Once upon a time, my quest for a refillable highlighting pen led me to the Platinum Preppy. I bought a bottle of highlighting fluid, Noodler’s Year of the Golden Pig, which came with a Preppy highlighter pen modified for eyedropper filling. That single pen and ink worked well for a time.
One had to take care, of course, not to leave the highlighter unused for a long period of time. Otherwise, the ink turned to rubbery goo.
The Trouble with Preppys
The Platinum Preppy highlighter pen is an inexpensive, and deceptively elegant solution. A Preppy highlighter costs less than $3 (USA). You can buy them, along with Platinum’s own highlighter ink cartridges. You can refill those carts with an alternative highlighting ink.
You can also modify your Preppy to forgo the cartridge, and ink the pen eyedropper style—filling the barrel directly with ink. The eyedropper method fulfills my own desire to put less waste into the landfill or recycling bin. Yes, even those little disposable ink carts.
Since that initial Preppy, I’ve gone through many more. The problem I have with Preppys is that barrels, caps, and sections crack. Even when I’m not looking.
I may be casual with my pens, but I’m not careless with them.
Sure duct tape can hold the barrel together, but then the pen ceases to be safe for ink poured directly into the barrel.
Eventually, I gave up eyedroppering my cracking highlighters, and opted for the Platinum ink cartridges.
Certainly, the Platinum Preppy highlighter has its fan base. For me, the pens proved to be unreliable, and I lost my confidence in carrying Preppys in my pen roll.
Instead of keeping more stuff out of the garbage or recycling bin, I was putting more stuff in with empty ink carts, disposable tips, broken barrels and caps.
☮ → Of note: The Writer’s Bloc blog has a great post about converting a Platinum Plaisir to use the Preppy highlighter tips. I considered this inspired modification for a moment. But I wanted a complete, uh, break from the Preppy, even in the form of a more sturdy Plaisir.
Other Refillable Highlighters Exist
Zebra, Tombow, Staedtler, Pilot among others, make highlighters that you can refill, usually with their own proprietary ink systems. On the high end of the economic scale, Montblanc makes a highlighting pen that uses disposable ink cartridges.
Fountain Pen Possibilities
A few years ago, Pelikan brought a highlighting pen to market. Called the M205 Duo, the fountain pen comes in transparent yellow or green. Along with Pelikan’s famous piston filling mechanism, the pen has with a double broad steel nib to use for both highlighting and note taking.
In Japan there’s a Sailor Sapporo available, if you can find it, that comes with fluorescent yellow ink for highlighting.
Any fountain pen, however, can be employed to highlight text. Many people use fountain pens to highlight text by underlining it.
Common pens frequently used for this purpose: Sheaffer, Pilot Parallel or Plumix, Lamy Vista or Safari, Kaweco Sport. Italic nibs are also common. You’re limited by only your imagination and your wallet.
There is a highlighting style that works for each of us. Many are happy to underline text. Others, like me, prefer to ink over the words. Because of my highlighting style, I find fountain pens rather clumsy to use as highlighters.
There are also dry highlighters in the form of pencils. Kinda cool, ay? I was about to take a look at these when I came across something else I thought had been discontinued long ago.
Enter Stage Left: Sailor Profit Brush Pen
Many years ago a Sailor Profit Brush pen was recommended to me as a highlighting pen. At that time, however, the pen was near impossible to find in the USA. When I did find the pen, it cost upwards of $35 or more; a little costly for my intended purpose. In retrospect, however, I’ve spent nearly that amount in keeping a useable stable of Platinum Preppys alive, ay? Live and learn yet again.
The Sailor Profit Brush pen can be obtained from Japan retailers. Maybe it’s available in your own country. It’s not in the USA as of this writing, although you might find it in store at Kinokuniya or Maido stationery stores. Online places such as JetPens, the ‘Bay, and A-ma-zon will likely have it at various prices.
The cost today is far less than $35. The current Sailor catalog lists the pen for about $13.50. Well, the amount is listed in Japanese yen, but that’s about what the conversion to US dollars brings you as of this post.
Also of interest: the brush section alone can be purchased if replacements are needed. Having only used the Sailor Profit Brush pen for a few months, I don’t know yet how long a single brush tip will hold up. So far, so good.
It Can Be Eyedroppered
The Sailor Profit Brush pen has no internal metal parts. Perfect for an eyedropper filler, ay? It’ll hold about 2.5 ml of ink in the barrel.
The pen can be also inked using a standard Sailor converter, or—if you must—Sailor (non-highlighting) ink cartridges.
After applying a little silicon grease to the section threads, I filled the barrel with my ink of choice. It’s not a highlighting ink, but one made for fountain pens: Sailor Yellow-Orange. The ink pops on the page, and leaves the underlying print cleanly readable.
For the second brush–oh yeah, I ended up with two–I emptied the remaining cartridges of Platinum’s green highlighting ink into it. The Platinum ink works great.
To identify which pen contains which highlighting ink, I stuck self-sticking paper to the caps, and then painted the paper with the corresponding ink.
Using the Sailor Profit Brush pen as a highlighter is quite different from using your basic chiseled highlighting pen. The Brush requires a light touch. Too much pressure will leave too much ink, and may saturate through the page.
I found using the brush much easier than using the old, familiar chisel tip. I can lightly paint a line, a square, or a section very quickly, and with control. Fantastic!
The brush method isn’t going to be for everybody. My own needs for highlighting are simple. Most commonly, I use highlighters on printouts from my laser printer, and on my Chronodex time tracker.
Like any highlighter, you have to use some cautions if highlighting your printouts and handwritten scrawl. Will it smear or not smear? That is the question, ay?
Using the Sailor Yellow-Orange and Platinum Highlighting inks on my printouts resulted in no smearing or bleed-through. This is true from printouts from both my HP laser printer, and an Epson Artisan inkjet. It’s important for your inkjet print to be dry, ay? Papers I use: HP 32# Premium laser, Staples sugar cane 20# copy, and Domtar Earth Choice 20#.
There is significant “show through” on the Staples sugar cane. That is, for those unfamiliar with the “show through” term, the ink colors can clearly be seen when you turn the page over. Not the same as bleed-through wherein the ink literally soaks through the page to the other side. A heavier hand than mine might create some bleed-through.
☮ → BTW, the sugar cane Staples 20# paper continues to impress me. It may be “blah” looking (see Chronodex above) but it’s very ink friendly!
A plain Staples 20# multipurpose paper (not sugar cane) did bleed through quite badly to the other side, for both Sailor Yellow-Orange and Platinum Highlighting Green.
I cannot emphasize enough that the lightest touch to paper is necessary with the brush pen. Even so, your own experience with bleed-through on papers may be radically different from mine.
Highlighting over handwritten inky scrawl is, generally speaking, not smear-free. That’s to be expected, I think. The Sailor Yellow-Orange will cause such fairly water resistant inks such as Sailor Blue and Pilot Blue-Black to smear a little (Pilot BB) or a lot (Sailor Blue).
Only a permanent ink in my stash, Sailor Sei-Boku, survives being washed over with the Sailor Yellow-Orange. The Platinum Highlighting Green ink smears my scrawl hardly at all.
Platinum Highlighting Yellow does smear quite a bit. See above Chronodex page photo for Platinum Yellow smear over “Lex.”
Know, too, that my pens largely have fine nibs. A scrawl from fountain pen with a broad, wet nib might smear a lot. Dunno. Don’t have any of those myself.
In my “real world” use, I don’t have much call to highlight my handwriting scrawl.
The Sailor Profit Brush pen is quite lightweight. Approximate weights and lengths are:
- Ink capacity ED style: 2.5ml
- Weight posted or capped, inked ED style: 14g
- Weight uncapped, inked ED style: 8g
- Length capped/closed: 130.5mm
- Length uncapped: 110.5mm
- Length posted: 140.5mm
Bottled highlighting inks are produced by a very small number of manufacturers.
Noodler’s has the largest variety of colors, and is widely available, particularly in the USA. These highlighting inks average $0.14 per ml.
Pelikan has two colors, yellow and green. The green can be hard to find. Pelikan highlighting inks are the most expensive at approximately $0.60 per ml.
Private Reserve also has a single highlighting ink, called Private Reserve Chartreuse. This ink averages approximately $0.16 per ml.
Not available in bottles are the Platinum highlighting inks that come in cartridge form. They are great performers, and can only be used in Platinum pens. The cost is over $0.80 per ml for these inks.
For Lamy pens, there are Lamy neon inks, and Monteverde has a line of highlighting inks, “Monteverde for Lamy.” You’re on your own figuring out the cost of these disposable carts. No Lamys in my tiny pen hoard.
Plain ol’ fountain pen inks may also be used. You’re limited only by your ink arsenal and imagination. I’m currently using Sailor Jentle ink, in the discontinued Yellow-Orange color. For my second brush pen, when my Platinum cartridges run out, I’ll use another Sailor color that’s in my ink stash. Any bright ink with transparency can be used. Among the popular choices for fountain pen inks are J.Herbin, Caran d’Arch, Pelikan Edelstein, and Diamine.
Experiment, if you haven’t done so already. Find your own way.
Just remember, if you dare to highlight your inky scrawl you just might wash it away.
More Be Revealed As I Highlight Along
Brush pens, a staple of calligraphers and artists, exhibit a range in quality, from synthetic to natural fibered nibs. But my purpose is small, just some highlighting of pages now and then. I’m hopeful the decent synthetic Sailor Profit Brush pen will fare better for my highlighting needs than the Platinum Preppy did.
I’m keeping it simple with two brush pens. Although for me, one is surely enough. The second brush pen merely provides a little
vanity more color for my Chronodex. For the moment, I’ve got a good, refillable highlighting system.
For the More Obsessive: Some Reading
- 2014 Jul: Highlighter Alternative, East…West…Everywhere
- 2014 Mar: Guide to Choosing a Highlighter Pen, JetPens blog
- 2014 Mar: Pelikan Highlighter Green Review, Ed Jelley
- 2014 Jan: Stubby Pencil Studio Pencil Highlighters, The Well-Appointed Desk
- 2013 Feb: Pen Mods: How to make a long-lasting refillable highlighter pen, Writer’s Bloc
- 2012 May: A Lamy Safari Highlighter, penmanila post
- 2012 Jan: The Hand-Held Highlighter, New York Times, Who Made That series
- 2011 Mar: Using J. Herbin Ink as Highlighter Ink, Writer’s Bloc
- 2010 Aug: Pelikan m205 duo – a sweet citrus candy, lady dandelion
- 2010 Jul: Tale of a Vandal Pen User: A Highlighter Pen, Revisited
- 2009 May: Tale of a Vandal Pen User: A Highlighter Pen
- 2009 Jan: How to Do an Eye Dropper Pen Conversion, JetPens
- Brush Pens (not about highlighters)
- 2014 Dec: Brush Pen Comparison for Drawing Purposes, Parkablogs
- 2014 Aug: An Introduction To Brush Pens, Pen Addict
- 2013 Mar: Pentel Pocket Brush Pen, Ink of Me Fondly
- 2010 Nov: Brush Pen Round-Up!, Jonathan Case
- 2007 Jun: Brushing Up, Fountain Pen Network (BrianTung thread)
- Tools and Materials, Russell Stutler’s Book About Sketching
- Richard Binder’s Inks: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (not about highlighter inks but very informative about inks and pen maintenance)