I use white gel pen. I use it a lot. My bones are white gel pens. Let me tell you about the two pens I’ve worked with most, the Sakura Gelly Roll and the Uni-Ball Signo.
I’ve been using the Gelly Roll for over ten years. They aren’t the easiest pens to find, or the cheapest, but the popularity of scrapbooking has made it more likely that you can pick one of these up at your local big box craft store. The Gelly Roll is easily the most opaque white gel pen I’ve been able to purchase stateside. Nothing else gets close.
I’ve only picked up the Signo recently, after having them recommended. As far as I can tell, you can’t buy them in the US; even if you can, it’s probably a lot easier to just get them off JetPens like everybody else does.
The Signo is more opaque than the Gelly Roll. Full stop. That said, “more opaque” is hardly “completely opaque”.
A single coat’s just not gonna do the trick, not even in controlled circumstances:
At one layer, both pens are comparable. The texture of the Gelly Roll may even make it look a little more opaque, but the closer you get to true opacity, the less this holds true.
At four layers for the Signo and five for the Gelly Roll, the pens get as opaque as they’re going to get. Add more layers than this, and the pressure of markmaking begins to scratch the ink back off, which is the opposite of what you probably wanted. You may notice that the Signo’s four layers of dried ink look significantly blobbier than the Gelly Roll’s five layers. That’s because they are.
The Signo’s greatest advantage - opacity - and lesser, still-nice qualities like smooth laydown come at a cost. Signo ink is thick. Don’t expect to go working into the smallest crannies with this thing. Both the Signo and the Gelly Roll claim to be “medium”, but working with the Signo is a little like working with a dull pencil. The Signo’s thick ink has another drawback: it’s much easier to scratch the ink off by accident when you work over it.
For some reason, it’s… also harder… to work over it.
This is the same pen (Pilot G2) over a layer each of Signo and Gelly Roll. This may not be an issue for a person who uses white gel pen exclusively to highlight otherwise finished pieces, but this has been a problem for me. Sometimes building up layers of ink solves the problem, but it just as often leads to a flaky, gummy mess that you end up using white ink on top of, compounding the problem. Neither Signo nor Gelly Roll take marker, etc. especially well, and require multiple layers of gentle application, but Signo takes other wet media significantly worse than Gelly Roll. As for dry media, I wouldn’t even bother with pencil on top of Signo. You’ll either get no mark, or take the ink off the page. Pencil tends to scratch Gelly Roll up a bit too, but at least it takes the media.
Even going over the mouth and eyes repeatedly didn’t get me a black that looked like blacks elsewhere on the page. Getting true blacks with Signo requires me to do some janky-ass negative space carving shit, where I put the white on top and hope I don’t color over too much black - which I inevitably will, because the Signo ink is hell of thick.
The Gelly Roll, however, takes black ink without a significant value shift. It can even take a little scribbling without cutting into the ink, which is nice.
Let’s not forget, though:
The Signo is more opaque. It has smooth, more consistent coverage. But mostly, look how opaque that is. That’s rad.
VERDICT: I’m going to use both of them, because they are both great tools.Despite the hype over the Signo, the Gelly Roll isn’t losing its place in my kit any time soon.