Ask The Desk: Felt Tip Pen Conundrums


Amanda asked:

I’m a university student that loves using felt-tip pens but I hate how they show through the other side of my pages! Are there any affordable felt tip pens that won’t show through the pages of a cheap spiral bound notebooks?

and then to make matters even more complicated, Grace asked this great big question:

I am a typical college student who fell in love with felt tip/plastic tip pens. I have gotten my hands on Sharpie pen, Monami Plus pen, and Stabilo 88. I mostly use them for rewriting and color-coding my notes. I write a lot and I write hard (press). I would like your suggestion/opinion on which pen I should use.

So far, the Sharpie pen held up the best. It writes neat and it’s the only felt tip pen that doesn’t bleed through the page. The only bad thing about it is that it tends to strip after a while and get on your hands. It’s like having black and sliver sparkles/glitter coming off fro the pen.

The Plus pen writes neat but the tip softens as times goes on, has a tendency to “trip and splash” on the paper. What I mean by that is… It starts off writing really smooth and thin. Then when there’s the smallest variation in paper (that wouldn’t be detected by other pens), the tip would flex and bounce, making an ink splash. It really doesn’t seem to last too long compared to the other pens that I have had in the past.

Stabilo 88 is fine but is a bit thicker, and that is understandable since it’s an art pen. It bleeds through but it really lasts a while. The color seems to darken after uncapping for a few seconds but comes back to the normal color after a few strokes.

So I am trying to narrow down the choices for the next choice of pens that I should use. From what I have, I know that the plus pen is out. I am leaning more towards the Sharpie pen and Stabilo (Sharpie > Stabilo). Now I have been searching for more pens and I discovered from various sites about Sakura Pigma Micron. Would you say that Sakura Pigma Micron is better than Sharpie pen for uses of smooth and continuous note writing in college? I’m looking in the aspects of: grip, cost, color variety, smoothness, bleeding, and the time it lasts.

Since both questions are about felt tip pens and the issue of bleeding through the paper I’m going to respond to them together. While Grace’s question is much more in depth, I hope Amanda will glean some info out of this as well.

But for both of you college-ladies-on-a-budget, the bad news is that felt tip pens will most likely show through, if not bleed through, most budget notebook paper. Be prepared to either use only the front sides of the sheets or get an extra sheet of paper or cardstock to use as a blotter between pages to keep the inks from bleeding to the next page. Cut down a manila folder as an option for a budget blotter but be sure its not coated or glossy or you could have a mess on your hands.

Onward to the pens!

For the greatest color range and a slightly finer tip than the Stabilo88s, I recommend looking for the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners. The tips seem to be the same but I find the Staedtlers to be a bit firmer and oh, the colors!

As for the Sakura Pigma Microns, they have very fine tips but tend to be pricier than Sharpie pens and the tips can go soft or dull very easily. As for the paint on the barrel of the Sharpie coming off on your hand, have you considered the Sharpie retractable model? It has a plain black barrel with a silicone grip section. There’s not as much ink in the retractable model as the regular capped model but if you can find a good price on a multi-pack at a big box store, it might be a good investment for comfort and no-paint-transfer. I also find that the Sharpie pens are the least likely to have show through on most papers, closely followed by the copycat Bic Intensity.

A budget option to the Sakura Pigma Micron is the ZIG Millennium line of felt tip pens. They can often be found in craft big box stores or online and the fine, fine lines of the 005 and 01 versions might not bleed through most papers but may not hold up to heavy-handed writing. But they are not as expensive as Microns so you won’t be heartbroken if you kill one. I have killed many many Microns so I know how sad it can be. I’ve also killed Copic Multiliners, and a whole army of fancy tech pens.

So for straight-up black felt tips, stick with the Sharpie pen in either retractable or regular capped. If you want to try something finer, try the ZIG Millennium. And for color coding, I recommend the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners.

I tested a bunch of these felt tips on the cheapest paper I had on hand, it was a budget-priced composition notebook that has basically newsprint paper inside just to show what kind of show through or bleed I got.

Cheap paper felt tip pen test Cheap paper felt tip pen test from the reverse

Best of luck with finals!

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8 comments / Add your comment below

  1. It should be added that Grace might want to try changing how much pressure she uses to write with these pens. It sounds like she’s writing as if they’re ballpoints. It would help her pens last longer, they might not bleed through the paper so badly, and since she’s probably writing a lot, she’ll be able to write for a longer length of time.

    1. Agreed! I meant to add that! My calligraphy mentors at work would come up behind me and pull the pen out of my hand. If it didn’t slide out of my hand easily, I was gripping too tightly and that would cause fatigue and hand cramps and stiff writing in the long run. Practice a lighter grip, it will be easier on your hands and your pens!

      1. I learned the hard way with all the cramping my hand used to do throughout high school and some of college. I partly blame the high school bit on trying so hard to have “perfect” handwriting. It took discovering 0.38 tipped pens and that a Pilot Precise wrote better with little pressure to change how I write. Still feel I grip my pen too tightly some days, but nothing like I’m trying to press through carbon copy pages!

  2. I recently got a 36 pack of the Triplus Fineliner for 15CAD at the Calgary Airport of all places. They’re really popping up all over these days!

  3. Grace, I really think you should learn to use less pressure… I managed to really mess up my hand during high school when I was first starting out with Prismacolors. I have lightened up significantly on the pressure over the years (and moved on to digital art, which probably saved my hand…) but the pain still comes back every now and then. Bad habits are easier to fix than health problems.

  4. On the Sharpie front, have you tried the stainless steel refillable version. It comes in fine point. Have a medium point one and its held well.

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