Highlighters are indispensable tools for school and work. Like blazes on a trail, they mark important information and point us in the right direction. It can be hard to navigate the wide range of options, so we tested every highlighter pen we carry to guide you through the forest of neon. Keep reading to find out how to choose a highlighter, our test results, and recommendations for specific uses.
Watch the video above to see an overview of our highlighter recommendations.
- Top Choice
- Highlighter Pen Considerations
- Highlighter Pen Recommendations
- The Best Highlighter Pen for Bibles
- The Best Highlighter Pen for Books
- The Best Highlighter Pen for Textbooks
- The Best Highlighter Pen for Printouts
- The Best Highlighter Pen for Written Notes
- The Best Highlighter Pen for Color-coding
- The Best Highlighter Pen for Copying & Triplicate Paper
- The Best Highlighter Pen for Left-Handers
- The Best Dual Tip Highlighter Pen
- The Best Highlighter Pen for Making an Impression
- Highlighter Pen Test Results
- Compare These Highlighters
- How We Approach Research & Testing
- Other Resources
- Shop This Post
Most highlighters use liquid ink and function similarly to felt-tip pens or markers. Liquid highlighters have the widest selection of colors, tip features, and body designs. Varieties with broad tips or wet ink flow may bleed through paper.
Gel highlighters mark paper with a gel stick rather than ink. They are designed to be more resistant to smudging and bleedthrough, but are also less precise and may leave “crumbs” of gel on your paper. They are less likely to dry out if left uncapped.
Pencil highlighters are very bright colored pencils. They will not bleed through paper at all and need no drying time. They may take several strokes to highlight a full line of text and are often better suited to underlining. They are slightly more opaque over text than liquid or gel options.
Some highlighters interact with other writing meda and cause them to smear, even if the text is completely dry. As a general rule, gel pen ink, fountain pen ink, and inkjet printing are the most likely to react with highlighters.
Gel highlighters are often a better choice for fountain pen inks, but they also caused ballpoint ink to feather in our tests. Smearing depends on the formula of both the highlighter and the writing medium, as well as the paper you use, so it’s always best to test highlighters on your specific ink and paper before you highlight large portions of text. If you’re using a fountain pen, check out our fountain pen ink comparisons for resistance tests against representative gel and liquid highlighters.
Highlighters can come with several different tip styles. Most have a chisel tip that can cover a single line of text, but others have extra-broad tips or fine bullet tips.
Some manufacturers add unique features to their highlighters’ tips, like embedded windows that let you see the text as you highlight it or specially-shaped tips that can make multiple kinds of lines. Choose a highlighter that lets you be as precise or bold as you like to be.
Bleeding & Showthrough
Because they put down a lot of ink and use prominent colors, highlighters frequently show through paper. They may even soak through the page and leave marks on the other side. This is called bleeding. Inks in general are more likely to bleed on thin or highly absorbent paper. You can reduce showthrough and bleeding by choosing highlighters that deposit less ink or are specially formulated to not bleed.
Highlighters traditionally come in fluorescent yellow, but many come in a variety of colors to allow for color-coding. Some lines of highlighters offer dozens of hues! Or, if you love one color in particular, our highlighter samplers are a great way to explore your favorite color in depth.
Though all highlighters help emphasize text, they vary in just how emphatic they are about it. Some inks scream and some inks whisper. We’ve tested our selections so you can find soft and subtle colors, eye-searing neons, or something in the middle–it’s truly a matter of personal preference. We’ve also noted which highlighters abandon standard fluorescent inks for calmer hues.
Bible highlighters are hard to find and often fall short. The thin paper Bibles use is vulnerable to bleeding and virtually guarantees showthrough. We looked for highlighters that did not bleed through or wrinkle the paper, showed through as little as possible, and permitted precise highlighting of Bibles’ small font. Although all Bibles use thin paper, some are more delicate than others. It’s a good idea to test new highlighters in an inconspicuous spot to make sure that they work on your Bible’s specific paper.
Whether you’re a student or a lifelong learner, highlighting key points in books you read is a great way to improve your understanding and flag concepts to remember. Books are printed on all kinds of paper, but their pages are often rough and absorbent. Here are our picks for for highlighting novels, paperbacks, and more.
Many textbooks use robust paper with a glossy finish. You can use almost any highlighter on them without bleedthrough, but be sure to give the ink plenty of time to dry or it’ll smear when you turn the page. All of the liquid and gel highlighters we tested took more than 30 seconds to dry. The following options dried around the 45-second mark on highly glossy paper.
We often highlight printouts for work and school. That’s no problem if you use a laser printer, but inkjet printing can smear under highlighter ink. These highlighters are inkjet safe so that you can highlight pages from any printer.
If you’ve ever smudged carefully-written notes with a swipe of your favorite highlighter, you’re not alone. Pens and inks come in a wide range of formulations. It’s no surprise that they each react differently to being highlighted. These highlighters work well with several kinds of writing tools, so you can use your favorite pens, inks, and pencils without fear.
If you’re the type of person who highlights events in one color, dates in another, and names in a third, you need highlighters that can keep up. These pastel and fluorescent highlighters have enough hues for every category you can think of.
Office workers and teachers sometimes need to mark up shipping receipts or make clean copies of already-highlighted paper. Some highlighters fade when used on triplicate paper, but these keep their color and don’t show up when copied.
Left-handed writers are particularly susceptible to smears as their hands often pass over ink while it is still wet. These quick-drying highlighters will help keep your hands and paper pristine. If you’d like more options, check out our picks for textbooks above and our Guide to Left-Handed Pens.
Dual-tip highlighters take highlighters and fineliners and combine them into one, creating pens that you don’t even have to put down as you switch between annotation and color-coding.
We will note that on absorbent papers, such as cheap paperback pages, the fineliner bleeds through slightly and writing with the fineliner over the highlighter will feather very badly. When in doubt, write with fineliner first!
If you’re on the hunt for more coordinating highlighter colors, try Kokuyo Mark+ Dual Tone Highlighters. Any of their dual hues will go delightfully with the subtle Gray Type markers.
Like the Mark+ 2 Way, we found the fineliner bled through slightly on rough paper at the end of the line. There’s also a slight learning curve to the Ninipie–be sure to hold it steady to prevent accidentally switching between tips.
Sometimes an ordinary highlighter just isn’t good enough. Here are two pens that stand out from the pack.
We performed our tests with yellow highlighters for consistency. When product lines included both bright and pastel colors, we tested both versions to account for differences in ink formulation and color intensity.
We tested drying time in increments of 5, 10, 20, and 30 seconds on both Rhodia and copy paper. If a highlighter dried in under five seconds, we narrowed the drying time down to the second.
Different pens and inks can have widely divergent formulas and react differently to the same highlighter. In addition, the paper you write on can make ink more or less likely to smear. We used Rhodia paper and tested our highlighters against some of the most popular options in each category of writing instrument. Other pens, inks, and papers may react differently.
- Ballpoint Ink: Uni Jetstream Ballpoint Pen
- Gel Ink: Uni-ball Signo Gel Pen
- Rollerball Ink: Tombow Zoom 505 Liquid Ink Rollerball Pen
- Pencil: Blackwing Pencil - 602
- Fountain Pen Ink: J. Herbin Perle Noire Ink
We tested brightness on Rhodia paper and broke it into tiers of "low," "medium" and "high." Low brightness indicates a soft, translucent color, while high brightness is almost startling.
We also noted which highlighters are not neon or fluorescent. This is important to separate because some fluorescent highlighters can be quite light on the page, while non-fluorescent highlighters and markers can still stand out like a dandelion in a sunbeam.
Click through to each product for writing samples, but please be aware that photographing fluorescence is extremely difficult and photos may not exactly match real life.
Do you want to see all our recommended highlighters 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.
Whether you’re studying for a test, editing an article, or making notes, highlighters are the ideal tool to help you remember information and draw attention to important points. What are your favorite highlighters? Let us know in the comments below!