Painting with Carol

Techniques, tips and tricks for watercolours and acrylics

Apr 25

How to use a ruling pen

There has been a great deal of interest on how to use the ruling pen. Maybe I should try and explain a little better how I use it. Many years ago, I was an apprentice draughtswoman. In those days you were allowed to say draughtswoman, these days it is called draughtsperson. I know it has nothing to do with how to use a ruling pen but I thought a little background may help you to understand. The Engineer would pass his sketches on to the draughtsperson and the plans were then drawn to scale in pencil. Once they had been passed by the Engineer the plans were then drawn up in ink - and this is where the ruling pen comes in.

You can buy different quality pens - I use a good quality pen such as “WILD” Heerbrugg made in Switzerland, but another very good brand is “STAEDTLER”. There are ruling pens that are not as expensive to buy. I have found that cheaper ruling pens take a lot longer to run in; you will find that it is inclined to scratch the surface of whatever you are working on, be it wood, canvas or paper. You can use a very fine sand paper such as 000 and gently sand the tip of the pen to help overcome this problem. I have also found that everyone is quite different with the amount of pressure they use, so treat your pen like a feather, gently does it. Providing the pen is filled properly it should work for you.

To fill the pen, I mix the paint on my pallet to the consistency of ink. You can use an eye-dropper to fill the pen or you can just pick up the paint with your brush - whatever you are comfortable with. I find it’s best to hold the pen upright in order to use it properly. My daughter has told me that she could make a little movie of me using a ruling pen, if that would help. Please let me know.

18 Comments so far

  1. Arlene April 26th, 2008 2:20 am

    Ok..I have a ruling pen and have not used it. I’ll give it a try. Thanks!

  2. Bogusia July 1st, 2008 4:53 pm

    Hallo, yes this is great idea from your daughter- about a making a little movie of you using a rulling pen! I have stil some problem!

  3. KEN ANDERSON November 6th, 2008 12:59 am

    Thank you for the info. I’ll give it a try but have never used one before. Maybe I can get some control out of it when using masking fluid, that would be useful. Many thanks.

  4. Elizabeth Whelan November 16th, 2008 4:17 am

    Many thanks for sharing the make of ruling pen you use. I just used a ruling pen for the first time to do some small houses on a watercolor, and I wish I had known about this useful little tool years ago! I am going to purchase a better quality pen, but in the meantime I will keep experimenting with the one I have on hand. It came in a drafting kit I picked up years ago, but until I started delving into architectural illustration I confess I had no idea what it was for.
    I also don’t know how to fill it in an efficient manner — I have been dipping it into the paint like a brush, and can get enough in there to do quite a bit of work, but would love to see a video of how to do it properly!
    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge!

  5. Carol November 17th, 2008 9:27 am

    Elizabeth, I am glad you have found the ruling pen useful. Only yesterday I was speaking with my daughter about making the little video. Time is always a problem for me I am afraid - maybe I need to have someone to manage my time as I don’t seem to be very good at it! I promise that it will happen soon though. Elizabeth, I just love your work - I was so impressed with your camel. It is so nice to know that there are painters who feel as I do about camels.
    Please keep in touch.

  6. Norma January 14th, 2009 9:23 am

    I have been using the ruling pen for several years…some days I am great, some days I nothing I do works. It is like music. I would love the video! Just to keep me on track.
    Thank you!

  7. Jeanne January 26th, 2009 4:20 am

    Sorry, I still cannot figure out how to load the ruling pen with watercolor paint. I understand mixing the paint to the consistency of ink but how do I get the paint into the pen? Do I dip the pen into the paint and the pen will “slurp up” the paint? Or do I hold the pen with the tip up and somehow pour the paint into the pen? The whole concept defies understanding. If the paint is “held” in between the blades of the pen, what keeps it from pouring out the sides right away? Please explain further. I really appreciate your help!

  8. sharon davis September 21st, 2009 4:15 am

    PLEASE make a video!

  9. John October 26th, 2009 6:53 am

    Please make a video. I’m new to watercolor and the use of the pen. I haven’t bought one yet. Thanks

  10. Pat McLaren January 4th, 2010 2:25 am

    I am interested to learn more about using the rule pen. I vote with the others, make a video. I read about the rule pen mentioned to use for masking fluid. Filling the pen seems to be a real problem. How do you do fill it and start to use it before the masking fluid starts to set and how do you properly clean it?

  11. Marie February 8th, 2010 5:34 am

    Hi I use my ruling pen for masking fluid, I just dip the nib in the fluid, wipe off the excess and apply it to the paper. After I have finished I clean it with a cloth.

  12. Pankey Kite December 30th, 2011 1:39 am

    Is there any written instruction or video available on how to use a ruling pen? I recently purchased a watercolour Landscape & Flower book along with the supplies suggested. The ruling pen I received has a screw near the point which suggest to me there is something that ones puts into the pen to hold paints or masking fluid? If so what (nibs????) and where do I purchase whatever goes into the pen to hold the fluid?

    Thanking you in advance,
    Pankey Kite

  13. Julia Wescott July 21st, 2012 4:07 pm

    Sorry ..Don’t know what you mean by website. Is Internet Explorer what you need? I’m just a 82 yr. old grannie that doesn’t now a lot about computers. What I want to know is where can I buy a Ruling Pen that I can use with my Mask for Watercolors. Can you please advise me where to buy one? Thank you, Julia

  14. Teresa March 13th, 2013 2:01 am

    Hi carol,
    another oap here female 65yrs. Ruling pen is driving me nuts, i want to do hair n fur with the ink, also I have bought the masking fluid which sits in the bottle looking at me ha ha !!!!….I thought when i bought my ruling pen it would have instructions but NO.. i havent got a scoobie how to use it,…..PLEASE PLEASE PRETTY PLEASE Carol, there are hundreds out here just longing for you to show us on a video which we can keep to bookmarks, please feel sorry for us and make us a video PLEASE thank you in advance Teresa

  15. Pen Dalton May 31st, 2013 8:39 pm

    Thanks carol for all the contributions - very useful tips to improve my technique. It never ceases to amaze me how generous people are with technical advice.
    I’ve been experimenting with painting solid flat shapes onto canvas but have been bothered by the pencil outline always showing a tiny bit round the edges. I have found using a ruling pen- filled with liquid acrylic paint with a little brush and then cleaned up with a cotton bud- with a template, compass or ruler, makes a clean circle or shape which can then be painted in using the same colour. This is how the artist Bridget Riley got all those pristine stripes and circles!

  16. Geranium Pungatara March 23rd, 2014 11:39 am

    Hi Carol, yes! I agree with others asking for more info on filling and using the ruling pen, thanks Geranium.

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