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What is a Dry Highlighter?

By Brooke Edwards
Updated May 16, 2024
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To those who are used to the traditional, felt-tipped, fluorescent-yellow version, a dry highlighter may seem like an oxymoron. However there are actually many variations on the dry highlighter, used to set off or draw attention to passages in a book or other document.

One common version of the dry highlighter looks much like correction tape. A small dispenser lays out a colored, translucent strip of tape over the words to be highlighted. The tape is available in all colors, but like the traditional highlighter, the most popular color is bright yellow.

Other names and versions of the concept include dry line highlighters, dry mark highlighters, drylighters and dry highlighter pencils. These include the use of fluorescent-colored lead, much like a colored pencil, or a waxy, crayon-like material. However, some users complain that these types of dry highlighters require too much back and forth marking to completely cover the area, as opposed to the single swipe needed with a thicker wet highlighter.

A dry highlighter has several advantages over a traditional highlighter, which uses a fiber-tipped pen to distribute wet ink. With dry versions, there is no bleeding or smearing, either of the highlighter ink itself or of the words underneath. The pen won’t dry out and you don’t have to wait for its lines to dry to write over the top of it or to close your book. Dry highlighters won’t leak in your backpack or purse or desk. Many versions are refillable and completely erasable, able to be rubbed off with an eraser or similar object. This feature makes them particularly attractive to students, who aren't able to leave permanent marks in a text book.

The product continues to grow in popularity at Judeo-Christian bookstores, Web sites and more since dry highlighters won’t bleed through the ultra-thin pages of most Bibles. Manufacturers even market the dry highlighter in “Bible highlighting kits,” often with slogans such as “God is love” on the clip.

A dry highlighter can be purchased at most office supply stores or online. Manufacturers such as Sanford, Avery and Tombow sell dry highlighters for roughly the same price as typical highlighters. Brands such as Levenger can cost nearly $50 US Dollars (USD), plus costs for shipping and future ink refills.

In customer reviews, many people rave about the benefits of dry highlighters over felt-tipped versions. Others claim that regular crayons or colored pencils are less expensive and work just as well.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1005736 — On Nov 06, 2021

I like to drylight words and sentences on innocuous junk mail right before I shred it. This is an important skill to learn; drylighting junk mail that means nothing.

Another use I have for drylighters is to drylight the "open here" tabs on saltine cracker boxes. It's very important to know where to open and where to tuck the tab during the complicated closing process of a saltine cracker box.

I also drylight those little stickers that are on single oranges when you buy oranges one at a time. It's very important to know and remember the information on those little stickers.

I also drylight the sideways name on Crayola Crayons. That's right: I drylight a drylighter. What are you gonna do about it?! That's what I thought ...

Remember, use your time wisely. As you can see, I do.

By wander — On Jul 18, 2011

@Kat919 - Using colored pencils to highlight your work is a much better idea than using wet or dry highlighters. I also love to color code everything so I found that colored pencils worked best for me too.

One system I have in place is to use about half a dozen select colors and mark of things I need to look up, words I don't understand, things to memorize, terms to research, areas of special interest and things I think will be on the test.

The best thing about using colored pencils instead of a highlighter, dry or otherwise, is that you can mark an item in multiple colors without having ink bleed everywhere. I know that always used to be a huge problem for me.

For those that are trying to stay organized, what other ideas do you have for making sure your notes are neat and you can find everything you need?

By Mae82 — On Jul 17, 2011

When I was a university student I used to go through numerous packages of wet highlighters every semester and remember always complaining about how fast they dried out. When I found a dry highlighter at the bookstore I gave it a shot and was sold. Not only did it work great, but also it seemed to last a lot longer than the traditional wet highlighters I had been using.

From experience I can tell you that getting highlighter ink out of my clothes was a problem, but with the dry highlighter I didn't have to worry about that anymore.

For any students out there that are trying to pick supplies for school, just go with the dry highlighters. They are much better.

By jholcomb — On Jul 16, 2011

@Kat919 - That's a really good idea! I might try that in my next class. I use highlighters and I do tend to smear them.

I haven't tried it myself, but I hear good things about the highlighter tape, too. I'm sure it's the most expensive option, but the big advantage is that it pulls off, so you can use it in, for instance, a school textbook that you're not allowed to write in.

A woman I work with is a head injury survivor and made a truly remarkable recovery. (She had to re-learn to tie her shoes, for instance.) She's the one who told me about the highlighter tape. One of her therapists used it with her.

By Kat919 — On Jul 16, 2011

I just don't use highlighters anymore. I tried both the regular wet ones and a dry highlighter pen, and it seemed like it was always out of ink when I wanted it. Now, like the article mentioned, I just use a colored pencil to underline and I always know how much is left. It still shows up nicely, I can do all the color coding I want, and it's not nearly as messy as a highlighter.

Another advantage of using a colored pencil is that you can also use it to take notes in the margin if you want to jot something down. You don't have to keep putting down your highlighter and picking up a pen or pencil.

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