I want to trace the outline of buildings on a printed map onto something transparent, to then put on black paper. Will the ink from white gel pens stick to sheets of acetate? Or will I have to use a different transparent material?

  • Is there a reason you only want the gel pens? What about a paint marker or something else?
    – Catija
    Dec 9, 2017 at 18:59
  • Well since I'll be drawing a location plan with lots of detail, a paint marker might be a bit too thick. And I don't know many other alternatives. Dec 10, 2017 at 18:28
  • Are these too thick: amazon.com/dp/B007TACTCQ/ref=asc_df_B007TACTCQ5297513/… that said, I don't know if they are safe for acetate, either.
    – Catija
    Dec 10, 2017 at 18:32
  • If you are not wed to gel pens, a Sharpie or other solvent based pen or marker (they are the smelly ones) will draw on acetate.
    – rebusB
    Jan 4, 2018 at 15:32

3 Answers 3


Acetate is waterproof, and gel pens work by having pigment suspended in a water-based gel. So, intuition is that if the pen applies at all (it may not even grab to the surface), then it would be heavily prone to smearing.

An alternative could be vellum, which is often used just as you described: to trace something on a nice surface that can be used for something else.

  • +1 for using vellum. It will be a lot more practical too, since you can easily cut, fold, or otherwise work with paper in ways that are difficult with plastic. You may be able to transfer the traced lines back to another surface if you draw with soft pencil/graphite and rub the opposite side of the paper after tracing.
    – rebusB
    Jan 4, 2018 at 15:35

Most ball-point pens of any kind need a little bit of tooth in order to release their ink onto a surface. I just tried a gel pen on several plastic films and it didn't work. It does work on vellum, though. If you want to use the acetate, I'd go with a fine-point Sharpie. It can be rubbed off many smooth surfaces, but it will apply ink. Acrylic pens would likely work, but they're a bit touchy and irritable to work with when you apply them over a smooth surface.


Sadly no, gel pens are water-based and don't adhere well to plastics. You'll want to use a ballpoint pen because the ink is sticky and oil-based.

This will be semi-permanent, though you could use an erasable ballpoint pen like the Pilot Frixion which can be wiped up with no problem!

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