Ultimate Bullet Journal Pen Smudge Test
I was excitedly telling Nikki how much I loved the new gel pen I’d bought to use in my journal, and she asked how it held up against a highlighter. I did a quick test, sent a pic and voila! The idea for this blog post was born. We’ve both recently switched up our “go to” pen thanks to some new arrivals at Nikki’s Supply Store, so this seemed like the perfect time to put them to the test. I know smudging is a big problem for left handed folks, so keep reading if you'd like to know the best pens for left handed bullet journalers...
The pens I’ll be testing in this blog post are:
- Zebra Sarasa Clip
- Pentel Energel
- Gelly Roll in #444
- Sakura Pigma Micron 05
- Sakura Pigma Graphic 1
- Pentel Ultra Fine
- Bic Ballpoint
The Smudge Test
I started with a smudge test as nothing ruins a beautiful bullet spread faster than smeared ink. I smudged each pen with my finger immediately after writing, then after five and 10 seconds. The standout performers in this category were the Zebra Sarasa, Pentel Energel and Pentel Ultra Fine, which didn’t budge one bit, even immediately after writing! I was particularly impressed with the Energel, as these feel so smooth and juicy to write with.
The Highlighter Test
Next, I tested each pen over a Stabilo Boss highlighter. I allowed the highlighter to dry for a few seconds before writing over it with a black pen. These all came out beautifully, with no feathering from any of our seven pen contestants. I love using this method of writing over highlighter, marker or paint pens for titles and headings.
Lastly, I highlighted over each pen. I used the following:
I highlighted after five seconds with the Mildliner and Kirarich, and after a minute with the Stabilo Boss. The observant among you may notice that these tests vary slightly from those I showed in my Instagram reel. I originally tested three different highlighters, and used them over the pen immediately, then after five seconds, but I didn’t clean the highlighter between each test and it all got a bit messy and confusing. The different highlighters reacted much the same, so I decided to simplify things.
This was a surprisingly close call, but the winner was the Bic Ballpoint, closely followed by the Pentel Energel. I was pleasantly surprised to see that even the Gelly Roll was highlightable after a minute. Do remember to test individual pen and highlighter combos on a piece of scrap paper before you use these in your journal!
I also scanned the results as this shows the smudges more clearly
As a side note, I was really impressed with the Kirarich highlighter! I must confess I usually find glittery pens a bit underwhelming, but this is incredibly sparkly and has a lovely rich pigment.
Under the Spotlight
Let’s take a closer look at each of the pens in today’s test…
Whenever I see pen recommendation posts in bullet journal and stationery Facebook groups, Zebra Sarasa and Pentel Energel are the two names that seem to crop up most often.
The Zebra Sarasa has an interesting feature I’ve never seen before: a spring-loaded clip which means you can’t snap it off through idle fiddling. Genius! It also features a rubberised grip, and a transparent barrel so you can see when your ink is running low. It’s smooth, yet smudge resistant.
Please note that I tested the 0.5 as I already had one, but Nikki’s Supply Store stocks the 0.7.
The Pentel Energel is available in three versions:
- The Energel X features a rubber grip, transparent plastic barrel and is made from 84% recycled materials
- The Energel XM features a rubber grip, plastic barrel with metallic accents and is made of 54% recycled materials
- The Energel Sterling features a grooved grip for improved control, and a premium metal barrel
All versions are 0.7 so I didn’t include them separately in the test. I cannot overstate how much I LOVE THESE PENS! They have the smoothest, glossiest ink, which dries incredibly quickly. They’re really comfortable to use, and they make my handwriting look so much better. I love that they’ve used recycled materials, and they’re refillable too! Bravo, Pentel! My personal favourite is the Sterling as I love a weighty pen, but I’d probably use the X or XM for long-form journaling due to the padded grip.
I’m a big fan of a Gelly Roll, but sadly, this isn’t where they shine. Although they write very smoothly, this was definitely the least smudge-resistant pen that I tested and not best placed as an “every day” pen. I prefer to use mine for titles, doodles, decoration, and writing on coloured paper. If you’d like to see some Gelly Roll inspiration, please check out my blog post about blackout journaling.
These are an absolute staple for many bullet journal users, and it’s easy to see why! The 05 performed well in the finger smudge test, although it did need a little longer to dry before highlighting. Microns are my go-to for bullet journal spread layouts and drawing, and I love the huge range of thicknesses. I used to write everything in my bullet journal with them, but prefer the smoothness and speed of a gel pen these days.
This was a little different to what I was expecting from the name, and would actually be better for titles and layouts than everyday writing. It was smudge-resistant after five seconds, although as with the Micron, needed to dry a little more before highlighting.
I’ve used exclusively Pigma Micron fineliners since I started journaling and sketching so it was nice to branch out and try another brand. I was really impressed with it, and the nib felt slightly rounder and smoother than a Micron. It comes in four colours, and the super fine nib is great for detailed illustrations. I think I’ll try adding some colour to my botanical drawings. Apparently, this blog post has turned me into a Pentel super fan!
Ah, the humble biro. This was definitely the most resistant to highlighter smudging. There’s something very pleasing about the classic retro Bic design, in a fun modern metallic case. Perfect for matching your Archer & Olive journal!
…and the winner is…
In case you couldn’t tell from my shameless gushing, my absolute favourite has to be the Pentel Energel Sterling. So deep is my love, that I included it in a recent photoshoot I did for my new business…
I hope this has been helpful, whether you’re new to journaling, looking for a new “go to” journal pen, or just wanted to geek out about pens with me. You can see more journaling and creative content from me on Instagram, and see more stationery at @nikkissupplystore.