Water Brushes: a Comparison Between Niji, Koi, Pentel and Yasutomo


What are a water brushes, you ask? It’s simply a paintbrush with a water reservoir in the handle, eliminating the need for a cup of water while you work.

Comparison of Water Brushes

With just a gentle squeeze of the handle you can force water down the nib and through the bristles. Then with just a paper towel, you can clean your brush with just a few swipes or add a few drops into your watercolors.

Water brushes are wonderful to use with watercolor paints, water-based markers, water-soluable pencils, and Perfect Pearls. I literally “don’t leave home without them,” as there is always a water brush in my travel craft kit. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be comparing four different different brands so that you can decide which one may be the best for you!

The four brands of water brushes are Koi, Pentel, Niji, and Yakutome. Each one has certain advantages and disadvantages- some have more sophisticated water-delivery systems, some are meant for traveling, and some hold more water in the handle than others.

From top: Yasutomo, Niji, Pentel Aquash, and Koi travel size.

The first I’ll cover is the most basic and least expensive of the bunch, the Yasutomo water brush. It’s also the one I’m most familiar with- I bought a set of them at our local scrapbooking store and have used them for years!

I’ve owned and used this waterbrush for years!

The Yasutomo water brushes come in small, medium, and large size brushes (the water reservoir is the same on each size, by the way) and has the most basic system for filtering the water from the reservoir into the brush tip- just a small hole. The handle is a smooth and pliable plastic that’s easy to squeeze to coax a few drops of water into the brush. However, since the water-delivery system is so primitive, it’s hard to regulate the water flow.

Now as I mentioned, the brushes I’ve had I’ve used for years- mostly because I didn’t think much about it. So on one hand, I can say that they are durable, but the brushes themselves aren’t great quality. As you can see in the photo above, the water brush bristles are a little frayed and doesn’t really have a tip anymore. I only use this brush for “washes” of color- it’s not really good for detail work.

I found the Yasutomo water brushes for  between $5-8 USD, depending on the size of the brush and are available at some local stores. I couldn’t even find them online- maybe this version is discontinued?

Next up…. Aquash Water Brushes by Pentel!

Pentel Aquabrush

The Aquash water brushes are a little more sophisticated- as you can see, there is an extra nib inside the brush mechanism, that allows the water to wick up from the handle to brush tip, much the way a fountain pen draws ink to the nib.  The Aquash water brush also has really nice nylon bristles that are tapered to a fine tip. The one I used for this review was the medium brush tip, yet it was so finely tapered I was able to do some very fine work.

Sample made using Twinkling H2O’s,  and the Aquash water brush.

The other advantage to the Pentel Aquash water brush is the handle shape. First of all, the handle is slightly flattened on one side to prevent your water brush from rolling away from you! Secondly, there is a bulb in the middle of the handle that a) fits nicely into the hand ergonomically and b) holds extra water! A gentle squeeze of the bulb forces extra water up through the nib when you want to wet your paints or clean out your brush. Love this feature! These water brushes by Pentel are available on their site and retail for $5.90 USD for the fine tip, the $6.50USD for the medium tip, and $7.90USD for the large brush tip. All hold the same amount of water, by the way, and all feature that fine tapered tip I mentioned. Sweet! But don’t rule out finding these on other websites for less- shop around!

Next, let’s talk about the Niji Water Brush, made by Yasutomo. I have a feeling that these are the new version of my tried-and-true waterbrushes.

This brush also has nice tapered tip made with nylon bristles. It has a plastic tube to aid the water flow from the handle into the tip, but it doesn’t wick as readily as the Pentel version. The handle is made of soft, easy-to-squeeze plastic and holds a nice amount of liquid. I tried it out by dipping the brush directly into a pot of Perfect Pearls and painting on paper:

I also used this waterbrush with my water-based marker set- I scribbled some marker on a piece of deli-wrap, then used the Niji water brush to pick up the color and use it like a watercolor paint on this Zentagle I’m working on:

It really is a wonderful way to control the intensity of a marker- and the water brush is the key!  I liked the tip and felt the water flow was good when I cleaned off the tip. The medium-tipped brush runs between $6.00 and $8.00 USD on various websites, so it’s comparable to the Aquash.

Lastly I thought I’d try the “mini” version of a water brush – the Koi Travel water brush made by Sakura of America.

This Koi Water Brush by Sakura is made for crafting-on-the-go!

This little dynamo has nylon bristles in a very tight taper. Just by feel, these seemed to be the highest-quality brush tip- the bristles were very tightly packed and the tip very pointy- perfect for detail work! This tip also features the same high-quality nib that I mentioned that you’ll find in a fountain pen.

Since this is meant for traveling, there is a small plastic plug to screw into the handle- then the nib has a cap so that you can carry your brush in two parts, and it’s only 3 inches worth of space.  By the way, even the travel water brushes come in small, medium, and large brush sizes.

I used some Pearl Ex Watercolors for this one.

Even the the barrel is small, it held enough water to complete the above project with water left over. So if you are pressed for space, this one is a gem! The one I demonstrated with is a medium tip, which retails from $5-7 USD, depending on where you can find it.

I have to say, I think the Koi is the highest-quality water brush- so if you aren’t put off my re-filling, this may be a great option.

Overall, though, I have to say the Pentel Aquash is my personal favorite- the handle holds extra water, the nib and bristles are great, and the bulb feels great in the hand.

No matter which one you pick, though, I recommend you have at least ONE waterbrush on your work table. My crafty friend Jen also reminded me that you can fill a water brush with Ranger Blending Solution to use with your alcohol inks- isn’t that a great idea? She demonstrates how she does it here. (Just don’t leave it in there long term, it will damage the waterbrush.)

I’d love to hear from you about the brand of water brush you use, or other ways you use it…. feel free to leave a comment below!

UPDATE 7/12/2012: I’ve had a few recent comments about travel watercolor kits, and I’d like to remind you all that I did a comparison of “reasonably priced” travel kits here: http://www.crafttestdummies.com/craft-product-reviews/comparison-of-travel-watercolor-kits/


About Jenny

Chief Craft Test Dummy, Craft Evangelist, Founder, Editor, bottle-washer, trouble-maker, and creative whirlwind.


  1. says

    I have one Pentel Aquash. Very nice. Then I bought some “no brand” waterbrushes. UGH. They are worth throwing away! But now my current favorites are the Kuretake brand; I especially like this petite one, that even comes with its own water bottle! http://www.jetpens.com/index.php/product/view/products_id/2674 How can you beat that for $4? It’s a very fine brush, so you won’t be using it for broad strokes and backgrounds. And you can slip it into anything, it’s so tiny!

  2. says

    Thanks for a great review of these different brands. I agree with you that the Koi water brush is the best. Koi also makes a larger version that comes in the 24 color pocket box set, wonderful, durable and easy to control.

    Niji comes second for me, I’ve tried others including a pack of AquaFlow ones that was cheap but they were harder to control than the Koi or Niji ones.

    Right up with Koi also is the Derwent Water Brush – this is easy to find in the UK. I got mine in a discontinued gift set with a leather-look case, a dozen Graphitints watersoluble tinted graphite pencils, three watersoluble Sketching pencils, a small hardbound sketchbook and sharpener and palette. I use that gift set a lot because it’s so portable and the Derwent waterbrush has the same high quality and ease of control as the Koi one. So if you’re in the UK or any country that has Derwent products easy to find, check that out.

  3. says

    I was going to buy the Koi travel watercolor set (with brush pen) but I already own a Windsor Newton Cotman travel watercolor set – does anyone know how those two compare?

  4. says

    Hi Jan and thanks for all the info – I’m going to check out UK proces before I decide which of these to buy. I did buy some the other week for using with the blending solution and my promarkers, so I’ll have a try with that too

  5. Tricia says

    I also have had a Kuretake for years. It has the nib like thing inside to aid water wicking. It also has a nice sized reservoir. I don’t remember what size I have, but suspect it may be medium…thanks for the info onthe other ones!

  6. says

    Yes thanks again for your review – I am floored at how many waterbrushes are out there all of a sudden; six months ago I couldn’t find one anywhere!

  7. Anna says

    Your review is spot on, I use the Niji’s and Koi the most, the Yasutomo I let my daughter use and its perfect for 4 year old artwork.

  8. Zoe says

    Wonderful overview, but perhaps one of the few on water brushes around which makes this not only terrific review but a priceless piece of advice for new users.

    I have all of those you mention plus a few I can’t identify, and yes some are better than others, but anyone of them is a steady helpmate with water media. The Koi also comes in a larger size but I can’t remember where I picked it up.

    Two potential answers to questions: The Koi watercolour set is very different from the Winsor Newton professional brand, but has great coverage, is light weight and extemely handy for on the road trips.

    And if people like ink, the water brush can be filled with most inks full strength or diluted for drawing directly with the finer nibs.

    Many thanks for your review and wonderful illustrations.

  9. Zoe says

    PS. It appears both Jet pens and Amazon are carrying the 3 sizes of Koi water brushes.

  10. Julie (O-kami) says

    All of my water brushes are Kuretake. I have the one that Rachel mentions, but have not used it yet. I have two that I use for watercolors, one that I filled with Sumi ink and another that I use with Noodlers White Peacock ink. The last one actually came with the bottle of White Peacock and is a little different as is it designed as a brush pen rather than a water brush.

  11. alex says

    I just bought my first waterbrush.
    It’s a Derwent… But on the reservoir it says Pentel Japan 😀

  12. says

    I am purchasing a few of these – one Pentel SMALL for tiny detail and better water control and a medium and large KOI for larger coverage… but I am using them for Colored Pencils – not
    watercolor pencils, but if you use them with Odorless Mineral Spirits inside – the OMS “melts”
    or blends the pencils together so that it is like paint … amazing affects!!

    THANKS for the very Helpful Comparison!!1

  13. says

    Thanks, Jenny.
    I was trying out an old waterbrush today. I had quit using them. I think I got a lousy brand way back when, made by Kuretake Oo. Lts (japan). Very hard to get the water flowing to the tip.
    So this review helped me chose Aquash brushes, I ordered three (all sizes).
    I’m a watercolorist and like to sketch in the field, but traveling light I usually just sketch in ink with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black. But I am now doing more color on the run with this: http://www.amazon.com/Winsor-amp-Newton-Cotman-Watercolors/dp/B000ILZAXI/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1342294404&sr=8-6&keywords=cotman+boxes

    and this

    and this

  14. says

    Bill here’s a link to the watercolor travel kits I’ve compared- and a full year later, I’m still reaching for my Koi one the most!

  15. Diana in Texas says

    Thanks so much for your great review of these waterbrushes. I was surfing the net to find the kind/brand I purchased about 6 years ago. Watercolor interest comes and goes with me and I have been unable to find this waterbrush at my local craft stores. I now know I have the Niji brand and I love it. I just want to buy another one or two. I love knowing about the other brands and the sizes available. Keep up the good work and stay creative!

  16. says

    Hi Jenny,

    I don’t know, but perhaps I purchased a dud. It’s a Niji Medium brush. My problem, ever since I bought is this: When I squeeze the barrel, ever so gently to move water down to the brush, there must be a leak because water runs not out to the brush, but out the top of the white hub just above the brush. There is a white hub that contains the bristles. Just about that is another white hub with two clear plastic windows(?) to see the water as it moves down into the reservoir. My water squirts down the outside of the white hub, and either onto the paper (or me) and I have to use it like a regular paint brush by dipping it into water. {sigh}. Since I am now in the market for a new brush to try, I wanted to stop by and read your reviews. But I want to steer clear of Niji this time. I’ll re-read your reviews and make a decision – thanks so much — Rosy

  17. Robin Schaefer says

    Great review…as of last year we also have Tim Holtz waterbrushes. Just a little something to pass on. Tim Holtz has said that you should NOT put Ranger’s Alcohol Blending solution in the waterbrushes. It will work for a short time and then destroy the brush. Just thought this might save someone from having to purchase a new brush! God Bless!


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