With there being different types of stylus pens and technology involved, it can get a bit overwhelming to make a proper buying decision for your artistic ventures.
Worry not, for I am here with my personally curated ultimate list of the best stylus pen you can get for your drawing needs as of 2023.
The best EMR-based active stylus pen you can buy is the Wacom Pro Pen 2. The best AES-based active stylus pen is Apple Pencil 2nd Gen, Microsoft Surface Slim Pen, Adonit Dash 3, and Penoval USI Stylus 3. The best passive stylus is the MEKO 2nd Gen Universal Disc stylus pen.
Important Specifications Regarding Stylus
Before we get deep into my ultimate list, there are some important specifications that I feel you should know before you buy a stylus pen.
These can significantly impact your buying decisions based on the utility you want out of your stylus.
There are two types of stylus pens currently on the market as of 2023, depending on how much information they relay across to your preferred digital drawing canvas:
Passive Stylus Pen
These are pens that don't use any electronic components to relay touch feedback to your screen.
They are mainly meant to emulate your fingers on a screen, and hence not very suited for drawing in my humble opinion.
Nintendo 3DS stylus pens and Samsung Galaxy S-Pens(pre-2018) are great examples of popular passive stylus pens.
Active Stylus Pen
These pens utilize electronic components such as pressure sensors and digitizing tips to relay touch feedback to your screen.
They are meant to emulate a pen or pencil, and hence are perfect for precise drawing on screens
Apple Pencil, Microsoft Surface Pen, and Samsung Galaxy S-Pens (post-2018) are fantastic examples of popular active stylus pens.
Active vs Passive Stylus Pens
Since the two types of stylus pens are radically different, I have made this comprehensive chart that further differentiates between the two main types:
|Features||Active Stylus||Passive Stylus|
|Power Source||Incorporates a battery to power up the electronic components||Has no electronic components to power up and hence doesn't require a power source|
|Technology||Digitizing sensors on the nibs to communicate with the display||Electrostatic conduction, just like fingers on the touchscreen|
|Forms of communication with the device||Can communicate with direct touchscreen contact, as well as relay inbuilt sensors information via Bluetooth for better touch response and features||Only by direct contact via a touchscreen|
|Size of Nibs/Tips||Small and pointed for more precise and accurate strokes||Larger and rounded to conduct the charge for touch input.|
|Compatibility||Compatible only with select products the stylus is certified to be compatible with||Compatible across a wide range of touchscreen-enabled products, irrespective of their screen technology or operating system|
|Touch sensitivity||Can be incorporated, provided the pen has required sensors inbuilt||No sensitivity manipulation|
|Use cases||Digital art, handwritten work on a touchscreen||Daily use; a replacement for grubby finger input|
|Maintenance||Needs to be charged according to a specified power rating. Susceptible to damage via dust and water. Tips need to be replaced when worn out.||Only tips need to be replaced when worn out.|
|Life cycle||Can last only as long as the battery capacity lasts||Can last for a very long time|
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Active stylus pens are more suited for drawing due to their pointy tips, but passive styli do have some options that can make them a potential candidate for drawing too.
In general, I would recommend sticking to the active stylus pens market, but if you are on a tight budget there are some great options for passives that I have included on the list.
Check out our article on Active vs Passive stylus to better understand the differences between the two.
Best Stylus for Drawing
Do note that I have carefully curated this list based on the products I could find from a genuine marketplace, and the market I chose was Amazon.
For the sake of fairness, I have duly categorized my list based on the operating systems they work across.
I will also provide a separate category for a passive stylus option in case you are in the market with a tight budget for a stylus that can get some basic art done.
The Wacom Pro Pen 2 is one of the best EMR-based stylus pens you can buy for your artistic cravings.
It has a whopping 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity, which is double that is offered by the AES options that help in a very smooth and accurate drawing experience.
It is also compatible with almost all of Wacom's currently popular digitizer pen displays.
At $80, it is a premium yet worthy investment for the digital artist in you.
A cheaper alternative to this would be the Wacom LP1100K 4K Pen.
Apple Pencils are state-of-the-art iPad stylus pens you can buy for your money. It has a suite of features and support with the Apple Ecosystem that makes it worthwhile.
It is a fantastic product that has a great design, natural in-hand feel, quality pressure sensing, tip tilting, and palm-rejection support.
It also has a magnetic wireless charging implementation that attaches magnetically to the side of your supported iPad to charge conveniently.
The one downside is that the 2nd gen Apple Pencil is only supported across select newer iPad models. For older models, you have to get the 1st gen.
But pushing aside the restrictive compatibility list, I would personally go as far as to say this is the best AES-based stylus in the market right now.
The Apple Pencil is also priced as premium as its other products.
A cheaper alternative to this would be the Adonit Pixel.
The Surface Slim Pen is Microsoft's flagship stylus pen that you can get for your Windows Laptop.
It incorporates the Microsoft Pen Protocol (MPP), making it compatible with a wide range of products that support the technology.
It has a great 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity, with tip tilting and palm-rejection support
It charges via magnets on the latest supported surface products and is rated to last a whole week on a full charge. It can also be charged via USB C.
At $114, it is a very expensive option for even a surface laptop owner. But in my opinion, it works seamlessly on windows and is hence my best pick.
An alternative to this would be the Wacom Bamboo Ink.
Adonit is a fantastic brand that makes some quality stylus devices that had humble beginnings by first appearing as a Kickstarter project back in 2010.
It has a slim 8.5mm aluminum body with a very impressive 1.9mm Pixelpoint tip for your drawing ventures.
It also comes with a magnetic charging dock that can juice up the pen in just 45 minutes to provide 14 hours of continuous use.
There is a newer version available, the Dash 4. But I wouldn't recommend it as they implemented a feature for compatibility that made it worse to use on Android.
Unfortunately, this model is slowly being discontinued and hence costs a whopping $82 if you want to buy one, compared to the Dash 4's $60
But even for that price, I feel it is a great active stylus pens option for your android device.
An alternative to this would be the Staedtler Noris Digital Classic.
USI standard is a fantastic implementation across a multitude of devices and brands to make it universally compatible with each other.
Since Google partnered with USI, it has only been good news for the stylus users as there are a lot of quality products available with the USI certification.
The Penoval USI Stylus Pen is the most popular USI stylus pen that appeals to a wide range of Chromebook laptops across the market spectrum.
It has 4096 pressure sensitivity levels with tip-tilt and palm-rejection support that make it fantastic for drawing and sketching.
It also uses an AAAA battery to power up its components making sure it lasts for a very long time.
For $50, it is a great stylus option to consider for your Chromebook drawing ventures.
An alternative to this would be the vitalASC USI Stylus Pen.
There are many options for passive stylus pens, but none are more popular and well-received than MEKO-branded passive stylus pens.
The MEKO 2nd Gen Disc stylus pen is an eye-candy of product that has a solid and grippy aluminum body that comes with a rainbow of color options.
It has a disc-style tip, which basically is a plastic buffer disc surrounding the actual tip so that you can precisely map your strokes.
It even has multiple extra tips in the box, so you can swap out to a round tip in case you don't need all that precision.
Although it is hard to compete with the other active stylus pen options, for a passive stylus pen its accuracy and precision are quite revolutionary.
There is a newer and cheaper 3rd generation series of MEKO stylus pens, but I wouldn't recommend it as there are reports of it being a bit more flimsy than the 2nd generation.
It is priced very aggressively too, at just $17 for three units. The other variants are usually priced cheaper, but this is the most cost-effective in my opinion.
An alternative to this would be the Adonit Pro 4.
Popular Active Stylus Pen Protocols
There are some popular protocols by brands for maintaining a standard and compatibility amongst active stylus pens.
These protocols are a one-stop technology implementation for brands to make sure their stylus pens are compatible with the screens they are used on.
I will go through some of the more important and popular technologies used on active styli that are implemented on products on my ultimate list:
Microsoft Pen Protocol (MPP)
This is a standard of active stylus technology that Microsoft renamed and adopted when they bought the digitizer pen technology brand N-Trig.
This is the primary technology used on most Microsoft Surface devices, as well as other branded laptops for active stylus implementation on their touchscreen products
They use the Active ElectroStatic (AES) technology to input touch information directly on the screen without needing an extra proprietary digitizer.
Although they are mainly implemented for general daily use stylus pens, they typically do have the required specifications to get artwork done.
If you own a touchscreen laptop, like a Microsoft Surface device, you may have a hard time finding a stylus that works with the device. Take a look at Best styluses for touch screen laptops for more info.
Wacom Digitizer Technology
This is a standard of active stylus technology for digital artists developed by Wacom that is used by many windows laptop brands on their stylus options.
This standard makes sure that the active stylus pens that use this technology have several layers for sensitivity and most importantly a smooth drawing experience.
They are different from the technology they use on Wacom digitizers though, so your Wacom digitizer tech-enabled stylus may not work with their popular digitizers.
There are two types of Wacom Digitizer Technology :
- Wacom ElectroMagnetic Resonance (EMR) technology
This is a technology that has withstood the test of time pretty well, considering Wacom has been in the business for over 40 decades now.
The main principle of this tech is implemented by using a magnetic coil wound near the tip that bounces back the magnetic field emissions from a digitizer
This of course requires an external pen digitizer to be connected to your digital drawing station to register inputs.
Due to this implementation, it doesn't require a battery to register touch inputs.
- Wacom Active ElectroStatic (AES) technology
This is the newer generation digitizer pen technology implemented for direct competition with N-trig/Microsoft's MPP stylus implementation.
This technology used the capacitive touch panel for both the pen and the screen, thus cutting down the number of digitizers required on the pen from two to one.
This led to a slimmer and sleeker design, although the precision and smoothness of the pen do take a hit.
Wacom EMR is superior to Wacom AES when considering the precision and accuracy of touch information you can get on the screen.
But the aging Wacom EMR tech does suffer from edge drifting, parallax errors, and jittery cursors, unlike AES which uses the physical touchpoint as input location.
Wacom pens are known to have issues with connectivity and power, especially the Bamboo series, so do keep that in mind. Check out Wacom Bamboo ink stylus issues for more info.
Apple's Active Stylus Technology
In typical Apple fashion, Apple uses a proprietary AES technology for active stylus implementation on their Apple Pencil lineup.
Although Apple doesn't reveal too much about their involved technology, It is an Apple variant of AES tech implemented by N-Trig.
If it wasn't that obvious, this is the technology Apple uses on their Apple Pencil 1 and Apple Pencil 2. I have also written an article on Apple Pencil vs Stylus: Which is Worth Buying?
Universal Stylus Initiative (USI) Certified Stylus pens
This is a universal stylus implementation protocol set by the Universal Stylus Initiative for active stylus solutions across multiple platforms.
This is the main technology standard that is implemented by Google for their Chromebook line of devices.
Since this is meant to appeal to devices across multiple platforms, the feature set is also limited as of now, and drawing features are a bit basic.
But this is the primary active stylus pen technology used for Chromebooks and it still performs much better than the passive stylus counterparts.
Prerequisites and Precautions to Take Note
Now that you have made an informed decision on what type of stylus pen you want based on your needs, there are some prerequisites and precautions you need to take.
A very important thing to note is that not all styli are created equal. They typically are only meant to work with their own brand of device lineup.
This means that if you buy an Apple Pencil, it will only work with an iPad, and that is too restricted to specific generations and models of iPad.
It could be due to the technology improvements and newer patent implementations.
Each model might have screens that have different specifications, and a certified stylus leverages this technicality to design custom settings.
This is why standard protocols like Wacom AES exist for different devices that are compatible with respect to the technology it possesses.
So before you blindly buy a stylus pen from my ultimate list, make sure it is properly supported on your digital canvas.
There will be a severe lack of features when comparing the offerings between a stylus of the same brand as your digital canvas and a third-party solution.
This is primarily because of the deep touch they have with the product hardware in order to provide a seamless experience
The main USP of third-party stylus pens is that they are more cost-effective and cheap, compared to official solutions, and can emulate the necessary functions for most users.
Stylus tech has been going through some deep peaks and troughs since its inception but has garnered a significant user base during the process.
The future of stylus tech is pretty bright and it has proven with time that it is here to stay across all operating systems, no matter how proprietary the tech involved is
I hope my carefully curated ultimate list of the best styluses you can buy for your drawing needs has been a fruitful read and helped you make a proper purchasing decision.
For those of you who also would like to write and take notes on your device, these pens can also serve that very function. Only make sure to select the right app for writing and taking down notes.
Have a good day!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I Use a completely discharged Active Stylus as a Passive Stylus for drawing?
Active stylus pens don't have an electrostatic tip to conduct and provide touch input without its digitizing sensors having at least some charge
How Long Do Stylus Pens Last when used for drawing?
Stylus Pens last as long as their tips last. A general stylus pen nib or tip usually wears out after two or three years, depending on use.
Can a stylus pen scratch my screen while drawing?
Most good quality styli use a rubber or plastic tip which doesn't scratch the screen of most devices. Just be wary of any external material that might get caught at the tip.
Tiny bits of dust, sand or any abrasive material stuck on the tip can result in screen scratches.