In the lettering world, two kinds of fineliners are dominating the market: Mitsubishi Uni Pin, and Sakura Micron. You probably heard of Microns, which have the preference of a great majority of artists. Yet, it’s not uncommon to meet people who adopted Uni Pins, as they remain a robust alternative.
I started lettering with Uni Pins, which I bought just because an artist I liked used them. When they ran out of ink, I decided to switch to Microns so I could compare. It’s now been a few months, so I feel like I'm in a right place to make a comparison and help you make your choice if you're still hesistant.
Design & ergonomy
Except for their color, Uni Pins and Microns look pretty much alike. Yet, using them on a daily basis is a slightly different experience which has a significant impact on your process.
I always expect tools to serve me, not the other way around. Left aside the whole learning part, I consider that there's a problem if I have to adapt to a product. For those reasons, I’m not totally satisfied with the way Microns were designed.
If you look closely at the barrel of both pens, you'll see that the little sharp edge, which is the part that blocks the cap, is farther from the nib on Microns than on Uni Pins. Consequently, it makes it a bit uncomfortable to hold a Micron since this part where you’re supposed to put your fingers.
Besides, capping your Microns isn’t as easy as it should be. You usually only need to push and hear a little clicking noise, proof that the pen is perfectly sealed. That's the way most pens work, and Uni Pins doesn't depart from the rule. Yet, Microns actually require you to give it an extra push to completely cap them. This can be misleading and I've found myself having to interrupt my workflow to check my pens twice. When you know how important it is to cap your pens to keep them in good condition, and how rich the ink flow of a Micron is (see next two points), this can definitely be a drawback.
Winner: Uni Pins
Coverage & intensity
Whatever anyone says is the new black, don’t listen to them. Black is the only black there is, and you should always require it rich, intense, and as dark as possible.
Both pens are fine, but Uni Pins are definitely lackluster compared to Microns. Sakura's fineliners deliver the richest black ink, the coverage is perfect and the finish is absolutely seamless when it dries up.
Sidenote: You shouldn’t expect to be able to fill large areas either with Uni Pins nor Microns, since this isn’t what they’re made for. Fineliners are made to execute line work, therefore this is the use for which their tip is designed.
Glide & consistency
The ideal inking process should offer zero friction between your pen and paper. This in particular is one of the great assets of Microns: they perfectly glide on paper, and deliver a consistent flow of ink. This results in a seamless line work without any irregularity. Uni Pins don’t use the same kind of ink, and don’t deliver as much, which makes the process less comfortable and the line work less consistent.
When you erase pencil lines over an inked drawing, you can always expect the ink to come off a little and become a bit less intense. However, a good fineliner should dry in a few seconds. Because Microns have such a rich flow of ink, I’ve had the bad experience to have them smudge when I erased. The problem never came up with Uni Pins.
If you’re using Microns, you should consider waiting an extra few seconds/minutes before erasing, otherwise you’ll end up with some nasty smudges all over your drawing.
Winner: Uni Pins
Uni Pins and Microns are fairly comparable when it comed to pricing: around $10 for a 5/6 pens set, and from $2 to $4 for a single fineliner, depending on where you purchase it. Anyway, this remains an extremely reasonable price range for such quality and long-lasting pens.
Resistance & durability
This point underlines the major disasdvantage of Microns. Indeed, it is a known fact that they shouldn’t be shaken too much, otherwise you’ll experience significant ink leakeage.
After I bought my first set of Microns and tested them at home, I had the unpleasant surprise to see there were ink all over the top of the barrel and inside the cap. I shall indicate that they weren’t delivered to me, I bought them in a shop and carried them in my purse. After wiping them clean, I realized it wasn’t enough: because Microns deliver so much ink, they have a tendancy to leak anyway. This never happened with Uni Pins in more than a year of use.
Sakura is well aware of the problem. On their website, they warn Micron users that the way their pens are designed make them likely to leak if they’re handled “too energically”. They also underline that “the pen should be stored horizontally when not in use”. You can trust that I’m the most careful when it comes to my lettering tools. Yet, I don’t feel like I’m asking too much if I want my fineliners to survive a few trips. If Microns have to be used with gloves and manipulated with surgical precision, it’s safe to say that it’s a bug, not a feature.
Winner: Uni Pins
|Sakura Micron||Mitsubishi Uni Pin|
|Design & ergonomy|
|Coverage & intensity|
|Glide & consistency|
|Resistance & durability|
Based on my analysis, you could conclude that Uni Pins are ahead by a short margin, yet I want to bring some nuance. Both those pens are excellent. It’s not really a matter of which one is the best, but which one is the best fit for you. No matter which one you pick, you’re going to experience their qualities and their flaws. You should choose the one that matches your priorities, the one which strengths are what you’re specifically looking for and which shortcomings you can deal with. And, if you can’t make up your mind, you can always purchase both and get the best of both worlds.