Monday, 22 April 2013

Battle of the Nail Art Pens

The release of Barry M's new nail art pens has sent most of the polish-addicted population into a bit of a frenzy!  I'm certainly not alone in going and buying multiple colours in excitement, before actually trying one out to see if it was any good!

So are they any good?  At £5 a pop, they're not the cheapest option.  So I thought it would be useful to do a little comparison post for you of all (well, perhaps not all!) the different nail art pen options that are out there.

The Contenders:

From left to right we have a standard 2-way nail art pen/striper brush, a Sharpie, Barry M and a pen from Born Pretty Store.  I'll use the same order all the way through :)

The Nibs:

The 2-way nail art pen has a fine metal tube (for want of a better word) and you need to give the bottle a little squeeze the keep the polish flowing.

The Sharpie has quite a large, softish tip, just like any other marker pen.  This one is a double ended pen, so it also has a really fine tip that you can use for those little details.

The Barry M and BPS pens are both pretty similar.  They both have a solid nib, and you have to pump it a few times to get the polish flowing.  I say isn't quite polish, no idea what it is but it's a little thinner and easier to wipe off if you make a mistake.

The Battle:

I devised this highly scientific test to compare all the pens.


All nails were prepped with two coats of polish and a coat of Seche Vite, then allowed 10 minutes to dry to minimise drag.

2-Way Nail Art Pen:

So this is what I think would generally be regarded as a standard nail art pen.  Screw off the top and you've also got a striper brush.  There's a few brands that do pens of this sort, but I got this one as part of a massive set on ebay.  If you buy them in bulk and from China, you can get them pretty stupidly cheap.  If you buy one on it's own from a UK seller, then you're probably looking at about £2.50.


This pen's a little tricky to control.  Since you're having to squeeze the polish out, it's pretty difficult to get a line of uniform thickness.  Dots are easy to do, although they aren't the smallest.  You can see on the corners of the zig zag and the joins  on the heart that there's a little too much polish there.  Basically this is because the polish keeps flowing, so when you stop for a second to change direction you end up with a slightly thicker blob.


One day I painted a mermaid on my nails (you can see her here).  I became a little fed up with my nail art pen above when I couldn't get the lines as thin as I wanted them, so I decided to buy myself a pack of Sharpies to try out.  You can pick up individual pens for just over a pound, or if you want some more colours then they're also available in packs of various sizes.


Obviously control of this is great, what with it just being a pen!  It's a little thick, although if you're careful to just use the tip you can get thinner lines, and the dots are pretty neat and consistent.  It's also lovely and opaque, and no issues with dragging.

Barry M:

The man (well...pen) of the moment!  These cost £5 each, and there are four colours available.  I'm sure you all know all of this lol.


The more solid nib on these last two pens does mean that you need to give your base layer a little longer to dry than if you were using the last two, otherwise it'll just drag it all over the show.  Not quite as opaque as the previous two pens, but super easy to control and the lines are thinner.  The pen moves really nicely over the nail.  Watch out for too much polish running down the nib and ending up with a big blob of polish though!

Joyme from Born Pretty Store:

I received this pen for review before there was any mention of Barry M pens.  These cost $5.99 (erm..about £4?  That's toally a guess) and are available in the same colours as the Barry M pens, plus yellow and red.


This is pretty much the same as the Barry M pen, but with a thinner nib.  This means you can get even smaller detail, although it does also mean this drags your base layers a little more.  Look at the size of those dots - super tiny!  I did have a little trouble this time with the paint not quite coming out fast enough, so I did go back over the first line a few times until it got flowing nicely.

The All-Important Top Coat Test:

So you've just finished the most beautiful design ever on your nails.  It's taken you well over an hour, but heck, your nails look fab!  Totally worth it, and you were totally right to spend all that time doing your nails rather than cleaning the bathroom.

You're almost done!  Just need to pop on a coat of your favourite top coat!

But then, smearing strikes.  

I.  Hate.  Smearing.  It's a little bit devastating.  Sometimes I'll take a picture of my nails before I top coat, in case it all goes wrong...

My nails all had 15-20 minutes to dry (I was faffing about with something or other).  I used one coat of Seche Vite.  I applied it the way I normally would - plenty on the brush, but not being particularly careful not to touch my nail with the brush.


The 2-way nail art pen and Sharpie both get a big thumbs down.  The thickness of the first means that even if you give it a good amount of time to dry, it'll still be wet, meaning it gets dragged down your nail.  As for the Sharpie...if you give it loads and loads of time to dry, and are super careful, then sometimes it doesn't smear. A little hit or miss for my liking though.

Barry M and BPS?  Thumbs up and a very happy blogger!  I guess it's down to whatever the formula is of that paint in the pen, but these were not budging.  And actually the BPS pen only had about 5 minutes to dry before I went in with the top coat (I originally did it in white paint, but changed it to black so you could actually see it!)

So, my winner is...


Good old Barry and his M.  The 2-way and the Sharpie didn't stand a chance with their thick lines and smearing.

Why not the BPS pen?   Hmm...well I'd like to try it in black, that would be more of a fair test.  But the fact that I had to go over some lines a few times because the polish was coming out too thin (whoever thought I'd be complaining about something like that??) means it shall have to make do with runner up.

That being said, if you're feeling hard done by because you can't get Barry M where you live, the Born Pretty Store pen is definitely a great alternative (you can see them here if you're interested).

But yes, well done Barry!  Good job I bought the white and pink as well :D


  1. I never thought of using actual marker pen on my nails but I might give it a go if I can find a thin nibbed one despite your top coat problem, purely for some really detailed designs. Good thinking Batman!
    I've got a nail art pen similar to the Barry M ones and I really hate it which has put me off trying Barry M. The nib is just so thick and it comes out way to gloopy, it resembles tip ex too.
    I think I would be more inclined to try them if the nib was smaller but for me I think the first is the best, I like to use the striper for most nail art though.

    1. The other end of the double-ended Sharpies are really thin. You just have to give your base plenty of time to dry because it's so pointy.

  2. I wondered about smearing with a sharpie, and you've answered it for me :-)

    I have to say, the first time I used the Barry M pens I waited AGES before top coating, through smear-fear, and now I've used them a few times, they are so fast drying and no smear issues at all, berluddy fabulous!

  3. Great comparison!! when I saw you using a sharpie I thought, yep wait til the topcoat though hehe! Love the barry m pens! x

    1. Red Sharpies are the worst, you end up with an orange glow around your design lol. The Barry M one's are so good for not smearing though!