Bullet journals are many things to many people. They are notebooks, diaries, planners, to-do lists, and sketchbooks. But no matter what you use yours for, it's a work of art.
Like any artist chooses the right tool, you should choose the right tool for your bullet journal. Here's a look at what makes the best pens for bullet journal pages, no matter what you're putting on them.
What Are You Going to Do In Your Bullet Journal?
Before diving too deeply to find the best pens and markers for bullet journal art, start thinking about what you want to do with your journal.
Everyone uses theirs in a different way. Are you looking for the best pens for note taking or the best colouring markers? What exactly are you going to fill your bullet journal with?
Notetaking requires a smooth writing implement. Something that's comfortable in your hand and produces a smooth, even ink flow on paper.
Tactile feel is also important when looking for the best bullet journal pens. Many people like old-school methods--pencils are still a thing, as is the timeless fountain pen. On the other hand, fashion gel ink pens are a popular new tool that everyone loves.
Artists might be penning simple doodles or detailed sketches. Either is fun and easy with a good set of art pens. Ultra fine pens are great for detailed mandalas or manga illustrations. Caligraphy pens are great for playing with fancy lettering and flowing characters. Choose from brush stroke tips or chiseled tips for those perfect serifs. Likewise, fountain pens are great for making beautiful lettering or drawing.
Things to Avoid When Looking for Bullet Journal Pens
An assortment of pens is one of the fundamental bullet journal supplies. Picking the best pens for bullet journal pages requires some thought. Keep an eye peeled for three problem areas--bleeding, ghosting, and smudging.
Bleeding is when the ink is absorbed and spreads out, or "feathers." Thin the ink, too much ink, and tinner paper all make the problem worse. The result is that your lines lack a sharp edge.
Ghosting is when you can see the ink through the paper. The thinner the paper you use, the worse it can be. In severe cases, it can bleed right through to the page below! Dye inks and alcohol-based inks are usually the worst offenders.
Smudging is something everyone has experienced. Some inks are more prone to it, and some papers worsen it. For example, water-based inks from rollerball pens often smudge because they dry so slowly.
Best Pens and Markers for Bullet Journal Users
Here's a look at the best pens for bullet journal pages. The ones you pick will, of course, depend on what look you're going for and how you use your journal.
Standard Ballpoint Pens
Ballpoint pens are easy to find. Unfortunately, many are cheaply made and don't make writing fun. The balls jam up, and the ink flows inconsistently.
Ballpoint pens are made with a thick oil-based ink that flows slowly. The result is that it takes more pressure to write, and the lines made are sometimes inconsistent. These problems, however, are most noticeable with cheap, throw-away pens.
Rollerballs come with a thin water-based ink that makes the writing experience similar to using a fountain pen. They provide very consistent ink flow with no skipping, and less pressure is needed to get the ink to flow.
However, this ink takes longer to dry than oil, and smudging can be a problem. Also, since it's so much thinner than oil ink, it can bleed through the paper easier.
Rollerball pens are great for notetaking, but you want to use care when using them on thin paper.
Gel Pens – The Best Pens for Bullet Journal No Bleed or Smudge
The best gel pens for bullet journal writing were created to combine the best features of the pens mentioned above.
They use water-based ink with a thicker gel consistency, and the pens come in various colours and thicknesses. The ink rolls from a gel pen smoothly and evenly, requiring less pressure than a standard ballpoint. But, at the same time, they don't bleed, ghost, or smudge as badly as a rollerball can.
A gel ink pen is great for general writing or note taking, as well as doodling and coloring. The ink can be any color and is fade resistant--even glitter or metallic pens are available. The only downside is that they run out of ink quicker than other pens.
Fountain Pens – The Best Pens for Note Taking
If you want a first-class writing experience, nothing beats the feel and beauty of a quality fountain pen. These pens are weighted just right and are often as well-crafted as a fine piece of jewelry--perfect if you want to enjoy your everyday writing pen. The best thing about them is their responsive stroke--press harder to lay more ink and draw a thicker line. A wide variety of metal enclosed tip thicknesses are available, and many have a comfortable rubber grip.
You can buy both refillable and disposable fountain pens. Fountain pens are one of the best pens for note taking, because they write smoothly and reliably. Modern fountains contain an ink cartridge, just like ballpoint or rollerball pens.
When buying a refillable fountain pen, find a quick-drying pen ink to go with it. Since these pens can put down a lot of ink in a little space, bleeding, ghosting, and smudging can be more of a problem than with standard ballpoints or gel pens. But these issues can be dealt with if you find the right ink for your paper.
Felt Tip Pens and Fineliners – The Best Black Pens for Bullet Journal Users
Fineliners are a type of felt tip pen or marker. Instead of having a ballpoint, they have a fabric or plastic tip saturated with ink. The shape and size of the tip can be anything, from a tiny point to a wide and flexible brush. A fineliner makes, well, fine lines!
These pens can be loaded with any ink--including oil-based pigments or water or alcohol-based dyes. Pigment inks are preferred as they last longer without fading.
How fine are fineliner pens? The choice is yours! They come in every thickness imaginable, from ultra fine to brush tips that make bold and expressive lines. You can buy a set that includes multiple thicknesses and colours. Some individual pens even have a fine tip on one end and a broad tip on the other, like Tombow dual brush pens. Broader tips may be bullet or chisel-shaped.
Brands to check out include Sharpie Art Pens, Faber Castell Pitt artist pens, Staedtler Pigment Liner, and Sakura Pigma Micron Pen. Fineliners are great for doodling, mandalas, colorizing line art, technical sketches, and even urban art.
Ink choice is especially important if you're looking for a broad marker to use while journaling (for this purpose, you can use a refillable leather journal). For example, the alcohol-based ink in the standard marker will bleed and feather on most papers.
Brush Tip Pens (Fude Pens) – The Best Colouring Markers
Another subset of the felt tip pen gang is the brush pen. A soft tip brush pen gives you the look of hand painting or brush lettering, but on a small scale appropriate for journaling.
Brush pens are perfect for embellishments, doodles, line art, hand lettering, or colouring. You can find them in many colours and widths. Remember, brush pens will last the longest when used on smooth paper.
The size and quality of the tip are important. Do you want the tip to give a little like a paintbrush when you press the page? If so, pick a soft flexible brush tip like the Tombow Fudenosuke Brush pens.
So, there you have it! Whether you like precision of a fine point pen or the classy feel of a fountain pen, the best bullet journal pens are the ones you enjoy using. Remember, journaling is what you want it to be. There are no right or wrong answers--just have fun!
Best Pens for Bullet Journal FAQs
Are gel pens good for bullet journaling?
Gel pens are a popular choice for bullet journals thanks to their smooth flow when writing and lack of ghosting or bleed-through. In addition, gel pens are available in colours and various widths.
Are Sharpies good for journaling?
Standard Sharpie markers are a mixed bag for journaling. On the one hand, Sharpie markers are widely available and come in several colors and thicknesses. But, unfortunately, their ink tends to bleed through the paper, and ghosting is a problem--you can see the marks on the opposite side of the page.
The better alternatives are high quality pens for art, such as gel ink or fineliner pens like the Pigma Micron pens. Sharpie also makes a line of art pens called, cleverly, Sharpie Art Pens.