An inky abyss, a deep void into darkness, the absence of light – is it even a color? The first prompt for the November 2023 Plot Party is Black Paper! There is nothing better for high contrast than experimenting with black paper, although the approach often calls for a more careful consideration of appropriate pens, the absorption of ink and a design that shines when “inverted.”
In light of these extra considerations, here are tips from 12 pen plotting pros on how to best use black paper with a pen plotter.
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- ClaireFontaine Trophee Black
- Fabriano Black Black Paper – highly recommended!
- Fedrigoni Ultra Black
- French Paper Company
- Legion Stonehenge Aqua Coldpress – also highly recommended!
- Strathmore Mixed Media paper
- Molotow Markers
- Molotow Liquid Chrome
- Posca Paint Markers
- Rotring white ink
- Sakura Gelly Roll white pens
- Uni-ball Signo pens (broad line especially)
Artist Tips for Black Paper Pen Plots
Sometimes if it’s cold in my studio I’ll actually warm up some water and put the pen in it for a bit before plotting. Also with all paper, but black especially, I use gloves when handling it.Chris bly
Floris de Jonge
I usually use Rotring white ink. It’s not that opaque and it’s necessary to use multiple passes, but in my experience it smudges or scratches less. I also like Sakura white ink. But it costs a lot of pens to continue plotting and I like to reuse my pens and use refillable inks.Floris de jonge
Go slow and be prepared to go over areas multiple times, especially when using white gel pens. AxiDraw I set the speed at 10% of maximum and use a tiny empty jam jar for extra pressure.Vernon miller
For Swan Mouton, the emphasis is on the pens more than the paper. Swan enjoys experimenting with different paper such as this Arches watercolor paper (pictured above) which is “not inexpensive but so nice to the touch, very velvety.”
Swan prefers metallic pens on black paper for that “extra awe moment when they catch the light and they shine so bright against the dark background.”
I do enjoy color as well, I’ve only used Posca so far, but two passes are often needed to get the colors to really block the darkness of the paper. For these very bright, rainbow-colored pieces, I’d never go for white paper, though. The black background really helps pushing the colors forward, and they get a bit of a neon vibe, even though they are not fluorescent inks.Swan mouton
Much like Swan Mouton, Kris Northern enjoys experimenting on a variety of black mediums including black Bristol, semitransparent acrylic and backing board as materials.
For chrome / metallics I’ve found the Sakura PenTouch metallic inks to be too finicky for my taste and have settled on Molotow Liquid Chrome to perform much better. (They are refillable too, so you can minimize waste and half finished plots)kris northern
Con Ryan recommends trying pens from different manufacturers with all types of black card to find that one particular combo that works better than others.
Much like other pen plotting artists have discovered, white pens look great on black paper but are difficult to get working consistently.
If you can’t get white pens to work consistently, try and embrace that quality in your work. Not every line needs to be perfect. Silver ink pens are usually easier to work with compared to white pens and they look very similar on black card.con ryan
Place the gelly roll in a hot cup of water to increase the temperature and therefore the ink flow. It’s the best solution I came up with.Andreas Schönfelder
Targz plots each pen plot twice reversing the order of the pen plot. Targz recommends using vpype to reverse the drawing order of the pen plot.
Unlike white paper, Nick has found that it is best to test pens with black paper first as “results can be unexpected. All of my prints require 2 passes, sometimes 3.”
Like other pen plot artists, Nick advises handling black paper carefully as “finger prints, and other marks show up easily. So ensure hands are washed, and just generally minimize touching.”
Really subtle one, the Fabriano Black Black is not loose sheets, it’s a paper pad. So there will be tiny bits of glue along top edge. So when selling my art, I guillotine off the top 1mm.nick tyrer
Images in this post were used with permission by Chris Bly (IG: @machine.arm), Michelle Chandra (IG: @dirtalleydesign), Floris de Jonge (IG: @dejongefloris), Julien Gachadoat (IG: julienv3ga), Bren (IG: a.i.gardening), Vernon Miller (IG: @aldernero), Swan Mouton (IG: @swan.sheep), Kris Northern (IG: @krisnorthern), Con Ryan (IG: @conryan.design), Andreas Schönfelder (IG: @sfd.art), Targz (IG: @targz), and Nick Tyrer (IG: @tyrer.io)
About the Author
Michelle Chandra studied art, design and code at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. Her work has been featured in many publications including Gizmodo, the Washington Post and Engadget. Follow her on Instagram @dirtalleydesign. Michelle organizes Plot Party 2-3 times a year, a pen plotting prompt challenge hosted via Instagram @penplotart.