By Sal Scheibe
This article originally appeared in ArtTrader Magazine, Spring 2011 Issue 14
White gel pens have so many uses for so many artists but the problem for many of us has been finding that elusive white pen of perfection. Perhaps it doesn’t exist but that doesn’t stop us from trying out every new white gel pen we come across. I know that I have quite the collection in my art drawer and over the past few years, I think I’ve tried close to 20 different pens searching for the one that does it all.
White gel pens can be used for many different types of creative activities. In scrapbooking, they’re often used simply for writing on photos or patterned paper. In mixed media and collage art, many people use them for design purposes or emphasizing shapes and elements. For finer arts and illustration, some people use gel pens for highlighting light areas as well as emphasizing shapes and elements. I’ve added different artist samples throughout the article to show you how a white pen can be used in art.
Gel pens are made of ink pigments that are suspended in a water-based gel. The ink contained inside the pen is generally opaque and thick, which means the pens are supposed to work better than a ball point pen on darker surfaces or on glossier surfaces. The major downside to gel pens is that the ink is consumed faster than in ballpoint pens and they do require some care in keeping the tips clean.
WHITE Gel Pens: The Comparison Test
- Marvy Gel Excel
- Sakura Gelly Roll
- Uniball Signo UM153
- Pentel Sunburst Med
- Sakura Pen-Touch fine (not a gel pen but a paint pen)
- Colored construction paper (black & red)
- Bristol Board with markers
- Patterned scrapbooking paper
- Board with vintage paper glued with gel medium and painted craft acrylics over top
I used a single instance of each pen to spell out the pen name. I did not go over lines in an attempt to make the text whiter. It was a single pass over top of the various papers to see which one stood out the best. I judged my results based on line thickness and whiteness after drying for 24 hours.
|Test 1 – Black Construction Paper
The Uniball Signo had the definite edge here. Its ink seems thicker and it goes on very smoothly. When dried, it still retained the most white of all 5 pens with a thick, clean line. Both the GellyRoll and Pentel Sunburst went on nice and smooth with no frustration though they dried much lighter than the Uniball signo.
|Test 2 – Red Construction Paper
Again, the Uniball Signo was the clear winner here with a thicker white line that retained its whiteness, even after 24 hours.
|Test 3 – Bristol Board with Markers
The Uniball Signo came out on top in this test too with a nice thick line that retained its whiteness after drying. However, there is a caveat. I found that the Signo ink took on a pink shade over top of the red marker ink. No matter how many coats I added, the ink looked pink rather than white. I’ve also found this to be true over top of red pencil, even with a fixative spray. I think using a combination of GellyRoll with the Uniball Signo makes the most sense for markers and colored pencil backgrounds.
|Test 4 – Patterned Scrapbook Paper
The Uniball Signo came out on top with a nice thick white line that worked best over patterned paper. Again, the Gellyroll and the Pentel Sunburst were both very smooth and flowed well, but the whiteness level just wasn’t there as compared to the Uniball Signo.
|Test 5 – Mixed Media Background
For this test, I used a mixed media background many artists use: vintage papers layered on with a glue / gel medium mix and then painted over top with acrylic craft paint. This is a combination I often use for my own ATC backgrounds. And again, the Uniball Signo came out the clear winner with a thick line that retained its whiteness long after drying.
- First – Signo Uniball UM153
- Second – Sakura GellyRoll
- Third – Pentel Sunburst
The Signo Uniball UM153 was the clear winner. It had the thickest, whitest lines in most instances and that difference is quite noticeable as you can see by my test papers. The difference between the GellyRoll and Pentel pens was negligible. They both had good flow with a smooth laydown of ink on all papers. I give the edge to the GellyRoll for second place.
I know many people are Sakura Gellyroll fans – and I am too (I own many!), but hands down, the Uniball Signo was the clear winner with a super flow that puts down a nice thick layer of white that clearly stands out from the pack. The only instance in my tests where the Gellyroll came out on top was over the red marker. It retained more whiteness than the Uniball Signo did. I’ll continue to use and buy both pens.
Gel Pen Trouble Shooting
Always keep your tip clean. When you’ve finished using your pen, take a moment to clean off the tip with a Kleenex. This will help to keep your pen free of clogs. And then make sure you have the top on properly and fully closed.
If your tip does become clogged, try to remove any dried ink from the top by scraping it with a fingernail or wiping with a damp paper towel. You can often get the pens going again by scribbling on a piece of textured paper which will help to remove the clogged ink. You can also try a heat source such as a lighter or stove top but keep your pen well away from direct heat so it doesn’t melt. Sometimes, just a bit of heat is needed to clear out a clog.
Storing Your Gel Pens
Gel pens should always be stored with their caps in place and firmly on. From my years of experience, I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter if you store horizontally or vertically, as long as you don’t throw the pens and treat them harshly. However, please note that each manufacturer has their own storage instructions, so it’s best to follow whatever they recommend for maximum gel pen life.
Super use of white pens, below: