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My favourite pens for sketchnoting

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I have tested out some of the best gel and ink pens for design and UX sketchnoting.

It was only until recently when I delved a bit deeper into the pen world for my sketchnoting. I realised it was a diverse universe with passionate people interested in cheap off the shelf pens.

Once you start investigating something seemingly banal, picking up a Bic disposable will never feel quite right ever again.

I choose pens based on five factors:

  1. How smooth the ink flows
  2. Vibrancy of the colour
  3. How comfortable it is
  4. How much page bleed through it causes
  5. How aesthetically pleasing it is (I am a designer after all)


Whether I was aware of it or not, I’ve been testing pens for as long as I remember. I always had a favourite pen for short time and then found something new I’d use exclusively. I’m no expert, but I do know what I like, as I’ve put the doodling hours in.

I’ve tried every variety of pen from expensive fountain pens to Sharpies. Fountain pens often seem like the logical choice for sketchnoting, they have a cache attached to them. Maybe it’s my lack of skill, but I never got used to the feel of them and found them awkward to use. Aesthetically, they do look the part, so I really should have a few lying about!

Best pens for sketchnoting
Sketch test

I don’t like popular copics at all. They don’t feel right to me, maybe they don’t suit my style of sketching, which is more layout doodle and grid based. I also find I destroy the nibs too easily, as I tend to put a lot of pressure while sketchnoting. I’m can be an angry sketcher.

What I choose are plain off the shelf Gel pens. They are plentiful, affordable and pleasant to work with. Together with good Moleskine paper, I’ve never considered anything else.

Here are my two favourite pens for sketchnoting.

Muji .7 Gel Pens

Best pens for sketchnoting - Muji Pen

Inexpensive and solidly built, although you could say it looks a little cheap. They are extremely smooth, with very little clumping of ink. They come in a large variety of vibrant colours. It is comfortable to write with and absolutely no bleed. I usually use these in combination with other pens for colour shading.

Uni-ball Signo Gel Grip

Best pens for sketchnoting - Uni Ball Pen

This is my favourite pen. It’s my favourite because of its smoothness. It also has the least bleed through on the page of any of the pens I’ve tried. Very comfortable to hold and very attractive looking. I’ve been using these for awhile now and I have used the alternative version, the Signo 207, cheaper looking but similar flow. The black tone is very good, slightly less vibrant than the EnerGel but a superb everyday sketch pen.

Pen addiction is an ongoing process and I’m sure to discover another pen to use soon.

  1. Noodler’s Black ink works very well for me on Moleskine paper; doesn’t feather or bleed, and once it hits the paper, it’s there forever, which is nice in a fountain pen ink.

  2. For most of the presentations I attend, I like to begin the sketchnote with a caricature of the speaker, as well as the name of the talk, the name of the presenter, and possibly the organisation that he or she represents.

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