Here at the Marker Supply warehouse, one of the most common things people come looking for are opaque white ink pens for writing on paper.
Unfortunately, we always have to say that these types of pens are still practically non-existent.
The main reason?
The type of ink required to make a functional white ink pen has been very difficult to produce. It would need to be both thin enough to flow through a pen tip AND thick enough to stay a visible white once it’s marked onto paper.
Pigments vs. Dyes
There’s a little illustration we’ve heard that can help explain a big difference between two types of ink- Pigments and Dyes:
First, take 2 glasses of water.
In one glass, pour in some sugar.
In the other glass, pour in some dirt.
Both begin to cloud the water as you stir them up.
But notice what happens after just a minute when they settle..
The sugar is still there, but has fully dissolved into the water
and everything returns to a totally liquid state.
The glass with the dirt still has solid particles everywhere
and a thick layer of mud has collected on the bottom.
Most pen inks are colored with dyes (like the water example with the sugar), which are either liquid, or in a solid form that quickly dissolves, and then can easily flow through the pen. However, this property can also cause the ink to either leak through the pen tip too quickly, and/or soak completely into porous surfaces like paper and become transparent- meaning that this type of white ink won’t be seen because the ink isn’t thick enough to keep its color visible on top of an absorbent surface.
What helps some colors to show up the best when making ink is to use pigment. Pigments (like the water example with the dirt) are dense, finely ground particles that stay solid as they add their color. They don’t dissolve into fluid, but are rather just suspended in it. To get a good, opaque white, you need a LOT of pigment. When you try and put too much into a pen however, it won’t flow through the tip like a normal ink without clogging or drying up.
(Fun Fact: The most common pigment used to create the color white is Titanium Dioxide.)
The marking pen world made a big step in the creation of white pens with the invention of Gel Ink. Originally marketed in 1984 by Japanese company Sakura, it finally allows a roller ball pen to use a white ink.
(Fun Fact: As researchers worked to develop gel ink, they tried a wide variety of materials to get the consistency just right, including yams and egg whites!
For some more great history on the invention of Sakura’s Gelly Roll pens, read this interesting article:
Gel ink is not quite the same as ordinary pen ink, as it is a lot thicker- causing issues like needing to move the pen more slowly as you write, and the marks taking longer to dry. Also, the roller ball tips still can occasionally clog. (If this happens, rolling the pen tip over a wet paper towel may help.) Despite their issues, we are still very happy to have them as an option for white ink!
White ink comparisons on black paper
Other than gel pens, you can also find good white marking tools for paper when you look into pencils, oil-pastels, even correction pens! There are also valve-action markers that use more of a “paint” than an “ink”. Although paint markers tend to show up better on non-porous surfaces, such as glass or metal, some have been known to work adequately for certain paper projects.
Have a look at this comparison chart showing several white marking tools on plain black paper to see the ones that may work best for you! Find them all at MarkerSupply.com.
As experiments continue in the pen industry, white ink is getting closer and closer to becoming more common!
But as for now, which white pen/marker have you found works best for you??
Let us know and feel free to share your white marker artwork on our social media pages!