Monday, July 8, 2024

White Party, Part 3: Acrylic and Other Markers


As expected, lots of white party poopers

Opaque white pens: The bane of my sketching existence.

Intermittently during my 13 years of sketching, I’ve tried various white gel pens for those infrequent occasions when I want to make white lettering on a sketch or draw thin highlights. Though not without its faults, the Sakura Gelly Roll has long been my standby. The past year, however, as colored Uglybooks gradually took dominance over my urban sketching materials, white became increasingly important – not just for occasional writing with a fine line, but also for coloring in large blocks of sky. A full-on hunt commenced.

My first glint of optimism was for the Omiowl acrylic dual-tip marker, which was unfortunately short-lived (literally). I like the paint it contains, but the pen, as inexpensive as it is in a bulk pack, is not a good value.

Shown in this post are the others I’ve been trying since then. I’m not bothering to write individual reviews because most can be cast aside without fuss – only one (or possibly two) is worth paying attention to. So this review post will save you time (of reading full reviews) as well as money.

Swatches made in black Uglybook sketchbook

First, let’s get the white party poopers over with. The Deleter Neopiko 0.5mm is the same as the Uni Posca 0.7mm – except worse. See that messy blob on my swatch page? Yeah – that’s what pumping does when the paint won’t flow. (Ironically, the Posca that I had been cursing for being clogged up decided to put out decent lines on my swatch page, just to be contrary.)

I was excited about the Kuretake Zig Cartoonist brush pen, which has a unique twisting mechanism to make the pigment-based ink flow. I like the dry brush effects possible, and its opacity is better than most I tried. Unfortunately, even when recapped religiously, the brush tip seems to dry out easily, which means that when fresh ink is pumped out, it’s like painting with a half-dried-out paint brush. I suppose it needs to be cleaned off completely like a paint brush, but at $14, I don’t want high maintenance on top of high cost.

The Shuttle Art Tempera paint stick is unique in this comparison in that it’s not an ink at all – more like a solid, oil-pastel-like substance. But unlike oil pastels, it dries immediately and is no longer sticky – like a roll-on paint that dries fully. I like it a lot, but it’s impossible to draw fine marks or color small areas with its broad, flat tip (I cut it into a point in my photo), which is intended for kids. Sadly, my small A6-ish format sketchbook just isn’t big enough for such a broad tool, but it would be great with a larger drawing. It’s only available in a set of 15 or more colors.

The Pentel Milky Brush is OK when applied, and the brush doesn’t dry out like the Zig’s, but like most acrylic markers, it requires pumping and shaking. Nothing new here (and also a bit pricey).

White Sharpie: Good coverage, and layering 
increases opacity; I like the variation when sketching clouds.

Now I’ll get to the only two markers worth using in this batch. My hands-down favorite is the Sharpie Creative Marker with brush tip, which I learned about from urban sketcher Rob Deane, who also uses toned papers and therefore uses a lot of white. It requires some shaking, but no priming, and the paint flows evenly and smoothly every time – no blobs or clogging. (Ana at the Well-Appointed Desk gave a full review of these Sharpie markers recently, and she likes them, too.)

It has only two drawbacks: For my uses, the tip of the brush is fine, but not quite fine enough to write with (like the Posca 0.7mm or a Gelly Roll). Overall, however, the Sharpie’s brush tip has a good range from fine to broad (shown on my swatch page) that meets most of my needs.

Bright contrast from other Sharpie colors

The second drawback is that I had to buy a pack of 12 colors to get the white, which is the only one I really wanted. Despite that, I’m having fun using the other colors, especially the pastels. Picking out just one or two colors that contrast strongly with whatever Uglybook color I’m currently using has become a fun part of my process.

If I hadn’t met Sharpie Creative Markers, I would have picked Utillo acrylic paint markers as my top choice (I bought a mixed pack of all-white fine and medium tips, which doesn’t seem to be available currently). I balked at yet another bulk pack, but this one seems to be a good value in that the pens have already outlived the Omiowl. They require shaking, but no priming, and they are as well-behaved as the Sharpies. The fine (0.7mm) is finer than the very tip of the Sharpie, but I’d have to carry two Utillo pens to get both a fine and a broad, so the Sharpie is still more versatile.

Another good option: Utillo acrylic marker

There you have it – the party poopers and the stars!

(If you’re wondering about the previous White Parties, they were all about colored pencils and water-soluble colored pencils.) 

Addendum: This post was written and scheduled to go live, and the day before, this happened: Standing on the sidewalk sketching, I tried to pull the cap off the Sharpie, which seemed to be stuck. It suddenly released – but it wasn’t the cap that came off; it was the entire nib unit, which broke off the barrel! Now the nib is stuck inside the cap, and even if I figure out how to get it out, I’m afraid it will never seal properly with the paint unit again. I knew that terrific pen had to be too good to be true.

Broken where the nib unit attaches to the barrel. 


  1. Damn! I just had something somewhat similar happen with a regular Pentel RSVP pen. I'd placed the cap on the end as you do when you write and when I went to pull it off, that end of the pen casing broke off just below the black removable cap that holds the the non-writing end of the pen (refill) itself. Stuck solid so that even if I could glue the two pieces together (yes, that is something I'd try to save a pen), there was no way to get that black cap out of the protective outer cap. I've had the pen for a long time - I like those I can get refills for - and decided the break was just what happens to plastic when it gets old. But in your case, how old could these be? Perhaps just cheaply made since they appear to be marketed more towards kids than adult. At any rate - boo hoo!!

    1. Yeah, mine was barely used. :-( I guess that's why these things are considered "disposable"!

  2. White pens are such a nuisance! I pretty much only use them for writing on signs and such or sometimes to do rigging on sailboats. I usually have 2 of the Signo gel pens with me and hope for the best...and you know how that goes. lol

    1. The Signo and Gelly Roll are still the best for writing... can't get a fine line like that with any other white pen!


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