The best pen for a planner is one that creates harmony within the chaos.
For a long time, I was afraid to write my schedule in pen. The idea of ink’s permanence was spooky, as if my writing it down set it in stone, and forbade the changing of plans.
Since learning about erasable pens, washi tape, and giving myself grace in my mistakes, writing in my planner with pen has become my first choice. Finding the best pens for planners, however, took some experimentation.
What makes a great planner pen?
Planners differ from journals, writing sheets, and drawing books on a number of levels:
- Planner paper tends to be thinner, smoother, bright white, and inked in lesser amounts than a full journal page.
- Sometimes, a little bleed-through doesn’t hurt a journal or a drawing book because you don’t need to write on the back page. In a planner, both sides of every page are precious.
- Planners have a tendency to travel with us, so a pen’s ability to go along for the ride without damage or fatigue is imperative.
To find the best pen for your planner, first: get to know the options
Here’s a little bit of Pen 101:
- Ballpoint: Most common everyday pen, requiring gravity and pressure to release the oil-based ink from the reservoir.
- Rollerball: Similar mechanism to the ballpoint, but with a viscous water-based ink that flows easily and appears richer on paper.
- Gel: Essentially a rollerball pen that uses a gel-based ink. Longer-lasting and highly customizable in colors, sheens, glitters, and artistic appearance.
- Felt Tip or Artist’s Pen: Varied-size felt or plastic nib, often used by artists but perfect for writer’s who want a rich ink delivery and forgiveness for pen posture.
- Fountain: The Godfather of writing utensils, which delivers a rich flow of dye-based ink through a stainless steel or gold nib.
- Brush or Fudenosuke: Delivers pigment or dye-based ink through varied-size brush, allowing for different weight strokes depending on the drag of your tool.
Pen essentials: precision, comfort, and consistency
Keeping in mind that planner paper often differs from other writing mediums, the best pen for planners will keep you from these common pen snafus:
- Feathering, where your letters and lines spread making for messy, blurry handwriting. Typical offender: Fountain pens, felt tips, and brush pens.
- Bleedthrough to the next page, so your Weekly Spread shows through to your Brainstorming grid page. Typical offenders: Fountain pens and brush pens.
- Smearing of your beautifully handwritten quote on the “Reflect and celebrate” page that now looks like an illegible smudge. Typical offenders: Gel pens and some brush pens.
- Faint ink appearance, causing you to squint at your schedule and feel a lacking in its permanence. Typical offender: Ballpoint pens.
By the looks of that list, how could any of these contend for the best planner pen?
It all comes down to style.
Writing in pen is as much a personal expression as the outfit you’re wearing.
Your handwriting, the ink color, the stroke of your letters, the size of your script, the layout of your text, the density (or scarcity) of words. Knowing your handwriting and planning styles will make it easy to choose the best pen for your planner, because best is subjective.
For the steady, slow writer with the uniform, unfancy script:
You want a pen that is dependable; one that will continue to write long after you’ve expected its failure. You want consistency, an ink delivery that looks uniform across the page and performs paragraph after paragraph. You’re not so into hand-lettering, fancy cursive, or the bold appearance of letters on a page. You crave function, clarity, and for the back of your page to never bear the bleed of the former.
The best pen for your planner: Caran d’Ache 849 Ballpoint Pen. Sturdy aluminum body, a 600-page ink cartridge lifetime, comes standard with a blue ink cartridge. Blue is the color of bankers, underwriters, and contract-signers, as it is much more difficult to copy. This pen won’t bleed through your pages and, despite being a ballpoint pen (which are known for requiring more pressure than other tools), writes more smoothly than any ballpoint I’ve ever used.
The runner up, and the obvious choice for the planner who requires black ink: Schneider ID. The Cadillac of ballpoint pens, with a voluptuous barrel and comfortable grip, this pen is a workhorse for no-nonsense planners and committed writers. The secret is in the specially formulated Viscoglide ink that allows the pen to move smoothly across the paper.
For the bold, quick-handed jotter who occasionally pays attention to style but, more importantly, pays attention to the richness of their work:
You want ink with staying power, a pen that delivers a bold line and smooth, consistent letters that look glossy on the page. You’re inspired when you look back over your fully-outlined week, re-reading your plans as if it were the first time. Your handwriting may vary from body capitals to unique-to-you semi cursive, with letters strung together in the heat of the plan. You don’t want the distraction of yesterday’s words bleeding onto today’s page, so you are happy to compromise a little ink depth for paper preservation.
The best pen for your planner: Pilot Frixion Erasable gel pen. You read that right, this pen is completely erasable and we have tested it to be sure. Though disposable, these gel pens glide smoothly page after page, leaving a semi-wet ink look that’s bold, glossy, and beautiful to behold. The ink dries a bit slowly, so take care to not drag your hand or forearm across your freshly written text. Though, if you do, a quick swipe of the eraser should do the trick.
The runner up, for those who want an inexpensive disposable that acts like a professional artist’s pen: Pentel Hybrid Technica gel rollerball, .65mm. Having tested the .4mm and .65mm in the Ink+Volt Planner, the .65 far outshines the smaller size. Pentel has some of the quickest-drying gel ink on the market, so smearing is kept to a minimum and staying power is on point. Plus, at this price, if your co-worker “borrows” one of these, you aren’t breaking the bank to replace.
For the expressive, creative planner whose book is as much an artistic expression as it is an organizational tool
Handlettering, calligraphy, traditional cursive, and an attention to stroke weight are integral to your planning practice. You want the most flexibility with your pen and you like to stretch that flexibility as much as you can. You experiment with different fonts, doodle in the margins, illustrate bits of your day or entire scenes when the space is available. Your planner can become so full of artistic expression that each page blurs together a bit, showing bits of the day before, the day after, and everything in-between.
The best pen for your planner: Pigma Micron PN. By far the sturdiest tips of the micron pen line, the plastic nib can withstand a heavy hand, a flourishing wrist, and the impromptu doodle of your coffee cup without hesitation. Though the nib is fine, the ink delivery is fast and strong, drying quickly and leaving a deep, matte-finish pigment in your paper that won’t deteriorate over time. Unlike most other felt-tip microns, the plastic nib boasts the least frequency of bleedthrough and feathering, especially in the Ink+Volt Planner. I am a plastic nib planner and believe it to be superior to all other options!
The runner up, for those with a steady hand who want even more creative potential unleashed: Hikkei Sign Pen. This instrument is not for the faint of heart, and it’ll take some practice meshing your handwriting style with the strong tip of this otherwise very flexible pen. Sign pens are something of a hybrid between a felt-tip and a brush pen, delivering dye or pigment-based ink in a stroke weight entirely dependent on the angle and drag of the pen. Don’t let this intimidate you – your best handwriting will likely come from this pen, as its flexible tip will expose the intricacies of your stroke, while the strength of the nib will protect you from over-inking and botching your letters.
When choosing the best pens for planners, keep in mind that it’s your planner, your style, and your preference.
Try experimenting with different pens on different weeks in your planner, taking note of any feathering or bleedthrough. Get to know your handwriting, whether a righty or a lefty, to avoid smearing and smudging as your write. And of course, have some fun on your pen-seeking adventure!