Make your work stand out: the best pens and pencils for black paper - Dotgrid

Make your work stand out: the best pens and pencils for black paper

Black paper, as found in our Dotgrid Black Page notebooks, can be used for a wide range of purposes, such as journaling, sketching, wireframing and doodling, and creating beautiful artwork. Whatever you plan to do, it’s good to know which pens and pencils work well with this unique paper type.

Gel pens

The best pens for journaling and drafting are gel pens - these use pigmented water-based gel and leave a much stronger mark on writing surfaces than ink-based pens. There are a number of brands you can choose from, but one of the most famous are Sakura Gelly Rolls (also known as Sakura Ballsign in their native Japan). Sakura was the first company to manufacture gel pens, putting them on sale in the mid-1980’s.

The main difference between the American Sakura Gelly Rolls and the original Japanese Sakura Ballsign pens are the tip sizes: the Ballsign pens are thinner, at 0.8mm, compared to the US version’s 1mm tip size. The classic Gelly Rolls also come in 0.5mm, 0.6mm and 0.8mm, but these aren’t so good for darker toned papers, with the exception of the white Gelly Rolls - generally acknowledged as of the best white pens for use on black paper; its smooth flowing ink doesn’t skip and isn’t ‘scratchy’ like some other brands can be. 

Gelly Rolls come in a number of styles and finishes. They range from pastels, brights and neons, to metallic, glitters and glazes. The types that work best on black or coloured papers are:

  • Metallic - in Japan, these are known as Ballsign Kirara; somewhat self-explanatory, these are metallic pastel shades
  • Stardust - glittery pastel shades
  • Moonlight - slightly neon shades
  • Silver/Gold Shadow - in Japan, they’re called Ballsign Fuchidoru; these are colours with either a silver or gold highlight
  • Souffle - these are slightly neon shades and have a raised 3D finish

Another Sakura range that work very well on black paper are the Decorese range - beautifully designed, they come in a number of pastel shades that will make your doodles really stand out.

If you’re using tinted paper for drafting purposes, you may be interested in using gel pens to achieve clean lines for your work. The Sakura Gelly Roll Moonlight range has a set of grey toned pens that will be good for this.

There are many other brands of gel pens that you can also use, such as:

  • Uniball Signo range -  the UM-151 (0.28mm, 0.38mm, 0.5mm, 0.7mm) and UM-153 (1mm) are the most well known, and the slimmer Angelic style (0.7mm) are another good choice
  • Pentel Pop range - remember the hugely popular scented pastel versions of these? They now come in the  ‘Milky Pop’ (pastel) and ‘Sparkle Pop’ (glitter) styles and show up brilliantly on black paper
  • Pilot Juice Up - these are thin and would be good for sketching and drafting

Marker and brush pens

For a medium that allows you to be more free flowing with your art, you might want to try marker or brush pens. A brand that we really love are the Acrylograph marker pens from Archer and Olive. Using water-based acrylic ink, they work on white, black and coloured paper, much like acrylic paint. There are three theme sets - Primary, Jewel and Tropical. Each set comes with 8 colours, a white marker and a blank blending pen. They’re made for blending and layering, and have really great opacity.

All three sets include two replacement tips and are available in two tip sizes: 3mm & 0.7mm. These highly pigmented markers are amazing for creating beautiful pieces of art on black paper, and the thinner 0.7mm version would make a great addition to any journaler’s toolkit.

Uni’s Posca markers are another well known paint marker brand, one that’s been made famous by graphic artists and the Secret Walls (previously Secret Wars) graffiti battles. These are available in over 56 colours, with a range of finishes, including fluorescent, metallic and glitter. They work on canvas, wood, glass and metal, but provide excellent coverage on black paper. With eight different tip styles and weights, these would be great for anyone into designing vibrant street art pieces and much more.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Faber Castell Pitt pens wouldn’t be good on black paper, but they might surprise you. These light-fast artist quality markers layer well: if you use the white pen to sketch out your design first, the bright colours show up brilliantly on dark paper. Available in 60 colours, they’re made with india ink and come in mainly brush-style tips, but certain shades (black, sepia and grey, among others) have bullet tips in a number of widths; the lighter colours are transparent, so will build in opacity and can be used as ‘glazes’ for other colours. There are even metallic shades, which are perfect for this type of paper.

Coloured pencils

Another medium that’s great for black and tinted paper are coloured pencils - you want some that are very pigmented, and that layer and blend well to get the best experience.

The professional artist quality Faber Castell Polychromos are light-fast, highly blendable, water-resistant and smudge proof, which is perfect, because you’ll want to layer these to make the most of their amazing opacity. They’re available in 120 colours and have a high resistance to breakages, which means they’ll last a long time and be good for sharpening. Whether you’re an artist, draft technical designs, or just here for doodling, they’re a fabulous tool for expressing your creativity.

Also used for sketching and drafting, it would be worth picking up a charcoal white pencil - this sounds a little weird, but it’s much like chalk in a pencil format. One well loved brand you can look for is the General’s Charcoal White pencil from the General Pencil Company (a US brand). Another is the Koh-I-Noor White Coal pencil. This type of pencil is smudgeable and will probably work best with a kneadable eraser.

Whatever brands or media you work with, there are a wide variety to suit your style.

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