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To achieve shadows and depth in their artwork, many artists rely on a set of gray drawing implements. An achromatic color—meaning it has no hue—gray comes in all kinds of shades, and many art brands have thoughtfully curated sets of gray markers and pens. These are a smart way to efficiently build a palette at less expense than purchasing individual implements. Here we focus on gray brush-tip pens and markers (which can typically achieve both fine and broad lines) and present our top picks below.
Tombow Dual Brush Pen Set
Tombow’s dual-tip pens offer a wide variety of grays at a relatively low cost. You get nine markers ranging in tone from black to a very light gray, plus a colorless blending brush so you can create even finer gradations. Designed with thin barrels that are easy to control, the pens feature water-soluble ink that is nontoxic and odorless. This ink is easy to blend, but don’t expect the kind of results you’d get from a top-shelf choice like Copic (see below). The brushes, which are made of felt, are firm yet flexible and capable of producing very fine lines as well as broader strokes. Flip each pen over to use the fine point, which is ideal for writing.
Buy: Tombow Dual Brush Pen Set, Grayscale, Set of 10 $13.17
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Royal Talens Ecoline Brush Pen Set
These super-pigmented markers are filled with concentrated dyes in varying shades of gray. Even for a grayscale palette, the ink is bright and brilliant, although you can dilute colors if you desire less intensity. The brush tips are soft and resilient to last through many sessions of drawing or coloring. In fact, Royal Talens’s markers perform a bit better than Tombow’s, but they didn’t snag the top spot because they’re more costly (on a per-pen basis), you receive only five shades of gray in a set, and if you want a blender, you’ll have to purchase it separately.
ANOTHER GOOD CHOICE
Sakura Koi Watercolor Brush Pens
Another water-based option, Sakura’s Koi series features a chunky, solid brush tip that retains its point for a long time. You get six markers in this set, including three cool grays and three warm grays. The ink is easy to control and comes out semi-transparent, but you can layer your strokes to yield darker tones. You can also turn the brush on its side to create thick, uniform strokes. Before you buy, note that the colors are actually darker than the cap colors of each marker.
Buy: Sakura Koi Watercolor Brush Pen Set, Grays, Set of 6 $9.69
TOP OF THE LINE
Copic Sketch Marker Set
Copic makes a dizzying 46 different shades of gray, and this pack features five that the Japanese company deems “neutrals.” You also get a 0.5-millimeter black Multiliner pen. Yes, these alcohol markers from Japan are likely the most expensive you can purchase, but if you want the best, look no further. Originally developed for manga artists, they showcase incredible blending capabilities, allowing you to render shadows and highlights that bestow lifelike volume to drawings; the markers also won’t contaminate one another. That means you can effortlessly create even more grays. Each dual-tip marker offers a broad chisel nib at one end and a fine-point brush nib at the other.
Pentel Arts Color Brush Set
Featuring three pens as well as a water brush, Pentel’s set is a dependable, compact option for artists on the go. You get brushes loaded with gray, sepia, and black water-based dye ink that dries quickly but appears intense, and with the easy-to-fill Aquash water brush, you can blend out your strokes with water to create even more gradients. The medium-size brush tips feature firm bristles for controlled movement. With this set, you can carry fewer pens without sacrificing on color potential.
Buy: Pentel Arts Color Brush Set, Neutrals $17.89