In 2020, I was glad that my side hustle was just that–something I could put off to the side. I am an AP English Language teacher and mom to a now-four-year-old. When quarantine life started in March and my school moved to entirely virtual learning, my husband and I had to pivot to figure out a new family routine. And ours meant 7-day work weeks in which we tag-teamed on parenting duties and ramped up our productivity during our work hours. I had to figure out how to teach online AND get my kids ready for an AP test in May. I didn’t have time for my side hustle anymore.
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!
I know, I know. We’re nearly a month into summer, and here I am doing a spring semester wrap-up. Things have been busy, OK?! I shared many of these projects as I did them, either on the blog or on Instagram, but there are a few that feel like I did them secretly. I never got around to sharing them on social media, so–what a sign of the times–it feels like they don’t exist yet. Here are all my fun projects from spring semester!
When I started The Nerd Lady, one of my many hopes for my creative projects was to create artwork that could get girls excited about science and adventure. I wanted to create dinosaur and outer space art for little girls like mine so they could dream about discovery and exploration. There’s plenty of this for boys, but not much for girls. As I started focusing more and more on literary lettering, however, I let go of this hope.