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Should I Journal With a Pencil or a Pen: Pros and Cons of Each

When beginning journaling, we naturally think of what to write on and what to write with. There are myriad of writing instruments out there, but the basic question is: should I journal with a pencil or a pen.

Should you journal with a pencil or a pen? While pen offers readable, legible, permanent results, pencil gives you the flexibility of fixing the mistakes you might make and doesn’t bleed through paper.

Even though these are the immediate things to consider while settling on the writing instrument, there are many more factors you might want to consider before making your final decision.

Pen or pencil for journaling

Pros and Cons of Writing with a Pencil

Pencils are as classic as it can be. Made of graphite or charcoal, they go back, way back in the history of human writing and sketching, so there is something so tried and true about them.

Pencils have some amazing qualities, but no, they are not perfect. How does a pencil fair as a writing instrument for a journal?

PROS of journaling with pencils

  • Pencils are erasable and let you keep your journal as error-free as you want. When I was starting to journal, it was huge for me. A perfectionist, I held back from journaling as I was afraid to mess up. Writing with a pencil was my saving grace. Knowing I can erase and fix imperfections, made it easier for me to journal and benefit from this amazing practice
  • Pencils don’t bleed through paper. This one was on par with the point above. I don’t know about you, but it irks me when I write something on one side of paper and it bleeds or ghosts the other side so much that it looks messy and you can’t even write on it. Writing with a pencil was so relaxing knowing the other side of paper was staying clean and usable
  • Pencils don’t smudge. I don’t have to tell you how adult if feels to have the ink, be it from a ball-point, ink or a fountain pen, on your hands and fingers. As a left-handed person and an avid note-taker, I always end up with ink on my hands. That doesn’t look too cool in the business meetings. Since I’ve switched to a pencil, it has been fantastic. (and I hooked bunch of my co-workers to pencils as well)
  • Pencils don’t spill and don’t create mess. I have ruined a number of backpacks and shirt pockets with pens. And those stains don’t wash off. Pencils are the most well-behaved writing instruments when it comes to that.
  • Pencils indicate exactly how soon they will run out. Pencils, wooden or lead ones, leave no doubt about how much they have left before they are done. You can always be ready with a replacement for your pencil an avoid nasty surprises. Even though pens often have a clear barrel that sort of shows you how much ink is left, there is not 100% way to know when they surprise you by running out of ink in a middle of a really important writing session.
  • Pencils are inexpensive. We have all been to school supply store – you can buy a ton of wooden pencils for just a couple bucks. Same goes for mechanical pencils – you can get a pack of them, with lead inside for very little money, and then you can get the lead refills for not much more when you need them.

CONS of journaling with pencils

  • Pencils are not permanent. Even though pencils are made of carbon, the substance itself is a powder and so it would shed off the paper over time. If you want to revisit your journals often or over time, the fading nature of the pencil writing might be something you have to think about.
  • Pencils leave residue. For the same reason as above, pencils can be messy. If your pencil has a really soft lead, they graphite can ghost onto the opposite page, on the side of your hand, on the sleeve of your shirt.
  • Pencils can make an annoying scratchy noise. Depending on the hardness of the graphite that the pencil has, it can make a nasty, chalk-on-the-blackboard, type of sound that make teeth hurt. That was one of the reasons why I avoided writing with pencils for years (until I found just the right one).
  • Pencils might not get erased cleanly. As editable and erasable pencils are, they are not always 100% erasable, sometimes leaving the page looking worse that if it was written with a pen and then corrected. Depending on the softness of the graphite in the lead, paper quality and how hard you press when you write, sometimes it’s near impossible to erase the mistake cleanly. I can’t tell you how many different erasers I bought and tried to work with my favorite pencil that is super soft.
  • Pencils (wooden ones) need to be constantly sharpened. Even though it might not seem like a big deal, the fact that the wooden pencils need to be sharpened to be usable can sometimes be pain in a butt. Sharpening produces shavings, wooden and graphite that often cause a mess and you better make sure to have your sharpener on you when on the go. I have forgotten/lost/broke my sharpener in school and it drove me nuts.
  • Pencil lead breaks when dropped. It’s no secret that pencil lead is fragile and breaks when dropped, even when inside of a wooden pencil. We all have experienced trying to sharpen such a pencil that keeps on breaking off every time, no matter how deep up the pencil you go.

Pros and Cons of Writing with a Pen

Pens are exciting, let just put it out there. They come in so many colors, ink consistencies, thicknesses and technologies!

There are ink pens and gel pens, fountain pens and ballpoint pens. There are markers that can act as pens. There are even pens that are erasable! Surely, they would be the winners of pens vs pencils battle.

But, like all things, pencils are not perfect either. How do pens fair as a writing instruments for a journal?

Journaling with pencil or pen - which is better

PROS of journaling with pens

  • Pens create dark, legible writing. Writing with pens is the best when you want to be able to read what you have written later, especially without a lamp… or glasses. Jokes aside, pen ink, no matter what kind of ink it is, creates saturated, dark letters that are easy to read and look pleasant to an eye. It also gives the writing more of a defined, intentional feel.
  • Pens are smooth and feel great to write with. Pens are a joy to use on paper. Every year new inks and pen technologies come out to make writing experience even more enjoyable. I feel like I buy the newest pen, fall in love with it and promise to only use that specific kind and then a new, even smoother pen comes out, and I’m back to same ‘buy, try, love, buy new one’. Since I’m sensitive to scratchy sound, I am always on a lookout for a smooth pen that doesn’t bleed or stain and there no shortage of those on the market.
  • Pens come in a variety of colors. As much as journaling is all about putting thoughts on paper and the analysis of self, it doesn’t mean that it has to be monochromatic and boring. As much as I love a clean, minimalistic black and white journal, I like to now and end use some color and color pens allow me add that detail. You can get a set of fun-colored pens, all in the same thickness to accent the headlines or dates or just doodle between the lines to add some liveliness to your pages. Color pens is a nice simple way to add artistic touch to your journal without feeling like you have to be an “artist”.
  • Pens come in a variety of inks and technologies, offering something for everyone. With the incredible variety of ink colors and consistencies, thicknesses and sizes of nips, dispensing technologies there is a pen for every taste and preference. From a personal experience, if the pen doesn’t “flow” the right way, I have no desire to journal, it becomes a chore.

CONS of journaling with pens

  • Pens smudge and leak. Because pens are ink-based, they can smudge while you are writing, especially if you are left-handed. Some inks are so liquid, that you have to wait, blow on the pages or use a blotting paper to prevent smudging or ghosting onto the opposite page (same for having the ink all over your hands). Pens also leak and those leaks are hard to remove. If you forgot to cap the pen, or if you accidentally leaned on it while it was in your pocket or your bag, it’s over.
  • Pens can be very pricey. With variety of pens comes a variety of prices. I feel like with time and so many new pen technologies coming to market, pens have become more than just a writing stick. There are conventions and conference now dedicated to stationary and pens, there are pens made by designers and in limited numbers and editions. Fountain pens especially can be up there in price with a good pen (no gold nib or anything) getting up to $100.
  • Pens can be unreliable. Pens can behave differently in cold or hot weather, thickening up when it’s cold and getting runnier when it’s hot. The ink can dry up and clog up the nib or the tip of the pen making it totally unusable. You can also misinterpret how much ink is really left in the barrel of the pen and be let down in a middle of your work. And we all know how annoying it is to write with a different pen mid-sentence when the inks are obviously don’t match (maybe it’s just me…).
  • Pens bleed through paper. Depending on the type of ink and the type of paper you are using, your writing can bleed through the paper. Thicker-nibbed pens are especially prone to this. You can end up with slight ghosting on the other side of the page or you can end up with the ink that bleeds though the page and onto the next one. This can make the other side of the same page unusable as well as make the journal look messy.

As you can, there is a lot to consider. In the end it all comes to personal preference.

Things that can come into play when choosing your journal writing instrument can be:

  • how assured you feel about your handwriting
  • how neat you want your journal to be
  • how tolerant you are of mistakes, cross-outs and other imperfections
  • how smooth you like the pen to be
  • how fast or slow you like your writing to be
  • how permanent or long-lasting you want your writing to be
  • and so much more

Ultimately, the best way to choose pencil or pen to be your journaling instrument is to buy a variety of each and give them a go. It took me the longest to pick the right one.

I was a complete anti-pencil girl because the scratching sound used to make my teeth hurt. Until I found a graphing pencil with a .9mm lead. That pencil was god-sent: smooth, dark, soft and yes, erasable. I’ve been taking all my notes with it ever since.

But I still use a pen as well, especially when I want to write something I want to stand out or “in stone”. I have two favorites – one ink and one ball-point. Each has its advantages when it comes to speed vs feel on paper.

Journaling with pencils or pens


What lasts longer pencil or pen?

This depends on the length and thickness of the ink barrel or graphite lead. It also depends on the viscosity of the ink.

Pens with more ‘liquidy’ inks and larger size nibs run out faster in comparison to pens with fine or super-fine nibs.

Ball-points seem to last longer than ink pens and fountain pens are a league of their own, of course.

When it comes to pencils, the hardness of the graphite lead make a difference as it takes longer to finish a hard lead vs a soft lead.

Why do we use pens instead of pencils?

In general, we use pens instead of pencils because pens produce longer lasting and more permanent writing. This is important in situations where legality of the writing is involved like signatures on legal papers, checks, contracts, and so on.

Pencils are very important in certain industries like engineering and architecture where drafting on paper is an integral part of the process.

Does pencil fade in sunlight?

Pencils don’t fade in sunlight as they are made of graphite, but the writing itself slowly disintegrates due to its powdery nature.

Since the pencil writing is a thin layer of the graphite powder, over time this powder can rub off (if read or paged often) and therefore the writing might become less legible.

To prevent important pencil writings or drawings from wearing off, setting spray solutions can be used.

Why is my handwriting better with a pencil?

I find that when I write in pencil, my handwriting is actually neater than when it’s written in pen. It comes from nature of pencil and how it glides across the paper.

Since pencil leads are made of graphite and they write by getting “scraped” by paper and leaving the trace of graphite powder behind, writing with a pencil is slower than that of a pen. Since it is slower, writing out the letters becomes more deliberate and as a result, comes out more even, consistent.

I notice when I use a really smooth pen, as pleasant it is to write with, my handwriting gets off rails and is actually messy. Fountain pens seem to be the only pens that have a similar, intentional effect on writing the way the pencils do.