t tend to have problems with fraying, and firm, hard-tip brush pens are less prone to it, but most soft brush pens are easy to fray.

So if you’re frustrated with brush pens fraying easily, consider trying hard tip or bristle tip pens instead.

two slightly frayed brush pen tips side by side
These two pens have started to fray at the tips.

How to keep brush pens from fraying

Once a pen tip frays it just becomes annoying to use, so let’s look at ways you can keep them from fraying!

There are several simple things you can do to keep your brush pen tips in good shape so you can use them for longer.

Don’t buy possibly-used pens

Open displays of pens at art stores are fun, but a lot of people try the pens, which means many of them are already used.

Be careful of buying individual pens that aren’t in a package. The pen could already be frayed (or dried out) from others using it.

If buying individual pens in a store, check to make sure they’re in good condition. Packaged sets of pens are usually the better way to go.

Even so, it’s possible that you could end up with an already-frayed marker. In that case it would be best to get a replacement if you can.

Often when you buy a set of brush markers some will be harder or softer than the others, but an already-fraying marker would be very frustrating.

Use smooth paper

This is a common and easy way to prevent brush pen fraying – use very smooth paper!

Rough paper – like watercolor paper or even printer paper – tears at the pen tips, so using smooth paper helps the tips glide more smoothly and easily over the surface.

Even just using a pen on textured paper once can noticeably fray the tip. (I know because I’ve done it myself!)

Here are a few smooth papers to use with brush pens (Amazon links):

These are great papers to have on hand for calligraphy practice. Tracing paper is especially great because you can use it over guide sheets and it’s very smooth.

I also wrote an entire guide about the best paper for brush pens that has more info and paper recommendations.

Hold the pen correctly

When using a brush pen, it’s important to hold it the right way so that you don’t damage the tip unnecessarily.

Make sure to hold brush pens at a 45 degree angle to the paper instead of vertically.

holding a brush pen at a 45 degree angle to paper
Hold brush pens at a 45 degree angle to the paper.

Using one while holding it vertically will wear out and fray the brush tip much faster.

Instead, holding the pen at a 45 degree angle to the paper will use the full side of the nib when you add pressure and not just the very tip.

If using a brush pen for calligraphy, you also need to make sure you hold the pen to the side of your writing, not below it.

Your pen should be positioned perpendicular to the downstrokes. That way you’ll be able to easily get the thick and thin strokes with the flexible nib.

hand showing correct way to hold brush pen
How to hold a brush pen for calligraphy.

For more, check out this post: How to Hold & Control a Brush Pen for Calligraphy

Don’t be rough on the tip

This one’s pretty obvious. If you’re rough on a pen by shoving it or stabbing it on paper, well, don’t expect the tip to stay in great shape!

Try not to rub the nib fibers in the wrong direction by pushing the pen across paper.

If you just use brush pens for art or journaling and don’t care about keeping the tips crisp, that’s great. But I’m assuming you’re reading this because you do!

How to tell if a brush pen is frayed

You’ll know that a brush pen is frayed when you start seeing stray lines and fuzzy, uneven edges when you use it.

Take a close look at the pen tip and you’ll probably also see that the nib fibers look fuzzy and frayed.

An example of lettering with slightly-frayed brush pens. Look closely and you can see stray lines and rough edges.

Fraying is more noticeable in thin lines, like calligraphy upstrokes, but you can see it in thick lines, too. It’ll only get worse the more it frays.

If you only notice fraying in thin upstrokes, you can try pressing a little harder to make the upstrokes thicker and that might help.

Some brush pens fray more than others. For example, Tombow Fudenosuke pens – which I love and use often – hardly seem to fray much at all!

My experience is that hard-tipped brush pens fray less and softer brush pens fray more easily.

new vs frayed brush pen
The difference isn’t too noticeable at first, but the frayed pen leaves more fuzzy edges and occasional missed areas.

What to do with frayed markers

So you have a frayed brush marker. Is there any way to fix it?

You can’t really fix a frayed brush pen, but there are some ways you can either replace it or still use it.

Here are a couple ways you could replace a frayed tip:

  1. Some brush pens have reversible tips. You can use a tweezers or your fingers to grip the brush tip, pull it out, then turn it around and push it back in. (Be careful about trying this with any pen, though.) Ecoline markers and Faber Castell brush markers are two kinds that have reversible tips.
  2. Some brush pens have replacement tips. Check and see if there are any replacement tips available for the type of pen you have. Some pen sets include a few extras.

If neither of those are an option, you can find ways to use a frayed brush pen and take advantage of the texture it has!

Since the pen is already frayed, you can use it on any surface if you want to.

textured calligraphy using a frayed brush pen
This frayed (and dried-out) look might annoy you, or you might like the texture!

Here are some ideas for using frayed markers:

  • I love the idea in this YouTube video by Weronika Zubek. She dips a frayed marker in ink and uses it to do textured lettering. You could do this with a frayed and dried-out pen.
  • This blog post by Amanda Kammarada lists 3 ways to use frayed brush pens. She mentions Tombow pens specifically, but the ideas would work with any water-based marker.

Put a piece of tape around a frayed (or slightly-frayed) brush pen to easily separate it from your other pens, and so you know which ones you can use on a rough surface.

And if all else fails, buy a new set of brush pens and follow the tips I covered earlier to keep them from fraying.

Brush markers are consumable items, after all, so I hope you have fun using them without worrying that you’ll ruin them. And now you know how to make the tips last for longer!

how to keep brush pens from fraying

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