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Stylus Pens and Digital Pens

I know. We love paper too. For so many things, nothing really beats paper and pen or pencil. Sometimes, though, digital does have its advantages. We have to admit it. We’re an online shop, after all, so we wouldn’t get very far without computers and other digital devices.

And we love art of all sorts, which can include some beautiful digital work.

Troika Construction PenSometimes, though, these things can come together, with digital pens or styluses (stylii? We’re never sure…) making for more expressive input to your electronic thingies.

Before you dive in, make sure you check you’re getting the right type - see the section on types of digital pens below, or you could end up with something that doesn’t work with your device.

Why Use a Digital Pen?

These things all work with your fingers anyway, so why use a digital pen at all? Well, you certainly don’t have to, and if your finger is fine for you, you already have all the digital digits you need, right there at the end of your arms.

But a pen can feel more natural for writing, and can be much more powerful for drawing. You can paint with fingers too, but most artists move on to using brushes at some point, usually at a pretty young age!

Beyond the better feel, some digital pens, like the Apple Pencil and Wacom styluses, add more expression through pressure sensitivity and angles. They can give thicker strokes as you apply pressure, or change how the line is drawn when you change the angle. But they require the device you’re using to have special support for them.

Most iPads support one of the models of Apple Pencil, you’ll just need to check which. Some Android tablets can use Wacom EMR digital pens, and there are some compatible pens now from actual pen makers, so your digital pen can be just as nice to use as your ‘real’ pen.

Types of Digital Pen and Stylus

Lamy AL-star digital penNot all of these pens are alike, and which will work depends on what you want to use it with.

  • Plastic Pokers. Years ago, touch screens just detected where they were being poked by something. Anything. Back then, anything could really work as a stylus as long as it was pointy enough to register with the screen, and preferably not pointy enough to damage it. A stylus was just a conical plastic tip, rounded off a bit at the end. This type of touch screen is rare these days, but still found on some old devices.
  • Capacitive touch screens. These are the type used on almost all phones and tablets now. They don’t work with a simple bit of plastic, as they need something with similar capacitance to a finger. Special gloves can work with them. At a push, you can usually use a frozen sausage, though it’s not the most practical stylus. Most pens with this sort of tip use a rubber dome on the opposite end to the pen tip. They usually know how many fingers you’re using and where, but they don’t know how hard you’re pressing, or what angle your finger is at.
  • Wacom EMR. The type used in traditional graphics tablets, most commonly made by Wacom. They need a special pen to work, and are often used by artists making digital art. Some modern tablets have the same technology built in to their screen. These will still work with fingers, and any stylus that works with a capacitive touch screen, but an EMR stylus will usually be much better.
  • Apple Pencil. If you have an iPad that supports the Apple Pencil (along with your finger, of course), it will work with a stylus made for capacitive touch screens, but they won’t do the extra stuff the Pencil can do. One might still be useful to you, but if you’re going to use a stylus a lot, especially for drawing, the Apple Pencil is what you want.

What to Call Them?

We ran into this question while writing this post - are they digital pens? Stylus pens? Smart Pens? Different people at Cult Pens were calling them different things. So we turned to Wikipedia for the answer.

  • Stylus Pen - any pen used to write on a screen. Includes most pens from the other categories.
  • Digital Pen - includes capacitive touch screen pens, and the more advanced types like EMR pens and the Apple Pencil. Also includes Smart Pens that write on paper, digitising what you write or draw to upload to a digital device afterwards.
  • Smart Pen - as above, but could also include any type of pen with special electronic features, like voice recording to do things like recording a lecture while you take notes on it.

A Few Recommendations

Platinum Pen Cap Touch StylusCapacitive Touch Screen Pens

There are lots to choose from, including some very nice tool pens from Troika and Monteverde, which give you a few extra useful features too. Special mention for the little Pen Cap Touch Stylus from Platinum. It’s like a little fabric sock that fits over the end of a pen or pencil, turning it into a capacitive stylus - perfect if you don’t need a stylus very often, as it takes up almost no space at all in a pencil case or bag, but it’s still there when you need it.

Staedtler Noris StylusWacom EMR Stylus Pens

There aren’t as many of these, but the ones there are, are really nice. There’s the Lamy AL-star EMR, which gives you a stylus in the same body as one of the most popular pen ranges around. It’s even available with a choice of different tips - one for use directly on glass, and a firmer one to avoid wear if you use a textured screen protector. And if you prefer pencil? Staedtler have made the classic black and yellow Noris pencil as an EMR stylus! And now Kaweco have joined in, with the popular and pocketable AL-sport now available as an EMR stylus pen too.

Kaweco AL-sport EMR digital pen

Apple Pencil

If you have an iPad and you want a flexible stylus, you’re going to have to go for the Apple Pencil. We don’t sell those, so we can’t help you with that, but you already know where to go.

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