Introduction: The $1 Waterbrush / Ink Brushpen

Picture of The $1 Waterbrush / Ink Brushpen

I started fooling around with watercolors recently and read about the waterbrush, which you use with your standard dry paint-cake-in-a-box. Instead of dipping your brush in your clean water jar to wet it to get paint from the paint cake, you squeeze the barrel of the brush. Instead of cleaning your now-dirty brush in your dirty water jar, you squeeze the barrel to get more water to flow out of the brush and scribble on scrap paper until it runs clear. GENIUS!

This is most useful for people who do watercolor painting outside, as you don't have to bring a your jars of water with you. I just like the idea of the waterbrush because I'm lazy.

I was at the art store today and looked for a waterbrush, but they were out. Later I happened to be in Target with my sister and they had some in the kids' art section, 5 for $4. (This is cheaper than the $6ish + shipping I'd have to spend to get one online. I'm also cheap.)

The problem: they were already filled with color!

SPECIAL NOTE: This Instructable is mostly to say "hey, look, cheap alternative" and show pictures of the internal doohickeys of this kind of waterbrush. Here are the steps: 1) take apart; 2) dump out the color and rinse; 3) fill with water. Not intensely challenging.

Step 1: Buy, Take Home

Picture of Buy, Take Home

The brand was Elmer's Paintastics. What a horrible name for a kid item.

Luckily, I noted that there was some kind of spacer in place between the color (which looked like food coloring) and the brush tip. Which meant that the tips were still untouched by the color. A sinister plot was hatched.

(There were also other brands, but these were the cheapest and I didn't know at the time if what I planned was possible.)

These are pretty decent, actually. The waterbrushes are a good size, and you don't have to squeeze superhard to get water flowing. They also don't constantly drool water.

I got 'em home and took 'em apart over the sink.

Step 2: Take Apart Over the Sink

Picture of Take Apart Over the Sink

The brush tip unscrews and the color-reservoir half of the pen has a blue stopper doohickey attached to a tube, which has a white stopper at the other end. I have no idea how it works.

You can get your fingernails under the edges of the blue stopper and pull out the tube assembly. At the other end of the tube from the blue stopper is a white stopper. Pull that out and rinse everything well.

The reservoir half is actually colored plastic, which I didn't know for the first pen I "converted." I kept rinsing and wondered why the color-water wasn't coming out. I felt really smart when I realized the reservoir half was colored plastic.

Just rinse until the water runs clear (a white sink helps here). It's OK if there're still a few drops left; you're gonna squeeze the pen and flow water through everything anyway.

Step 3: Fill With Water and Put Back Together

Picture of Fill With Water and Put Back Together

I'll skip the pictures for the reversal of the steps. Put the white cap back on the blue-capped tube, fill up the reservoir, put the blue-capped tube back in place. Screw the brush tip back on.

Squeeze the barrel a little and squiggle to get any remnants of color out of the works (you can see just a hint of the original yellow in the photo). Voila! $1 waterbrush.

The point is surprisingly good for a super-cheap brush, and the squeezy part is back behind where you grip it. True watercolorists may feel differently, I suppose, but for just fooling around, I think this is a surprisingly good waterbrush, especially to start with.

I deem this experiment: a SUCCESS!

Thanks for reading and enjoy your painting!
Your pal, El Rey

Step 4: Optional: Use Ink Instead of Water!

Picture of Optional: Use Ink Instead of Water!

Thanks to SeamusDubh for the reminder/idea: you can use ink instead of water when you fill it back up! I used Higgins Black Magic ink, which comes with an eyedropper cap. The flow is a little dry, but a gentle squeeze wettens the line right up.


victoriaf3 (author)2015-06-02

Aw man...I think Elmer's has discontinued this line of brushes. Hoping to find a more cost-effective solution for a kids' art summer camp on a low budget. Blue Heron no longer sells anything remotely like it and the Oriental Trading Post item is discontinued as well. If anyone has tried this recently with success, please comment.

laptopleon (author)victoriaf32015-12-18

These can still be found for under €1 / $1 on sites like and Without the colored ink, just empty and even in three brush tip sizes S/M/L.

mythcat (author)laptopleon2016-01-24

you buy from this website with shipping !? ( / ) , nice tutorial.

laptopleon (author)mythcat2016-01-25

Yes, those prices are included worldwide postage… :)

Lauren1999 (author)laptopleon2016-01-07

Great info! I went to and found several very reasonable choices for empty water brushes! Thanks!

I know its been a while, but I found these on Amazon. Crayola has their own version also.

tdignard (author)2014-02-05

Great tip. I have six of the expensive ones....won't be buying those anymore thanks to your tip. Thank you much.

Machine (author)2013-12-05

Nice instructable, thank you.

kariswg1 (author)2011-06-28

I did this a couple of years ago, and they work great!

KwartzKitten (author)2011-01-24

Good idea, but I don't think they sell that kind of brush anymore. I looked and couldn't find it anywhere. I'll remember this if I ever am able to get my hands on them though :)

mncannon (author)2010-09-03

i bought a set of these also. i emptied them out and filled one with water, one with bleach and one with blending solution. i kept the black in the other and now have a spare one. i also used a 40% coupon at michaels. they are perfect for my needs. i took most of the guts out and it works well without them. good tutorial!

El Rey (author)mncannon2010-09-06

I'm curious! What are you using the bleach and blending solution for?

mncannon (author)El Rey2010-09-06

i use the bleach to change up papers (lines, dots, circles..whatever!) that i use for my mixed media pieces. i also use the blending solutions with my alcohol inks that i also use in my pieces. they are great because they have small tips and do small spaces. i think these pens are the best thing since sliced bread!!

mncannon (author)2010-09-03

oops..better late then never!!

blueheronarts (author)2009-07-02

blueheronarts (author)2009-07-02

It seems there is too much water flow and you have no control. You might want to take a look of this decent "made in China" water brush pens on eBay: which comes with water pump with an adjustable knob. The cost? As low as 0.99/each.

blueheronarts (author)2009-07-02

I am a big fan of water brush pens. Thank you for sharing this very interesting idea, but it seems you got no control on the water flow with this kind of pre-filled watercolor pens. I have found something from China that to have a water knob to control precisely the water in and out. Why don't you take a look in my eBay store and you can get a adjustable fountain brush pen at the same price.

El Rey (author)2008-11-30

Very late to the game, I find that Oriental Trading may have made this one obsolete with their $8 for 6 watercolor brushes!

"Includes 2 each of small, medium and large." I may have to try 'em out.

phoenyxashe (author)El Rey2009-06-30

I took a quick look at the link... don't bother with these. They look almost exactly like a set I got at a craft store in the scrapbooking section. $5 for three versus $7 for one, I thought was a great deal. The problem is, there's nothing to prevent backflow, which the more expensive brushes have. So I'd be working on a wash.... and find my pigment had been sucked up into my reservoir. Okay for a wash... not so good for the detail work. I'm very interested in trying your method to see how they work.

lootsvele (author)2009-04-09

this is excellent! I have just started using watercolors for my journal and the waterbrushes are expensive! Thanks for the great instructable! Lotus

raygeeknyc (author)2008-10-18

Do you really see any reason to rinse out and keep the inner narrow white-capped tube that was holding the colour? It seems that just the blue cap on the lower chamber is all you need.

El Rey (author)raygeeknyc2008-10-24

You know, I have no idea. It was there, so I left it. Buy some and try it!

raygeeknyc (author)El Rey2008-10-24

I did and I have - I've found that they work great without the inner tube and there's that much more room for water w/o it.

El Rey (author)raygeeknyc2008-10-24

Great! Thanks for posting it.

CrystalDyes (author)2008-10-22

Way to go! This changes things for me. I am a dyer and we can buy some very expensive refillable brushpens that get screwed up fairly quickly. This is a great alternative for using to do some delicate dye painting such as on silk. 2 thumbs up on this idea.

El Rey (author)CrystalDyes2008-10-24

Yes yes, I think that would work well!

dhawktx (author)2008-10-16

I use a small flip top bottle to refill my waterbrush in my guerrila painting kit. One of these could easily be filled with ink instead...

El Rey (author)dhawktx2008-10-24

Ooh, good call.

shwa (author)2008-10-16

I'm using this method for liquid flux when soldering.its easier,much more precise and there is no spills.I'm using Pentel brushes which are very good and cost $1.50 in local store.

SeamusDubh (author)2008-10-10

I wonder if you could use it with regular black ink or even slightly watered down ink and use like a Sumi-e type brush.

El Rey (author)SeamusDubh2008-10-10

I'm sure you could - this artist uses Rotring ink in an Aquash waterbrush.

I've also been lusting after black-ink brushpens to mess with after falling in love with using a Pitt brushpen. Thanks for the reminder!

bettbee (author)El Rey2008-10-16

Arrgh, Pitt brushpens! Nooooo . . . . . I'm probably ruining you for all time for your Pitt pens here. Go check out Staedtler Mars Graphic 3000 duo. OMG. This is the most flexible and wonderful brush marker that I have found (outside of the real brush pens like these Elmer's ones or the much better Pentel Color Brush, all of which are entirely different from a felt tip brush marker like the Pitt.) The Staedtler Mars ones have many shades of black and grey, as well as a full color palate, so you can really go crazy. Also the back end of 'em has a regular, relatively fine, and fairly firm felt tip on them so they are truly versatile. And if their size indicates anything they hold a fair amount of ink. Actually if anyone has figured out how to refill these Staedtler ones I'd love to experiment with that.

El Rey (author)El Rey2008-10-10

More ink in waterbrush or brushpen talk:

Higgins Black Magic ink, which I happen to have handy, is mentioned!

El Rey (author)El Rey2008-10-10

Success! Thanks, Seamus!

SeamusDubh (author)El Rey2008-10-11

Ok lets try this in order. Cool. Welcome. Thanks. Sweet! I'm glad I could help.

bettbee (author)2008-10-16

I also discovered these little items when under orders to go buy a Pentel Color Brush by my art teacher. Now I still bought the Pentel one which is awesome and a much better brush, but I like these little guys as well. The EXACT SAME ITEM as these Elmer's ones is on sale at Pearl Paint under a snootier name for several times the price. I think in the mid 20-dollar range. Ridiculous! Another note; you can also buy nice sumi ink and fill the reservoir with that instead of water and have a fairly nice ink brush as well. (But the Pentel one is under 10.00 so you should probably get that because it has a nicer brush, then use the nice sumi ink to refill it instead of buying their refills.)

ogorir (author)2008-10-16

these are nice and pretty cheap for a commercial offering: Aquaflow bushes @DickBlick. I use them filled with 70/30 india ink and water for a gray wash, but they'd work just fine for water.

El Rey (author)2008-10-12

In the interest of SCIENCE I also mention that I tried the same thing with one of a package of the Squeeze n' Brush brand. Utter failure. This brush uses thick gooey paint instead of water-viscosity ink and when you try and use water in it, it blobs way more out than you need. If the brush was better, I'd try and use some kind of cement to make the water hole smaller, but the brush is really terrible, sort of like toothbrush bristles. Avoid!

shooby (author)2008-10-12

Pretty cool. You can do this with highlighters by the way, and also with prisma color markers, although you'd need rubbing alcohol to clean the prismas initially.

redzepeda (author)2008-10-11

Awesome, I bought the regular waterbrush for about 6 bucks and all it does is hold water. Your idea is awesome.

Uncle Kudzu (author)2008-10-11

this is great info! i own one of the plastic travel brushes that's basically the same thing but cost more. and yes, i do load mine with black India ink sometimes, and yes, you can dilute the ink with water. with more than one brush, one could get different shades with different dilutions. (i used non-waterproof ink, FWIW.)

El Rey (author)2008-10-10

Thanks folks! They don't last super-long. If you're going out for a day of sketching, you'll be refilling with a water bottle between paintings. Definitely enough for one postcard/moleskine-sized painting and an 8.5 x 11 blank page of cleaning the brush. Don't get me wrong, $6 or $10 is a fine price for a well-made waterbrush, but if you're just messing around to see if you like them, like I am, this is a nice alternative. RE5, definitely check the kids' art section, and if you have $1 stores, there too.

canida (author)El Rey2008-10-10

If you reply to the other commenters directly, they'll receive notification of your response! Sweet project, btw - easy, and a great idea.

El Rey (author)canida2008-10-10

Thanks - this is my second Instructable ever, and I had no idea.

GorillazMiko (author)2008-10-10

Awesome! Great job, looks easy to do, my brother did watercoloring for a while but gave up, maybe if I show him this, he'll get back into it. Thanks! +5/5 stars.

aliceownsj00 (author)2008-10-10

that is not a bad idea, I work at a craft store and I think the water brushes we sell are ridiculously over priced lol

Robotrix (author)2008-10-10

Nice work! This is a pretty good idea. How long does each water charge last? also, lol @ paintastics!

residentevil5 (author)2008-10-10

Nice idea!......Now I have to find something similar to that pen here in davao.....

About This Instructable




Bio: I like to make pictures.
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