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How To Use Your Surface Pen: A Guide For Beginners

Here is our beginners guide to the Microsoft Surface Pen. You learn the basics, how to use it, and which apps can be great for the stylus.

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Microsoft Surface Go 2 with Surface Pen

When I bought my Surface Go, it came with a Surface Pen. I had no idea what I’d do with it, but I thought, “Yeah, cool, I’ll take it.”

A few months later, I put it up for sale because I wasn’t using it. Luckily no one bought it. In retrospect, what a mistake it would be to sell it.

I realized that I didn’t spend enough time learning how to use it, so I am writing this guide to share with you what I did to gain an appreciation for it.

The Microsoft Surface Pen, a pivotal accessory for Microsoft’s Surface computing devices, is an active stylus and digital pen engineered to enhance the pen computing experience on Microsoft tablets like the Surface Pro and Go.

This pen is not just a tool for writing and drawing; it’s a creative instrument that brings a natural and fluid inking experience. Graphic artists would be familiar with a pen like this, which helps you shade in sketches, feather brush strokes, and draw lines naturally. Once you learn how to use it, you’ll never go back to a mouse!

Surface Pen Models

The full list of Surface Pens include:

  • Surface Slim Pen 2
  • Surface Slim Pen
  • Surface Pen with no clip
  • Surface Pen with single button on flat edge
  • Surface Pen with two side buttons
  • Microsoft Classroom Pen
  • Microsoft Classroom Pen 2 and Microsoft Business Pen
  • Surface Pro Pen
  • Surface Hub Pen

Seems like a lot, but there are really two main classes of Surface Pens. The normal version (called “Surface Pen”), and the Slim version called “Surface Slim Pen”.

The Surface Pen and Surface Slim Pens are easily distinguishable from their shape. The Slim versions are a bit more like a bar magnet – flat on one side and a bit stubbier on height. Whereas the regular versions are cylindrical, like a Sharpie.

The Surface Slim Pen 2 is the latest and most advanced Surface Pen with features such as haptic feedback (to simulate writing on paper with micro-vibrations, for example). It also has wireless charging (which might require you to buy a separate charger)

Identifying your Surface Slim Pen 2

surface slim pen 2
  1. Pen tip
  2. Right-click and select button
  3. LED light
  4. Eraser and top button

Identifying your Surface Pen

surface pen
  1. Eraser and top button
  2. LED light
  3. Right-click and select button
  4. Pen tip

Pairing the Surface Pen with your Surface device

Your Surface Pen connects your Surface through Bluetooth. To pair it, go to Start > Settings > Bluetooth & devices > Pen & Windows Ink.

Once you’re connected to it, you can set up the shortcuts.

Basic Actions with the Surface Pen

In the same menu where you paired the Surface Pen, you can also configure the shortcuts.

surface pen & windows ink menu

This is my configuration, but by default, here’s what the shortcut button (on top of the Surface Pen, AKA the eraser) will do:

  • Single press = opens Microsoft Whiteboard
  • Double press = opens Snip & Sketch
  • Press-and-hold = opens Sticky Notes

Interacting With The Surface Pen

Using the Surface Pen as a Human Interaction Device is easy.

  • Tapping on the screen = clicking on a mouse
  • Press side button and tap = right click
  • Tap and hold on an item = drag and drop
  • Press side button and drag pen = select multiple items

Writing, Drawing And Erasing With The Surface Pen

Here are the general patterns that work across all apps.

Writing and Drawing

Once your Surface Pen is paired with your tablet, you can write and draw as if you were holding a real pen.

If you approach the screen with the Surface Pen but don’t see a circular dot appear, then your Pen might not be connected to your Surface. Bluetooth can be buggy sometimes, and with my Surface Pen, I can restart it by removing the battery cover and reinstalling it.

The Surface Pen offers different levels of pressure sensitivity, making it great for everything from note-taking to detailed drawing. Apply more pressure for thicker lines or lighter pressure for fine lines.

But before you start writing, make sure to rest your palm on the screen. Surface Pens have what’s known as “palm rejection” which detects your palm and disallows it from influencing the touchscreen.

You will also need compatible apps for optimized writing and drawing. Use the pen in compatible apps like OneNote, Microsoft Office, Adobe Suite, and drawing software. Each app may offer different pen tools, like various brush types and colors. We’ll share a list of our recommended apps below.


Just like a pencil, the eraser on the Surface Pen is on the back. Flip the pen and use it like a regular eraser. The eraser tip is pressure-sensitive too, allowing for precise control.

Checking The Battery Level

If your Surface Pen’s battery level is low, you’ll notice some signs.

First, the LED on the side of your pen will flash red. That means you need to change or charge the battery.

The computer where your Surface Pen is paired will also give you a warning.

Finally, you can also go into the menu to see the level of charge. Go to Start > Settings > Devices > Bluetooth & other devices then find your pen and you should see the battery level.

With the regular Surface Pen, you will need to replace the battery with a AAAA battery. This is a battery that is smaller than triple-A and you’re not likely to find them in regular stores.

With the Surface Slim Pens, you will need to either buy a charging dock or use a device with an integrated charger (such as the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard).

Also Read: Our Microsoft Surface Pro 9 Review

Replacing Pen Tip

My Surface Pen’s tip wore out to a point where it felt like I was writing with a paintbrush.

But replacing it was super simple. You can buy a set of three tips from the Microsoft Store or buy a third-party one. Make sure to buy the tip that’s suited for your model.

Remove the old tip by pulling it out. It might take some force but it will eventually get loose. You may want to use a gentle tool to assist you.

Installation is also simple. Place the tip’s shaft into the pen and use force to lock it in.

Practical Uses of Surface Pen

As I said in the introduction, I almost sold the Surface Pen, but that was a mistake on my part.

One use case that I found is that the Surface Pen is actually a great tool for practicing penmanship, particularly if you are learning a new alphabet (such as Cyrillic, Arabic, Korean hangul, South Asian scripts), Japanese, or Chinese.

In the past, I would use a whole bunch of paper to practice my strokes when writing Chinese. No longer!

So let’s start with some apps for writing and note-taking.

Also Read: Should You Get The Surface Go For Gaming?

Wacom Bamboo Paper

Bamboo Paper

I personally use this and recommend this.

The one thing I like about the Bamboo Paper is that you can choose different paper backgrounds (line, grid, blank, etc.). If you are practicing writing a new alphabet, then it’s essential you have a baseline to work with, or else you can’t really judge the proportions of your handwriting!

Bamboo Paper is freemium software that allows you to create unlimited notebooks, but if you want additional tools and backgrounds, then you will have to get the premium version.

Microsoft OneNote

Microsoft Surface Go 2 handwritten OneNote

Editors at MyNextTablet highly recommend Microsoft OneNote because it’s free and it works great with the Surface Pen.

Since OneNote and the Surface Pen are Microsoft products, both work really well with each other. With the Surface Pen, you’re not just limited to jotting down notes in your handwriting; you can also create various shapes, diagrams, and utilize tools such as a ruler. What’s more, you have the option to convert your handwritten notes into typed text.

Your notes are synced to Microsoft’s cloud and you can access these notes using the Android and iOS apps.

Best PDF Apps

Here are two apps that we enjoyed using.

PDF Reader by Xodo

PDF Reader by Xodo

Xodo’s PDF Reader is a freemium app that is an excellent tool for a variety of PDF-related tasks. It allows you to read, generate, modify, and mark up PDF files with ease. You can open a PDF and add your own handwritten notes or use special tools for underlining text. The app also facilitates signing documents, and you have the option to store your signature for future use. Additionally, creating new PDFs is straightforward with Xodo; you can start from a blank slate or use an image as your base.

Drawboard PDF

drawboard pdf

Drawboard comes highly recommended by many of its long-time users (it’s been around since 2013) and has a free version or a paid version.

It offers an array of features including the ability to underline text and insert drawings, as well as the option to add new pages or create custom PDFs, and the interface is user-friendly.

The paid version is software as a service. This means you’ll have to pay $50 – $159 per year to use this program, with varying tiers of service.

The Pro tiers can offer advanced tools like a protractor, precise measurements, and a document builder. These specialized features are tailored to specific needs, and while not necessary for all users, those requiring such capabilities will likely recognize their value.


The Microsoft Surface Pen is a pretty sophisticated, versatile tool that enhances the user experience of Microsoft’s Surface devices. 

Through this guide, we’ve explored its different models, functionalities, and practical applications. Whether for graphic design, or note-taking, learning how to use the Surface Pen makes it an indispensable tool. 

My initial skepticism about its utility has been replaced by a deep appreciation of its capabilities after learning how to use it.

Also Read: Best Surface Pro 9 Accessories

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  1. Pingback: Microsoft Surface Pen: Eine Anleitung für Anfänger | Tablet Blog

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