WHITE PENS AND PENCILS:
REVIEW AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Reviewing white pens and pencils is not a new topic for me. You might have seen it on my Facebook profile before. But I decided to prepare a blog post with reviews and recommendations of pastel, colored, watercolor pencils and pens.

I hope that you will find it helpful. Feel free to contact me to let me know if you have any questions! 

I’m sure that most of you can identify as being obsessed with art supplies and always on hunt for the best ones to try. I did my share of the investigation of white pens and pencils, which can be a real challenge for everyone who lives in a small country like Croatia. Most of these were acquired when I still had a chance to travel to other countries but many were ordered online.

For this post I compared the white pens and pencils after dividing them in three categories: chalks and pastels, colored pencils and pens.

Chalk and pastel pencils

Most of us from the Zentangle community use the General Pencil’s white charcoal pencil. And it’s not only because it is included in Zentangle’s kits. It’s also because it does a really great job at highlighting. But I compared it to other chalks and pastels that I own. Here are the photos with the swatches on kraft paper by a German producer Folia. I used them all the same way so you can see how they perform the line work and coloring. Color is blended with a tortillon on the right side.

White Pens and Pencils

I’ll reflect only on those that I choose to use in my daily practice, which are also the ones that perform the best in my opinion. 

General’s Charcoal White
Most of you probably have it and use it often. I do, too, and I’m very happy with it. The only downside does not have to do with the pencil itself, but to its interaction with Zentangle’s Renaissance tiles. They are so delicate that it really takes some mindful action with supplies to avoid damaging the paper surface. And even if you take care, the paper is very likely to flake. Zentangle has announced that they will change the paper they use so it remains to see the new ones. I’d personally love if the paper would be a bit darker, as well as sturdier. A darker shade of paper really enables shades and highlights to do their magic (I have a blog post on paper, too).

Koh-I-Noor’s Gioconda White Coal
You can see in the bottom right corner how bright this one is. But be warned – it’s even scratchier than the General’s. So you can expect some bright white highlights but you’d probably want to use it on a sturdier paper.

Pastel pencils by Conte a Paris, Faber-Castell (Pitt) and Caran d’Ache
These are all a very good choice and they’re not as scratchy. The one by Conte a Paris has a really wide lead which makes it better for coloring bigger surfaces. However, these all have a common downside, and that’s the difficulty with sharpening. Their leads tend to break really easily, much easier than the others. I normally use an electric sharpener by Afmat but that’s not always the best choice for pastels. You might try the little red sharpener by General Pencil although the safest way is probably to go with a craft knife and do it manually. I’ll admit that I tend to choose the easier options. If you’re interested in my comparison of colored pastel pencils, click here to check out the other blog post.

You can see the same pencils below on a darker background.

White Pens and Pencils

Colored pencils and watercolor pencils

I have a similar comparison of the colored pencils and watercolor pencils. Again, I will describe below which my favorites are and why. You can se the “W” mark by the watercolor pencils – those are also blended with a water brush on the right side.

Maybe you’ve noticed how much different pencils by Koh-I-Noor I have. I visited Prague several years ago and that’s when I went to their flagship store. That’s quite an affordable brand with some decent quality products.

White Pens and Pencils

My top white colored pencils are:

  • Prismacolor Premier – the winner among the whitest of the whites – it really has amazing brightness. Prismacolor pencils are wax-based, which makes them really soft and buttery (much more than the oil-based, such as Polychromos). This white pencil is not only great to use as a highlighter, but it’s also amazing for blending other colored pencils. The only thing to notice is that it works much better on smooth paper, such as Bristol Vellum or Smooth. You can see above that it does not have the best coverage on paper with some tooth, like the one I used (same goes for Zentangle tiles). The wax-based lead does not penetrate into the paper structure – it stays on top.
  • Pablo by Caran d’Ache – this is also the one I really love and use quite often. It is really bright, although not as bright as Prismacolor Premier. But it does a much better job at covering grainy paper surface. This is the one I tend to use quite often on original Zentangle tiles, especially on Renaissance, black or grey, when I’m afraid that the scratchy lead of General’s pencil might damage the paper surface.
  • Faber-Castell’s Polychromos and Caran d’Ache’s Luminance are also very good, but I’d rank them below the aforementioned.

My choice of watercolor pencils:

  • Faber-Castell’s Albrecht Durer – I have many Albrecht Durer pencils so I can attest to the good quality – they blend really well and colors are vibrant. It’s my watercolor pencil of choice.
  • Caran d’Ache’s Supracolor – the white one is really great and unfortunately it’s the only one I got. I’d love to try a set but that will have to wait because my supplies stash is quite big as it is.

Again, below are the same pencils on a darker background.

White Pens and Pencils Review

White Pens and Markers 

Before I end this (already quite long) blog post, here’s my opinion about the white pens and markers. I wanted to test several more, but a few gel pens that I haven’t used for a while have dried, although there is ink in them. Well, I guess that’s one more proof that they are not to be recommended…

White Pens and Pencils Review
My reflection on each of these:
  • Sakura’s Gelly Roll gel pens
    White Gelly Roll is my go-to white pen. It is not ideal but it comes as close to it as possible (at least among those that I’ve tried). It is really bright and opaque, which are my top priorities. Additionally, they are almost water resistant, meaning they tolerate water really well and you can even use colors and markers on top of them without being afraid that they will blend once they are dry. The three sizes come in handy but I mostly use the widest – 10, as it’s best for producing bold and consistent lines. You will be able to use them on paper or over watercolor pencils, but they will struggle with writing on top of color or pastel pencils.

  • Posca PC-1M by Uni Mitsubishi Pencils
    You can probably notice that this one is really bright, too, and it’s also opaque. But it is a bit thicker than the Gelly Roll 10, and this one is the thinnest one they offer (declared as 0.7 mm). It is not a gel pen, but a paint pen, with water-based ink. Before it’s dry you can even blend it with a water brush or some water and regular brush. However, once dry, it becomes water resistant. This marker has a firm plastic nib and ink flows after you shake the pen and press the tip several times until the ink flows. I really love it, especially on firmer paper. The interesting thing is that I find that it’s not the best choice for Zentangle’s paper tiles – it’s like the that porous paper surface swallows ink. But I loved using it with Glow on Black technique – it worked wonderful on top of pastel pencils, while the Gelly Roll struggled with that. Having said that, Poscas are well-known for drawing over any surfaces, porous or non-porous.

  • Uni-Ball Signo by Mitsubishi Pencil
    This is a gel pen brand that many tanglers prefer. Surely, you can see in the photo that it’s quite bright and it easily writes, maybe even easier than the Gelly Roll. However, I have some big issues with it. First, the ink is not opaque. Second, it leaves a bulky white residue that can easily be scraped-off (maybe you can see the bottom part of the third broad heart, which I scraped off with my fingernail). Third, it’s not water resistant at all (for those of you that don’t mix media, this might not be a major problem). You can see below the photo after I used a water brush over all the hearts – only the Signo blended. Sometimes I use the thinner one (as it’s not so wide, it’s not easily scraped off), but I rarely reach for the broad. 

White Pens and Pencils Review

White pens and pencils – conclusion

What to conclude? Which white pens and pencils to use? Surely we all know that one pencil is not enough. 😀
We need some variety and, frankly, not all pens and pencils are equally good for all tasks. 

High quality supplies are quite expensive and I guess that you want to choose wisely. Thinking about my conclusions, there is a connection between the price and the quality of the supplies although they are not always closely linked. It’s not easy to give recommendations. This is also a question of personal preferences and getting to know how to best use certain supplies, which paper to use or how they react and mix with other pens and pencils.

I can only hope that I helped a bit with this blog post with choosing among white pens and pencils. Additionally, no matter which supplies you have, the worse ones are the ones that are not used. So even if you don’t have the best ones, use the ones you have before you buy the new ones. And always keep creating!

March, 2021

Written by Anica Gabrovec CZT

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