Artists, scientists, engineers, and even parents often have to write on non-paper media; to do so, they use pens that write on multiple surfaces, also known as multi-surface pens. We put our multi-surface pens to the test on four common surfaces: glass, plastic, metal, and cloth. The best pens of the bunch are gathered in the recommendation sections below—most of them work well on the tested surfaces, with the exception of cloth, which has one standout pen. Read on to see the different applications and recommendations for multi-surface pens.
From commercial to home use, glass is a non-paper surface that is regularly written on. Store owners create colorful window displays and other window art to attract customers. Researchers in lab environments use flasks and other glass containers that require labelling. Even in the kitchen, marking glass spice jars can help you differentiate sugar from salt.
Product used: Uni Posca Paint Markers
Our world is filled with items made of plastic. Everyday items can benefit from simple labelling—parents can write on toys, lunch boxes, and other objects that often end up in the lost and found, while students can tag their plastic folders with different subjects to stay organized. In the scientific world, lab researchers frequently use equipment made of plastic that need identification, including test tubes and petri dishes. You can also label blank CDs and DVDs since they are made of plastic.
Product used: Pilot Multi Ball Roller Ball Pens
Pens that can write on metal are particularly useful for construction applications, where they can mark pieces of metal or pipes to be cut. It’s also good for organizing inventory in a warehouse setting, where there may be hundreds of identical metal shelves. At home, you can label or decorate tin planters to keep track of your vegetable or flower garden!
Product used: Zebra Mackee Care Refillable Double-Sided Markers
It’s quite practical to have pens that write on cloth. Parents can write their children’s names on jackets, backpacks, and other items that tend to get lost. Those who travel regularly can tag their luggage and minimize the time wasted at the baggage claim. If you’re a famous rock star and need to sign fan T-shirts all the time, you’ll want a multi-surface pen handy too! Japanese name pens are the best for writing on cloth, especially the Zebra Onamae name marker.
Product used: Zebra Onamae Mackee Double-Sided Name Marker
The recommendations are separated into two overall groups—color ink pens and black ink pens. All of the pens featured in both sections write well on the nonporous surfaces (glass, plastic, and metal), but for cloth, the Zebra Onamae name marker is particularly good.
Pilot Oil-Based Twin Markers
With an impressive range of vibrant colors, this is the ultimate pen for crafters and scrapbookers. The pen has both a fine and extra fine tip, which adds to its versatility. It won’t bleed through paper, but be careful when using it with cloth as it bleeds through slightly. It’s rub-proof on most surfaces, but water can take it off metal and glass.
Zebra Mackee Care Refillable Double-Sided Markers
Similar to the Pilot Twin Marker, the Mackee Care marker features a fine and extra fine tip and a multitude of gorgeous colors. We found this marker to be more water-resistant than the Pilot Twin Marker, though alcohol will erase the ink from nonporous surfaces. The ink is also not as vibrant as the Pilot on nonporous surfaces, but performs just as well on paper.
Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Markers
Not only does this marker write well on virtually any surface, it will stay put. Highly resistant to water, the ink only comes off if vigorously scrubbed with alcohol on nonporous surfaces. This ink is pigmented and wet, which causes it to bleed through porous media, such as paper and cloth. Upon first opening, the pen has to be prepped before it will write. Simply push the tip into the pen body until there’s a soft pop from the cartridge being punctured. Shake well and press the tip onto the surface until the tip is saturated with ink.
Uni Posca PC-1M Paint Markers
Uni Posca Paint Markers write beautifully and vibrantly on various surfaces. As water-based inks, they’re perfect for temporary glass signs since the inks are removable with water. The markers are permanent on porous surfaces, such as paper and cloth. A great choice for glass applications, it’s perfect for writing displays for window storefronts!
Pilot Multi Ball Roller Ball Pens
Where oil-based ink can often bleed through paper, the water-based pigment ink of the Multi Ball moves seamlessly between paper and other surfaces. When writing on non-paper surfaces, the pen may have to be primed on paper first to get the ink flowing. The ink is removed easily with water within the first six hours, but becomes semi-permanent afterward (a good scouring with alcohol should still remove it from nonporous surfaces). This is a favorite among lab researchers who need to switch between their notebooks and plastic or glass samples.
Uni Pin Pen
The richly pigmented oil-based ink in the Uni Pin Pen writes exceptionally well on different surfaces. Once the ink sets on the desired surface, it won’t rub off except with alcohol. The Pin does particularly well on metal, and it is also beautiful on paper—artists also love to use these fine tipped pens for technical drawings or other sketches. Johanna Basford, the illustrator behind the popular Secret Garden adult coloring book, often uses the water-based version of the Pin pen for precise, detailed work.
Pilot Drawing Pens
Another oil-based drawing pen pick, this line from Pilot features a larger range of tip sizes than its Uni Pin counterpart. The versatility of the different tip sizes makes them a favorite among artists who use paper, but others can take advantage of this reliable ink to mark glass, plastic, metal, and more. It comes off more easily from nonporous surfaces than the Uni Pin (water is able to remove it from glass and metal).
Zebra Onamae Mackee Double-Sided Name Marker
Made for writing on Japanese school uniforms, shoes, and bicycles, this double-sided pen writes effortlessly on everything, but we recommend it especially for cloth as it doesn’t bleed through. The ink stands up to laundering, difficult weather conditions, and more. It can be removed from nonporous surfaces with a healthy dose of alcohol, but will hold up to water even on glass and metal.
Pilot Name Marker
Like the Zebra Onamae Mackee marker, this name marker features a rich black ink. It is also double-sided with fine and extra fine tips. The fine tip is bolder than the Zebra marker’s fine tip, which is preferable for those who need a thicker line. It’s not as suitable for glass and cloth—the ink comes off easily with water, and it also bleeds a bit through cloth.
Teranishi Magic Ink Name Marker
There’s magic in this ink indeed—similar to other name markers, the ink in this pen was formulated to be able to write on different surfaces. We found that it doesn’t do as well on cloth as the name markers mentioned earlier, but it performs exceptionally well with different types of plastic, including sports equipment and beach toys.
Whether you’re an artist or scientist, crafter or parent, these pens can help organize your supplies or spruce up your projects. Have you tried writing on non-paper surfaces before? Let us know what your favorite multi-surface pens are in the comments below!
|Product||Ink Type||Tip Size||Colors||Waterproof On||Best On|
|Pilot Oil-Based Twin Markers||Oil||Extra Fine/Fine||Black, Blue, Brown, Green, Light Blue, Light Brown, Light Green, Orange, Pink, Red, Violet, Yellow||Plastic||Plastic|
|Zebra Mackee Care Refillable Double-Sided Markers||Oil||Extra Fine/Fine||Black, Blue, Brown, Green, Light Blue, Light Brown, Light Green, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, Yellow||Plastic, Metal||Metal|
|Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Markers||Oil||Extra Fine||Black, Blue, Green, Red, White, Yellow||Glass, Plastic, Metal||Metal|
|Uni Posca Paint Markers||Water||Extra Fine||Black, Blue, Brown, Green, Orange, Light Blue, Pale Green, Pink, Purple, Red, White, Yellow||Plastic, Metal||Glass|
|Pilot Multi Ball Roller Ball Pens||Water||Fine, Medium||Black, Blue, Green, Light Blue, Orange, Pink, Red||Glass, Plastic, Metal (after 6 hours)||Plastic|
|Uni Pin Pens||Oil||0.49, 0.55, 0.64 mm||Black||Plastic, Metal||Metal|
|Pilot Drawing Pens||Oil||005, 01, 02, 03, 05, 08||Black||Plastic||Plastic|
|Zebra Onamae Mackee Double-Sided Name Marker||Oil||Extra Fine/Fine||Black||Glass, Plastic, Metal||Cloth|
|Pilot Name Markers||Oil||Extra Fine/Fine||Black||Plastic, Metal||Plastic|
|Teranishi Magic Ink Name Markers||Oil||Extra Fine/Fine||Black||Glass, Plastic, Metal||Plastic|