Washi tape, Japan’s stationery phenomenon, has sparked child-like creativity in adult minds. With all the demonstrations of this decorative tape on social media, it seems that the adhesive is limited only by one’s imagination.
Still, a sticky question remains: can you write on it? Since the tape is a staple in many a bullet journal, not to mention countless other analog projects, this issue deserves its own post!
You can write on Washi tape, which is a decorative adhesive made from traditional Japanese paper, using permanent oil-based inks. Therefore, ballpoint pens, permanent markers, and certain felt liners are suitable options. However, it’s important to give the inks ample time to dry.
What Is Washi Tape Made Of?
Japan is known for its perpetual strive towards perfection in all its products, even if it involves a painstaking process. Paper is no exception. In fact, the character pronounced wa (和), meaning “harmony”, symbolizes Japan itself. And shi (紙) means “paper”.
Used in the island nation for centuries, “Japanese paper” is traditionally handmade from shrubs rather than from trees. Common sources include ganpi, kōzo (mulberry), mitsumata (Oriental paperbush), and even hemp. The long fibers of these plants are leveraged during production to create a tougher yet thinner, maneuverable piece of paper.
So, Is It Writable or Not?
Washi paper itself is easy to write on since, well, it’s paper. If you’ve ever worked with origami sheets – another hugely popular Washi product – you’d know that its surface is quite suitable for a variety of inks.
But what about the colored tape with cool patterns we’ve all come to love? Most Washi tapes have a waxy coating on the non-stick side to help keep them water-resistant. Even so, whether or not you can write on them totally depends on your choice of pen, not the tape itself.
The original brand that introduced Washi tape is MT, an offshoot of 100-year-old Japanese company Kamoi Kakoshi. This manufacturer supplies not only its own product line but also other select brands, such as Marks. All Washi tapes from this source undergo the highest quality control and can be reliably written on.
Even if your Washi tape collection is from another manufacturer, inks should behave more or less the same on the surfaces. If they don’t, chances are you’re using a different product altogether, such as painter’s tape, tissue tape of lower quality, or even fabric tape.
What Type of Pens Will Write on Washi Tape?
Casey and I tested her Japanese paper tape collection using several popular pen types. We’ve labeled each tape swatch with the corresponding pen type (some of it smudged off). We present our findings here in this crude bullet journal spread:
What’s the verdict? Permanent oil-based inks, such as those from good-quality ballpoints and markers, are indisputable for writing on Washi tape. They embed cleanly into the surface once they settle and dry.
Overall, these pens write reasonably well, especially the ones from flagship brands such as BIC, Staedtler, and PaperMate. Our test showed no skipping from the oil-based medium.
Be sure to allow enough time for the ink to dry, otherwise, it will smudge. Due to the Washi tape’s coating, even fast-drying ballpoint ink will take several seconds longer than usual. Once it dries, though, it’s safe to touch.
Also, the wax coating of the surface results in the ink having a subtle spongy appearance, much like a streak drawn with chalk. Using a thicker-tipped ballpoint with good flow, such as the BIC Atlantis Medium Point (1.0 mm), can minimize this.
Permanent markers such as the Sharpie Fine Point applied easily. Provided you give their resilient ink the needed time to cure, they won’t smudge or smear one bit.
The heavier strokes of these markers appear spongy at the edges. But we find that it adds a pleasantly artistic texture to the lettering. If you’re not a fan of this characteristic, though, then use slightly more pressure as you write to let the pigment better saturate the tape.
Washable Felt-tips, Highlighters, and Other Marker Pens
Most other felt-tipped marker pens, especially the highlighters, were a big fail. Stay away from these due to their water-solubility. The protective outer layer of the Washi tape repelled their thin ink. Despite several passes of the most forceful application, and even after several minutes of undisturbed dry-time, the streaks rubbed right off.
There are several types of fountain pen ink, including dye-based, iron gall, and the awesome Noodler’s “Bulletproof Ink”. None of them fared well at all.
Either the ink skips over the slippery surface or pools into tiny beads without absorbing. Worse, the majority of it doesn’t dry, creating garish smudges as it’s inevitably wiped away.
These styluses are precise, sophisticated writing instruments. Nonetheless, they clearly weren’t designed for Washi tape!
Our favorites, the Sakura Gelly Rolls, performed surprisingly well – but only with carefully repeated passes followed by a lengthy drying time. Once the gel dried, though, it stayed put! Other inferior-quality gel pens seemed to write smoothly but ended up failing the smudge test.
All hail the Gelly Rolls! *Bow… bow…*
You’re likely seeing an obvious pattern revealing itself with liquid, water-soluble inks. The majority of such fluids refuse to cooperate with the slick membrane of Washi tape.
Let’s see how archival-quality, pigmented inks fair.
Popular Artist/Journaling Pens
Sakura Pigma Microns. We extended the highest hopes to this renowned prince of pens, but it disappointed on the Japanese adhesive. Firstly, the ink from the standard metal-clad nib congealed into fine beads, although it did fare better flowing from the plastic nib. Secondly, it takes over 15 minutes to dry completely!
Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Line. These outperform the Pigma Microns due to their amazing India ink, which glides on smooth, solid, and creamy; and dries in about a minute. We’d definitely recommend using Faber-Castell Pitt pens for Washi tape labeling and header-making.
Not pens, per se, but these hold up relatively well. The colored pigment stays intact once it’s applied. And, no wonder, since colored pencils are usually wax- or oil-based. There’s absolutely no smudging once the residual flakes are blown away.
Of course, don’t expect pencil cores to write as solidly as permanent oil-based ink. But we think you’ll like the unique texture that these underrated tools can make.
Examples of Writable Washi Tape in Bullet Journals
Working With the Pattern
In this fantastic March weekly spread, Lisa from Berlin cleverly uses “tape frames” with a floral pattern. It’s rare to see artists write on patterned Washi tape such as this because the result may look too busy. But she perfectly pulls it off with suitable bold lettering! Credit: @einfach_lilienhaft
Writing on Terra Cotta
What a harmonious August cover page! This is a textbook example of how bullet journal enthusiasts can turn the simple into the sublime. In this case, Nabaa augmented her striking grid pattern with an elegant strip of Washi tape at the center of the page. Thin white lettering from a high-quality gel pen tops it off. Credit: @whimsical.doodles