How To: Pilot Parallel with White Ink

When I first purchased, my Pilot Parallel, it was unlike any other tool I had ever used. It was easy to use and the strokes were as crisp as can be. Not to mention how easy the pen is to clean.

My one gripe was the majority of inks on the market, including those marketed for the Parallel are meant for light-colored surfaces. I wanted the ability to write with opaque colors on dark surfaces.

I set out to find a way to make this happen. I was successful, but only at the expense of many ruined pens and wasted money on inks and paints that didn’t work. After sharing much of my white on black Parallel work online, I’ve had a number of people inquire how to go about it, so I want to share everything I know on the subject.

The Ink

There are three important aspects of the ink that allow a Parallel to perform successfully:

  1. The consistency of the ink. The ink needs to flow through the pen, otherwise you’ll get clogs.
  2. The makeup of the ink. If the ink happens to be waterproof and dries inside of the pen, the pen is ruined.
  3. The opaqueness of the ink. A lot of “opaque” inks aren’t actually opaque when they’re distributed as thin as the Parallel applies it to the surface

The Wrong Inks

If you look online or shop around an art store, you’ll find lots of opaque pigments. Acrylic, gouache, oils, graffiti paint, etc. Even watered down to the right consistency, the majority of these pigments will not work because they don’t meet all three of the important aspects.

Your first inclination might be to try calligraphy inks like Liquitex, FW, and Calli. These are marketed as opaque and come in nice vibrant colors like white, silver, and gold. However, they’ll only work well in quill pens. Quill pens distribute a thicker layer of ink than the Parallel. You can use them in your Parallel, but they’ll sink right into black paper and will not give you the powerful contrast you’re after.

Your second inclination might be to try a high flow pigment like Grog, On the Run, or Montana. These paints are typically marketed towards mixed-media and street artists as highly permanent and opaque refills for paint markers. They’re great for that sort of thing… but not for your Parallel!

The Right Inks

After trying over a dozen inks, I’ve found two inks that I stick to.

Higgins Super White Pigmented Ink is the most vibrant and opaque option. The one downside is that you’ll need to clean your pen more often as it is a bit thicker and eventually gunks up.

Golden High-Flow Acrylic in Titanium White is adequately vibrant and mostly opaque. Although it requires more shaking to get the pen going at the beginning of a writing session, it holds up in the Parallel for a long time before needing a cleanse. This pen is also great for layering, which I’ve found to be a very enjoyable effect on my letterforms and compositions.

Higgins Super White Pigmented Ink

Higgins Super White
Golden High Flow Acrylic

Golden High Flow Titanium White

These can be purchased online or at most local arts & crafts stores. Both inks come equipped with a squeeze tip that makes filling your Parallel’s ink cartridge painless.
I’ve also found Universal White 3080-F Staedtler Mars Rapidiograph Ink as well as Dr. Ph Martin’s White Ink to work well. However, these turn to sludge inside your Parallel if left for too long. If you give these a shot, clean your pen thoroughly after every use. It’s a pain in the ass as well as a waste of ink which is why these aren’t my primary recommendation.
Before you jump in, here are a few tips:

  1. Buy another Parallel and dedicate this as your “white” pen. This ink won’t ruin your pen by any means, but it will make it more difficult to maintain than when using regular ink. Unfortunately, Parallels weren’t exactly built for this scenario. You’ll need to flush it more often and it becomes a headache if you’re trying to swap out the pigment for a different application.
  2. Empty the ink cartridge completely of old pigment. I explain refilling cartridges with you own inks in depth in the section section of this post, so feel free to reference that. You’ll also want to make sure that both the pen and the ink cartridge is completely dry after rinsing. This is important, so don’t rush things! The white ink is easily diluted and will mute the bright tone of the white if it’s mixed with any water.
  3. Shake the crap out of the ink before filling. I can’t stress this enough. The ink separates in the bottle so you need to give it a serious shake before filling your cartridge. I’m talking 60-90 seconds.
  4. Work the pen for a couple minutes before each use. This sort of ink is thicker, so it’s going to take longer to work its way through the guts of the pen. Give the pen a few shakes and scribble on paper for a couple minutes until it’s primed and ready to go.
  5. Use the black slip sheet that came with the Parallel. The ink won’t dry in the pen, but it can get gunked up around the tip of the pen after a period of time without use. Using the little black film that came in the package can help cut away the gunk as well as any fibers of paper that stick to the edges of your pen.
  6. Tint with food coloring! My buddy Josh Yelle AKA Pencilmancer gave me this tip a couple months back. This is a great trick to get other opaque colors working well on a dark surface.

The Paper

Hold up partner, you’re only half way there. Even with the right ink, you’ll still get mixed results unless you have the proper surface to write on.
If you go to an art store, you’ll find countless varieties of paper, but you probably won’t find a ton of black paper. This was my experience, at least. I really had to do some digging and experiment to find the optimal paper.
The best paper for this sort of application has the following qualities:

  • Not too thick. We don’t want the ink to be absorbed too far into the page. The thinner (120lb. or less), the better.
  • Not too fibrous. If the page has a lot of fibers, it will absorb the ink and little shred will get stuck to the nib. Stay away from construction paper!
  • Not too “real”. If you can find a fully synthetic, or a primarily synthetic blend of paper, you’ll have better luck.

The Best Papers I’ve Found

I’m sure there are other adequate papers out there, but my personal favorites are the following:

  • Big White Bee Jet Black charcoal/pastel paper is my favorite because it’s archival (acid free). It’s lightly textured with a self-acclaimed pronounced finish. That finish prevents any sort of paper fiber from getting stuck to your nib and it also helps prevents ink from seeping into the paper. It’s reasonably priced, of high quality, and from a smaller brand (which I’m always happy to support). Highly recommended.
  • International Arrivals black DIY sketchbook. This paper is also archival, but it doesn’t have the same robust finish, so the paper is a little flimsy. It still works great with the Parallel and it’s perfect for sketching. If you plan on creating sellable artwork, I would recommend the Big White Bee paper.
  • Daler-Rowney Cachet 101 mixed media black paper is okay. I normally wouldn’t recommend it for this purpose, but because it absorbs ink to a somewhat small degree, I’ve been able to achieve some cool layered effects. It’s also easy to find. I was able to pick it up at my local art store.

Preventing Warp

Let me leave you with one more tip.

You know how paper tends to warp when it gets wet? The same thing happens to thinner papers when you apply ink. Particularly thicker ink like the Golden High-Flow Acrylic ink.

You can minimize this warp by placing your finished piece underneath a flat heavy surface. I like to use a large, thick, hardcover notebook. Just make sure the ink is dry so you don’t smudge your work.

Wrapping Up

I hope you found this helpful. I’ll be sure to keep this up-to-date in case I find new inks or papers that work well for this application.

I’d love to hear your experiences. I’m sure there are other success stories out there that differ from mine. If you’ve found effective ways to write on dark surfaces with your Parallel, please share!

Likewise, if you run into trouble and need some assistance, I’ll do my best to walk you through it.

I can be reached by email at yo@jakerainis.com.

Signup to receive exclusive content and a weekly post every Thursday.