Every year since we got married, I’ve made an ornament to remember the past year in our family. This year was a bit tough. We didn’t have huge milestones as a family. We had individual celebrations. We had grief to share.
It took until Christmas Eve for me to finally figure out something to commemorate the year… and it’s silly, but it was a lovely little moment of magic that I’d like to remember forever: Jaya’s first movie, Frozen 2.
Each year since I’ve started lettering, I’ve seen fellow artists create gorgeous ornaments for the holidays. This year, I wanted to try it out for myself. However, I wasn’t really sure which of my many paint pens to use… and no matter how much you hear people say “community over competition,” there’s usually dead silence when you ask an established artist details about their tools.
I usually use Sharpie Oil-Based paint pens for lettering on smooth surfaces. And I’ve had success with it with my acrylic and clear glass ornaments:
But this year, I learned that glass ornaments are a different beast. My oil-based pens do well on unpainted surfaces. With a colored glass ornament, the oil in the pen reacts poorly with the paint on the ornament.
In desperation, I pulled out all my other pens in my art closet. After ruining quite a few ornaments with haphazard tests…
…I decided to do a more systematic paint pen test:
I began with 18 markers from 4 brands: Sharpie (oil, water, and regular permanent), Decocolor, Molotow, and Posca. I only tested 5 ranges of colors: white, black, gold, silver, and “rose gold”/copper. As you can see from my 8.5 and 19, I added a few more markers after my first round of testing.
Without boring you with too many details, here are the overall results. I found that different ornaments yield different results, so keep scrolling for tips for each ornament.
Paint Pen Test Results
Across the board, Decocolor extra fine paint pens did the best. The paint comes out thick and vivid, ending with a shiny, almost 3D effect. The extra fine point gave me the control I needed and allowed me to make tiny details. The Liquid Gold, Liquid Silver, and Liquid Copper are phenomenal metallics. The pen itself does require some patience, however. It dries slowly, so you have to be careful not to smudge while you continue work. It will not stick if there’s any oil on the surface, so you must make sure to wipe with Windex or a microfiber cloth before lettering. It is difficult to remove — you have to use the Decocolor paint remover.
Water-based black Sharpie paint pens produce a nice matte effect on the matte ornaments. However, they can be scratched. I would only recommend this if you can be careful with your ornament.
Oil-based Sharpies work decently on most matte ornaments. They’re easier than Decocolor markers, but sometimes the oil in the pen strips or dissolves into the paint on the ornaments. The extra-fine tip did better than the fine tip.
Sharpie metallic permanent markers did surprisingly well on the matte teal, matte blue, and glossy black ornaments. On all the others, the solvent stripped the paint on the ornaments, making the lettering come out distorted.
Molotow and Posca had varying levels of success, but they scratched off too easily or came in 3rd or 4th to the Decocolor or Sharpie markers, so I rejected them.
For my ornaments, I use Decocolor Extra Fine markers. Other fellow calligraphers who are willing to share said that they have had success with Molotow Liquid Chrome (I’ve seen samples — they look fabulous! But this is only available in silver), and Craftsmart Premium (with the caveat that not all Craftsmart Premium markers are equal). (Credit: Thank you to Molly Mask @mollymasklettering, Melissa Nguyen @calligracrafty, and Lorin B @letterly.signsandlettering for sharing your success stories! Find these lovely ladies on Instagram)
Matte ornaments are the best. They catch the paint well and come out looking sophisticated.
Glossy ornaments are temperamental. This has to be the perfect combination of a good batch of ornaments and the right pen.
Issues I’ve had with glossy ornaments: residue on the outside that keeps Decocolor paint from sticking, poorly painted ornaments that react terribly with every pen that comes into contact with them (this year’s midnight blue batch was worthless), and really obvious imperfections from the manufacturer.
Since not every color paint pen comes out well on every color ornament, I suggest you do your own test to see how the pens come out, then make your key of ornaments to always refer to:
Creating this key has been extremely helpful for client conversations!
If you want something a bit more dependable than paint pens and you have a little bit of tech-savvy, use a Cricut! You can get any color lettering you want, and it’ll show up beautifully. As for me, I haven’t made the time to learn the Cricut yet, plus I like lettering onto surfaces more than sticking things onto them.
Hope this helps you crafters out there as you put together your DIY holiday presents! And, if you’re not a DIY-er but want to get your hands on some handlettered ornaments, check mine out on my Etsy page!
If you’re a fellow lettering artist, I would love it if you could comment and share your favorite tools for lettering on ornaments!
Ever say “yes” to a project, then panic mid-project because you don’t think you can do it? That’s what happened to me with Lindsay’s giant Peter Pan canvas. This was a project that challenged me and grew me as an artist, and one which taught me that a little bit of persistence and hope can have a huge impact!
I just attended my second festival this year as a vendor! My first one was the Rockwall Comic Fest, which was an awesome entry into the world of selling artwork in person. It was free, the crowd was exactly my demographic (book nerds), and, as a school fair, it was low pressure.
The North Texas Wine and Brew Music Festival was the next step up. I had to rent a space, I had no clue about the crowd other than that they loved drinking and music, and it was expected to have thousands of attendants. It was also their first year to hold the event, so there was the added risk that something would fall through. But, man. It worked out. And I’m so glad I did it. Here’s how it all went down.
I am lucky to be friends with the coolest human beings in the world. Allow me to describe them to you and make you wish you knew them, too: scientists, bookworms, PhDs (both of them… their brown parents are so proud), Potterheads, crossword lovers, and ridiculously supportive of each other. They had their engagement shoot at Half Price Books. That’s how cool and perfect they are.