About a year ago I blogged about using a white pen - a Uni-Ball Signo to be precise. Since then I've used a few white ink gel and paint pens so I thought I'd share my experiences.
The first two are ball-point pens, while the second two are paint pens. I've rated these according to how well they meet my desire to have a fine but opaque white line for use over ink-washed paper surfaces.
1. Uni-Ball Signo (6/10) c.£3.00
This was my first foray into white-pen territory and I was pretty satisfied. This is the pen Ben Templesmith mentioned using in a profile I read about his work. It's a roll-ball which has some drawbacks - you need a surface which offers a good purchase in order to get the action started. Sometimes I try and draw onto a surface over which I have washed inks. If the inks aren't totally dry the pen tip will 'skid' across the surface and the tiny ball bearing won't roll (and so no ink comes out). This is not a huge problem with this Signo, just an occasional niggle. What's a bit more annoying is that the pen will start to run out even when I can still see ink in the barrel. These things really have to be stored tip-down in the last months of life or the white ink (which needs to be thick in order to make it opaque) won't flow to the tip. I got the fine-tipped version and the line weight is second only to the next entry on this list.
2. Uni-Ball??? (3/10) c.2.70
This was my second pen. It's another roller ball from Uni-Ball and I think it's also called a Signo (possibly a Signo Pastel). The reason I am slightly hazy on this is because I threw the damned thing away. It's a smaller nib-size than the Signo mentioned above, and the ball bearing refuses to roll waaaaay too frequently. It also suffers from the same ink-flow problem. That said, when it works it does produce a nice line which is the finest of all those I've tested. This model is the one I see more frequently in shops in the UK.
3. On The Run 165 (5/10) c.3.50
My third pen is a paint stick bought from a rather funky graffiti shop (such places are, I suspect, the preserve of middle-class white folk with Mockney accents who are the only ones who can afford the price charged for Montata spray... much like myself). The shop patron boasted about its ability to write on any surface. While this might be true, I have found the ink rather transparent. Furthermore, the solvents used sometimes pick up the colour of whatever's being scrawled onto. It works by a pump method, where one shakes the barrel then pumps the tip to charge it. This avoids the 'slipping' problem of ball-points as the ink will flow even onto the most glassy surface. In this case, the tip seems to be stiff fibres which allow the paint to run through them. Although I bought the variety with the smallest tip, it produces the thickest line of all those pens I've tried. This is a pain for me, but might not be a huge worry for someone else.
4. Uni Paint Marker (7/10) c.£3.00
Another pump-pen this time from UNI. I got this baby yesterday and I have to say I'm pretty impressed. It's a pump model so there's no slipping, the ink is really opaque and flows well. It's line is finer than the On The Run, but worse than either of the two ball-points. The tip looks like its solid, in contrast to the On The Run model which might explain why the line is narrower.
None of those I've tried are perfect but so far, it's number four that's my weapon of choice. The Signo Paint Marker would rank higher if its tip was thinner. I really like the reliability of the pump pens as the skidding and ink problems of the ball-points just annoys the hell out of me. Something that worries me is whether their stiff tips will ever wear with use and so increase the line weight. I have not used one for long enough to find out.
[edit March 2013 - I've now used the Uni Paint Marker (number 4 in the list) and it's actually pretty bad on
absorbent surfaces including most papers. The ink seems to seep into the paper fibers readily
and it's only good for harder surfaces, or those which have been
thoroughly coated beforehand. I've gone back to the Uni-Ball Signo (number 1) but getting them seems to be harder these days]