Bullet Journaling 101: Choosing Your Pens
Bullet journaling can be an amazing and fulfilling hobby, and an important part of the experience is making sure you have the right materials for yourself. There are many different ways to journal, and plenty of wonderful ephemera you can use, but at its core, journaling requires just two things – a journal, and a writing tool. In this series, we’ve already covered how to choose the perfect journal to suit your style, so now we’re going to cover how to choose your pens. Of course, pencils are also a perfectly valid writing implement to use, but this particular article will focus on how to best navigate the many different pens on the market.
One of the most popular sub-groups of pens when it comes to journaling is fineliners. These are pens with a thin nib and steady ink flow, typically between 0.3 and 0.7mm, although this can vary depending on the brand. You can get fineliners that are solely available in black, some that come in a limited range of colours, and there are even some fineliner brands with over 100 colours available. When choosing your fineliners, it’s important to consider what you’ll be using them for, as this will determine what thickness to go for, as well as what kind of colour range you should be looking at.
A pretty standard nib size to go for is a 0.4mm, as this is thick enough to draw the eye’s attention, without being so thick that your letters become illegible when written in a small size. However, if you’re using fineliners for detailing then you might like to experiment with thinner or thicker nibs.
Thin nibs (0.1 – 0.3mm) can be good for fine details on drawings, ones that you don’t want to draw too much attention to, but that you want to be visible to make the piece look better overall. Thin nibs are also useful for small lettering where you’re trying to fit a lot of words into a tiny space.
Meanwhile, thicker nibs (0.5-0.7mm) are useful if you want to make particular lines on your drawing really pop on the page. They will draw the eye, and help build perspective. They’re also useful if you want to write slightly larger words, but you’re not planning on doing any fancy hand-lettering. Fineliners will create solid lines with a consistent thickness, so they’re nice and simple in that regard. You’re unlikely to find fineliner nibs thicker than 0.7mm, as after that, most companies will move to a brush nib.
Fineliners come in a range of colours, and which range is right for you will depend on your personal style. Some people may prefer to only work in black. If you’re one of those people, try to look for sets with multiple nib thicknesses. Some great options would be Faber Castell Pitt, Copic Multiliner, or Sakura Pigma Micron. Those are well-known and trusted brands in the stationery industry, and will serve you well in terms of quality. You’ll also be able to get a range of nib sizes, so you can be prepared for whatever purpose you have for your new fineliners.
However, if you prefer colourful spreads, then it may be worth getting some coloured fineliners for outlining and detailing, as well as for writing. A good set to look for would be a rainbow set with primary and secondary colours, as well as black and brown. You may also want a set that includes both a light green and a dark green, or a light blue and a dark blue. You should be able to find several variations on rainbow sets depending on which brand you go for, and so you can choose the colour range that most appeals to your personal aesthetic. Stabilo is a popular brand for colourful fineliners, as it’s a great compromise between high quality and value for money. Arteza also offer an incredibly wide range of colours, so if you’re planning for fineliners to be your main stationery supply, then it may be worth looking into a large colour range.
Hand Lettering Pens
Whilst fineliners are useful for a multitude of journaling styles, when it comes to specialised hand lettering, you’ll want to choose something that’s designed for that purpose. Hand lettering is where you write in a stylised font to make your words convey different characteristics or emotions. If you want to do your letters justice, you’ll need to pick pens that are designed to be able to create both thin and thick lines in the same stroke. There are a few different options for this.
A lot of hand lettering pens will have a brush nib. This allows you to control the ink flow based on how hard or soft you press, and will create a smooth, flowing effect. Some brush nibs are firmer whilst others are softer, so you may wish to experiment with a couple of different brands before you commit to which one suits you the best. A popular brush nib pen for hand lettering is the Tombow Fudenosuke, which is both reasonably priced, and easy to use. Some pens will be specifically designed for calligraphy, which is a subset of hand lettering. These pens are likely to have a thick side and a thin side, so your line will change depending on the angle that you write at.
You can also get calligraphy dip pens, which are designed to be used with ink. These are often more expensive and trickier to use, but can create stunning effects when you get the hang of them. These can be convenient as you can use the same pen with multiple inks, including particularly fancy inks such as metallic or gold-flecked ones. You also don’t have to throw out a pen when it runs out of ink like you would with normal brush nib pens, as you just replace the ink rather than the pen itself.
Just like with fineliners, you can choose a hand lettering pen that’s only available in black, or you can get a range of colours. Hand lettering will mostly be used for titles, so unless you’re planning on doing only monochrome spreads for your entire journal, it’s probably useful to have at least a few different colours of hand lettering pens available. You may like to get metallic colours such as gold or silver, as these will go with pretty much any colour palette you choose for a monthly theme.
Depending on your journaling style, there are many other writing tools that you could use. Paint pens have been increasing in popularity, and these almost certainly won’t ghost if you’re using paper that’s at least 160gsm. Paint pens can create solid, opaque, matt colours that look really elegant and powerful. They’re useful for bold titles, or for creating doodles to go along with your monthly theme. If you’re feeling particularly confident, you could forgo the pen entirely, and use watercolour or acrylic paints. Watercolour is likely to cause a slight ripple in your paper due to the wetness, so may be best avoided if you’re a perfectionist and want your paper remaining perfectly smooth. However, acrylic paints should be fine in a 160gsm journal as long as you use a thin layer. It’s unwise to use heavier paints than acrylic, such as oil paints, as these may compromise the integrity of the paper.
You may also like to get some felt tips, for colouring in any pictures you draw with your fineliners. Felt tips usually aren’t very good for writing as the letters may blur or get smudged, but they can be very convenient for adding colour to larger areas. Crayola Super Tips are commonly used by bullet journal fans, as they’re incredibly cheap, and great value for money. However, be aware that they will ghost and possibly even bleed on thinner papers, as the ink in them is quite heavy. If you’re looking to colour in pictures, an alternative to felt tips is a brush pen. These tend to have lighter ink, and may be less likely to ghost. However, they’re often activated by water, so if you were planning on using them like watercolours, then be aware that it may cause the paper to ripple. Tombow Dual Brush Pen is the most popular brand of brush pens, as it has a felt tip at the other end making it the best of both worlds, and also they come in a wide range of colours.
Gel pens are also a potential option. These pretty much offer the same opportunities as fineliners, however the ink is smoother due to being gel, and so you may prefer the feeling of using them. Do bear in mind though, that gel pens take longer to try, and so may be prone to smudging. They also tend to be more expensive than fineliners, and have fewer colours. Gel pens do have more vibrant colours though, as often there’s at least a little bit of a metallic edge to the hue, which can make them really stand out on the page.
Whichever writing tools you decide to go for, make sure you choose the one that’s right for you and your style. One of the most special things about bullet journaling is that you can customise the experience to your own tastes, and so you should find pens that unleash your own creativity and freedom of expression.