Fineliners marry the visual impact and performance of ink with the convenience and predictability of a needle-point pen. Unlike metal-tipped technical pens or traditional brushes and dip pens, fineliners take no special care to use. This makes them accessible for beginners and everyday writers while allowing experienced artists to work distraction-free. This guide focuses on artist-quality pens but includes some more fun, affordable selections too. Read on to see how to choose a fineliner as well as our recommendations for various art and writing applications.
Read our Sakura Pigma Guide to learn more about the Micron and other pens that use Sakura Pigma ink.
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If you want to make sure your work lasts for years to come, choose fineliners that are waterproof to protect against spills, light- or fade-resistant to guard against exposure to sunlight, and acid-free or pH-neutral to prevent them from reacting with paper. Pair them with archival-quality paper for best results.
Several fineliners use an unintuitive naming scheme inherited from technical pens. The numbers on these pens, such as 0.03 or 0.8, express their relative tip size. They do not correspond to a millimeter measurement. A pen with the number 0.03 has a tip size similar to 0.15 mm, while a pen numbered as 0.8 is similar to a 0.5 mm tip size. You can check the millimeter tip size of each of these pens on their respective product pages on our website.
Sketching with ink prevents artists from erasing stray lines or changing their minds about a composition as they work. This encourages them to accept mistakes and keep drawing, resulting in naturally flowing lines and lively drawings unhindered by perfectionism. Thin or light-colored pens are best for initial sketches while darker or thicker pens are good for finishing touches.
Fineliners for illustration should be richly colored or deep black for drawing vibrant linework. Look for water- and Copic-safe options to make sure you can color your artwork with any media.
Professional-quality fineliners are perfect for all aspects of comic art: their rich black ink provides crisp and clear lines, the variety of sizes allows for both delicate details and powerful outlines, and the consistent widths are ideal for panel borders and lettering. Original comic pages can become valuable collectibles when made with archival ink.
Although they were originally intended for art, fineliners also work well for writing. People who struggle with smudging or need to write in tight quarters especially appreciate their tiny tip options and fast-drying ink.
Fineliners are a popular choice for journaling. Their needle points pair well with rulers for drawing layouts and their reliable tip sizes lend themselves to tidy entries. Pens that come in many different hues allow you to color-code entries and embellish them with cheerful doodles. For maximum color-coding compatibility, we tested these selections with Stablio Boss highlighters.
A fineliner tip can easily fit into minute planner squares. Whether you’re jotting down to-dos, emphasizing events, or adding decorative details, these colorful choices are sure to help.
Uni EMOTT sign pens don’t react with Copics, but will smear faintly under water and highlighters.
Our last option for planners is the Pilot FriXion Fineliner Pen, which “erases” with the heat of friction, making it easy to rearrange your schedule. However, FriXion ink is less vivid than that of our other selections, and they’re the opposite of archival quality.
A good fineliner for note-taking should be portable, easy to write with, hard to break, and well suited to color-coding. As a plus, these picks are also affordable if you misplace them trundling between the classroom and the desk. Like our journaling picks, we tested these selections under a Stabilo Boss highlighter.
These pens can write on ordinary paper as well as cloth and glossy surfaces like photographs and posters. Read our guides to Picking a Pen with the Right Ink, Permanent Inks, and The Best Pens for Food Labels for an expanded range of options.
For a budget option available in a dazzling range of colors, pick up some Sharpie Ultra Fine Permanent Markers, though we caution that their ink may not be the most opaque on smooth surfaces.
We tested all of our fineliners for drying time, bleedthrough, water resistance, Copic resistance, and lifting resistance. For the water and Copic resistance tests, we allowed the ink to dry for 24 hours before drawing over it with a water brush and Copic Marker. We tested lifting resistance by erasing a dry swatch with a Sakura Foam Eraser. We performed all of the tests on both Rhodia and Deleter Comic Paper.
Do you want to review all of our recommended fineliners at once? Use our comparison tool to see their specifications side by side.
Our writers draw on their personal expertise, consult our in-house subject matter experts, and do extensive research to make our guides as accurate and comprehensive as possible. We then test every finding that makes it through the research stage. Only the techniques and tools whose performance we personally confirm make it into our guides as recommendations.
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Fineliners’ precision, portability, and ease of use have made them indispensable tools for art and writing. What are your favorite fineliners? Let us know in the comments below!