Writing and drawing with a white pen is strange. We test out the Sakura Gelly Roll, white gel pen that’s easy to use and quick to get started with. We try drawing and lettering with this popular white pen on coloured and black paper, exploring some quirks and how to get the best results with the right paper and writing surface.
Reviewing the Sakura Gelly Roll White Pen
Vishal: Hello and welcome to Stationery Test Drive. Today we are looking at the Sakura Gelly Roll White Pen. I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Minjal: I’m Minjal.
Vishal: And before all that let’s talk a little about what we’re upto. Samir?
Samir: I have been updating my papercraft account which I have mentioned before. I’m at @papernautic. I’ve been creating new thumbnails for my old videos that are origami instructions and I’m also working on updating my site.
Minjal: I recently designed a logo for a friend’s book series, so I’m now actually just writing down the process, deconstructing and writing it down for my blog.
Vishal: And I have been working on some animation projects. It’s not gone too far. But today the Sakura Gelly Roll. A white pen, which is I guess the opposite of a colored pen but it is a colored pen so we had to have interesting and unusual ways of using it. So we have 3 different tip sizes, they came in a pack of three, 05, 08, 10. Samir can tell you why for Gelly Roll with a ‘G?’
Samir: The Sakura Gelly Roll was invented by Sakura but more importantly the gel pen in general was invented by Sakura somewhere in the 1980s and we have spoken about this before because we have covered a gel pen before, the Rorito Fasty, you can check that video out.
Vishal: That’s one of our favorite pens and we like gel pens in general for artwork and this one is unusual.
What is a Gel Pen?
Samir: So the thing that gel pens changed was that the material used as a medium for the ink is more viscous and therefore it lets you have thicker pigments which is what makes something like a white pen possible because it can hold a thicker pigment, it being white in this case, and draw a line that’s a bit more opaque.
The Sakura Pen Company invented the gel pen in the 80s and they made it their own version of what in Japan is called the Sign Pen which was invented by Pentel. And the name for the gel pen that they invented in Japan was the Ball Sign, which is very descriptive of what they were going for, but I’m guessing when they moved to America they said that’s not going to work here, and so they called all their gel pens in America, Gelly Roll.
Vishal: That’s a fat story if there ever was one, well-rounded, like well-rounded people who use these pens. We’re artists and designers and how we run the show is we take a tool every week and we make some art with it and usually we don’t even show each other what we’ve done until we see it on camera, so Minjal why don’t you take us through your piece? And which particular Gelly Roll did you use?
Sakura Gelly Roll White Gel Pen for Lettering
Minjal: I used the 08. I’ve never used a white pen at all and it had its problems because the ink flow wasn’t exactly smooth. But I’m guessing that’s because if you don’t use the pen for a long time maybe it does this.
Samir: I think it is a pen that has a bit of a starting issue.
Vishal: So it also depends a lot on the paper choice, the material underneath your paper and just how much pressure you are putting on it. You almost want to apply this the way you would apply a brush or makeup or if you’re in cooking, if you’re spreading butter on toast that’s the kind of thing you want you want, a certain level of pressure that’s not going to drag into the substrate that you’re putting it into, and then it’ll apply in a nice, even line.
Minjal: So yeah my learning was, like you correctly said, you have to learn how to vary the pressure. Especially when you’re doing more structured writing, the pen stopping in between can sometimes be a problem, because when you go over it, it becomes thicker because every coat adds to the thickness of the lines that you’re trying to get.
Vishal: That may be a good thing, that you can build up levels unlike some other pens where you can’t. Especially in color we found that once you put down a layer you almost can’t add to it. Samir, why don’t show what you’ve done? You did a more illustrated piece and you’ve done some of that layering.
Sakura Gelly Roll White Gel Pen for Portrait Drawing
Samir: Yeah, I used my usual portrait drawing to test things out because I think it’s a good test of a lot of mediums. And yeah I essentially tried out layering but also kind of just having parallel lines to try to get that visual look of a thicker line. Also just trying to go over it to make a thicker line.
Vishal: I think in this case the problem that Minjal had of having that kind of gouged out area actually works for your particular type of drawing here, where it gives it this almost etched out, printmaking, linocut look.
Samir: Yes, in some ways it almost looks like a chalk drawing.
Sakura Gelly Roll White Gel Pen for Comic Illustration
Vishal: I used a very thin origami paper, which I didn’t think would actually work, but it actually did. And I did this with it, which is a little comic. And, yeah, I think we each used it in a very different way. My paper is warped mostly because I put too much glue on it but that’s a story for another time.
How is this to use as an art making tool because I don’t know, I actually don’t honestly know what people use it for? I know I’ve seen work on colored paper like this, for calligraphy and hand lettering. I haven’t seen a lot of art from it, so what was it like, other than the problems, did you like it as a medium?
Sakura Metallic and Colored Gelly Roll Gel Pens
Minjal: From what I see on Pinterest, the Sakura Gelly Rolls, the metallic colors and the colored pens, the colored Gelly Rolls, seem to be much more popular. And what people usually do is, they mostly use it only on a colored paper.
Samir: Yeah, I think the main way it’s used is definitely for kind of artwork on colored surfaces. I think it’s quite popular in the craft community, just as kind of adding decorative flourishes to things, so a lot of the White Gelly Roll is used in that and including the metallic Gelly Rolls.
Vishal: I personally have used this to give white highlights over an ink drawing, where I built up enough washes or pen work and then finally you just need that little pop of white on the eyeball or on the nose.
Samir: I mean it’s what artists still do use and would have originally used gouache for.
What is a White Correction Fluid?
Vishal: I do use gouache for that, so yes, this is like a quick gouache. And I’m going to show you something that is sort of a spiritual cousin of this, which is a white correction fluid pen. Which in some ways works on similar principles I’m assuming?
Samir: It’s very similar.
Vishal: First of all nothing smells like a white correction pen!
Samir: So the white correction pen started off as obviously a correction fluid in a pot and it used to be called liquid white when it first came out. In fact it started out as a homemade recipe including gouache. So that’s where it kind of ties into that.
I think the difference between correction fluid and a gel pen is that correction fluid is kind of a alcohol or solvent.
Vishal: It’s very hard to control.
Samir: And the gel pen is of course a lot more controllable and much more like a regular ink.
Vishal: As an art tool we can explore the white correction fluid sometime but it’s finicky. And the Sakura White Gelly Roll is just so much nicer, once you get it going, once you learn that particular dance of keeping it over the paper and sort of gliding it along rather than pressing into it.
Minjal: Have you’ll used it on top of watercolors or acrylic paints? Does this really work?
Vishal: There was actually an issue I had.
Samir: I think essentially, yes. We have tried it on other mediums, but it has very much to do with what surface you put that medium down. So I think what happens is that if you put a watercolor down on a rough paper and the paper kind of loosens its grain, then that starts clogging the ball of the gel pen.
Vishal: I’m guessing the alcohol or the medium that’s there doesn’t quite work. It works on markers, it works decently on markers.
Samir: I think the point here is that the markers form an impregnable barrier so that the white ink can sit on top of it. Whereas the watercolour makes the paper more absorbent and so that’s not working out very well.
Vishal: It’s okay over pure black India inks but I don’t think it’ll last long. So yeah, that’s an interesting test for it. You can’t put it everywhere but when you do, I think you get a nice, very unusual way of either drawing or lettering or comic making.
Samir: And Sakura has, I mean obviously, they have done some really interesting things with colored mediums. Sakura started as a crayon company and we have mentioned this before, they are the inventors of the oil pastel. We have another episode about oil pastels which we will link to. And of course from oil pastels they went on to invent the gel pen and that’s where we get this, so clearly they have a knack for finding strange new ways of spreading pigment on paper!
Vishal: I don’t know if there’s much more to say about it in terms of, I think other than the the slight usage issues, in terms of color, of colored paper choice and making sure you have the right kind of pressure applied to it, there’s really not much to complain about and I think this is a pattern that we’re going to see with most Sakura things. They just know how to do it and how it works.
Forensic Ink Analysis Chromatography
Samir: And there’s a strange side note that I’d like to bring up, which is that over the years and over the last century or so, as writing instruments have spread and things have become much more varied a strange archive of inks has grown under the FBI in the US, where they have started collecting inks and analyzing them so that they can know where a certain piece of writing came from.
The interesting thing about Sakura and Gelly Rolls is that gel pens can’t be analyzed that way. Because the analysis uses a process called TLC – ‘Thin Layer Chromatography.’ And because of the way that gel pens put down ink that process just does not work.
Vishal: I wonder if it has some kind of problem, the same way that we’ve had it over these impregnated sumi inks.
Samir: Yeah the problem is that gel pens are a water based medium but as soon as they are put down and dry up, the top layer becomes completely impregnable to water. So therefore the chromatographic process doesn’t work.
So in a strange way if you want to do great art, you get a Gelly Roll and if you are a master criminal you can also use a Gelly Roll and if you’re both then you definitely do great art using a White Gelly Roll on white paper and no one will ever catch you!
Minjal: Have you’ll used other similar white pens?
Vishal: Yes, I think I used something that was not a Sakura and it was purporting to be a white pen but line was so terribly thin even on colored paper. I don’t even remember what the thing was, this was 10-15 years ago. But I’d always heard Gelly Roll, I’d heard that name with the G not even a J. So the first time I got access to one easily, yeah I picked these up.
Samir: At this point I think the White Gelly Roll has almost become like a generic, kind of like a Sharpie.
Vishal: Yeah it’s like, you get a Gelly Roll, you put it down if you want thin lines, if you want a thick line you put it down with a Posca white marker which we also will be exploring in the future, and yes there are metallic versions, there are colored versions.
We should try the colored ones as well actually and see. I’m sure that they will give an interesting line, I don’t know. We’ll have to compare in contrast as to whether they require the same kind of application pressure and looseness. But I think that is a good test drive for the three of us. Very varied, very fun. I think it’s good whenever a tool forces you to get to its pace. Each tool has a pace that is good and sometimes you are quicker than it and sometimes it’s quicker than you.
Samir: That happens a lot with pens in particular.
Vishal: With pens, with brush pens, with inks, each one is slightly different, that’s why we try as much as possible here to specify the brands and the specific ones that we’re using rather than just being generic. If I went and tried out a white gel pen because I thought that was just a generic standard, but no, the Gelly Roll is quite different from that standard, and much better for it I would say.
So learn to use the tools and learn to do things with them that are varied and interesting. We hope that you have enjoyed seeing what we have done with them. I think that’s it for this time. Until next time when we’ll be looking at other tools and maybe returning to Gelly Rolls or ball-based tools. Until then just please comment, like, subscribe, tell us how you have used Gelly Rolls.
If you’re on YouTube or even on Instagram or social media follow us. Link us to your experiments and test drives with this. If you buy one after seeing this and we highly recommend them, tag us when you do your own test drive with them. Please follow the Inky Memo newsletter on inkymemo.com. It will tell you more about the history of people like Sakura and other stationery and tool manufacturers. Follow us, our links are in the description and on screen right now. You can see pretty much where we are online in terms of social media and until then, I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Minjal: I’m Minjal.
Vishal: Shake that jelly!
Get the Sakura Gelly Roll White Gel Pens
1. Sakura Gelly Roll Classic Gel Pens, Opaque White Ink (Pack of 6) – https://amzn.to/3L5tB5V
2. Sakura 5-Piece Gelly Roll Assorted Dark Metallic Gel Ink Pen Set – https://amzn.to/3iqRf0I
3. Sakura 3-Piece Gelly Roll Metallic Gel Ink Pen Set, Assorted Colors – https://amzn.to/3IsxbWm