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 more varied, meaning they’re not just for art majors anymore. The release of the Apple Pencil also helped push the once ill-fated peripheral back into the spotlight, helping to reinvigorate a market that is now bursting with viable options. To help you make sense of them all, we’ve put together a list of the best stylus pens for every occasion, not to mention the top tablets that come bundled with them. Read on for more details.
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 specifically designed to mimic a certain medium.
Apple Pencil ($99)
The Apple Pencil may have debuted towards the end of 2015, but it has already set the standard for styli. Before jumping to specifics, note that the Pencil only works with the 9.7-inch, 10.5-inch, and 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the 6th Generation iPad. The Pencil itself is one of the fastest, and most responsive styli we have used, with essentially no latency (if there is some, we didn’t notice).
Thanks to the pressure-sensitive screen in the iPad Pro, the Pencil can produce incredibly fine lines with variations in gradient as you increase pressure. 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. It can be slippery at times, but it generally sits pretty well in the hand.
Unfortunately, the Pencil’s other end only features a charging cap that’s easy to lose, rather than an eraser.
Adobe Ink & Slide ($25)
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 perfectly straight lines, circles, and other shapes. Even though it’s a pricier stylus, the Ink & Slide does come 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.
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 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.
Sensu’s Artist Brush and Stylus combo offer the best of both worlds with its real paintbrush tip and built-in stylus tip. 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, 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.
Studio Neat Cosmonaut ($25)
The Cosmonaut stylus may look huge a 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 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.
Adonit Mark ($15)
Adonit has been offering affordable, but well-built styli for quite a while and the Mark is no different. At $15, it lets anyone with a smartphone, tablet, or 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 also 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 the Sensu brush? Well, the bristles on the Sensu are a bit stiffer than the ones on the Flex — the bristles on the former are also more round. The Flex is going to feel thinner and lighter than the Sensu, and the Flex’s bristles will feel mushier by comparison. Another great thing about the Flex is that it is compatible with iPads, as well as Android tablets and Microsoft’s Surface lineup. The brush also comes in a variety of colors, including charcoal, pink, silver, blue, and red.