Guide to Choosing a Highlighter Pen

March 4, 2014 - Posted by Miriam to Guides

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a piece of paper marked up with fluorescent ink. It signifies knowledge, organization, and rigorous thinking. It also doesn’t hurt that we’re obsessed with all the bright colors.

Everyone should have a good highlighter in their pencil case, but it can be intimidating to dig through all the choices we offer. To remedy that, we lived, breathed, and bled neon ink as we strove to find the best highlighters for a range of books and paper.


  • Smear-proof. No one wants to see a smudge-y pencil or ink trail that’s made more obvious by glowing ink.
  • Fast-drying As much as we love color, it’s also distracting to see hints of color splattered every which way. The ink should set quickly so it doesn’t transfer to other parts of the page.
  • No bleed-through. You don’t want a highlighter that’s so inky that it pools and puddles into a mess that comes through to the other side.
  • Precision. Highlighters now come in a variety of tip sizes and shapes, and depending on how precise you want to be, you may want to look into getting a highlighter that features a unique tip.


As one of the easiest colors to see in the color spectrum, yellow is the most popular color for highlighters. With that in mind, we tested yellow highlighters, except in one particular case that you will see below. You can click on any of the sample images for a larger view.

For the Bible

The most common question we get about highlighters is from customers who want to know what the best highlighter is for thin, delicate paper, specifically the Bible. With paper so fragile that even the printing shows through from the back of the page, finding a good highlighter is paramount. We went through highlighter after highlighter until everything we saw was yellow, to get to these picks that not only didn’t bleed, but barely showed through the delicate paper. *Note: Different Bibles use different kinds of paper, and we can't guarantee how these highlighters will perform on the paper in your Bible.

Tombow Kei Coat Double Sided Highlighter - Fine Tip

Tombow Kei Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Tombow Kei Coat Double-Sided Highlighter
Back side. Barely any show-through.

This double-sided highlighter comes with a traditional chiseled tip as well as a fine tip. The chiseled tip was too much for the Bible paper, but the fine tip performed beautifully. It’s precise, glides smoothly over the paper, and dispenses ink evenly. With its pen-like tip, you can easily see what you highlight. You can even underline or draw boxes and other fun shapes around the text.

Sharpie Gel Highlighter

Sharpie Gel Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Sharpie Gel Highlighter
Back page. Slight show-through.

Unlike inky highlighter markers, this highlighter features a special gel. The gel formula is smear-proof, quick drying, and maintains the vibrant color of traditional highlighter ink. We like it because it doesn’t bleed through the Bible paper, but its chunky shape makes it harder to control with uneven application. Sometimes little bits of the gel come off on the paper, which may be a bother for some.

Pilot FriXion Light US Erasable Highlighter

Pilot FriXion Light US Erasable Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Pilot FriXion Light US
Back side. Barely any show-through.

The Pilot Frixion series is known for its erasing properties, but that’s not why we picked it. In fact, we wouldn’t recommend using the eraser as it will morph the delicate paper. The special ink from this highlighter barely shows through the paper--the only highlighter with a chiseled tip to achieve this on Bible paper. The ink is also not the familiar bright yellow, but rather a muted golden color.

For Paperback Books

It’s always good to have a highlighter handy when you’re frantically skimming through the reading for your English class late at night. You want to be able to reference what you highlighted easily in case you’re called on in class, or for writing that next big paper, so it’s important that the highlighter doesn’t bleed through the rough, absorbent pages.

Kuretake Zig Brush Style Highlighter Pen

Kuretake Zig Brush Style Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Kuretake Zig Brush Style Highlighter Pen
Back side. Barely any show-through.

With its unique brush tip, you can easily create very thin or thick lines, depending on your preference. A simple swipe using a light hand is enough to get that punchy, vibrant color without worrying about messy bleed-through. The brush especially speaks to our inner artist as it adds a little extra something to the doodling we do in the margins of our books.

Pilot Spotliter 2 Double-Sided Highlighter Pen - Broad / Fine Twin Tip

Pilot Spotliter 2 Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Pilot Spotliter
Back side. Slight show-through.

Here’s another double sided highlighter with a broad and fine tip. The fine tip is perfect for making boxes, circles, or, our personal favorite, cute little clouds in addition to regular highlighting. If you prefer the regular chiseled tip, be careful as it does show slightly on the other side of the page, but without any bleed-through.

Also consider: Uni Mitsubishi Propus 2 Double-Sided Highlighter.

Uni Propus Erasable Highlighter Pen

Uni Propus Erasable Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Uni Propus Erasable Highlighter
No show-through. Erasing ability shown instead.

Unlike the Pilot Frixion series, where the ink may reappear at extreme temperatures, this highlighter ink is more similar to pencil graphite and can be erased permanently. Its eraser is also more gentle on paper than its Pilot Frixion counterpart, but should be used sparingly to not strain the paper. Still, it’s nice to have that option!

For Textbooks

We tend to get a little highlighter happy with our textbooks, so it’s a good thing textbook paper is heartier than normal paper. You can use virtually any highlighter with your textbook and expect no bleed-through, but the paper’s glossy finish means that the ink won’t dry as quickly. Be sure to give it time to dry or you’ll end up with a glaring mess.

Kokuyo Beetle Tip 3way Highlighter Pen

Kokuyo Beetle Tip 3way Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Kokuyo Beetle Tip 3way Highlighter
Marking with two parallel lines.

Don’t be put off by the deformed-looking tip--there’s method to this madness. Its special design allows you to use the highlighter in three different ways: to create a fine line, a thick line, or two thin parallel lines. We love the versatility of this highlighter and how straightforward it is to organize information more effectively with the different types of lines.

There was no show-through from this highlighter, so the back side of the textbook page is not shown.

Uni Propus Window Double-Sided Highlighter Pen - 4.0 mm / 0.6 mm Twin Tip

Uni Propus Window Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Uni Propus Window Highlighting Sample
Window demonstration.

We come back to this highlighter again and again, because of its revolutionary built-in “window” that lets you see exactly what you highlight. This highlighter has saved us countless times from over-highlighting, making our notes cleaner and easier to read.

There was no show-through with this highlighter, so the back side of the textbook page is not shown.

Also consider: Uni Promark View Highlighter.

Pilot Spotliter VW 2 Color Double-Sided Highlighter Pen - Yellow / Green

Pilot Spotliter VW 2 Color Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Pilot Spotliter VW 2 Color Highlighter Pen
Back side. Green shows through slightly.

Sometimes it’s just more satisfying to have more than one color handy. This highlighter gives you the convenience of having two colors in one. However, as much as we like having the two colors, this highlighter is quite inky with slight show-through on the other side of the page. Use a light hand and give it ample time to dry.

For Printed Paper

Whether in school or at work, it’s hard to not feel bombarded by the printouts we receive that are jammed packed with information. We rely heavily on our highlighters to cut through the unnecessary parts and focus our attention on what we really need to know. The biggest criteria we have for highlighters in this category is that it must not smear printer ink.

Staedtler Triplus Textsurfer Highlighter

Staedtler Triplus Textsurfer Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Staedtler Triplus Textsurfer Highlighter
Back side. Slight show-through.

Created by Staedtler specifically for use over printer ink, this highlighter lived up to our expectations. It’s fast-drying and doesn’t smudge or remove printer ink from the paper. We’re especially enamored by the pyramid shape of the tip. You can use it like a pen or angle it to mimic a regular highlighter.

Zebra Mildliner Soft Color Double-Sided Highlighter Pen

Zebra Mildliner Soft Color Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Zebra Mildliner Soft Color Highlighter
Back side. Very slight show-through.

Don’t be fooled by the name of this highlighter--the color is anything but dull! The pastel tone is more obvious in the non-yellow colors, so if you’re worried there won’t be enough punch, put your fear to rest. The difference is that it’s not as fluorescent as regular highlighter ink. This highlighter is highly functional with a broad and fine tip, adding to its versatility.

Also consider: Monami Essenti Soft Highlighter Pen.

Sharpie Mini Highlighter

Sharpie Mini Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample
Sharpie Mini Highlighter
Back side. Slight show-through

This is the highlighter we keep on our key chains so we’re never caught unprepared. Despite its mini size, it works well over printer ink with no smudging. It also dries quickly, making it perfect for carrying on-the-go. For those with sensitive noses, you might want to skip this one--it gives off that characteristic Sharpie marker smell.

For Written Notes

We’ve only talked about printed ink thus far, so it’s time to give writing utensils some love! Everyone knows that it doesn’t take much to turn pencil marks into a huge smudge-y mess, and this is a problem for pens as well, albeit on a smaller scale. Whether you take notes in pencil or pen, we’ve got them covered with our last highlighter picks.

Zebra Knock Highlighter Pen

Zebra Knock Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample. No show-through.
Zebra Knock Highlighter

We’re forever losing the caps to our highlighters, so imagine our relief when we found this one! It’s retractable, with an innovative design that helps the ink to not dry out. Feel free to whip it out anywhere without having to worry about losing the cap! This highlighter also works wonders over pencil and pen with no smearing or bleeding.

There was no show-through from this highlighter so the back side of the paper is not shown.

Ohto Rouge Gel Highlighter Pen

Ohto Rouge Gel Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Ohto Rouge Gel Highlighter
Back side. Virtually no show-through.

This gel highlighter features a smear-resistant formula that is not only effective for pen ink, but pencil graphite as well. It offers the same vivid color of ink highlighters without the concern of blotchy bleed-through. However, like its Sharpie counterpart, it takes some practice to figure out how to best control its application, since it’s not the most precise of highlighters.

Zebra Optex 1 EZ Highlighter

Zebra Optex 1 EZ Highlighting Sample
Highlighting sample.
Zebra Optex 1 EZ Highlighting Sample
Easy-to-pop-off lid.

Made from recycled materials and refillable, this highlighter not only delivers on performance, it’s also eco-friendly. Its richly pigmented ink dries quickly, doesn’t bleed through, and doesn’t smudge pencil or pen marks. We like playing with its “EZ” cap, which has special squeeze points at its side that allows it to pop off easily.

There was no show-through from this highlighter so the back side of the paper is not shown.

Also consider: Stabilo Boss Original Highlighter Pens.


Highlighters aren’t just for note-taking and textbooks. There are a lot of artists who use highlighters to add an extra burst of radiant color to their art. We made our own highlighter art that we want to share with everyone:

Zebra Optex 1 EZ Highlighting Sample
Origami art, using the Zebra Mildliner Highlighters.
Zebra Optex 1 EZ Highlighting Sample
Fun Halloween idea, using the Uni Propus Window Highlighters.

What do you think? Highlighter art really pops when you shine a black light over it. It would be such a hit at a party!

Now that you’ve had the chance to bask in the glow of highlighters in all their blazing glory, we hope you’re inspired to take another look at your highlighters. For a complete list of all the highlighters we carry, check out the Highlighter Category of our website.

Model Dry Time Show-Through Level Precision Unique Characteristic Best For
Sharpie Gel Highlighter 7 sec Slight Low Gel formula Bible
Tombow Kei Coat Double-Sided Highlighter - Fine Tip 5 sec Almost none High Double-sided Bible
Pilot FriXion Light US Erasable Highlighter 14 sec Almost none Medium Erasable Bible
Kuretake Zig Brush Style Highlighters 3 sec Almost none High Brush tip Paperback
Pilot Spotliter 2 Broad / Twin Tip Highlighter - Fine Tip 3 sec Slight High Double-sided Paperback
Uni Mitsubishi Propus 2 Double-Sided Highlighter 5 sec Slight High Double-sided Paperback
Uni Propus Erasable Highlighter 5 sec None Medium Erasable Paperback
Kokuyo Beetle Tip 3way Highlighter 5 sec None High 3-point tip Textbook
Uni Propus Window Highlighter 5 sec None High Built-in window Textbook
Uni Promark View Highlighter 12 sec Slight High Built-in window Textbook
Pilot Spotliter VW 2-Color Highlighter 20 sec Some Medium 2 colors in 1 Textbook
Staedtler Triplus Textsurfer Highlighter 3 sec Slight High Made especially for printer ink Printed paper
Zebra Mildliner Soft Color Double-Sided Highlighter 3 sec Almost none Medium Softer, pastel colors Printed paper
Monami Essenti Soft Highlighter Pen 3 sec Slight Medium Softer, pastel colors Printed paper
Sharpie Mini Highlighter 5 sec Slight Medium Mini size Printed paper
Zebra Knock Highlighter Pen 3 sec None Medium Retractable Written notes
Ohto Rouge Gel Highlighter Pen 7 sec None Low Gel formula Written notes
Zebra Optex 1 EZ Highlighter 3 sec None Medium Refillable Written notes
Stabilio Boss Original Highlighter Pens 3 sec Slight Medium Easy to hold Written notes


This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to our winners, Sandy Z. from West Chester, PA, and Jillian W. from Aurora, IL!
Thanks to everyone who entered -- be sure to check out our Pen Perks Page to see if there are any current giveaways!

Were you inspired to make your own highlighter art? You're in luck because two random winners will receive either (1) set of the Zebra Mildliner Highlighters or a set of the Uni Propus Window Highlighters.

Rules and Instructions:
1. To enter, please follow this link to our entry submission page!
2. Please note that this contest is limited to U.S. residents at least 18 years of age.
3. Entries will be accepted from now until March 11, 2014 at Midnight Pacific.
4. Two winners will be selected at random from all entries and announced on the entry submission page once the prize is claimed.

Official Contest Rules
Official Contest Rules

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