Finding the perfect bullet journal pen isn’t easy. There are so many brands on the market. We bought 22 pens and tested how each pen bled, ghosted, smudged, etc. Here are the best 10 pens for a bullet journal.
Best Pens for Bullet Journal
The top things to consider when buying bullet journal pens
When it comes to bullet journal pens, the most important things to consider are if they smudge and if they bleed through to the next page. The only way to ensure that they don’t bleed is to use a good pen and a notebook with good-quality paper. A good pen might not bleed on thicker paper but it still might bleed on very thin paper.
Ghosting (or shadowing) is another problem to look out for. This is where you can see writing or doodles on the back of the page. This too can often be prevented by using good-quality paper and a good pen.
Other considerations are if the pen is comfortable to use.
Does it allow you to write without pressing too hard since this will also cause it to show on the back of the page?
There are two kinds of pens: pigment-based and ink-based. Pigment molecules are much bigger and more chemically complex than dye molecules. This allows the color to stay within the top layer of the paper rather than absorbing through the paper and staining the back and sometimes the next page. This is really important with a planner or journal.
You will also need to consider if you are making a planner for the next few years or a journal that you will want to last for a lifetime or more. Some pens will fade after a while. Journaling pens should last a lifetime.
What is ghosting and bleeding?
The paper you use affects the bleed and ghosting (show through).
Bleeding occurs when ink soaks through the paper to the other side. If it bleeds too much then you might not be able to write on the other side of the page. Even pens that don’t bleed might bleed if you go over the same area a few times.
Ghosting is where you can see the writing on one side of the paper from the other side (see the image below). The ink hasn’t necessarily bled through to the other side but it shows through. Ghosting can be a problem if you like using both sides of the paper in your notebook since the writing or drawing on one side of the paper can interfere with the other side. Some notebooks have paper that is thick enough to prevent this and both sides can be used safely.
The thicker the paper the less it will show through. With thinner paper, the ink might bleed through to the other side. The more absorbent the paper is the more likely it is to bleed.
Which colors do you need?
For basic everyday writing, you will want a black pen. You can use gel pens, fine liners, ballpoint pens, rollerball pens, etc. See the pros and cons of each below.
There are many kinds of colored pens. See the pros and cons of each below. The number of colors you need really depends on how colorful you want your bullet journal to be and how much time you want to devote to embellishing it. Most of the pens offer an option for packs with different colors. The difference in price isn’t usually that much to get more colors, so it makes sense to buy a pack that you can use for a while instead of having to buy a new pack at a later stage. If you don’t plan on using color, you can also get packs of black pens only and add color at a later stage if you decide to.
Pens that don’t bleed
In my search for pens that don’t bleed through paper, I tested 22 pens. I used the official bullet journal notebook (Leuchtturm). The pages are 80 gsm which is considered relatively thin paper compared to other notebooks. It has the thinnest pages of all the bullet journal notebooks I reviewed so I figured that the best pens for bullet journal Leuchtturm would be suitable for all notebooks. If you use any of the recommended pens, your results will be equal or better, depending on the notebook you use. None of the pens in the list below bled except for the Pilot V5 which bled in one small spot and only when I used a stencil. You can see that spot on the top of the heart next to the blue pen. It was where I started and finished drawing with the stencil and only in that small spot so it isn’t such a big deal. None of the pens bled when I wrote the same two words “Testing Pen” with each. I specifically wrote the same words to test all pens.
I also drew a tick with each pen and none of them bled.
Pens that don’t ghost
When testing with the official bullet journal notebook, all of the pens ghosted to some degree (see the image above). However, the pen that showed through the least was the Pilot Juice up 04 and then the Pilot Frixion. The numbers in the photos correlate to the numbers in the list below if you want to check out specific pens.
Pens that don’t smudge
None of the pens in the list below smudged except for the Pental gel pen. The Tombow brush dual pen also smudged slightly in one spot. Testing was more aggressive than normal use. You wouldn’t usually rub your hands over something you wrote seconds after you wrote it (unless you are left-handed in which case it might happen often).
Pens that are waterproof
To test this, I soaked two balls of cotton wool in water and wet the page twice – once from the top and once from the bottom. The Tombow brush dual pen was the least waterproof. So was the Pilot G2 gel pen but it wasn’t included in the top 10 anyway. The Pental gel pen also wasn’t very waterproof and neither was the Stabilio. The Pilot Juice up smudged slightly as did the Pilot V5. The Mangaka, Sakura Micron, Faber Castel, and Tombow were untouched.
The 10 Best Bullet Journal Pens
I tested 22 pens to find the 10 best bullet journal pens and markers. I was looking for:
- Pens that don’t bleed (see above)
- Pens that don’t ghost or shadow (see above)
- Pens that don’t smudge (see above)
- I wet each sample to see if it is waterproof (spills happen) – this was considered a benefit but not a requirement
- Pens that produce a consistent line with no gaps
- I tested how each pen worked with a stencil
- I drew in pencil and then in pen and checked what happened when I erased the pencil under the pen
As mentioned above, I used the official bullet journal notebook (Leuchtturm) to test the pens. The notebook’s pages are 80 gsm. The results of the first three tests are shown above. The pens that did not pass were not included in the final list. 22 pens were tested and 10 were chosen. All the 10 pens in the list below passed all the other tests. I included pens that were not waterproof since nobody wets their journal on purpose. Spills happen and it is a nice feature to have but not necessary. I included the photo so that you can see for yourself and decide if it is something you want to consider or not.
1. Pentel EnerGel-X Gel Pen o.5mm
This is a simple, cheap gel pen that is perfect for day-to-day journalling. The pen did smudge slightly when I tested it but I rubbed the letters a few seconds after I wrote them which isn’t something you would do unless you are left-handed.
To be honest, when I started testing all the pens I bought I was so sure that the Pilot G2 gel pen would be in the top 10 bullet journal pen list. It is one of the most popular everyday pens. You can use it for anything and I have been using it for as long as I can remember. I always have one in my bag and many more all over the house. However, when I tested it, the Pentel writes a lot smoother than the Pilot G2. I hadn’t really noticed that scratchy sound before until I compared it to the Pentel that flowed so smoothly it was a pleasure to write with. The Pilot G2 also smudged more than the Pental but they both did smudge.
2. Pilot juice up 04 Retractable Gel Ink Pen
These are perfect for those with small handwriting or for those times when you want to write something really small in your bullet journal or planner. These are good pens for a bullet journal with thin paper since they showed through the least out of all the pens tested.
3. Kuretake Zig Cartoonist, Mangaka
4. Pilot, V5 Hi-Tecpoint
5. Sakura Pigma Micron
These are considered good pens for bullet journaling.
Sakura Pigma 30062 Micron Blister Card Ink Pen Set, Black, Pack of 6
This set is perfect for writing and doodling in your journal. The rich black ink will enable you to achieve consistent lettering and line widths. Precise line widths make this fine line pen set ideal for both writing and doodling. It includes 6 popular Pigma Micron point sizes that are perfect for detail work. 0.3 and 0.5 are great tips for writing. This pack is enough if you will only be writing and drawing simple doodles. However, if you want to add calligraphy to your journaling then you will be better off with the pack below.
Sakura Pigma 30067 Micron Blister Card Ink Pen Set, Black, Pack of 8
With this set, in addition to the 6 pens above you will get one Pigma Graphic 1.0mm (for a bolder line) and one Pigma Brush Pen (this pen will give you bold color if that is what you want. It is great for hand lettering as it responds to instant changes in pressure and direction).
6. Stabilo Point 88
7. Pilot FriXion Ball Erasable & Refillable Gel Ink Stick Pens
I think that these are great BuJo pens because mistakes happen and I love the option to erase them.
8. Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen Wallet, 4 Sizes (Black)
These are great pens. They don’t bleed. The four-pack has a good selection of sizes. There are three nibs for writing and doodling and one brush nib. The S draws a really fine line.
I was surprised to see the size of the box as they look so short at first but I compared them to my Tombows and they are the same length. The size is very comfortable and easy to use. I love how they flow on paper. They are so smooth.
The brush pen is great for brush lettering.
9. Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen, 2 Pack (Black)
They do not bleed.
10. Tombow Dual Brush Pen Bold, 10 Pack (Colors)
This 10 pack comes with 9 colors and 1 colorless blender pen. I love that they have so many packs with different color combinations.
They are perfect for bullet journaling, brush lettering and illustrations. Each marker has a flexible brush tip on one side and fine tip on the other. The fine tip gives consistent lines whereas the brush tip creates medium or bold strokes by changing the brush pressure. The blender pen softens and blends colors to create a watercolor effect.
Even if you don’t use brush lettering these pens are still really useful. For example, you can write in cursive with a black fine tip pen and then add color to your letters to create faux brush lettering.
They do not bleed.
4 Best Pens for Bullet Journal
6 Best Markers for Bullet Journal
The best bullet journal markers do not bleed, smudge or fade. Ideally, they do not shadow but it depends a lot on the paper. These are the six best markers in my opinion. If you are on a budget then you might want to check out the cheap journaling markers.
What is the difference between the pens?
Gel pens dry quickly so they are less likely to smudge. The gel ink flows freely to write smoothly unlike a ballpoint. Gel pens come in various thicknesses. The finer pens are 0.5mm or less.
Gel pens (and fineliners) are probably the best best pens for writing in bullet journals.
Gel pens create bold, rich, solid lines.
Smooth writing experience.
Quick to dry.
Gel pens can cause skipping which makes it difficult to get a consistent line. This is often preventable if you store your pen downward with the nib down.
Gel pens smudged more than the other pens tested.
Pilot Frixion (Best erasable pens)
Fineliners are one of the most popular pens used for bullet journal. The reason is that they dry almost instantly and therefore tend to smudge less than gel pens.
They also have a wide variety of sizes. The different sizes are helpful when doodling and give you more control over the width of the line.
There are many brands available but the better ones don’t bleed or ghost.
They come in many different colors which is great for embellishment and color-coding.
Come in many different colors
Work really well with a ruler due to their long point. If you will be drawing layouts with a ruler this will be very helpful.
They don’t smudge.
These pens are very versatile since they have different tips.
Their tiny tip is great for people whose writing is very small and need very fine tips.
Fast drying ink
Permanent fade proof ink
Pigment-based ink doesn’t bleed through most papers. That means that they do not go through to the next page which is important with a planner.
They are water-resistant and smudge-proof. This is important if you take your planner places and risk coming into contact with water. See the water test above.
No smears or feathers on most papers.
They have vibrant blacks that look great.
If you first draw with pencil, you will be able to easily erase your pencil marks over the pen lines without smudging the pen.
The ink is fade resistant and will last a lifetime.
Some fineliners will bleed through paper, especially if you press hard.
Most fineliners will show through the paper to some degree. The thicker the paper the less it will show through.
Most tips are quite delicate and can be damaged with pressure or heavy use.
The tips dries out if you don’t close them when not in use.
Staedtler Triplus Fineliner – These pens come in 48 different colors. The 0.3mm version gives you clean lines. They do show through but then again so did most other pens tested. They have a triangular-shaped barrel which is very comfortable to use. For those who don’t like the triangular-shaped barrel, you might prefer the Stabilo Point 88 above.
A brush pen has a flexible and soft brush tip that allows you to transition from thick to thin lines by changing your pen pressure. Brush pens are great for brush calligraphy and hand lettering.
Angle the brush pen at a 45-degree angle.
When you draw lines from the top to the bottom (downstroke) apply heavy pressure. Downstrokes should be thick lines.
When you draw lines from the bottom to the top (upstroke) apply less pressure. Upstrokes should be thin lines.
Brush pens allow you to transition from thick to thin lines by changing your pen pressure.
You can create beautiful brush lettering.
You can blend colors with really pretty results.
There is a learning curve and you can’t expect to pick up a pen and create beautiful brush lettering without practicing.
Pentel Arts Sign Pen Touch – these are better than the Tombow for beginners that are just starting to learn brush lettering. They will give you more control over your letters and they will look smoother than with the more advanced Tombows.
These pens are not for everyone but if you love glitter effects then you’ll love them. They can be used for many purposes besides your bullet journal such as doodling, adult coloring books, making greeting cards, etc.
Glitter Gel Pens Color Gel Pen Set, Colored Gel Markers
- The glitter effect adds sparkle and extra charm to your journal.
- Ensure a smooth writing with 1mm rollerball tips. This is a medium tip and not very fine. You will not be able to draw thin lines but assuming that you will be using them to add color to elements it is a good thickness.
- Shake them before you use them to get more of a glitter effect.
- Give them time to dry to prevent smearing.
Water-based ink that dries relatively slowly and therefore tends to smudge.
Rollerballs create bold, rich lines.
Smooth writing experience.
Ink takes longer to dry, so it tends to smudge.
Pilot V5 (these pens didn’t smudge in the pen test)
Oil-based ink that dries quickly. They are not the best pens for journaling.
These pens are very cheap and very common. You probably have many lying around your home.
Doesn’t always produce a solid line. Since the ink doesn’t always coat the ball evenly the line is sometimes not consistent (it has gaps).
Which are the cheapest bullet journal pens and markers?
Recommended Budget Pens
Recommended Budget Markers
Sharpie Art Pens, Fine Point, Assorted Colors, Hard Case, 12 Pack
These markers offer lots of colors with no bleed-through if you don’t apply too much pressure. They dry fast and don’t smear or smudge. The greens and yellow are too light and difficult to read but can be used to color doodles or titles. The hard case stands up which is convenient to use and useful to store.
Crayola Super Tip
These markers are pretty cheap if your budget is tight but they are still really good. You can get big packs with any color you will every want without wasting a lot of money.
Staedtler 334C42 Triplus Fineliner 42-Color Assorted Super Fine Water-Based Marker
These are great if you want lots of colors without spending too much.
Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens, .3mm, Metal Clad Tip, 20-Pack, Assorted
These pens have minimal bleed even on thin paper but there is a bit of shadowing (but then again this happened with all pens tested to some degree). You cannot see writing on the back of standard paper but when you press harder to draw doodles then you will be able to see it on the back of the page particularly with the darker colors.
They do not smear.
The tip is very fine (0.3mm) for those who like a very thin line.
They are very comfortable to use due to their ergonomic triangular shape.
They are dry safe and don’t dry up quickly even if you leave them uncapped (except the neon colors).
Mix and match colors.
The pens do not bleed through to the other side but they do shadow but then again so did nearly all pens tested.