In Your Store

Pen, Ink, & Illustration Departments That Sell

Our focus for the month of October on our Customer Engagement Calendar is Pens, Ink, and Illustration. These products take up about 15 – 20 % of a retail store. Let’s take a more detailed look at what products fall into these categories.


Pens could include anything from inexpensive disposable pens to fine pens that can cost up to $100,000. With the seemingly unlimited types of pens in existence, jumping into the world of writing utensils can be a little overwhelming. It is so beneficial for employees to play with the supplies they sell. Try different pens on a variety of papers. Learn how it feels to make art with the pens. 

There are bound to be overlaps in user experience and characteristics with the plethora of pens on the market. Staff members should pick a few favorites for different use cases. Know the top selling points, advantages, and even any shortcomings. Speaking from an experienced and honest perspective is always appreciated by customers, especially when it comes to navigating a multitude of options. 

Some common types of pens include: 

  • Ballpoint and rollerball pens, fiber tip pens, and gel pens are most common for general purpose writing. 
  • Brush pens, illustration pens, drawing pens, and technical pens offer the best precision and control for drawing. 
  • Fountain pens are used for calligraphy, hand lettering, and elegant writing.

Pens used to be something that you would buy one or two of in your lifetime. People would take them to somebody to fix, buy special inks for them, and use special products to clean them. Many artists today prefer plug-and-play pens because of how beautifully they write. They are very expensive, but you can use specialized or personalized ink with them. Similar to a cell phone, artists claim they don’t feel complete if they leave home without their pen. 


Inks are a very diverse family of art materials. Dye-based, pigment-based, acrylic-based, and alcohol-based ink are all very popular. Let’s take a deeper look at each of these.

  • Dye-based ink has been produced for hundreds of years. It is made with water-soluble dyes combined with gum arabic or other vehicles. India Ink is a prime example of dye-based ink. Although this ink can be very bright, it is not very lightfast, so it should stay away from prolonged light exposure. This ink will be immediately absorbed into paper surfaces. It is water-resistant unless otherwise noted on the product and can create a wide range of colors.
  • Pigment-based ink is generally made of solid matter (rocks, minerals, metals, charcoal, etc.) that has been ground to a powdery talc-like texture. It is then mixed with a vehicle to create the ink. Relative to dye particles, pigment particles are much larger. 
  • Acrylic-based ink is made of pigment particles that create ink colors that act more like acrylic paints. Because of the acrylic pigments, this ink is not as likely to fade with light and can be mixed with acrylic paints. They are also water-resistant and dry quickly and permanently to surfaces.
  • Alcohol-based ink is fast-drying and highly pigmented. They are great to use on any hard, non-porous surface like metal, glass, ceramic, plastic, stone, and leather. Once the ink is applied, the alcohol evaporates, leaving the dye behind.


Alcohol markers have become a popular illustration tool for artists today. As you might expect, alcohol markers contain alcohol ink. They don’t have a toxic smell like Sharpies do. In most cases, they have a faint scent of rubbing alcohol. They’re excellent for blending, produce smooth, vivid colors, and dry quickly. Copic makes excellent quality alcohol markers that are durable and refillable. 

Pigma Micron Pens by Sakura are another popular tool for illustrators. They feature permanent, fade-resistant, chemically stable, pigment-based ink. It will not bleed or run if liquids are spilled on or applied to the surface after the ink has dried. The pens create precision lines and there is a range of nib sizes available. The pens themselves are inexpensive. 

Your staff will also want to be knowledgeable about Uni Pens. When the pigment-based ink from these pens dries, it will not budge. So they can be used with watercolor and other mediums. 

Tips and Tricks

Staff members should be asking the customer exploratory, open-ended questions when they come into the store to get a better idea of what they are looking for. This is especially important when finding the right pen or ink. There are just as many, if not more nuances in the world of pens and inks as there are in the world of art materials in general. 

Questions to consider asking the customer could include: 

  • Is the customer looking for ballpoint, gel, felt tip, fountain pen, marker, etc.? 
  • Are they looking for pens and inks with a wide assortment of color choices? 
  • What kind of surface are they using? 
  • Does it need to have archival properties? 
  • What pen width or nib size do they prefer? 

There are a myriad of questions you can ask to determine which product would best suit the needs of the customer. Resort to your favorites for a tried-and-true recommendation. Consider sharing your top picks with coworkers to encourage the spread of knowledge.

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