Sharpie marker representing a low vision writing tool.
Guide

Writing aids for low vision: My perspective

Choosing the best pens and markers for low vision, as well as some of the worst writing utensils to use with low vision.

As someone with both low vision and dysgraphia, I spent a lot of time in school experimenting with different writing aids, discovering what writing utensils worked best for reading handwriting or drawing a picture, as well as which ones made content difficult or impossible to read. When a former teacher asked me about my favorite pens for low vision and other writing aids, I remembered that they had helped with the school yearbook and started organizing my favorite writing aids based on yearbook superlatives for fun, updating my original writing utensils post from 2019 with new information. Here is a list of different writing utensils and writing aids for low vision, and the superlatives I associate them with.

Most likely to succeed: Sharpie pens

In high school and college, I would always have a few ultra-fine tip and fine-tip Sharpie pens in my backpack for completing assignments, writing quick notes, or taking exams. Sharpie pens come in a variety of saturated colors that stand out on paper, and can be used for everyday assignments as well as creating specialty documents such as formula sheets, posters, or creating bold hand-drawn graphics. However, it’s important to note that the pen ink may bleed through the other side of the paper, so I would avoid printing double-sided documents since the ink can distort text.

I enjoy having multiple color options with Sharpie pens because I frequently use color as a way of labeling and organizing information, as I find it much faster to recognize a color than to read text. Sometimes I will use a mix of black/neutral colored text and draw additional colored outlines, shapes, or bullet points for ease of reference, while other times I will use high-contrast colors for writing text.

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Most talented: Fine-tip dry-erase markers

Dry-erase markers are used on whiteboards in classrooms all the time, but they are one of the most versatile writing aids for low vision as well. I have dry-erase boards in a few different sizes that I use for working out equations or making lists, and I love that I can easily write on a slanted surface or erase mistakes as needed while still writing in large print. One of the “hidden talents” that dry-erase markers have is that they can be photographed or scanned using apps like Microsoft Lens for documenting scratch work or other class assignments, making them a great option for online classes and homework.

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Best eyes: 20-20 pens

BoldWriter 20-20 pens are designed for writing large, high-contrast text for people with low vision, using an ultra-fine tip that pairs well with bold lined paper. Manufactured by Reizen, the BoldWriter features an ergonomic design that fits comfortably in the hand, and is a very popular choice for several of my friends who consider them one of the best markers for low vision. A single pen can be purchased for about $1.50 on websites like MaxiAids, Amazon, and other low vision stores, though I received several free pens from DBVI, Virginia’s state department for blindness and visual impairment.

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Most artistic: Broad-line markers

Crayola markers and other markers for kids can be used for drawing on cardstock, which has a thicker weight than traditional paper and reduces the amount of ink bleeding. When using dry-erase or Sharpie markers is not practical, broad-line markers can be used to create graphics with thick lines, shade in large areas, or be used for sketching out visualizations, anchor charts, or similar concept art.

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Best survival skills: Ballpoint pen with dark ink

I’m always finding ballpoint pens in areas I wasn’t expecting, and they can be used for creating tactile graphics or designs for nonvisual access – they aren’t just for writing!

To create tactile graphics or designs, place a transparency sheet (also known as acetate sheets or projector sheets) against a thin piece of foam, and trace a design with a ballpoint pen to create a raised surface. I prefer to use a dry-erase marker to roughly sketch out a design in advance before tracing it with a pen for improved visibility.

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Best couple: Paper/screens and a slanted surface

I started using a slanted writing board in college after noticing my handwriting looks much neater compared to when I would write flat on my desk, and it has quickly become one of my favorite writing aids for low vision because I can also position the page underneath the bifocal in my glasses. Writing on my iPad with a stylus or using a dry-erase board has a similar result, and there are several options for slanted writing boards that can be purchased or DIYed. My current slanted writing board is an acrylic stand purchased at a store fixture sale, and I have another one marketed as a tablet stand from Ikea.

Most techie: Stylus

Using a stylus like the Apple Pencil makes it easier for me to use annotation apps like Notability and Markup, as well as digital whiteboards and graphic design applications. I also find it easier to write with a stylus than a pen, because I can more easily erase what I am working on or zoom in on the page so I can see what I am writing more easily.

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Best dressed: Ink colors that “pop” against the page

When I was in high school, I made the very poor decision to use dark blue ink while writing on a light blue page, and had a lot of trouble reading what I wrote down, which led to me receiving a very poor grade on that assignment. I was reminded of this again in college when helping a friend with a graphic design project where they used a font color that was only a shade or two different from the background, and I had no idea what they wrote. For me, the “best dressed” text is something that pops against the background and that stands out. Of course, black and white is always a classic, but other examples of high-contrast color combinations can include yellow and black, yellow and red, green and black and similar.

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Biggest prankster: Pencils, especially mechanical pencils

Remember those invisible ink pens that would let someone write with a special pen, only for the message to disappear a few minutes later? That’s how I feel about pencils and mechanical pencils, which use gray lead against a white background, providing poor contrast and appearing invisible when I try to look at it. Mechanical pencils use thinner lead than traditional pencils, and the thinner text can be even more difficult to read. I noticed that I stopped being able to read pencil when I was in middle school, and switched to using other low vision writing aids after being approved for updated disability accommodations.

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Most accident-prone: Erasable ink

One of the reasons teachers encourage students to use pencils over pens in class is because they can erase their mistakes. I tried using erasable pens so that I could also erase mistakes as needed, but noticed that the ink would not erase completely, discoloring the page and making it more difficult to read whatever I wrote over it. Since I have trouble using correction tape due to poor motor control, I just cross out mistakes and write something else next to it, or I write on a new page. This is why I prefer to use tools like dry-erase markers or styluses that allow me to cleanly erase text and correct mistakes.

Most likely to get lost in a room with one exit: Loose pens

I lost several pens in my backpack that were the same dark color as the interior of the backpack when I was in high school, and found them when I was using the backpack on a trip in college. I preferred to use bright-colored pens in shades like pink, orange, and green in early high school because they were the easiest for me to locate in my backpack or in a pencil pouch, but my teachers often complained that these ink colors were harder for them to read when grading. A better solution would have been to add bright-colored pen caps to approved ink colors so that I could locate them more easily, as well as finding a better way to corral pens than putting them in an enclosed dark-colored pouch.

My current desk set-up features three different cups for pens, which are divided by the type of pen used so that I don’t accidentally use permanent marker on the dry-erase board. If I was going to class, I would place pens in the water bottle compartment of my backpack so that I could easily locate them without having to empty my backpack or look through different areas.

Related links

Other resources on writing aids for low vision

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated January 2024; original post published in 2019.

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