I like my iPad for traveling as it gives me easy access to read and reply to email. However, I don’t like to type on it the same way I would on a regular keyboard, I prefer to use a stylus to hunt and peck rather than my fingers. I also like to draw and take notes that way too. In addition, since the iPad is prone to smudging the stylus keeps the amount of fingerprints to a minimum.
I have been using the Pogo Sketch stylus by Ten One Design which works well but it’s rather small, and the plastic clip breaks very easily. What I really want is a full-size writing instrument. So I have been trying to make my own stylus, and have come up with a couple of solutions.
I am of the firm belief that for the stylus to be responsive the tip needs to be made of conductive foam not conductive hard plastic/rubber like is used on some styli. In my experience the hard plastic/rubber doesn’t slide well on the iPad, and you need to press extra hard to type. So here are some of the styli I made on my own.
Writing Instrument Modifications
First you need to understand that you need to be able to conduct a small electric current from your body to the capacitive touch screen on the iPad, an important consideration when choosing what kind of instrument you modify.
If you have a favorite metal barreled pen you can remove the ink cartridge and spring and insert a piece of conductive foam through the tip. I used a cool pen (pictured at the bottom) with a metal tube. Look at the top of the pen and you can see it is black plastic. If you wanted to hold the stylus that way it wouldn’t work.
To modify the pen below I took about a 1/2 inch long piece of foam trimmed down to about a 1/4 in diameter and the pulled it through the empty pen tip. This gave me a pretty small point but was pretty effective for drawing. If your pen has a very narrow opening for the point you can cut the end with a rotary tool and expand the opening. The advantages of this approach is that if you like a clip on your pen or want a familiar pen, you can choose the type of writing instrument you prefer. The downside is that if the hole is small it will probably cause the tip to be deformed. I actually got a sort of fan effect from mine but it works very well. You can always trim the tip with scissors or a finger nail clipper to get the shape you want.
This is my favorite approach to making a iPad stylus, it uses a 2mm lead holder (used for drafting) and some conductive foam. I used an Alvin Pro-Matic Lead Holder that I picked up at a craft supply store for $6.79 ($8.48 with a 20% off coupon). The key was that this model had a metal barrel and a four way vise grip point that could grab my conductive foam point. I then went to Radio Shack and bought an inexpensive IC (about $.80) that was packed in high-density conductive phone. I trimmed a small piece of foam and then put it in the jaws of the lead holder. With this approach I feel like you can really control the size and shape of the point since you don’t have to squish the foam to get it through another opening. Additionally, you can leave the lead in the pencil and remove the foam if you need an antiquated paper writing instrument. the only downside to this approach is that if you click the top of the lead holder the jaws open the foam can fall out.
These DIY styli are both superior in weight and length to the other styli you can buy, plus they are both much cheaper. I like writing with both of them but ideally I would like to figure out how to attach a 3.5-mm stereo jack and string to the stylus so I could affix it to my iPad’s headphone port. Maybe that’s the next project.
Stylus Friendly iPad Apps
Once you have the stylus you want you I recommend two of my favorite programs that are particularly suited to using a stylus.
- Autodesk’ SketchBook Pro – SketchBook Pro is similar to the Adobe suite of desktopproducts as it lets you draw on multiple layers using various types of brushes. There are also templates for the backgrounds that resemble notepaper and other documents. If you like to sketch this is a pretty decent app. I hear that Brushes is pretty popular too, but haven’t use it.
- WritePad for iPad - This application is an excellent handwriting recognition application and allows you to author documents or emails using a stylus. I find I can write faster than I can type on the iPad and it allows me to hold the iPad in the crook of my arm while I write with the other, perfect when I am a plane or sitting in the airport.
Other DIY iPad Stylus Ideas
There are quite a few other DIY Stylus projects out there if you aren’t keen on my idea you can have a go at these.
- Static Sock and an Ink Pen – I had lousy results with this one, it could have been the sock I used but it was pretty laggy and performance was inconsistent
- Plastic pen, conductive foam and wire – I prefer using a metal barrel pen as I like the weight but this will work too.
- Sausage Stylus – This is just plain ridiculous, but funny
- Review: Ozaki iStroke M+L Stylus – I was tempted to give this a try but it’s a little on the expensive side, iLounge has a decent review
[Note: I guess I am not as clever as I though as I was adding this blog post I found Crabfu's DIY iPad Stylus video with the same idea to use a lead holder with capacitive foam though he has some different caveats like gluing the foam to a cotton swab stick to allow the lead holder to grip it, not sure if you really need that step.]