The pen is mightier than the finger: The best styli for the coming school year

Whether you’re the sort of person who doodles in class, diagrams lectures, or just jots down old-fashioned notes, you’ve probably considered buying a stylus or a tablet that’s already equipped with one. In recent years, styli have become more popular and much more varied — meaning they’re not just for art majors anymore. However, the sheer number of styli available on the market can be overwhelming. In honor of this back to school season, we’ve put together a list of the best styli for every student, the best tablets with styli included, and the accompanying apps that go with them.

Related: How Paper and Pencil transformed the iPad into a canvas

Best styli for artists

No artist is exactly the same, and depending on your medium of choice, you may want a specific kind of stylus. Some artistic styli come with interchangeable tips, so you can vary the quality of stylus input, while others are a one-size fits all option or specifically designed to mimic a certain medium.

Adobe Ink & Slide ($124)


If you’re really invested in Adobe apps and the Creative Cloud, Adobe’s Ink & Slide stylus and ruler combo may just be the perfect tools for you. The Ink & Slide connect to any iPad 4 or later, iPad Air, or iPad Mini via Bluetooth LE. It’s also synced up with the Creative Cloud, so every drawing you make or preference you set will be stored in the cloud for you to access on your computer or other devices later. The Ink & Slide also work with Adobe’s Illustrator Line and Photoshop Sketch apps.

The Ink stylus has a fine-tip, pressure-sensitive point and feels like a normal pen in your hand. The Ink uses Pixelpoint technology from Adonit for greater accuracy. A status LED on the stylus even shows you what color you chose, so you don’t make any mistakes. The Slide ruler can be used to make perfect straight lines, circles, and other shapes. Even though it’s a pricer stylus, the Ink & Slide does comes with a USB charger and carrying case, and it’s the ideal stylus for serious creatives who are deeply invested in Adobe’s products already.

Buy it now from:

Amazon B&H

FiftyThree Pencil, digital stylus for iPad ($80 – $60)


Pencil is one of the best all around artistic styli when used in conjunction with the company’s app Paper. Using the preset tools available in the app — available for iOS — you can produce remarkable watercolor paintings, fine line drawings, pen and ink sketches, as well as dynamic comic-book like images with the marker function.

FiftyThree specifically designed Pencil to feel solid and comfortable in your hand. It’s shaped like a carpenter’s pencil and even comes in real walnut wood. Pencil even touts a built-in eraser on the end, so you can just flip it around when you want to erase. You can also use Pencil to smudge lines and create a nice blurred effect.

Although Pencil works best with Paper, it is also fully compatible with popular drawing and painting app Procreate, as well as Noteshelf and Squiggle. It connects to your iPad via Bluetooth, and once you’ve paired it, you’ll never have to do so again. When it runs out of battery, you can just remove the tip and pop the USB into any standard USB port.

Buy it now from:

Amazon Target

Sensu Artist Brush & Stylus ($40)


Sensu’s Artist Brush and Stylus combo offers the best of both worlds with its real paintbrush tip and built-in stylus tip. The brush tip acts just like areal paintbrush, which makes it perfect for painting, but it certainly won’t work if you want to execute a fine line drawing. Luckily, once you switch over to the rubber stylus tip, you’ll be able to draw more precise lines. However, the Sensu isn’t pressure sensitive and it may suffer from delayed reaction times now and then.

It comes in an aluminum finish and looks just like a normal paintbrush. The brush bristles are actually made of synthetic brush hair that was developed in Japan. The stylus tip is made of rubber. Luckily, it works on most Android, Windows, and iOS tablets, so you won’t be limited in your choice of tablet.

Buy it now from:

Amazon B&H

Studio Neat Cosmonaut ($25)


The Cosmonaut stylus may look huge a bulky, but it’s actually the ultimate stylus for white board and marker artists. This stylus won’t give you the thinnest line you’ve ever seen, but it will give you a nice, solid line. The Cosmonaut is easy to grip and it certainly isn’t delicate, so it can take a knocking in your bag without suffering any ill effects.

It’s a short, squat, round rubber stylus with no other defining features. It really looks like a fat, black crayon. The Cosmonaut seems like the perfect stylus for those of you who like to diagram lectures and take notes in a visual style. It works with both Android, iOS, and presumably Windows tablets. The Cosmonauts’ creators say it should also work on any touchscreen.

Buy it now from:

Amazon Studio Neat

Next page: Best styli for note-takers and the best tablets with an onboard styli

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