If you have an iPad Pro then there's one obvious standout choice, and that's the Apple Pencil, by Apple itself.
It's a solid hunk of white plastic that fits neatly in the hand and oozes quality. Apple built it, so it offers features other stylus makers can't match, such as a screen response rate that doubles when you bring the stylus close to the display (making the ink appear to flow from the nib).
Another unique feature is the nib, which you can use on its side to shade, like you would with a pencil.
It's also easier to set up than other styluses: plug the Lightning connector into your iPad and the wireless connection will be established automatically and instantly. It's not cheap, but this is an essential accessory for iPad Pro owners.
The Apple Pencil doesn't work with any other model of iPad (or iPhone), so if you own an iPad, iPad Air or iPad mini you'll need to read on for your stylus needs.
Adonit Jot Pro
The Apple Pencil can only be used with the iPad Pro, so if you have a different iPad, Adonit Jot Pro is a great alternative. The build quality is great, and it has a nice textured grip making it feel solid in the hand.
The cushioned tip is interesting, and it has a see-through plastic circle on the nib, which enables you to see exactly where you're drawing.It's great for graphic designers, although those looking for a handwriting tool may prefer something chunkier.
The fact you can use it on most iPads, as well as iPhone 4s and later with the free app makes it good value for money.
Bamboo Fineline 3
If you're looking for a great iPad stylus for writing notes or general handwriting purposes, the Wacom Bamboo Stylus Fineline 3 is the one to get.
It connects via Bluetooth and is supported by a range of apps, but the key advantage of the Stylus Fineline is its superior palm rejection. While it's not as easy to set up as the Apple Pencil, it's a great alternative if you're looking to sketch, and take notes, on an iPad Air or iPad mini.
If there's one company that most people would identify with digital art and design, then it's Wacom. Over the years the company's drawing tablets and styluses have enabled plenty of designers to make the transition from pen and paper to the digital realm, and with this strong history behind it the Intuos Creative Stylus 2 does little to besmirch such a heritage.
The brushed aluminum barrel fills the hand nicely and meets a silicon grip near the tip, which ensures a comfortable user experience for any extended periods.
The tip itself is made of a hardened plastic which can make the stylus a little loud to use at times, depending on the heaviness of your writing/drawing style.
As this is a smart stylus, using Bluetooth 4.0, there are two programmable buttons on the barrel, which can be configured within compatible apps. Common uses are undo and redo, both of which are incredibly handy when working quickly, saving you from taking your hands away from your creation to tap icons on the screen.
The Intuos also has pressure sensitivity capabilities (again, when paired with the right app), which claim 2,048 levels of responsiveness, and palm cancellation.
Power for the smart features comes from an internal rechargeable battery, which has a micro USB socket hidden under a rubber cap at the top of the stylus.
A USB power lead is included in the package, all of which arrives in a smart plastic case. Wacom has produced a very attractive and usable stylus in the Intuos Creative 2.
Ten1 Pogo Connect
For a few years now the Pogo Connect has been a perennial favourite for many iPad users. Built by New York company Ten One Design, the Connect is a Bluetooth-enabled, smart stylus that boasts the rather useful feature of pressure sensitivity. With a standard stylus, the marks you make in a notebook or drawing app will depend on the size of the tool selected. The Connect is a little different in that the harder you press on the screen, the darker (or larger, depending on the app) your mark will be.
With a standard stylus, the marks you make in a notebook or drawing app will depend on the size of the tool selected. The Connect is a little different in that the harder you press on the screen, the darker (or larger, depending on the app) your mark will be.
This of course makes it feel much closer to a real pen, and responds in a natural way to your style of writing/drawing. Powering the Bluetooth enabled sensors is a solitary AAA battery, housed in the silver, cylindrical body. There's also a blue LED to let you know that the device is turned on.
One of the best features of the Connect is that it also has replaceable tips. This means you can use a thinner, more precise one for writing up ideas in Noteshelf, then swap it out for a brush tip when you want to indulge in a spot of watercolours in Paper. This certainly extends the use of the stylus, although you'll need to budget for those extra tips as they don't come with the device.
One thing to bear in mind is that if you're the owner of an iPad Air 1 or 2 then sadly the Connect isn't compatible with your device.
TenOne state that this is due to changes Apple have made to the touch sensors on these latest models. The company also states that no firmware path will be able to overcome this issue, but a new model is no doubt already in development.
FiftyThree Digital Stylus
If you've ever used the rather wonderful Paper app by FiftyThree, then you'll know just how gorgeous and well-designed an art app can be. It should come as no surprise, then, that when the same company set out to create an accompanying stylus, it would take a similarly aesthetic approach.
The Pencil is unique in that it eschews the slim, pen-like style of many other manufacturers, and instead features a rectangular body encased in either graphite or walnut finishes. Both look very smart, and the rubber tips at either end act as an eraser and the actual stylus itself.
This isn't a fine tip example like the Jot Script or Intuos Creative 2, both of which are intended for precision, instead the Pencil is a little on the chunky side and aimed at the artist who might use Paper.
It can navigate iOS and control various apps as a straightforward stylus, but if you pull the tip out you'll discover a slim body of electronics inside. These house special Bluetooth enabled sensors that can turn the Pencil into something a lot more impressive.
As this is a device designed to work specifically with the Paper app, you'll find the best performance when used there. To connect the Pencil you simply hold it against the circle in the far left of the tools tray and after a couple of seconds you're good to go.
Now the app knows to ignore any random palm or finger contacts, but is clever enough to allow you to blend or smudge any ink or paint in the classic artistic technique.
Pairing the Pencil also unlocks all the in-app purchase features for Paper, which is a nice bonus. In use the stylus is comfortable and feels pleasingly accurate for its larger size.
FiftyThree has also announced that other apps are now taking advantage of the Bluetooth capabilities, so users of Noteshelf, Procreate, and Sketchbook Mobile can join the fun. It's not cheap, but it works well, looks great, and is a pleasure to use.
Sensu Artist Brush and Stylus
While several styluses offer the ability to swap the tips for others of various sizes and styles, the Sensu Brush and Stylus is particularly useful due to the fact that it comes with not one but two heads already attached.
At one end of the shiny metal body is the regular rubber tip that is so commonplace on styluses. It's a decent enough offering, with the kind of performance we've come to expect from this approach, but the real star of the Sensu is hidden inside the body.
Pulling off the barrel reveals a micro-fiber artists' brush, which you spin around and then insert back into the barrel to create a long paintbrush that you can use with a host of art apps on the iPad.
The hairs on the brush are soft and move effortlessly across the screen, while displaying an impressive amount of responsiveness. Using the excellent Paper app, especially on the watercolour setting, is a much richer experience with a brush rather than pen-style tips. Dabbing colours here and there feels natural, and the children we handed our iPad to were instantly lost in the creative possibilities.
As this is not a Bluetooth-enabled device it doesn't have pressure sensitivity built in. If you want those artistic brush strokes that reflect your technique you'll need to either adjust the size in the various tool bars apps offer, or in the case of Paper use speed to alter the stroke.
This is a small quibble, though, as more expensive styluses also face this restriction. If you're the arty type and want to dip your toes in the world of digital canvas, then the Sensu is a great product to take along the journey.