The release of the Apple Pencil and Google Pen has brought the digital stylus to the mainstream market. No more are styli reserved for art majors and architects — rather, they’re now the preferred device of doodlers, note-takers, and creatives alike.
Whether you use styli for Photoshop or to navigate your ZenBook, the peripheral shouldn’t be considered an afterthought. Instead, you should consider a device with the right sensitivity, weight, and charging functionality for your needs. Below, we’ve rounded up the best available.
The 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 are specifically designed to mimic a certain medium.
Apple Pencil (second generation)
The original Apple Pencil may have only debuted towards the end of 2015, but it set a new standard for styli. Not content to rest on its laurels, Apple launched a new generation of the Pencil alongside the newly redesigned iPad Pro last year. The new Apple Pencil is similar to the previous generation, using the iPad Pro’s pressure-sensitive screen to produce incredibly fine lines with pressure-based variations in gradient. The side of the tip creates wider strokes, which is great for shading, and the tip can also offer a fine point when you need it. This fantastic stylus now clips magnetically to the side of your iPad Pro, and wirelessly charges there, eschewing the awful charging method of the original Pencil.
Before you jump in and click Buy, make sure you have the correct iPad to use with the Pencil. The second-generation Apple Pencil only works with certain iPads — to date, that includes only the 2018 models of the iPad Pro. If you’re sporting any other Pencil-compatible iPad (including the 9.7-inch, 10.5-inch, and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the sixth-generation iPad, the iPad Mini 5, and the iPad Air 3), then you’ll have to stick with the original Apple Pencil.
Adonit Note Plus
Digital artists who draw and paint on their iPads have a welcome new choice with Adonit’s Note Plus. Made specifically for newer iPad models, including the 3rd-generation iPad Pro, 6th- and 7th-generation iPad, 3rd-generation iPad Air, and 5th-generation iPad Mini, the Note Plus has critical features such as palm rejection and 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity to facilitate art creation with apps like Concepts, Zen Brush 2, Noteledge, and ProCreate. You can program shortcut buttons for your individual painting habits, like an eraser, undo and redo features, and tilt your stylus against the screen to create a shade effect in a drawing with specific brushes. Charge it up with a USB-C connector.
Adobe Ink & Slide
If you’re invested in Adobe’s Creative Cloud, the company’s Ink & Slide stylus and ruler combo may be the perfect tools for you. The Ink & Slide connects to any iPad 4 or later, iPad Air, or iPad Mini via Bluetooth LE. It’s also synced with Creative Cloud, so every drawing or preference gets stored in the cloud for you to access on your computer or other devices later. The Ink & Slide also works with Adobe’s 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 enhanced 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 perfectly straight lines, circles, and other shapes. The Ink & Slide comes with a USB charger and carrying case.
FiftyThree Pencil, digital stylus for iPad
Unfortunately, FiftyThree knocked its hardware section on the head in 2016. It’s a real shame as Pencil is one of the best all-around artistic styli around. Using FiftyThree’s own Paper app, 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 and Noteshelf. 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.
As mentioned, FiftyThree no longer makes the Pencil, so it’s hard to find for new. Thankfully, you can find Amazon refurbished units that work just as well.
The Friendly Swede 4-in-1 stylus
The Friendly Swede offers a stylus that’s adaptable and useful for any digital artist, and comes with four different tips: A paintbrush, a micro-knit fiber tip, a precision disc, and a regular ballpoint pen. The brush tip acts just like a real paintbrush, which makes it perfect for painting, but it certainly won’t work if you want to execute a fine-line drawing. Luckily, you can switch over to the precision disc if pinpoint accuracy is needed. For more regular stylus use, you can use the micro-knit fiber end. Finally, having a ballpoint pen to hand is just useful.
It comes in an aluminum finish and looks just like a normal pen, and can be added to any pencil case or just slipped into a pocket. Each of the tips is replaceable, and the stylus comes with several replacement tips. Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to get the same level of pressure sensitivity you’d get from more expensive styli. However, at this price and with this versatility, you can’t go wrong.
Studio Neat Cosmonaut
The Cosmonaut stylus may look huge and bulky, but it’s actually the ultimate stylus for whiteboard 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 knock in your bag without suffering any ill effects.
It’s a short, squat, round rubber stylus with no other defining features. It looks like a fat, black crayon. The Cosmonaut seems like the perfect stylus for those who like to diagram lectures and take notes in a visual style. It works with both Android and iOS. The company says it should also work on any touchscreen.
Adonit has been offering affordable and well-built styli for quite a while and the Mark is no different. It lets anyone with a smartphone, tablet, or touchscreen laptop have access to a solid, all-purpose stylus. The best thing about the Mark is how the stylus feels in the hand — it’s made of anodized aluminum and is smooth, but has a good grip. It’s also has a triangular shape, so it doesn’t roll, which feels natural.
It’s a decent, cheaper alternative for drawing, but we wouldn’t recommend it for note-taking as it’s not precise, being that it is tipped with a mesh. Even when drawing, don’t expect to get accurate strokes while you’re working on the finer details.
If you’re looking for a paintbrush instead of just a stylus, then the Nomad Flex may be the tool you need for your iPad. The brush is made of aluminum and has synthetic bristles, which make it feel more akin to a real paintbrush. The Flex will work perfectly with apps such as Paper or Procreate, but in an app like Penultimate, a traditional stylus would be more appropriate. Nomad’s offering includes a plastic carrying case inside the box, too, so you can safeguard the brush from unwanted abuse.
How does it compare to other brushes? The Flex is going to feel thinner and lighter than 4-in-1 pens like The Friendly Swede, and the Flex’s bristles will feel “mushier” by comparison — but which you prefer is going to come down to personal preference. Another great thing about the Flex is that it is compatible with iPads, Android tablets, and Microsoft’s Surface lineup. The brush also comes in a variety of colors, including charcoal, pink, silver, blue, and red.
Best styli for notetakers
There are almost as many styli for note-taking as there are for drawing. Although there are scads of fine-tipped styli for taking notes, these are four of the best we’ve found for precise writing on tablets.
While the Adonit Switch may have a low price tag, that certainly doesn’t mean it lacks in style or usefulness. That’s right, the Switch doubles as a stylus and an actual pen. Roll the striped grip-end and a ballpoint pen slips out. Rotate to take off the cap on the other side, and voilà, you have a precision stylus.
The precision stylus has a disk at the end, allowing for more precise marks on your tablet. It feels and weighs about the same as a normal pen, and can easily be mistaken for one. It can be used to draw, but you’re better off sticking with writing notes with the Adonit Switch. The ball-point pen writes fairly well and adds an immensely useful function if you happen to always carry a stylus around.
Adonit Pro 4
Adonit offers the most precise and fine stylus tips of any manufacturer. Although the Jot Script is well-liked for its extra-fine tip, it only works with iOS devices, which limits its reach. The benefit of the Adonit Pro 4 is that it works on most touchscreen devices, including iPads, Android tablets, and Windows tablets.
The Pro 4 has a very fine point, which makes it perfect for taking notes. It has a solid, well-built 9.25mm aluminum body, and feels smooth and sleek. It offers a pen-like experience, with equal distribution of weight throughout the device’s body. The Pro 4 looks and feels like a regular ballpoint pen, with the addition of the PET Precision Disc, a polycarbonate disc tip to protect the screen. The stylus comes in three color schemes: Black, silver, or gold.
Adonit is one of the best styli manufacturers in existence, one that recently added the Adonit Pixel to its already impressive lineup. The Pixel stylus is compatible with iPhone 5 and higher, third and fourth-gen iPads, all iPad Minis, the iPad Air, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
Like Adonit’s other wears, the Pixel has a 1.9-millimeter tip instead of a disc, allowing for easy drawing and sketching. The stylus’ tip has improved drag performance as well, to make it feel like you’re writing on paper. A USB dongle also allows you to charge the stylus via your computer, while a host of programmable buttons let you perform a variety of customized actions on the fly. If you’re looking for a blue-ribbon stylus that touts solid functionality across the board, you can’t go wrong with the Pixel.
Elzo 3-in-1 stylus
If you’re looking for an affordable alternative to some of the premium offerings in our roundup, then look no further than Elzo’s 3-in-1 stylus. It’s the perfect low-cost option, as it provides three tips in one slimline body. There’s a soft nanofiber tip for general stylus use, but there’s also a precise disc tip for more accurate work, and a gel pen tip for writing on real paper. It has a solid aluminum body and comes with a soft grip for writing comfort. One of its best features is its compatibility. It works with a multitude of iOS and Android devices including iPads, iPhones, Samsung devices, HTC devices, Motorola devices, and pretty much anything with a capacitive touchscreen.
Best tablets for styli
As laptop-tablet hybrids grow increasingly popular — just take a look at the numbers for both the iPad Pro and Microsoft’s Surface lineup — so does the use of styli as an accessory. Samsung’s latest tablet-laptop is the Galaxy Tab S6 which boasts powerful performance, the versatility of Android, and a 10.5-inch, HDR-ready AMOLED display. It’s big and clear, and it’s a great portable canvas to work with. Samsung also offers the S Pen as an accessory, which offers decent performance when it comes to taking notes.
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7 also supports an official stylus. It’s powered by Windows, so it can use the same programs as your desktop Windows PC, and it comes with support for Microsoft’s Type Cover. The Surface Pen is powerful too, with support for triggering Cortana, excellent pressure-sensitivity, and a built-in eraser. However, it’s worth remembering this still counts as an addon for Microsoft, so you’re looking at another $100 for the Surface Pen.
Our last recommendation, the most recent iPad Pro range, needs little introduction. You have the choice between two screen sizes — 11 inches and 12.9 inches — and those massive displays are fantastic to draw on. The updated Apple Pencil is obviously the perfect accessory for it, thanks to its pressure-sensitive screen. If you’re looking to save some money though, then the updated iPad 10.2-inch 2019 model, as well as the iPad Air, iPad Mini, and the 9.7-inch iPad are cheaper — and just as capable — alternatives for budding artists, even if they only support the first-generation Apple Pencil.
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