Which Pens to Use on Polymer Clay – A Comparison

Whether you’re marking your signature, adding design elements, or drawing designs, people always want to know which black markers or pens to use on polymer clay. A quick internet search shows that Sharpie markers are the most commonly recommended for drawing designs on baked polymer clay, but as I’ve mentioned previously, Sharpie will fade and bleed over time (see picture below). And then there’s the question of sealing over and protecting the marker you use. Many common products that are used to seal or finish polymer clay can cause markers to bleed. Now that Zentangles and doodling are trending designs on Fimo and polymer clay forums and blogs, the question is even more relevant. So I gathered a collection of black ink pens and ran a comparison. Seeing the results side-by-side was quite surprising, and we do have a new marker that may become a favorite for polymer clay artists.

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What pen writes on polymer clay?

  • Sharpie markers write well on polymer clay, but they fade to a purple color over time.
  • It’s best to use archival or pigment-based markers to write on polymer clay.
  • Alcohol ink markers such as Copic also work well, but will fade in the light with time.
  • Most varnishes and sealers will cause these inks to run and smear.
  • PITT markers give a good result, but they tend to dry out quickly.
  • Best results are with acrylic inks, but they’re not usually found in fine marker form.

Comparison of the best pens to use on polymer clay. By The Blue Bottle Tree.

Pens and Clays Tested

I used white Kato Polyclay rolled out in sheets and fully cured. I also ran the same tests on sheets of white Sculpey Premo. Here are the pens that I tested:

  1. Sharpie permanent marker, ultra fine point, black
  2. Sakura Pigma Micron, 08, in black
  3. Sakura Microperm, 05, in black
  4. PITT Artist Marker by Faber-Castell, fine point, in black
  5. Liquitex Acrylic Ink, carbon black, used in a blank Copic Sketch Marker
  6. Montana Acrylic Paint Marker, extra fine, in black
  7. Speedball Super Black India Ink, black, applied with a dip pen
  8. Ranger Adirondack Alcohol Ink, pitch black, applied with a dip pen

***Note: All of these materials were recently purchased from stores in the US. Your mileage may vary and formulations in other areas of the world may give different results.

Black inks were tested for how well they write on polymer clay. See TheBlueBottleTree.com for more information.

How the Pens and Inks were Tested

I thoroughly cleaned the surface of both clay sheets with alcohol to remove any oily residue that might cause the pens or inks to write unevenly. Then I used each pen and/or ink to write on the baked polymer clay sheet. I used both print and script to show how well each pen performed as a writing instrument. I allowed the ink to dry for one hour and then used a heat gun to set the ink.

I ran the following demonstrations on both Kato Polyclay and Premo:

  1. Covered the right half the sheet with Varathane to check for bleeding.
  2. Wiped the line of text with a water soaked paper towel.
  3. Wiped the line of text with an alcohol soaked paper towel.
Comparison of black markers on Kato polymer clay by The Blue Bottle Tree.
Comparison of black markers on Premo by The Blue Bottle Tree.
Comparison of water and alcohol resistance of black inks on Kato Polyclay by The Blue Bottle Tree.
Comparison of water and alcohol resistance of black inks on Premo polymer clay by The Blue Bottle Tree.

Results: Which pens to use on polymer clay?

First off, a word about Kato Polyclay. The surface of Kato Polyclay seems to be hydrophobic and both the Varathane and several of the pens beaded up on the surface of the polymer clay sheet. Premo didn’t have this problem. This suggests that what works for one polymer clay might not work for another brand, so your mileage may vary. In general, inks didn’t stick as well to the Kato clay as they did to the Premo clay. And any marker that didn’t work on Premo certainly didn’t work on Kato. Here’s what I found about each brand of marker:

Sharpie Permanent Marker

Sharpie permanent marker writes well on both Premo and Kato Polyclay. But this dye-based marker doesn’t write very dark and has a purpleish tint. Sharpie held up to thin coats of Varathane fairly well but thicker coats gave the ink a chance to bleed before the Varathane dried. Sharpie did smudge and smear a little bit when wiped with a damp cloth, but only on Kato. And it dissolved and wiped away, but not completely, when wiped with alcohol. This is because the Sharpie ink does penetrate the clay. I suspect this is why it also fades over time. It’s my guess that even once dried the ink diffuses into the polymer clay, giving the appearance of fading. **See below some examples of Sharpie left on various clay for six months.

Pigma Micron

Pigma Micron is often recommended for use on polymer clay because it uses an archival, pigment based ink. However, I found that on Kato Polyclay, and to a lesser extent on Premo, this pen wrote poorly. The ink beaded up and never fully dried leading to smearing when I applied the Varathane. Even after heat setting, Pigma Micron Ink smeared and wiped away with water. Alcohol also dissolved most of it away, leaving only a small amount of the ink present on the clay.

Sakura Microperm

Microperm writes on both Kato and Premo very well, giving a medium dark blue-black line. Microperm did not bleed or smear appreciably with application of Varathane. It also did not wipe off or smear when wiped with a damp paper towel. Alcohol did dissolve some of the ink. However, even after alcohol removed some of the ink, enough still remained to be plainly visible. Microperm appears to be a dye-based marker like Sharpie, but the ink is more black and only turns slightly blueish when wiped off with alcohol.

PITT Artist Marker by Faber-Castell

This pigment based, archival ink wrote very well on both Kato and Premo leaving a dark black fine line. PITT ink did not bleed when coated with Varathane. It did not smear or bleed with a damp wipe on Premo, but smeared with a damp wipe on Kato clay. Alcohol did smear the ink and cause it to dissolve somewhat, leaving a line of lighter writing.

Liquitex Acrylic Ink in a Copic Marker

Did you know that you can put Liquitex Acrylic Inks into blank Copic Markers to create a permanent pigment based marker? I did this with black ink with the hopes of finding a good marker for polymer clay. It does work great on paper and fabric, but not so good on polymer clay. On Kato Polyclay, the ink beaded up and would not make a clean line. On Premo clay, the line was smoother but still beaded up a bit. It didn’t work as a drawing pen. Blank Copic markers don’t come with a fine point, so this strategy is better used for large areas.

Liquitex Acrylic Ink did smear slightly with a coat of Varathane. However, it was absolutely waterproof and did not smear or smudge or come off at all with a damp cloth. Alcohol dissolved it completely leaving only faint mark on the polymer clay.

Other brands of Acrylic Ink to try are F. W. by Daler-Rowney and the Bombay India Inks by Dr. Ph. Martin. Both can be painted well onto baked polymer clay but do tend to scratch off.

Montana Acrylic Paint Marker

My local Michaels store just got these markers in and I’m already impressed. This is a line of professional, refillable illustration markers with replaceable nibs that range from extra fine to 20mm. The extra fine size nibs are not felt, they are a hard plastic with “petals” that hold a droplet of the ink giving a really great flow. The ink is supplied by a pump action, essentially you push the nib down on the surface to refill the tip.

The pigment based acrylic ink is very dark and opaque and forms a clear, solid, dark black. The flow is fantastic. The ink does not smear or bleed at all with either Varathane or a damp cloth. It’s fully waterproof. It does, however, dissolve with alcohol and wipes away somewhat. I found that it dissolved completely and wiped away cleanly when used on glass.

Speedball Super Black India Ink

Writing with a dip pen on polymer clay does not give a great line. But I did this mostly as a comparison. This India ink, as the label says, is super black. The ink beaded up a bit on both polymer clay brands tested. The ink did smear with application of Varathane and when wiped with a damp cloth. Alcohol dissolved the ink completely.

Ranger Adirondack Alcohol Ink

Alcohol ink does not have the right surface tension for use with a dip pen, so this was an exercise in futility. A brush would be better. Or an alcohol marker like Copic or Prismacolor. The ink, however, flowed beautifully onto the polymer clay and gave a nice dark black line. But when covered with Varathane, the ink bled immediately. This alcohol ink isn’t really black, it’s a dark maroon, so it bled a reddish color. It is, however, completely impervious to water and held up well to the damp cloth on Premo. There was some smearing on Kato. As expected, though, it dissolved completely in alcohol, leaving behind an intense maroon stain.

Recommended pens to use on polymer clay

I cannot recommend Sharpie, Pigma Micron, or India Ink for use on polymer clay. Sharpie bleeds and fades. Both Pigma Micron and India Ink wipe off with a damp cloth.

I tentatively recommend alcohol ink, but not on Kato Polyclay and there is the problem with both application and sealing. It’s hard to draw a line with alcohol ink and sealing with Varathane causes it to bleed.

Liquitex Acrylic Ink seems to have some promise, but not as a drawing ink. It might be better suited for use as a painting ink.

Sakura Microperm and PITT Artist Marker both have excellent performance on polymer clay. They both hold up to water and alcohol and neither bleeds when coated with Varathane. Microperm markers can be a bit pale and PITT is probably better if you want a dark line.

If you want a really dark, intense black line, I heartily recommend Montana Acrylic Markers. The only drawback is that the extra fine marker is still quite thick. It would be great for bold dark lines in a design, but not so great for signing your work. For that I’d get a PITT marker. They come in many nib sizes.

Bleeding and Fading with Sharpie

Polymer clay artists have reported that Sharpie bleeds or fades over time. I didn’t see that in this experiment, but the marker has only been on the clay a short time. However,  I remembered that I DO have some polymer clay sitting around that was labelled with Sharpie six months ago. Remember the article I wrote comparing different brands of translucent polymer clay? Well I still have those tiles. And here they are, six months later. You can certainly see fading. It looks like Sharpie held its color best on Sculpey and it faded the most on Pardo Art Clay. When I compare the tiles now to the original picture (see the other article), I can also see how both Fimo and Sculpey had some bleeding of the marker into the clay.

Fading of Sharpie marker on various brands of polymer clay. Article by The Blue Bottle Tree.

There you have it. Sakura Microperm, PITT Artist Markers, and Montana Acrylic Paint Markers are my top picks for drawing and writing on polymer clay. The Montana Markers are a new one that I’d not heard of before and I think they hold great promise! I’ll keep these tiles around and see what happens in six months and a year down the line. It will be interesting to compare. And if you have a favorite marker that I missed, please let me know in comments. Likewise if you’ve had failures, too. That will help others avoid markers that don’t work. Thanks!

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86 thoughts on “Which Pens to Use on Polymer Clay – A Comparison”

    1. I recently tried a black embossing pigment pen. It worked beautifully on both Kato and Premo. Went down smoothly, and after heat setting it it seems to be pretty strong. I don’t know how it’ll hold up long term, but it’s lasted 2 days so far haha. I put the samples away and I’ll check in after some time has passed.

  1. I’m confused, is Sakura Microperm dye based or alcohol based? That’s two different bases right?

  2. Ginger, Curious if you have tried either of these pens that I bought a while ago. Pilot Gold Marker Extra Fine Point Paint Marker and Sakura (Copper) Permapaque Opaque Pigment Marker 1.0mm

  3. Again your research has saved me. I was going to use a fine pointed Sharpie to indicate nail heads on the fairy house door hinges. I’ll use black itsy bitsy seed beads instead. I’m using Sculpey III, and have only been working with this since Aug. 18. So much to learn!! I’m so glad I decided to check in with you and see what you had to say about ink pen on clay. Thank you, Mary Bigger

  4. Hi there. I read this article a few weeks back, and decided on the PITT Artist pens for my polymer clay after all the things you said about it.

    I don’t know what’s wrong but I was completely able to wipe the pen off my clay like washable marker . I’m working with Premo sculpey. It didn’t hesitate to smudge at all, even though I let it air dry for over 5 hours AND cooked it some with my hair drier for extra measure. I have no idea what pen to use now, and the piece in working on is an order for Christmas needed asap. I really don’t want to turn to Sharpie but I have no idea what I’m going to use now if a pen that is supposedly permanent, is smudging like it isn’t. My piece isn’t glazed, only just baked. Doesn’t matter what piece I test the pen on either, it smudges and can be wiped off with water.

    1. Uh-oh, it sounds like they’ve changed the formulation of the PITT markers. That’s sad. Try the Pigma Micron markers. I like using paint pens, too. Posca is a good one. Or the Copic black alcohol markers.

    2. I read though this post and it’s reslonses entirely and didn’t see anyone mention Posca paint pens. Has anyone tried these and if so what are your results? Thanks!

      1. I didn’t test them when I wrote this article, but I’ve heard good things about them. I have tried using a thick one and it works great at least on Premo. I say, give it a try.

  5. Jamie R Conner

    I just decorated some pieces covered with Premo Translucent using the Sharpie Metallic Silver and Gold pens. Have you done any experimentation with the Metallics or colors? Results?

    Great post, Ginger!!

      1. Hi Ginger! All very helpful tips. I recently did some ornaments for favors for my wedding and did mica powder on one side, baked, then on other side wrote some lines with Sharpie fine point pens in black and blue. I let them sit out for a full day (room temp only, no heat gun) and proceeded to do the dip method in varathane the next day. Thankfully I only did one when I noticed all Sharpie was running down the ornament and didn’t stay at all:/ could this be because I didn’t set ink with heat? I’m also wondering if it might be the dip method.. but then again I had already done a test run on another that I finished months ago, I just never sealed it til a few days ago and that Sharpie didn’t run at all with the dip method. Might that also be because the sharpie pen had plenty of time to dry as opposedto the recent ones? How do you usually apply the varathane onto the inked area? Thank you in advance for your help!!

    1. Yes, they appear to be the right ones. I found, however, they have a short shelf life and dried out pretty quickly. Make sure to wipe the clay with alcohol first to remove any waxes or residue that clog the pens.

    1. Most permanent pen ink will be dissolved with rubbing alcohol. That will remove some of the ink. But in most cases the ink also stains or dyes the clay underneath it and cannot be removed without sanding it off. Try the alcohol first, though, it will help.

  6. I really need a polymer clay pen. I don’t have any that works well enough Do you know wich one to use?

  7. I did a little experimenting of my own with a few markers you haven’t tested (that I’m aware of) and that my mom uses in her card making. I tested them on original Sculpey. They all were a range of water based, alcohol, and I believe, India inks. I even decided to try a watercolor pencil, just for giggles. I did not have my Varathane on hand to test them with a sealer, but it is my next step! I tested: ZIG Calligraphy, Ranger inks Distress Marker, Speedball Elegant Writer, Marvy LePlume II, ZIG Clean Color Real Brush, and General’s Watercolor pencil. My results to the water test and alcohol test somewhat surprised me. I knew the water-based ones wouldn’t hold up well, but what surprised me was that the ZIG Calligraphy marker and the General’s Watercolor pencil held up in both tests with very little or no smearing or disappearing!! Not sure what the base is in the ZIG Calligraphy marker, but the color was still nice and intense. I have pictures of the tests, if interested! I love doing testing of products and I especially like finding out what things can cross over from one type of craft/art to another. I know I have more testing to do with these, but I also intend to get other markers, etc to test as well.
    Any input or suggestions are appreciated!!

  8. I just tried one of the Pitt artist pens on baked Premo!, but it only worked for about 5 minutes (perhaps 10 inches of lines drawn) after which it wouldn’t write on clay or on plain paper. I put it aside and the next time I took off the cap, it splattered ink everywhere, but still would not write. Hoping it’s defective – I took it back and got a new one and will try again.

    1. Hello. The same exact thing has happened to two of my pens. I’ve also used the Pitt artist pen. It only worked for a while and then stopped writing entirely 🙁 I really wonder why this keeps happening. As though the clay ruins the surface. Have you by any chance found a solution?

  9. Hi, thanks a lot for sharing this amazing experiment. I was wondering if I sealed baked polymer clay surface and painted it with (permanent alcohol based markers) and put another layer of a sealer, do you know if that would work and whether the color would fade away with time? Thanks in advance.

    1. I don’t think that a sealer will work. Sealers are plastic and the dye in the marker will migrate into and through the sealer just as it does with polymer clay, leading to fading and blurring.

  10. Karen Blackwood

    Hi is ink in cartridges the same as alcohol ink?i plan on using alcohol ink in my candle making but wondered if cheap ink cartridges might work out cheaper but as safe ,kind regards, karen.

    1. I really don’t know. I think that most are water based, but some are alcohol based. I suppose the only thing you could do is to try it and test it. Maybe go to Cartridge World or another ink refill place and ask…you never know.

  11. Hello , thank you for sharing these very interesting facts as they also may be very usefull for people who already work with polymer clay for some time !!
    Annabel from Belgium .

    PS :with your permission I would like to add this article to my blog .. thanks

  12. Pingback: Testing Markers, Etc., on Polymer Clay | SaraDippit Designs

  13. THanks Ginger I had missed this one !! 2 things to try if you ever do and update 1 is Elmers paint pens and 2. how do the pens do filling in lines or textures and then sanding away the top surface. is the clay stained – does it stay in the recesses.

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