HomeSpirographSpirograph pens: Felt-tip pens


Spirograph pens: Felt-tip pens — 58 Comments

  1. 1.

    I just bought my 8-year-old granddaughter the new Spirograph Deluxe via QVC (for $21 plus shipping and tax, but they waived shipping when I called and talked to customer service). She is going to immediately want more pens. Do you recommend the above-listed ones? Do you have a favorite suggestion of these?

    • They both look like great sets. Lots of colors. They’re the same ones I recommended in the post; I have a selection of each, and both were great: fast drying, different shades of color for making subtle variations. They both have nice carrying cases too. One is rigid, and one is flexible. The Stabilo case, being made of cloth, may be more useful to her in the future, as it could carry any kind of pen or pencil. I would make my selection on that basis, I think.

  2. Heather, thanks these additional ideas for pens, and for your blog generally! My daughter just got a spirograph set for Christmas, and I’m finding myself very interested in it. We played with it a bit on Christmas day—her aunt (the giver) also brought out her old set with the cardboard and pins, and we all agree that the putty is so much better—I remember as a kid myself being both fascinated and frustrated with the original spirograph. As for pens, the kid had also received a set of Sakura brand “gellyroll moonlight” pens, so we tried those with the new spirograph too, and they worked nicely. Maybe a bit of smearing, but not too bad.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Felicity. I found the gel pens smeared a bit too, but they’re so gorgeous, one wants to use them anyway! It sounds like spirograph added nicely to your Christmas day. Have fun.

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  4. Hi,

    I have a question in relation to the Stabilo fine 0.4 pens.
    Aren’t they too small (fine) for the Spirograph wheel holes that they would wiggle around in the hole???

    • It’s OK for the pen tips to move around in the hole. You still get smooth designs because the pen is leaning against the same side of the hole as the direction you’re pushing in, which changes as you rotate around the circle. Any pen will move a little bit in the hole. The greater the difference between the pen diameter and the hole diameter, the bigger the loops you get with some wheels as you can see in this post:

  5. Hi, I just started with drawing spirographs and bought Stabilo 88 fineliner set. But I just tried them and they do smeare. Anny idea why they smeare in my case?

    • Hmm. I’ve thought on writing a post on this topic but wanted to try a bigger variety of paper first. It depends a lot on how absorbent the paper is. Different papers are given different surface treatments or coatings, often including clay, depending on their purpose. Here’s a useful explanation:

      “Offset printing papers require some kind of surface treatment to manage the interaction of ink and water during the printing process. Uncoated papers typically have starch-based sizing, while coated papers generally have coatings made of clay, calcium carbonate, and binders”
      (from this webpage).

      Offset printers very carefully match the parameters of their printing presses with the properties of the paper they use. Clay slows absorption of the ink, leading to smearing as the spirograph wheel passes over your line. Starch would absorb ink easily. I’ve mostly been using the cheap untreated paper I get for my inkjet printer. I have tried a higher gloss cardstock and saw some smearing.

      Try some different papers. I’d be interested in hearing about your results, and maybe collect it into a blog post about paper and ink.

  6. I just got the Deluxe set. I cannot for the life of me get the gears to stay within the guide gears. Slips out at every turn. So frustrating. Any tips? I’m using fine Sharpie markers.

    • I just responded to a similar question on another page, so apologies if anyone has read this somewhere else. Maybe I should make a video about it. Hole #1 is always the hardest, as the changes in direction are sharpest. Suggestions: let the wheel guide your pen more than the other way around. Watch where the hole in the wheel is wanting to travel, and let it take the pen there. Keep the teeth engaging with each other. The sideways force of the pen is always in the direction of the next teeth to engage. I’m sure you’ll get better with practice.

      Also make sure your surface is flat and that the ring is firmly fixed to it, whether you use pins or putty. It’s one less thing to worry about.

      It’s interesting for me to hear about people’s challenges in using Spirograph because I learned so long ago as a kid, and don’t remember what was hard about it way back then. I’m thinking that a video in which I can demonstrate the fine points would be helpful. So please feel free to talk about what’s difficult, and I’ll keep trying to break it down into useful tips.

      • The box design of the new sets tends to warp the wheels slightly because the moulded housing is too tight. I found this when I bought the new Deluxe Set; in the end I searched ebay and got a vintage set which works much more smoothly and with less slippage.
        I realise you will want to get some use out of your new set, so I suggest not using the box.

        • When I got my set I had the same thought – that I had to pry the pieces out of the holders with such force that I warped them. Did I cause them to bend myself? Were they kind of warped anyway? Is the plastic softer than the old ones so that they warp more easily? At the same time, the box solves the transport and storage problem of the old tray that doesn’t hold the pieces in place unless you keep it horizontal. I appreciate that too. But there are other reasons to prefer the old sets: Higher precision especially.

    • One thing that has helped me with with new sets is to turn the wheel over. This seems to help the finer tipped pens hold the wheel down inside the circle. I don’t have to do this with the older sets, maybe because the pen holes are smaller?

      • I guess it would have to do with the shape of the tip of your pen vs the size of the hole. Also, with the new set, the rim of the wheels is thicker on the top side than on the bottom side. If you use the wheel right-side-up (numbers on top), the flat part of the wheel is closer to the paper than if you turn it over. This would help you use even cone-shaped-tip pens. In the old set, the rim thickness is more equal, with the flat part of the wheel more in the middle. So it would stand to reason that it would behave differently right-side-up vs upside-down if your pen was helping to old the wheel down as you draw. Clear as mud?

    • I find that when the gears slip out of the track, it’s usually because I have been using too much pressure. Lighten up your touch. Push only enough so the gear moves. It takes lots of trial and error to come up with the correct touch to get a design instead of slipped gears. Good luck!

  7. Back in the days of my youth, one christmas present was a Kenner Spirograph set. I think my mother purchased ours a couple years before the Super-Spirograph was introduced, as I don’t remember the snap-together parts. Unfortunately, that old set is long gone, so I don’t have it for reference. I do remember the 4 pens – Black, Blue, Red, & Green were retractable ball-points, similar to what was provided in my new Deluxe set from Kahootz, not the stick pens you depict in this post. I can’t remember ever finding another pen that would work back then, but I don’t think my family tried all that hard to find other pens. I think there were not as many pen types back then as there are now available either.

    Like Theresa above, I am having problems with the wheels slipping out of the ring and/or maintaining contact with the teeth of the ring. I suspect back then, I never got very good at drawing with the Spirograph set. As you mentioned above, Hole #1 is very difficult to work with because of those shrarp turns. I am making note of your suggestions to Theresa, but would also appreciate a video or text post in which you give some pointers.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I think I need to do some research first: watch some people struggling with it so that I can see what they’re doing and figure out what pointers I can give that actually help them. Then a video would probably be most useful to people, but I need to find the right words first.

      • I’ve been practicing more. I find that both a light hand and S-L-O-W movement help. Finding out just how lightly to push takes some experimentation. I also tried the pens that came with the new Super Spirograph. They seem like they are felt tip as opposed to ball point. The ink flows – sometimes too well. I could see a big, bold dot at every starting point on over a dozen attempts to draw any design tonight. That big, bold dot disappointed me so greatly, I doubt I will try any other felt tip pens, unless I can figure out how to stop it from happening.

        Last night, I tried the Papermate Inkjoy pens… those are nice, except for the occasional smearing. I discovered that I could reduce the incidence of smearing if I first wiped the tip of my pen on a piece of scrap paper before attempting to draw.

        • Good points. You might choose to start each pattern NOT near the ring, but somewhere in the middle where the dot will be less noticeable. Also, getting the wheel moving before actually making contact with the paper can avoid the big dots when using felt pens.

          The pressure of the pen on the side of the hole is what makes the wheel move. The direction of the pressure and the resistance of the wheel both change constantly.

  8. If you haven’t tried Frixion color pens, you need to. They offer some cool ideas and refreshed interest in the Spirograph arena. Such as magic. You can use regular pens to come up partial designs and the frixion pens to complete and fill in areas hiding secret messages or images. Once done, you can take a lighter or match and making sure not to catch the paper on fire, you can cause the frixion ink to disappear and reveal your secrets. Kids love this and I use it in my card magic act.

    • Wow, what fun! I looked it up. Heat sensitive ink that disappears when you heat it or rub it with the eraser, and reappears when you cool it. Or just use it to erase mistakes made with Spirograph. Or to layer the patterns on a page. Or…. Thanks!
      The videos here tell all:

  9. My set of Spirograph pens included pink, blue, orange and green. In the little that I have looked for replacement ink, I have not seen orange mentioned as a color. Not sure when my set was purchased, probably early to mid 1970s.

  10. I’ve been using Staedtler Triplus fineliner pens and love them for the Spirograph because they have a metal barrel so the tips stay stiff as you use them. Great vibrant colors but they don’t bleed through the paper.

    • And it’s the smooth, hard metal barrel that pushes against the side of the hole, so it goes smoothly without damage to the pen.

  11. I am in the process of trying to use the triplus and stabile point 88 fineliners with my newly acquired Spirograph, but find they are slipping a lot opposed to the actual Spirograph pens as they are a more snug fit and hold the wheel down better. I love my fineliner pens as they have so many colours and would much rather use them. Any tips?

    • Practice, practice, practice, I guess. Hold the pen vertical. Keep an eye on where the teeth of the wheel mesh with those on the ring to make sure the wheel isn’t popping up. Don’t push the wheel too hard and don’t push the pen down too hard. It’s the very light and ever-changing direction of pressure of the pen on the side of the hole that makes the wheel move. The pen will naturally rotate around the hole as you go. That helps to makes a smooth line. Let the wheel guide you – it’s kind of like being the woman when ballroom dancing. Let the wheel take the lead.

  12. Old topic but I’m just getting into Wild Gears so it’s all rather new to me. I have a set of the Stabilo Point 88s and also the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners. I slightly prefer the Staedtlers but they each have their place.

    I’d also like to mention the Sakura Pigma Micron pens. They aren’t available in remotely as many colors as the Staedtlers or Stabilos, but there are a variety of widths, from extremely fine to almost Sharpie broad and they lay down a beautiful, consistent line. I recently picked up a set of 6 different widths, all in black. There’s one every 0.05mm from 0.20mm to 0.50mm. I find the .50mm lays down a bit too much ink and has a tendency to smear on the copy paper I’ve been using. The .25mm and .30mm I’ve used the most lay down exceptionally dark, smooth lines that give an impression of high precision. They’re fantastic for the more intricate drawings I tend to gravitate toward.

    • Your comment prompted me to get out some Sakura Pigma Micron pens that I inherited. I hadn’t been using them as they’re more expensive and acid-free archival quality, and I was really getting into all the colors in the other sets. But pens will dry out eventually, used or unused, so I’m trying them with my Wild Gears. The package says they’re 0.45mm, but they’re making a fine line compared with my well-used cheaper pens. It does feel fine and precise. Makes me want to try the finer pens. A reader said that the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners are 0.3mm while the Stabilo Point 88 are 0.4mm. I think the tips get somewhat wider with use.

      The archival quality Micron pens would be of interest for anyone moving beyond play into art. Please be assured that I’m not making a clear distinction between the two!

  13. I experimented a bit more with the Sakura Pigma Microns. My instinct with the .50mm was to go faster so it would lay down less ink. Turns out the opposite is the best approach. When I moved slowly the paper apprently had more time to absorb the ink and keep it from smearing. A slow, steady pace seems best. I had no smearing problems with the .45mm or narrower.

    Not to knock the Stabilos or Staedtlers, they’re both very nice pen sets, but it’s clear why the Sakuras cost so much more. They’ve obviously spent a lot of effort perfecting the movement of ink from pen to page in a smooth, consistent line.

    Amazon has a large set containing one of every Sakura Pigma Micron pen, including some brush pens that would be good for coloring but not of much use with Spirograph or Wild Gears. At $85 for 59 pens it’s a bit expensive but that’s actually a very good price since the pens sell individually for about $2.50. There are also several smaller sets for less money.

    • I see on the Amazon page that they’re used a lot by cartoonists and graphic artists who need different thicknesses. Some impressive portfolio work on the page in the customer images section. The larger tips would be useful for those who like to colour their Spirograph or Wild Gears designs, but unless you’re producing serious product, they’d be too expensive for most. Direct link to this big set:

      My set of six includes black, brown, purple, green, blue and red.

      • Those are the same colors in the original set of .25mm ones I got long before I had the Wild Gears.

        I watched a video recently that mentioned the technique of using different color pens in the same hole but at different, constant angles. This alters the path of the line and can provide interesting highlighting, though I had trouble with it when I was pushing forward with the tip of the pen. It tended to lift the gear.

        I was thinking the chisel tip Sakura pens could be used to a vaguely similar effect by holding the pen vertically and keeping the angle of the chisel constant. It would alter the thickness of the line as the pen transitioned from the broad tip being perpendicular to parallel to the direction of travel. Unfortunately, it looks like the two chisel tip pens only come in black. Still might be fun to experiment with.

  14. In my sojourns through the wilderness of the internet I came upon mention on the Stabilo web site that the Point 88 is now available in 47 colors, including 6 neon colors. If my math is right, that’s 16 more colors than I have in my 25-pen Stabilo set. Not being able to find these anywhere online I posted a question to Stabilo about availability. I’ll post more if/when I hear from them.

      • I just got a response from Stabilo. The new colors were released in January. The reference they gave me was to item number 8850-6, which is a metal boxed set of 50 pens. These show up on several European sites but I’ve not yet found them in the United States. MacPherson Art, which is Stabilo’s official U.S. partner, does not yet have them on their site either. I guess we’ll have to keep our eyes open.

          • After a year of no change in the non-availability of the 50-pen Stabilo set, I contacted MacPherson Art. I was told the 50-pen sets are on order and should start to show up at art supply dealers over the next few months. Suggested retail price is a rather staggering $59.95. One can only hope that street price will be deeply discounted like with the current sets.

            In other pen-related events, I recently purchased a 14-pen set of Sakura Pigma Micron color pens. These are all the 05 versions that have a .45mm tip. They also came with a very nice zippered case with loops to retain each of the pens. I doubt I’ll get much use from the case but it’s a nice touch and could be useful if you travel with a subset of your Spirograph/Wild Gears. The colors are all vibrant, including one of the yellowest yellows I’ve every seen. Like the other Micron pens, they lay down a very consistent, steady line. Drawings done with Micron pens always have an air of precision about them that other pens don’t have. If only they weren’t so expensive. I paid $24 for the 14-pen set.

  15. I very recently got a Spirograph set after remembering that I liked it as a kid (though I may have just had the simple travel version!). I’m experimenting with pens and had a few Pentel EnerGel Liquid Gel Ink pens (0.7 mm) on hand. These are my favorite so far. I’ve tried Stabilos, Uniball Vision Elite Micro, Paper Mate Profile, Sharpie fine point, Pilot Frixion, etc. but none of them impress me as much as the Pentels. I haven’t seen anyone mention them yet so I thought I’d throw it out there. The colors are vibrant! But I wish there were more colors; the most I’ve found are in a 14-color set on Amazon (

    Sometimes I do have some trouble with the tip of the barrel popping out, so I have to stop carefully and screw it back into place. It might just be that way with one of my pens because there’s a small crack in the barrel right above the gel grip.

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Amy. I’m sure it will be useful to people. As you point out, almost anything works, but some work better than others, and the Pentels look great with their fast-drying ink and smoothness. I’ll have to try them!

        • Thanks, Heather! I saw those too but couldn’t tell whether they were the same as some of the colors in the larger assortment I linked to. I guess there’s one good way to determine that. 🙂

          I’ve been trying to use the Stabilo 88s, but is it just me, or do other people have issues with the wheels popping out over the rings with Stabilos more than other pens? I’ve gotten really frustrated with them for this reason, which sucks, because I really like the array of colors available!

          • The Stabilo 88s have a thin, straight point. Other pens such as the Uniball and, from what I can see, the Pentels, have a thicker, more conical point which may help hold down the inner wheel. Just guessing. Keep practicing….

          • This is getting very deep into geeky gears country, but to address a similar problem with my Wild Gears I bought a small set of metric nylon washers on Amazon. They were only a couple dollars so I was willing to experiment.

            I took two slight different sized washers and glued them together with the holes aligned. This allowed use of a top washer with a hole sized so it wouldn’t ride up past the shaft of the pen tip and a bottom washer big enough to not drop into any of the holes on the gear. I put the washer pair over the gear hole I want to use and insert the pen through it. This traps the gear between the paper and the body of the pen, keeping the gear from riding up and popping out of the ring. It’s not the most elegant approach but it is reasonably effective for those cases where the gear keeps trying to pop out.

            Wild Gears have a smooth surface over which the washers easily slide. My recollection from childhood is that Spirograph gears are not smooth so this may not work with them.

  16. I’m curious if anyone else sometimes uses pencil with their gears. I frequently experiment with various combinations of gears to see what shapes result, often trying multiple variations on the same theme. It seemed pencil would be cheaper than pen for this.

    Initially I bought a set that included one each of 0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 0.9mm pencils. The 0.9mm was clearly too wide and the 0.5mm was a bit too narrow. The 0.7mm one seemed just right.

    That lead me to the next issue — smeared graphite on dense patterns. I’d been using fairly standard HB lead, which is relatively soft. I looked for harder leads but the prices online, mostly due to shipping, were ridiculously high. Eventually I found a deal on Pentel 3H leads. Unfortunately, these turned out to be too hard, making it almost impossible to see the form being drawn. Expanding the search unearthed a deal on Pentel H lead. This seems a good compromise. Hard enough that it doesn’t leave excess graphite on the page but dark enough you can actually see the drawing, at least in good light.

    I’ve also experimented with other pencils. I got a Pentel GraphicGear 500 that has a plastic body with a metal grip barrel near the tip. The plastic body doesn’t mate securely with the metal barrel. The slight movement there bothers me. Then I bought a Rotring 600, which has a solid metal body and grip. Very nice pencil I like a lot. Unfortunately, after all these purchases I’m not sure I’m saving much.

    • I think you’re talking about mechanical pencils. That would make more sense than wooden pencils, as they have a metal barrel that pushes the gear around, rather than the lead, if you hold it right. I must have missed the day in Grade 3 when they taught how to use those pencils, as I’ve never had much luck with them.

      They could be useful, however, in certain art applications. Someone was using the wheel-within-a-wheel setup to make celtic knot-type designs, using a pencil, and she was then able to erase part of it before incorporating it into a zentangle-y piece.

      • Yes, mechanical, or, more specifically, technical pencils. Technical pencils are designed more for drafting and art use rather than for regular writing. They will almost always have a thin metal shaft that allows them to be used right up against a straight edge, or the edge of a Wild Gear pen hole. A generic mechanical pencil might have a conical tip more like a wood pencil.

        Mechanical pencils were more of an elective course in school. 😉 Dating myself here, but I took drafting in high school back when it was done by hand and inked velum drawings turned into blueprints that were actually blue. (That ammonia developer was nasty!) The pencils we used from drafting were rather different than these, but that got me into using mechanical pencils and aware of hardness ratings. I’ve been using mechanical pencils off and on ever since.

        Being able to erase is useful as you mentioned, or for just correcting mistakes. The other idea that comes to mind after using some of the harder/lighter leads is for drawing a pattern to be colored where you don’t want the lines to show up. The 3H lead is so light it’s hard to see when you’re looking for the lines so they would almost certainly disappear once the drawing was colored in.

        I have also experimented with wooden colored pencils. They provide a more watercolor-like effect. It’s interesting with some patterns.

        • Hi Jay,

          Since you mentioned drafting I was curious if you still have (or ever developed) a “drafters callus”on your middle finger….haha.
          They may take longer to develop than a couple years of drafting classes however if you didn’t do any drafting after school.
          I did manual drafting for close to 10 years (before moving to CAD) and still have a callus from the mechanical pencils pressing up against my finger.

          Just ordered the Super Spirograph set and was thinking about using pencils to try out designs before doing them in color.
          I still have a few lead holders and various leads so I’ll have to dust them off and try them.

          This is a great website by the way. Had the standard set as a kid and loved it and just recently got the urge to try Spirographing again.

          • I didn’t do drafting for very long but I did a lot of writing by hand for many years. I had a callus like that for a long time. It’s faded over the years but there’s still a slightly raised, rougher spot there.

            I always enjoyed writing by hand. Studied calligraphy for a while. Eventually I graduated to using fountain pens for as much of my writing as was practical.

            Using pencils with the Spirograph or Wild Gears you can do some subtle things I don’t believe are possible with pens. I went kind of nuts with the pencils and leads this year, but then life intervened in my Wild Gears drawing and I wasn’t able to do nearly as much as I’d hoped. I’ve got a brand new set of 100 colored pens sitting here I’ve not yet used at all. It’s right next to a lifetime supply of mechanical pencil lead. Hopefully I’ll find a bit of time to work on it over the summer. Maybe build that callus back up.

  17. From memory the original ballpoint set of 4 colours were made by Tallon….the ink had a very distinctive smell!

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