Choosing (and Using) a Stylus with SketchBook

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Is the new MacBook Pro with its curious Touch Bar a gimmick or an innovation? Only time will tell, but it seems to point to an important trend: Hardware is increasingly being designed to work in tandem with software. There’s no better example of this than the success of the stylus in the last few years. Besides being an essential tool for artists, the stylus is also suddenly a hot accessory.  Even casual note takers are interested in getting a stylus to make their daily lives more productive. You can be sure the people who make styli (in case you were wondering, yes, that is the plural form) are rushing to serve both artists and casual-minded note takers. We hope this guide will help you in choosing a stylus that suites your needs.

Our Latest Stylus: Bamboo Fineline

We like to try any and every stylus we can, so when the new Wacom Bamboo FineLine arrived at the SketchBook office this week, we unboxed it lovingly and curled up with a latte and the product manual on the office sofa. Okay, not really. We ripped open the box, tossed the cardboard shreds across the room, paired it with SketchBook, and started drawing. We’ve got a lot of experience with these things; we like to get right to it. And we loved what we saw. If you’ve never used a stylus before, we made a quick video to show you how to pair your stylus with SketchBook:

Choosing a Stylus, Like, this Week

If you’ve never purchased a stylus before, Black Friday is the best time to do it. You’ve never had so many options to choose from, and you’ll probably see some amazing deals. Here are a few things to look for if you’re ready to purchase your first stylus:

  • Pressure sensitivity: This is a must-have for artists. You’ll surely find a capacitive stylus for super cheap, but those aren’t pressure sensitive. They’re just like using a cleaner, finer-tipped version of your greasy, fat fingers. If you want to replicate the real-world drawing or doodling experience, you’ll want to opt for a Bluetooth-enabled, pressure sensitive stylus. And if you’re using SketchBook, be aware that some brushes are made to be pressure sensitive and some are deliberately not.
  • Buttons (if you want them): When we’re at an event and hand over a stylus to someone who has never drawn digitally before, they often ask, “What do these buttons do?” Well, just about anything you want them to do! We’re fans of programmable buttons on a stylus because they let us hit the Undo button a zillion times without ever lifting a finger. If you don’t like buttons on your stylus, don’t get them. But to us, they’re essential.
  • Our nibs tip: Rubber nibs can work for note taking, but they’re not made for detail work. For artists, we strongly recommend harder nibs over softer nibs.
  • Hand feel: If you buy a stylus online you don’t have the ability to try it out first. The best thing you can do is compare your current drawing pencils and markers and pens you already use and make your best judgment about the radius of the stylus you need. One thing to note when choosing a stylus: If you have RSI (repetitive strain injury) or carpal tunnel issues, thicker is probably better. Some companies sell accessory kits with multiple slip-on grips to help people adapt a stylus to their hand or drawing styles. But, the truth is you may be flying blind on “feel” if you can’t try one out in person.
  • Does it come with a case? Do you care? A stylus is kind of like a pair of glasses. Or a shiny new iPhone. Getting a case to store them in is probably a good idea if you want them to last a long time. Me? I hate iPhone cases. I live dangerously. But, ahem, I also have to buy new sunglasses every few months because they get horribly scratched up. One creative solution for your stylus: a good, old-fashioned pencil case (see below).
  • Palm rejection: Read the verbiage on the websites when you do your shopping and pay attention to how they describe “palm rejection.” Apps like SketchBook support palm rejection, so it’s best if your stylus does, too.
  • Sadly, these aren’t important: There are a few things I wish mattered but either don’t (or can’t) matter because of the limitations of the form factor: The Apple Pencil plugs directly into the iPad to charge, which is very cool, but most styli use a USB adapter with a cable — which is better than a replaceable battery so, like, just deal with it, okay? Also, no one has created a “find my stylus” option to track down your lost stylus. Maybe someday. What about shirt clips? Not many styi have shirt clips built into their sides, and I prefer those that do. However, I asked my female colleagues if they like styli with shirt clips, and one remarked, “What for? Women don’t have pockets.” Touché.
seasonal gourd drawing
A seasonal gourd sketch we made to try out the Bamboo Fineline, complete with pumpkin spice latte.

You Might Need More Than One

In our experience, artists can be very particular about their stylus choice. And they should be. If you’re making the leap to digital drawing, you should have the tools to help you succeed so do your homework and find the one that works best for you. If it means you end up spending more money than you want until you find the *perfect* stylus for you… well, it’s probably worth it in the long run. And, you may find — as we do — that having a pencil case full of options turns into its own treasured collection down the road. Good luck choosing a stylus this week!

Just a few of the many styli we’ve held on to over the years that sit inside a Pusheen the Cat plush pencil case.