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 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 range last year. The new Apple Pencil is similar to the last generation, using the iPad Pro’s pressure-sensitive screen to 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. Simply put, it’s a fantastic stylus, and it can now magnetically clip to the side of your iPad Pro, and wirelessly charge there, eschewing the awful charging method of the original Pencil.
However, before you jump in and press buy, make sure you have the correct iPad for the job. 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.
Adobe Ink & Slide
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.
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 which 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 really 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 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 has been offering affordable and well-built styli for quite a while and the Mark is no different. Quality at a cheap price, 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 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 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.