When you’re just starting to use a bullet journal, “it’s easy to get caught up in finding the perfect pen or notebook,” says Ryder Carroll, the Brooklyn-based designer who originally developed the Bullet Journal system for himself as a way to keep organized. But according to the creator of this now-Instagram-famous style of planner, it’s less important to find beautiful accessories than to find supplies you trust since “the whole point of bullet journaling is to gradually eliminate distractions.”
The importance of tools that are so good they almost disappear is why you should look for things that will work smoothly every single time you pick them up, rather than splurge on fancy fountain pens or leather-bound notebooks just because they photograph well. “I strongly believe in everyone experimenting with what works for them, not because they saw it on a popular Instagram page,” says Jessica Chung, a bullet journaler behind the blog Pretty Prints and Paper.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and want straightforward advice about the best bullet journal notebooks, pens for bullet journaling, and other bullet journal supplies, I asked five hard-core bullet journalers to share the tools that they like and use every single day.
Best bullet journal notebooks
The standard notebook for the bullet journal community is a Leuchtturm1917 — specifically a medium A5 dotted journal. That’s in large part because Bullet Journal creator Carroll collaborated with the German brand to create the official Bullet Journal back in 2014, through a Kickstarter campaign. “I partnered with them because I appreciated the care they put into their products long before we worked together,” he explained in an email, adding, “I could go on about the quality and attention to detail, but in truth, the reason I loved their notebooks is because they put up with me. I never had to worry about these, they just did their job better than any other I had used.”
You don’t need to get the “official” Bullet Journal to enjoy Leuchtturm quality, which Shelby Abrahamsen, who’s behind the productivity blog Little Coffee Fox, describes as “the right amount of luxury for the right price, and the utility of it is outstanding.” The Leuchtturm1917 medium A5 dotted journal is functionally the same as the Bullet Journal–branded version, including an index page — though without the eight-page guide to bullet journaling or fancy embossed logo. But it’s a few dollars cheaper and comes in a wider selection of colors that the official option. For instance, Chung of Pretty Prints and Paper uses a gold Leuchtturm dot-grid notebook. “The light-colored dots allow for enough structure but encourage enough freedom, as well,” she says. “And the pages allow for me to paint a little bit without ghosting or bleeding on one side to the other.”
Though three of the five bullet journalists I spoke with loved their Leuchtturm, the other two swore by Scribbles That Matter, also in A5 paper size with dotted-grid pages. “The paper quality is thick without being too heavy, and the pages interact smoothly against the pens and art supplies I use when I journal,” says Alec Fischer, a film director who’s working on a short documentary with Carroll about the origin story of the Bullet Journal who also runs the Instagram account Fischr Journals. Nancy Elizabeth, founder of New Zealand–based stationery company Journal Junkies, agrees that the thick, smooth paper of the Scribbles That Matter notebook “prevents bleeding and ghosting from pens and paint. The covers are also gorgeous to look at and touch,” in an even more vibrant rainbow with embossed cartoons.
Best pens for bullet journaling
Though there was a clear consensus on the type of notebook that was best, every single one of the bullet journalers I spoke with preferred a different type of pen — but according to Carroll, that’s perfectly fine. “It’s important to me that people figure out what works best for them,” he said, admitting that for years, he used a simple Bic Cristal pen because he didn’t have to worry about losing them.
Chung, on the other hand, can’t stand writing with ballpoints. “They skip too much with shoddy ink, and felt tips are crushed by my natural handwriting.” That’s why she likes black gel pens with a 0.5 mm width, which are “thin enough for my sloppy handwriting to be legible but wide enough for me to do some hand-lettering.” Some of her current favorites include Pilot G2s and InkJoy Gels from Paper Mate.
Abrahamsen calls herself a “pen nomad: I’ll use one brand for a week or two, then move on to another, then another until eventually the cycle repeats, and I’m using the first pen again.” Some of her favorites include Tombow Mono Pens, Pilot Precise V5 Pens, and Paper Mate Flair Felt-Tip Pens.
These last felt-tip pens are also a favorite of Fischer’s. “I’ll do my planning outlines using a ruler and the Paper Mate pens,” he says. Though for actually writing notes, he likes Pigma Micron pens from the Japanese company Sakura, because they’re slightly less thick. The combination of the two pen widths, however, is part of the appeal. “I usually draw complex cityscape doodles in my pages when I’m feeling anxious, and I love how the duality of the thickness makes the final image look.”
Other recommended bullet journal supplies
Part of the beauty of the bullet journal is the simplicity of the system. All you really need is a notebook and a pen. But even the most minimalist bullet journal enthusiast could do with some other supplies, and this is also where things can get complicated. Remember that your personal preferences are what matters here. So if you don’t know how to use watercolors, for instance, don’t get the same watercolor pens you see on Instagram. However, nearly everyone I spoke with recommended getting some set of colored pens or markers in addition to a plain black pen, so that you can add pops of color to your journal. Fischer likes the Stabilo Point 88 Fineliner pens for that purpose. Since they’re just colored pens, they’re easy for beginners to manipulate.
Three of the bullet journalists, including Carroll, recommend keeping a ruler on hand for creating borders or grids to track behavior. Carroll uses a triangular ruler when designing things, “small enough to fit into the back pocket of my notebook.” And though this ruler isn’t the same one Carroll has, it’s small enough to fit in an A5-sized notebook.