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Linda Farmer, Certified Zentangle Teacher


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Advice for using Sakura Micron pens on other surfaces

Sakura Micron PensRecently a TanglePatterns reader emailed asking for advice about using Sakura Micron pens on a painted surface.

Microns come in varying tip widths and have permanent ink that seems to invite experimentation on other surfaces. Obviously when you’re creating something special, you want to ensure the best results.

Having only used Microns on paper myself, I contacted Sakura of America for their guidelines and their response was very helpful.

Begin quotationMicron pens were made for paper. That being said, people have been using Microns successfully on all kinds of different surfaces. For example:

  • quilt labels ( not for washing )
  • tole painting ( wood )
  • tagua nuts
  • plastic ( must be primed )
  • on top of paints
  • etc.

We cannot guarantee results on the myriad of surfaces/varnishes/primers/sealers which is why we ALWAYS recommend TESTING! Especially with varnishes and sealers.

End of quotationWe would also recommend using primers/sealers beforehand like on wood. Wood is obviously a natural surface and there are many different kinds with some being harder/softer/drier/wetter than others. So, the performance of primers and sealers may differ from one wood to the next.

Following these tips will ensure “you all have the best experience possible with your art process, results and protect your creations.”

* * *

Tangler TipsIt’s always helpful to get advice from people who have first-hand experience working with other media.

What surfaces have you tangled on and how did you prepare them?

Can you share any suggestions or recommendations with us about working on surfaces other than paper, based on your experience? What works? What doesn’t?

Sakura Micron Pens on Amazon


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47 comments to Advice for using Sakura Micron pens on other surfaces

  • Jill Pike

    I have used Pigma Micron pens with great success over acrylic paints. They were used for outlining and details, etc., on tole projects. I met with much less success in finding a sealer/lacquer with which to preserve the pieces. Sprays were out, they dissolved the ink. Brush-on applications (usually Delta varnishes in various finishes) were iffy: sometimes they worked, sometimes not.

    But let me say that for zentangles, they are amazing, and I can’t get enough!

    Jill in AL

  • I have tangled on paper mache’ and they work well .. although I find my pens tips dry up fast on this… will try to seal them and see if this changes… I think they will not work on a sealer… not sure .. will let you know how it comes out….

  • Kim Wells

    When using my Microns on paper painted with acrylic paint or gesso my pens got dried out FAST and/or kind of gunked up and unusable. These pens are too expensive to lose them this way. I started coating the page or parts of the page I wanted to draw on with Mod Podge. This worked ok except the surface became slicker which made my pen move faster than I wanted to draw and when making a solid block of black color it looked streaky as you could see the pen strokes. Maybe I am using an inferior acrylic paint to start with?

  • Terry Paxton

    I have tangled wood items several times. One problem I had with the Sakura Micron pens was that they wore out extremely fast on painted surfaces. I solved that problem by using gesso on the wood first instead of paint. Also, you have to watch that the ink does smear and doesn’t dry fast like on paper. Your hands pick up the ink and then leave smudges behind. Only thing for that is watch your hands and keep them clean! Also, using a small brush and the gesso will cover any smudges. Another problem I’ve had is sealing the piece after it’s done. Use a spray finish like a clear acrylic and spray VERY lightly and don’t touch it till it’s totally dry. Using too much at once can make the ink run. I find it’s always best to test everything on a same piece since different surfaces act differently with the Sakura Micron pens. Painting on rocks works fine with just a coat of latex paint. Have fun! (I do have a couple pictures I can send but don’t know how to send to your web page)

  • Linda Farmer

    The original question prompting my correspondence with Sakura came from Vicki A, and she wrote again to let me know she also received advice from pen and ink artist Mary Owens. Mary advised to spray over the inking with Liberty Matte Spray and allow it to dry for 24 hours. Apparently it is a good replacement for varnish. Mary also said some of the glossier varnishes have an ammonia additive in them that will dissolve ink. “Always apply your [Liberty] matte finish and then, varnish if that is the way you want to go!”

  • Sharon Arnowitz

    Hi: Love this web site. Anyway, I have tangled on wafer thin, 3 1/2″ X 2″ wood pieces purchased at a craft store and then glued them on to a card. I have pictures but don’t know how to send them to you. They are beautiful and very unique. Thanks for the other ideas!

  • Becca

    I tangle on watercolour paper, both hot and cold press. More often than not, I do a wet on wet watercolour painting first then tangle on top using the colour as the string. I’ve had absolutely no problem with pens drying out faster or getting clogged but it’s important to use a very light hand (very little pressure) when using Sakura pens. When I teach kids to doodle over watercolour, I give them much less expensive fine point Sharpies.

  • Lennie Jo Barnes

    I’ve heard that Micron Pens were coming out with a refill pen. Do you know anything about that or is it not true?

    {SPOILER ALERT: long message to follow but I couldn’t help myself.) I can’t believe this string! I’ve just been having the same problems. #1. I sprayed A black plastic magazine holder with flat white paint to hold my Zentangle books and journals. Instead of printing the word ‘Zentangle’ on the spine, I wanted to simply tangle it. My Micron pens barely made much of a mark so I got out one of every black marking thing I have (I’m a pen piggy so I have a LOT of them). The one that worked the best for me was the small end of my Fabrico/Tsukineko Real Black #182 dual marker. You DO have to wait for it to dry completely before you do anything else. (Haven’t gotten to the sealing part yet.) I was also tangling a pair of white leather sneakers and found that the IDenti-pen worked great on them (BOTH ENDS). I first tried an ultra fine Sharpie but, when the ink dried, it looked purple…so I had to go over it with the IDenti-pen. To SHARON A: to make a copy of EXACTLY ONLY/JUST WHAT YOU SEE ON THE SCREEN, click ALT+PrtScn/SysRq key on the top right of the keyboard. This is called a “screenshot” (one word)…then you go to where you want to put what you just copied, right click, and “paste” it in an email or word document. When you do the ALT+PrtScn, you will not see ANY reaction on your screen (like a jump, hiccup, blink…nothing), this is the proverbial ‘leap of faith.’ I just recently learned to do this and, believe me, you will love this almost as much as we love tangles. (Did I forget to say…the screenshot is if you’re on a PC. I don’t have a clue about a Mac.) If you Google screenshot, you get a lot of superfluous info. Try what I wrote above first, and if that doesn’t work, then do the Google thingy. I love this community. Happy tangles to you all…S-

  • Barb

    I’ve had good success using the micron pens on painted wood, but after painting I spply 1 coat of Matte varnish
    let it dry overnite and then do my inking. Then use a matte spray finish to set the inking. I use Krylon and/or Liberty. Always use a matte spray, the crystal clear or gloss varnish/sprays will dissolve the ink. The matte sprays won’t.

  • Dorothy Roller

    I have a question for anyone that tangles in art journals with micron pens and then use colored pencils which of course are waxy. I did a page that I tangled first and then used Prismacolor Premier colored pencils and it made my lines dull. I tried to go back over my black micron lines and that ruined my micron pen. Anyone else have that problem and if so what other kind of pen or marker works with colored pencils? I did sketch book page, 8 x 11 and then one in a journal and colored with the colored pencils and it didn’t work on either.

  • Mary Diaz

    I have used the Sakura pens on wood and fabric. On wood I used gesso to seal the wood and then sanded. I didn’t have much of a problem. I used a light touch and when it looked like the pen was drying up I gently scribbled on paper and it came back. After I was done I did use a light spray of matt finish (sometimes more than one) and then if I wanted a shiney look sprayed again with a gloss coat. I use the pens to make my doll faces on both cotton and stretchy doll fabric. I like the .01 and .03 for a light delicate look and then add color with either watercolor pens or markers.

  • Carol

    I have used the Micron pens over acrylic paint on wood. I find I have much less problem with them getting gunked up if I wait at least 24 hours to allow the paint to dry well and cure a bit. My climate is fairly dry, so areas that have higher humidity may need to wait even longer.

  • If it helps, I handpaint furniture for my living, and I have found micron pens will smear
    when I put the polycrylic finish on the furniture. So I do not put details in ink or sign
    the piece until I have the polycrylic on and then apply the ink. I love micron pens but
    I use them almost always on paper projects. I find Sharpies work best on a finshed
    piece over the polycrylic.

  • I tangled my lampshade with Sakura Micron pens! They worked beautifully and it turned out great. How can I post a pic here?

  • Noreen

    I am an egg artist and love doing Zentangle on eggs, goose eggs mostly, but the Sakura pens smudge badly on an egg. Also, when dry, a pencil mark cannot be erased without bleeding out the ink. I’ve tried a number of different things, including sealing, but I don’t seem to find an answer. I want to do an ostrich egg bowl for the Zentangle eggs I’ve done, but do not want the frustration. I’m exhausted and broke trying to find pens that really are permanent and smudge proof…and fine.

    • I am trying to tangle eggs too, but I have the same problem with the micron pens. I bought a cheap pen especially for eggs. It is permanent but the lines are not fine enough. I tried the gold and copper gel pens, but that does’t work. Now I am testing the Sakura glaze gelpens. I have read that these might do well.

      I hope someone can recommend a fine and permanent pen for using on eggs.

  • molly z.

    I have tried Sakuras on the small pumpkins that were around at the end of Oct. I had to use the thickest one and prep the pumpkin quite thoroughly with an alcohol swab or two. (I also tried the fineline sharpie, which worked a bit better) I still have two left on the table outside my front door, although they have begun to shrivel (lasted 6 months, and I did take a few pics)

  • I successfully use my microns on acrylic gessoed surfaces all the time. I can even change the color of the gesso by putting a small amount of acrylic paint in the gesso first. The main thing is to make sure that the gesso dries for at least 24 hours first (more if thicker than usual). Then to let the micron marks dry for a day before putting some sort of sealer over it. Sometimes when applying the sealer on top, the lines do become fuzzy, but different sealers work better or worse. 🙂

  • So fascinated by this post and these marvelous comments! Here’s is a link to my blog where I’ve posted pics of my tangled lampshade and mini pumpkin I did last fall.

    • Nancy Anta

      Ann, your lampshade is gorgeous! I’m new to tangling and I’m working my way through the tangles posted on the website. I often see a pattern I like but since I don’t know the name I can’t look it up. Can you tell me the names of some of the tangles you used?

  • Greetings,
    I use the Sakura Micron pens exclusively and just love them for tangling. I am usually using them on top of mixed media surfaces and on my gourds. Here’s what helps keep the pens in good shape and allows for a smooth flow of ink.

    Apply a thin layer of gel medium–I use Golden gel medium (matte), usually the soft variety. It is water soluble and goes on easily. It seals the surface and provides a surface that accepts pens of all types (and paints as well), without ruining the pen tips.

    Hope this helps! LunaLady

  • Peggie Schurch

    Hi Linda, Have tried unsuccessfully to tangle on some lovely white coffee mugs, the china variety, and without luck. Used many varieties of pens but no luck. Would be very, very grateful if someone could tell me what works, is washable and is still black when finished. Wanted to do a set for a special present…Also, here in Australia we don’t seem to have the variety available you have in the U.S.A. Hope there is a solution. Thanks in anticipation Peggie Schurch

  • Hi there,

    I used my Sakura Micron 08 on the smart cover (green) for my iPad…. it glides very smoothly, and dried fairly quickly. Looked amazing! It wasn’t until I started handling the iPad cover that I realized the flaw in my plan – the ink smudged and wore off so that heavily handled sections now tend to be faded and dull. I attempted to locate a good sealant for it, but was unsuccessful. I still love how the cover looks, but I’m a little disappointed that the ink smudged – the surface is softer, so I think the smudging has more to do with that than the pens. Nonetheless, it’s still cooler than it was before the tangling!

  • In reply to Peggie looking for pens to use on mugs, have you tried Pebeo Porcelaine pens? I’m not sure if they sell black on it’s own but they do have it in a pack of 9 colours. I haven’t used it for Zentangles (only been at them for a week) but have used them to draw on plates/mugs etc. and they’re great. You bake the mugs after they’re dry and that sets the ink. Hope this helps.

  • Joanne

    Can anyone recommend a pen that can be used on canvas for tangling?


    • Jan Bradfield

      If you gesso (thin layer) the canvas first and let it dry for 24 hours the microns work well. But do expect to kill a pen ??

  • Elizabeth

    Having played with many sizes and styles of pens for drawing, I wonder if the person drawing on canvas would benefit from trying the brush style of Micron or Copic pen.
    Looking forward to hearing about the results!

    • Joanne

      Thanks for the suggestion Elizabeth. I want to draw lines so not sure the copic brush pen would work. I will see if I can get a promarker in black and try the bullet tip maybe.

      thanks, Joanne

  • Nidhi

    Has anyone tried using them on ceramic or porcelain? Do we need to seal the work after tangling? If yes, with what?

  • Thelma New

    Why not try attaching the extra fine point to your promarker to give you a thinner line than the brush tip

  • Joe

    Is micron ink water based or alcohol based. This makes a difference in how it reacts with other products. If it is alcohol based, then anything with alcohol will make it smear and vice versa.

    • Jill

      Don’t know its formula, but I do know that Micron pens can be used for details over paint and then sealed with a MATTE sealer. Satin or Gloss sealers cause it to smear.

  • Joyce

    The CZT from whom I take Zentangle classes (Kerry Bowes, Northern Lower Michigan) told us in our class in
    April that she uses the Sharpie Fine point markers to draw on rocks–she showed us some, and she’s had terrific success–and then she said to seal our work with hairspray! I had asked what we could use, and she said that it works on paper drawings, which is great because I make all my own greeting cards. I haven’t tried it yet, being extremely allergic to hairspray, but perhaps if I wear gloves and do the projects outside…

  • Donna Lamoureux

    Does anyone know if the Micron pens work on foam? I purchased some foam visors and want to tangle on them. If you have had success with another type of pen on foam please let me know.

    • Tracy McDonald

      No, don’t use a technical pen on foam. There’s something in foam that clogs it up. Besides, I discovered that it is pressure than makes patterns in foam. Use a chopstick and a very pointy skewer to make the patterns, then go over the patterns with any cheep colored markers. No pressing. Just put the color where you want it. Now use a fixative or sealant to make the color stay put (after the color is dry) to make it stay and not smear. If these are going to be used by children you will need several layers on sealant or it will still rub off. Yet if the children are ruff and tumble the foam hats won’t last all that long any how. If they are to be sold to and used by adults, a few more layers should be used so as to make it worth actually buying. Just clean fingers will rub off the color without sealant. (Even with the expensive markers I used that were intended to “stay” put. So that’s why cheep ones can be used. Your actual tangles are the pressure marks you make. The color is just to get attention. I got more “color” and indentations from a regular ball point pen when I was experimenting. It’s actually the sealant that really makes it worth the bother, as the foam visors don’t last very long with any real use. At least mine did’nt. I had much better luck with the fabric visors with a plastic piece inside that made it hold its shape. Practice first on one that you don’t worry about how much the ink bleeds. VERY gentle and quick touch to keep a smooth line. Practice will help you get the feel for how long you can keep the pen in one place before you end up with a blob-splotch of ink. And it uses Lots of ink. Good luck and have fun experimenting and learning. Hugs, Tracy

  • Judith Rowland


    I just read the comment on sealing your work. I recommend working with one of the sprayable fixatives available from Blair, Krylon or a number of other art resources. There is a type known as Workable Fixative that I use on pencil drawings if I will be working on a piece for a while and often as my final sealer when I feel that I need one. I don’t suggest using hairspray on any piece of art work on paper. The chemicals in it can cause problems over time and discolor your work. Also, because our creations are so unique, I wouldn’t suggest working on paper that isn’t “acid free”. This too can cause problems of discoloration and deterioration. It isn’t much more expensive. Be aware that if something is labeled “student quality,” it often isn’t acid proof. For me, each Zentangle I see is someone’s Masterpiece, a unique picture of the artist encouraging the world to express itself creatively. A top quality pen, good paper and a good sealer can preserve pieces indefinitely. There are many resources for both in art supply stores,or online at Dick Blick, Amazon and Hobby Lobby. Paper comes in all sizes, Fixative is available in small and large size cans.

    • Jan Brandt, CZT XII

      “Each Zentangle I see is someone’s Masterpiece, a unique picture of the artist encouraging the world to express itself creatively.” BIG smile, Judith! I agree wholeheartedly! I believe we are worthy of valuing our art by using the best materials we can afford. By doing so we not only honor ourselves and our talents but we also encourage others, whose self-esteem may need a boost, to do the same. 🙂

  • Carole Brisson

    Hi and Help!… love all of this great information. I am trying to “tangle” on fabric. I’m using PAINT PENS and have had great success with black on light fabrics but white paint black fabric hasn’t worked well at all. I’ve washed the fabric to eliminate the sizing but the white paint just soaks in. Do I need a certain black fabric or is there a preparation to do before tangling? Heavier fabric? Open to all suggestions. Thanks, Carole

    • Janice

      I would suggest you try a FABRIC (Paint) Pen in white. I don’t think it is the fabric at all, but the paint in the pen. I hope you post the pictures of the tangled fabric somewhere. I think we would all love to see it! 🙂 Take care j 🙂 🙂

  • Donna Lamoureux

    Thank You Tracy, Judith, and Jan! I really appreciate all the advice and I’m sure other people who use this website did too.

  • Mary

    I want to tangle on plastic. It will be for Breast cancer month and is the torso of a clothing store form (mannekin–bet that’s spelled way wrong LOL). The store owner says they need not be primed. Any hints for this kind of project?? Thanks

  • Jyothi B

    I want to draw on wood surface(MDF boards). Please usggest me whether I can use sakura micron pens or Sharpie ultra fine point pens. I also Prisma color pencils. Please let me know how to protect my drawing. I have a sprey varnish as well.

  • Danika J

    Hi! I realise this thread is very old, but I do hope I can find some help here. I’ll start at the beginning: I had some old pressed wood “placemats” that I am repurposing for art. I spray painted over one with a matte white spray paint ( I assume it is acrylic?) and then proceeded to draw a design with Sakura Pigma Micron pens. I had to be very careful as it seemed like the ink was just kind of laying on top of the paint layer. I managed to finish the sketch without too many smudges, though even rubbing with an eraser removed the ink, so I decided to try drying with a hair dryer and then left overnight. However, this morning the ink is still able to be rubbed off or smudged. It’s like it just won’t dry. I blasted it again with a hot hair dryer, and it is currently baking in the sun, but I am terrified of trying to seal it with something and ruining it. It’s a birthday gift, and I really am proud of how it came out. PLEASE can someone advise me on what I can use as a sealant, and how to get the ink dry? Will it ever dry out completely? Thanks so much 🙂

    • Linda Farmer, CZT

      Hi Danika, I’m guessing the paint layer could be preventing the ink from setting/drying and I’m not sure what will fix that. Hopefully someone in our Zentangle community will have some experience and advice to offer. You might also try contacting Sakura – and asking them. Best of luck!

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