Apart from a planner, pens are the most frequently used planner supply so it’s super important you’re using the right ones! So how do you choose the right planner pens for you?
1. Know the line of pens
There are your popular pen brands including my favorites:
But each of these pens companies have various pen lines. For example PaperMate have these popular pen lines:
- Inkjoy Gel
- Kilometrico Elite
And another example (just to confuse you even more), Pilot have the Frixion brand. This pen brand is my favorite as their pens (and their highlighters and stamps) are erasable! Within the frixion brand there are various pen styles including:
- Frixion (0.38 fine tip)
- Frixion (0.5 pen tip)
- Frixion 3 pens in one (retractable) (0.5” pen tip)
- Frixion medium point 0.7
- Frixion clicker (retractable) 0.7
- Frixion also have highlighters as well
And that’s just the pen style and size of the pen tip. Let’s not even go into all the different color ranges for each pen tip size!
2. What pen tip size do you want?
This one is one of the first things I look for when I come across new planner pens. Some pens are only available in certain pen tip sizes.
Make sure you do your research before buying. I bought the Triplus by Staedtler thinking I’d bought the 0.3mm fine tip (the ones all the planner addicts in the Facebook Groups, YouTube videos and on Instagram rave about). I’d actually bought the 1.0mm by mistake. The packaging between the different pen styles for the same brand can be very similar so make sure you double check.
Something else to note is that the thicker the pen tip, the more prone the pen is going to be to ghosting (some shadow showing through to the other side of the page) and bleeding (where the color seeps through the paper to the other side so you can’t see it).
Some pens with a thicker tip (such as the 1.6 Maxum) are also more likely to leave an indent where you’ve written on the page, which can show through to the other side.
3. What colors does the pen come in?
If you want to color code, a good range of colors is a must. I recommend looking for pens that come in 6 different colors (including black) – and choosing no more than 5 different categories to plan using (otherwise it can get a bit onerous and time consuming switching pen colors all the time).
Another thing to look for if you’re a little OCD (like me) are pens that match the colors of the other planner supplies you’re using. For me this is planner stickers. When I first stumbled across the PaperMate Inkjoy Gel 0.7mm I was like: yes please! They’re almost an exact match for my planner stickers and they come in teal which is hard to find.
Which brings me to my third point about choosing colors: not all pens come in the same colors. For example, the Milan P1 Touch pens (from Officeworks only come in 5 colors and no black). Some pens come with a light green in the pack while others have a dark green. If you want to use less common colors such as teal and mint, you’ll have to buy a larger pack of pens. Make sure you check swatches of what the pen ink looks like. There have been a number of instances when a pen has looked like green but the ink is actually dark green.
The 4 colors in 1 pens tend to come in black, blue, red and green – so that’s another thing to keep in mind if you want to color code, and don’t want to carry around a lot of pens.
Another thing to ask yourself is what colors do you actually like writing with? I’m a black ink person myself and prefer it over blue. I tend to avoid yellow as it’s always hard to read.
Lastly, is having different shades of the same color pen important to you? Not all pen packs include both a light blue and a dark blue pen, for example. Or a light green and a dark green.
If you want to color code, the colors I recommend you use (and in this order) are:
The reason being is that these colors are almost always included in pen packs (and other stationery supplies like highlighters and sticky notes).
4. What pen features are important to you?
For example, do you want:
- Pens that can erase? (if so, I recommend Frixion pens)
- Rectractable (these are my preferred pen style so I can’t lose or drop the lid)
- Lots of colors (I recommend the Staedtler Triplus 0.3mm or the Papermate Inkjoy Gel – both are expensive but worth it!)
- Overall design of the pen (do you prefer thin pens such as Le Pen or fatter pens such as 4 in 1 color pens)
- Gel pens or ballpoint pens? (ballpoint pens can write on basically any type of paper or sticker paper – including glossy. Whereas most gel pens can write on matte but not all will write on matte, or vinyl label paper. Gel pens also tend to be more expensive than ballpoint pens.
- Pen grip (do you want a comfort grip when you hold the pen?)
5. What do you intend to use them for?
Certain types of pens are better for certain things. For example, I prefer thicker marker style pens for writing titles in my planner (one of my favorite pens for this are the Triplus 1.0mm by Staedtler).
I prefer erasable pens for everyday planning (specifically the black Frixion erasable). Ballpoint pens are also great for everyday planning – they don’t smudge like gel pens sometimes do.
Some helpful posts:
- Favorite black pens for planner addicts
- What type of pens write best on correction tape? (gel pens vs. ballpoint vs. marker pens)
- The best white pens for writing on black paper
- What pens write best on kraft paper?
- Ballpoint versus gel pens: which are better for planning?
For color coding, my favorite pens are the PaperMate Inkjoy Gel 0.7mm. There are 8 different colors in their ‘base’ pack which I found was a good number for color-coding. They also have larger packs with multiple shades of each color such as light and dark blue instead of just one shade of blue.
6. Test them out
Most stationery shops will have a test swatch where you can do a quick scribble and test out the pen. It’s also good if you’re on a tight budget and just want to purchase 1 or 2 pens, or you know you won’t use all of the colors in a pack.
There are plenty of pens I’d love to try but which aren’t available in Australia 🙁
If there are pens you want to buy that aren’t available locally try:
- Carefully Crafted (my sisters’ planner supplies shop!)
- Jet Pens (this place is planner pen shopping heaven and they ship internationally – I’m intending to place an order with them soon! Just as soon as I can get my cart down to a more reasonable $ total…
- Amazon (warning, there are a lot of pens on here so don’t blame me for being an enabler!)
8. Don’t buy what everyone else is buying, just because they’re buying them
A lot of bloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers were raving about the Pilot G2 pens. People seemed to be gushing over these pens everywhere. So I bought them to try. And you know what? I hated them. The Pilot G2 was way too inky and easily smudged.
I know you can’t try pens in all circumstances, especially if you’re buying online, that’s where googling the pen brand and clicking on images or watching YouTube videos/reviews come in handy. I’ve posted many pen swatches over the years which you can find in my pen review / recommendation posts here.
Related post: 10 Pens that are overrated
9. Watch YouTube videos
Yes this may seem a bit weird, but people do pen reviews on YouTube (myself included!). Warning: once you start watching planner videos you’ll get hooked. For some weird reason, I find watching people stick stickers in their planner and scribble test swatches for pens oddly addicting.
Since most planner pens are expensive and not many retail stores will let you test them, this is as close as you’re going to get to actually being able to test out the pen. So to me, investing a couple of minutes to watch a YouTube review (or a few, the auto-play videos suck me in all the time) is better than spending a lot of money on pens that may not be the right for me.
To enlarge the screen of the video, click the square icon in the bottom right hand corner of the video (it will say ‘full screen’ when you hover your mouse over the icon).
10. Just because it’s a cheap pen doesn’t mean it’s a crappy pen
While cheap usually implies lower quality, that is surprisingly not always the case when it comes to pens. I found the Monte Marte at Stacks (Australian cheap shop) and they’re a good cheaper alternative to the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner.
I did a post with a roundup of my favorite color doing supplies for under $5 here. Pens from Daiso made it on the list – they were only $2.80 for a pack of 10 pens. While they’re obviously not as good as pens that are 10x the price, they’re still usable.
The main difference in cost for pens seems to be whether the pen ‘skips’ i.e whether there are white gaps on the letters, how long the ink lasts and the range of colors. Since black pens are so popular they tend to be the cheapest (I’ve seen packs of 10 for $1 or $2 from discount stores such as the Reject Shop here in Australia).
If you’re just getting started color coding your planner then using cheap pens is a good idea while you determine if color coding is actually the right planning method for you.
Even though pens may be cheap they can still last a really long time – such as the A+ ballpoint pens and Artline Smoove (if you’ve never heard of them they may only be available in Australia – your local discount store would likely have some cheap pens that write just as nice).
Related post: 3 pen brands that have lasted more than 3 years
And if you buy planner pens you don’t end up liking, you can always sell them on eBay them or sell /swap them in one of the numerous Facebook planner addict groups.
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More posts on planner pens
- How to store planner pens (5 ways – and my favorite method!
- After trying more than 20 pen brands, these are my top 5
- How I use different types of pens when planning
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