Lettering on Glass Ornaments: Paint Pen Test

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)

Ornament Results

  • 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:
Note: The gold featured in most of these is Oil Based Sharpie. Now, Decocolor Liquid Gold and Liquid Silver are my preferred metallic markers.

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!

Merry Christmas, friends!

DIY Chalkboard Canvas in 6 Easy Steps

just sold

In the winter of 2012, I was in my second year of living alone–my family and fiance were 300 miles away in Dallas while I was working in Lubbock–and at the height of a stressful year of wedding planning. By that time, I had learned to love living alone, but I still craved time with my loved ones. Maybe it was the wedding DIY bug, but that was the year I starting crafting for the home. When the Christmas season started, I discovered Hallmark Christmas and brought out my acrylic paints. Probably in the middle of my fifteenth cheesy romantic comedy, I created this:


I was so proud of this. It didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted it to–I wanted a faux chalkboard look, but I didn’t know how to pull it off–but I was still happy with this thing that I created. I’ve brought it out every year as a reminder of my years alone, of the time that I was juggling so much but still embracing the Christmas spirit.

This year, I finally decided to take the art of handlettering seriously and learn how to do it. I started in May, and I can confidently say that I have moved from a beginner level to an intermediate one. Let’s just say that means I’m good enough to cringe when I brought out my Christmas decorations this year.

I decided to put my new skills to use with revamping my old Christmas canvases. I’m really happy with how this one turned out, so I wanted to share with you!


  • Pencil
  • Chalk
  • Handheld pencil sharpener
  • Black acrylic paint (or, a black canvas)
  • White paint pen
  • Canvas
  • Kleenex

Estimated Cost: Under $15. I had all of these items at home already, so it was really cheap.

Step 1: Sketch!

I went through several iterations of the layout and font here, practicing and experimenting with letter shapes.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to do pencil sketching. This was a crucial step that I missed in my 2012 canvas: I assumed my mental picture would translate well on canvas without prior planning. However, sketching helps me see how my hand shapes letters, and how the letters fall into place. It lets me play with layouts and learn what works and what doesn’t.

Step 2: I see a canvas and I want to paint it black.


You can skip this step if you want–most craft stores have black canvases now. However, I’m cheap and I happened to have a couple of plain canvases in my craft closet. I used about three coats of acrylic paint to completely black out the canvas. I prefer acrylic for crafts like this because it’s cheap, opaque, and versatile.

Step 3: Sketch with chalk.

Wait for it… in the final step, you can see how I changed this design at the last minute. Again, this is why sketching with erasable media is SO IMPORTANT!

I chose to sketch with blue chalk because it would blend into black well when I rubbed it off. Sketching with chalk allows you to make mistakes–because even if you sketch on paper, you don’t really know how it will end up until you put it to the right scale! For this piece, I ended up doing some last minute changes once I saw how the words filled up the canvas.

Pro Tip: Use a pencil sharpener to sharpen your chalk! It is so much easier to draw with when it’s got a sharper tip!

Step 5: Use a paint pen to paint over the finalized design.


Again, this step is up to you. I’ve seen perfectionists use a tiny brush to paint in with acrylic paint, and more practical artists use a paint pen. I wanted clean lines, so I chose a paint pen. I used the Sharpie oil-based white pen because 1) I had it already, and 2) my Craftsmart paint pen (Michael’s store brand) was not bold enough on the black canvas. I noticed that the Sharpie pen picked up some of the black paint and blue chalk as I wrote, making it come out duller. To make up for this, I had to wipe it off on another surface every few letters. I also went over the letters 2-3 times to get it as bright as I wanted it.

I used a stool as my table so I wouldn’t press down too hard on the canvas.

Warning: Oil-based pens can be–well–oily. Watch your hands as you write and give the paint enough time to dry before you attempt to do overlapping lines.

Step 6: Use a tissue to gently rub away the chalk.


After the paint has dried, use a Kleenex to rub away the chalk. I found that a soft, circular motion was the right amount of gentle and abrasive. This gives the piece a nice, chalky finish to complete the faux chalkboard effect.

Step 7: Display, Brag, Revel in Your Amazingness!


Show all your friends your awesome skills. I’m going to use this technique to polish up another piece. Follow me on Instagram @nerdladydraws to see how it turns out!

If you tried this technique, let me know how it turned out! If you know a better technique, share it in the comments!