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Guide to felt tip pens and markers

Guide to felt tip pens and markers

Choosing the best pen for writing, calligraphy, and other projects can be a surprisingly daunting task. There are so many categories to choose from, and they all feature specific benefits, best uses, and drawbacks.

The good news is that a little education can go a long way in helping you choose the best writing implement for your next project. In that spirit, we've put together a guide to felt tip pens and markers to help you better understand how these tools work and how to put them to their best use.

Guide to felt tip pens and markers

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Characteristics of Felt Tip Pens and Markers

Felt tip pens and markers typically possess several distinguishing characteristics:

Tip material

Felt tip pens and markers generally feature one of two different types of tips.

  • One option is a thin, firm, plastic nib encased in metal. These tips tend to write smoothly and evenly.
  • The other standard option is a softer, conical nib that allows for writing or drawing with both the tip and the side of the nib.

Tip size

Just as with other pens and pencils, felt tip pens and markers are available in a variety of tip sizes. There is no standard definition for these sizes; one brand may offer various sizes that don't necessarily correlate to the same sizes produced by another brand. For the most part, brands offer some variation on the categories of fine, medium, and broad tips.


Felt tip pens and markers may feature a variety of ink types. For example, some inks are permanent while others are more likely to smudge or fade over time. Some are acid-free while others are not. And some inks are water-based, while others are oil- or alcohol-based. The right ink for you depends on your personal needs and preferences.

Water resistance

Some felt tip pens and markers are not resistant to water, which means they're likely to smear if they come in contact with liquid. (The good news is that inks with low water resistance are less likely to stain clothing or textiles.) As a general rule, oil- and alcohol-based inks are more water-resistant while water-based inks are less water-resistant. If you're working with mixed media that involves water, it's a good idea to plan your project accordingly.


Bleeding can be an issue when you work with felt tip markers or pens. It's important to read the label carefully prior to working with a new product to get a sense of whether or not it will bleed through the paper. In general, water-based options are less likely to bleed than alcohol-based options.


Another common issue with felt tip pens and markers is feathering, which happens when excess ink flows out of the marker or pen and leaves extraneous marks around your letters or drawings. Different pens or markers are more prone to feathering. Research, and trial and error, can help you find options with the least amount of feathering.

Best Uses for Felt Tip Pens and Markers

Felt tip pens and markers feature several distinct benefits—but they're not without their drawbacks. Here's a brief look at how you can expect these writing implements to perform.

Coloring and drawing

Felt tip pens and markers are beloved among coloring and drawing aficionados for several reasons.

  • They come in a variety of colors, ink types, and tip sizes which makes them highly versatile.
  • The felt tip helps the ink flow freely, which can produce smooth, even lines.
  • The colors are highly saturated, which can create bold, bright art projects.
  • Broad-tipped pens or markers are especially useful for shading.

There are a few downsides to using felt tip pens or markers in your coloring projects.

  • It can be difficult to use markers with precision (especially broad-tipped options).
  • Ink is a relatively permanent medium, which means it's difficult to correct mistakes.
  • Fine-tipped pens or markers may not work well for shading projects because they don't have enough surface area to support shading.
  • It can be difficult to blend or layer different colors together.
  • Once ink dries, the color may appear lighter than it did when the pen or marker was first used. This can make it challenging to dial in on the exact color that you want.
  • As noted above, felt tip pens and markers often bleed through paper. This isn't necessarily an issue, but something to be aware of.


Felt tip pens and markers are great for creating labels. That's partly because they come in a wide range of colors which makes it easy to color-code files and create bold labels.

Use fine-tipped options for writing in smaller spaces or opt for a broad-tipped implement if you want to create larger, more artful letters. Oil- or alcohol-based options tend to work best when labeling a variety of media (such as glass, metal, and/or paper); they're also more likely to be permanent and produce smudge-free labels that last.

Just remember: Felt tip pens and markers can be prone to bleeding, so take that into consideration before you put pen to paper (or any surface).


Fine-tipped pens or markers work especially well for notetaking. Using these implements in a variety of colors makes it easy to color-code notes. Meanwhile, the felt tip helps the pens glide over the paper, making for quick writing. It's a good idea to look for a brand that features a comfortable grip, since notetaking can sometimes be tough on the hands.

Three notes of caution:

  • Left-handed folks may find that felt tip pens and markers smudge too easily for effective notetaking. If you're left-handed, consider oil- or alcohol-based pens or other options that advertise quick-drying ink.
  • If you prefer to take double-sided notes, look for options with minimal bleed.
  • Broad-tipped pens or markers may not work as well for notetaking because feathering is more likely when you try to write small with a broad tip. This is especially true for people with tighter handwriting.

As you can see, felt tip pens and markers can serve a variety of uses. If you want to take notes during meetings, spruce up your labeling system, or add bold lines and colors to your art projects, these writing implements have you covered.

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Laura Newcomer is a writer, editor, and educator with multiple years of experience working in the environmental and personal wellness space. Formerly Senior Editor at the health site Greatist, Laura now lives and works in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been published on Washington Post, TIME Healthland, Greatist, DailyBurn, Lifehacker, and Business Insider, among others. She has taught environmental education to students of all ages in both Pennsylvania and Maine, and prioritizes living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle. She's a big proponent of creating self-sustaining communities and accessible healthy food systems that care for both people and the earth. An avid outdoorswoman, she can often be found hiking, kayaking, backpacking, and tending to her garden.

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