As someone that tends to avoid using highlighters as they’re prone to smearing, I decided once and for all to do some smear testing!
I grabbed a bunch of gel pens, fineliners and ballpoint pens plus some of the (many!) highlighters I own and set to work testing each one. I used one of my Plum Paper notebooks.
Highlighters Smear Test
I waited approx 10 seconds before highlighting. Overall I think I should’ve waited longer since a lot of them smeared. I typically wait 30 seconds when doing weekly planning and when I wait just that little bit longer the highlighters are much less likely to smear.
My all time favorite are Smiggle, Zebra highlighters and Pilot Frixion Erasable, (bright not the pastel) however all of these on this list are good!
- Daiso Soft Marker
- Crayon type markers
- Mitsubishi Uni Propus Window
- Essenti Soft Marker
- Mitsubishi Propus 2
- Sharpie Smear Guard
- Pilot Frixion Erasable (brights not the pastel)
- Zebra Justfit
- Zebra Midliner
- Luxor Eco Write Textliter
- Zebra Sparky – 1
- Zebra Just Fit
- Pentel Handy-Lines retractable & refillable
- Platinum Preppy Fluorescent Highlighters
- Zebra Optex Care
- Pilot Spotliter 2
- Zebra Optex 1 EZ
- Chosch Light Double CS-8120
- Tombow Kei Coat Double Sided
One brand that keeps popping up on the recommended list? Zebra highlighters. I’m yet to find highlighters from Zebra that don’t highlight smoothly with minimal smudging for both ballpoint and gel ink pens. Mitsubishi highlighters, while expensive, also rarely smear.
For all the hype about the Zebra Mildliners, yes they’re nice and are dual tip with a fat and thin end which is always handy, however, they aren’t a must have. There are cheaper alternatives with nicer, brighter colors! One of which are the Daiso Soft Markers.
Zooms are another alternative to highlighters (plus they’re cheap and the ink never dries out). Yes another alternative is wax highlighters.
- Bic Brite Liner Fluorescent
- Stabilo Boss
- Big W (they’re cheap and work fine but the ink dries out after 1 year)
- Reject Shop
- Typo (ink dries out before they’re a year old)
- Diaso erasable (the Daiso soft markers are great but the Daiso erasable highlighters are awful)
Most of the highlighters on the worst list are cheap highlighters. Cheap ones work ok with ballpoint pens if you wait a bit but almost always smudge with gel pens.
The highlighters on this list are also the most prone to bleed through and heavy ghosting on the back side of the paper (with the exception of the Daiso Soft Marker)
Pens that work best with highlighters
Ballpoint pens work best with highlighters as the ink dries a lot quicker (i.e. a ballpoint 0.7mm doesn’t look at thick / inky on the page as a 0.7mm gel pen).
- Pilot Frixion erasable
- Artline Smoove Ballpoint Pen 1.0
- Smiggle Ballpoint Tri Grip
- Papermate Inkjoy 100 1.0M
- Tombow Twin Tone
- Gel Pens
- Pens with a tip larger than 1.0M (tend to take longer to dry so more prone to smudging – both the pen and when highlighting)
More highlighter reviews
- Cheap versus expensive pens: is there actually a difference in quality?
- Best highlighters for planning
- Ooly pen & highlighters haul (cute rainbow planner supplies)
- How to choose the right planner pens: what to look for when buying planner pens
- After trying more than 20 pen brands, these are my top 5
- Ultimate list of the best planner pen brands and how to choose colors for color coding
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