Surface Pro Pen Compatibility / Interoperability FAQ

Microsoft does not make it easy to understand the differences in pen/stylus support between device generations. The table below summarizes compatibility between different pen generations and Surface device models. Pressure sensitivity, latency, initial activation force, and tilt functionality are detailed using best available information. Following the chart is a list of frequently asked questions regarding Microsoft pens.

Disclaimer: This information is subject to change if/when Microsoft releases additional technical details; some assumptions about pen implementation are based on n-Trig/Microsoft patent filings.

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How to read the table:

  • 256, 1024, or 4096 indicates the number of pressure sensitivity levels available when using the pen and device model together [256=8-bit, 1024=10-bit, 4096=12-bit]. The more available pressure levels, the more detailed certain artwork features can be with the right software. Available pressure levels depends on a combination of the pen, Surface digitizer hardware, and Windows device driver software. Not all customers will notice differences in pressure sensitivity between pen and Surface models due to limited hand dexterity and dynamic range compression/clamping side-effects of some software applications.
  • Tilt indicates that the Surface device has an accelerometer and the Pen incorporates some device enabling the Pen/Ink system to detect the angle of the pen with respect to the screen. This allows software to both improve the accuracy of the pen and change brush strokes on-the-fly based on the angle of the pen. According to n-Trig patent filings, this device could be an accelerometer, mems gyroscope, or a secondary radio emitter positioned such that the digitizer can infer the pen orientation.
  • 21ms, 40ms, 55ms, 75ms, or 100ms indicates the minimum digitizer->screen latency or delay between when you do something with the pen vs the result being visible on screen. The lower the latency, the better the experience. Real-world latency may be up to 50ms higher depending on the software being used, the refresh rate of the screen, and the timing of the pen event with respect to the refresh of the current frame. Assuming worst case at a 60Hz screen refresh rate, you can conservatively add 8.33ms (half the time it takes to render one frame) to each of the quoted figures to get a more realistic latency. Device driver and software application updates can alter the latency behavior making responsiveness better or worse. The competing Apple pencil technology has a ~20ms latency achieved in part with a 120Hz screen refresh rate as compared to the Surface 60Hz screen refresh rate.
  • 9g, 10g, 21g, or 42g indicates the approximate initial activation force (IAF) in grams which is the minimum amount of pressure applied to the tip of the pen to register as a stroke on-screen. Less force is better for light strokes of the pen – but too little IAF can result in unwanted strokes. This is a crucial tuning factor for any pen/digitizer system. The ideal IAF is highly subjective depending on the artist. For example, artists that use charcoal or soft pencils may prefer lower IAF, while artists that use a fountain pen may prefer higher IAF. Wacom designs typically have an IAF of 1-10 grams while n-Trig designs are on the order of 10-50 grams although with each generation of n-Trig pens, the IAF has decreased. To compare IAF across pen manufacturers, each pen design must be mounted and tested on the same test apparatus at a variety of angles since the response may be different in a vertical orientation compared to a natural writing angle depending on the internal mechanical implementation. The Apple pencil design appears to work with ~0 IAF but tends to drain its battery quickly – possibly due to pre-load on the sensor. The Apple approach has other side effects, which depending on the artist, can be considered advantages or drawbacks.
  • n/a indicates that the pen and device combination does not work.
Pen / Device SP1 SP2 SP3
S3
SP4
SB1
Studio1
Laptop*
SP2017
SP6
Pro7
SB2
SGo
Studio2
Laptop2*
Laptop3*
ProX
Hub1 Hub2
Ver.1 Wacom
(SP1/SP2)
256
~100ms
10g
1024
~100ms
10g
n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Ver.2 n-Trig
(SP3/S3)
n/a n/a 256
~75ms
42g
256
~40ms
42g
256
21ms
42g**
n/a n/a
Ver.3 n-Trig
(SP4/SB1)
n/a n/a 256
~75ms
21g
1024
~40ms
21g
1024
21ms
21g
n/a n/a
Ver.4 n-Trig
(SP2017/SB2)
n/a n/a 256
~75ms
9g
1024
~40ms
9g
tilt***
4096
21ms
9g
tilt
n/a n/a
Classroom pen
(Surface Go)
n/a n/a 256
~75ms
9g
1024
~40ms
9g
tilt***
4096
21ms
9g
tilt
n/a n/a
Pro X pen
(Surface Pro X)
n/a n/a 256
~75ms
9g
1024
~40ms
9g
tilt***
4096
21ms
9g
tilt
n/a n/a
Hub1 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 1024
~55ms
unknown
Hub2 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a unknown unknown
  • * Tilt is not supported on Laptop models
  • ** Some customers have reported issues using the Ver.2 pen on newer devices with latest drivers/firmware so this combination is not recommended.
  • *** Per Microsoft, Ver.4 n-Trig tilt functionality will be enabled on some older Surface models via driver/firmware updates. Update: Surface Studio received partial support in June 2018 via “Surface pen advanced feature support” firmware updates.

FAQ

Which pens shipped with which device models?

  • Wacom Ver.1 pens shipped with the Surface Pro 1 and Surface Pro 2.
  • n-Trig Ver.2 pens shipped with the Surface Pro 3 and was an optional accessory for the Surface 3. Model numbers are 3UY-00001 (Silver), 3UY-00012 (Black), 3UY-00021 (Red), and 3UY-00030 (Blue).
  • n-Trig Ver.3 pens shipped with the Surface Book, Surface Studio and Surface Pro 4 (except m3 model). It is an optional accessory for other models. Model numbers are 3XY-00001 (Silver), 3XY-00011 (Black), 3XY-00021 (Dark Blue), and 3XY-00051 (Gold).
  • n-Trig Ver.4 pens are optional accessories designed for the 2017 Surface Pro and Surface Book 2 but also work on other models. Model numbers are EYU-00001 (Black), EYU-00009 (Platinum), EYU-00017 (Cobalt Blue), and EYU-00025 (Burgundy).
  • Classroom pens ship in 20-packs for the education market. They are functionally equivalent to the n-Trig Ver.4 pen but are ~25% shorter to be suitable for children and are intended to be used with the Surface Go
  • Two Surface Hub pens based on the Perceptive Pixel (PPI) digitizer technology are shipped with each Surface Hub1.
  • One Surface Hub 2 pen is included with each Surface Hub 2S.

Replaceable pen tips?

  • n-Trig Ver.2 pens have a replaceable tip. OEM tips are no longer in stock at retail but you can contact Microsoft support via chat to see if they will ship OEM tips. 3rd-party replacement tips are available but the quality ranges from adequate to awful.
  • n-Trig Ver.3/Ver.4 pens use a differently shaped tip than Ver.2 pens. They come with a tip that has a similar writing feel to an HB pencil. Microsoft sells a 4-pack of tips each simulating the writing feel of 2H, H, HB, and B pencils. Depending on the region of sale, some customers have noted that as of September 2017, V2 tip kits only include 3 tips (2H, HB, B).
  • Classroom pens use a replaceable “durable tip” that is larger than the tips in ver.4 and ver.3 pens.

Batteries?

  • Wacom Ver.1 pens use electromagnetic digitizers and need no batteries
  • n-Trig Ver.2 pens are powered by a AAAA battery for the main pen functions and two #319 (SR527SW) button cells for Bluetooth cap button functions
  • n-Trig Ver.3/Ver.4/Classroom pens are powered by a single AAAA battery for all functions
  • Surface Hub pens have non-replaceable rechargeable batteries and charge when docked on the Hub.
  • Surface Pro X pens have non-replaceable rechargeable batteries and charge when docked between the Pro X and the Pro X keyboard. A separate charging dock is avaialble.

Buttons?

  • Wacom Ver.1 pens have 2 buttons
  • n-Trig Ver.2 pens have 2 buttons on the pen body and 1 on the cap
  • n-Trig Ver.3/Ver.4 have 1 button on the pen body, 1 on the cap, plus a functional “eraser” built into the cap
  • EDU/Classroom pens have 2 buttons on the pen body plus a functional “eraser” built into the cap.
  • Surface Hub pens have an “eraser” but no buttons
  • Surface Pro X pens have a button on the side, a button on the cap, plus a functional “eraser” built into the cap.

Clip/Tether?

  • All full size pens have an integrated shirt-pocket clip except Ver.4. But you can 3D-print an add-on clip I designed: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:2391069
  • EDU/Classroom pens have an integrated loop which can be used with an optional tether string

Magnets?

  • Ver.1 pens for Surface Pro 1 / Pro 2 dock to the charging port which means you cannot charge the Surface and dock the pen simultaneously.
  • Ver.2 pens dock to the left side of the various tablet models and clamp-style docking stations independent of the charge port, however the magnetic attraction is quite weak and the pen is easy to dislodge. There are no magnets embedded in the pen itself – metal in the battery and pen tip are attracted to magnets in the tablet and docking station.
  • Ver.3/Ver.4/Classroom pens have two strong neodymium magnets embedded in the pen approximately 80mm apart and attract to two magnets on the tablet making it less likely your pen will fall off the tablet. The latest pens (Ver.4) and tablets (Pro6/SB2/SGo) have stronger magnetic attraction than older pens and devices.
  • Surface Book 2 15″ models have magnets on both the left and right side of the tablet so you can dock your pen on either side (or dock two pens).
  • 3rd-party pens may not have magnets that align with Surface devices, however these pens can be modified with adhesive magnetic strips to provide mild magnetic attraction.

Swapping top and bottom half between pens? Can I just get a new top half?

  • Some customers like to re-use parts from a broken pen and mix and match colors. For example a blue bottom and sliver top. You can freely mix and match colors within the same generation of pen. Unfortunately, it is not possible to order half a pen from Microsoft.
  • Ver.2, Ver.3, and Ver.4 top and bottom halves are not designed to be interchangeable. Ver.2 has a screw-on top while Ver.3 and Ver.4 have slightly different spring tab configurations. The sizing and fastening is slightly different between Ver.3 and Ver.4 so even if you can get it to fit, you may ruin the internal tab that holds the two halves together.

What other pen/stylus brands work with well Surface Pro 3 or later devices?

Some of these pens advertise 4096 pressure levels and tilt functionality but support for these features on Surface devices is not guaranteed. IAF is typically not advertised on these brands but will be similar to the Surface Ver.3 and Ver.4 pens. Some pens have fewer features than the Surface brand and exclude Bluetooth connectivity, dedicated erasers, and extra buttons.

Common issues

What is up with pen “jitter” and tip offset and on Surface Pro 2017?

Diagonal lines appear wavy on older models?

A side effect of the underlying n-trig technology is that diagonal lines may appear wavy. As the tip of the pen crosses each physical region in the digitizer grid, the inferred location of the pen tip follows a predictable and repeating curve. This phenomenon is only visible when the pen is traveling at certain speeds (slowly) along a diagonal such as 45 degrees and is especially apparent when using a ruler or other straight edge to trace. A common workaround used by artists is rotating the drawing canvas to minimize the number of lines drawn at ~45 degrees or using a drawing tool that has a software-based straight edge. Here are some examples. The effect is minimized on newer generations of the n-trig digitizers (SP 2017 and Ver.4 pens or later) but older combinations still have the issue.

Pen tip vs “ink” offset improvements on models supporting “tilt”

On Surface models and pens that support the “tilt” feature, the offset of the pen tip vs where the digital “ink” appears is more consistent across a wide range of writing and drawing styles. Older devices and pens without the tilt feature have an offset that changes as the pen angle changes which can be disruptive to some artists and note-takers. Running the pen configuration wizard can help minimize the offset for a particular writing/drawing angle, but the offset changing effect as the pen angle changes will always be present. See review video comparing the various pen generations.

Pen stops inking after ~130 seconds of continuous writing

Some customers report that the pen stops inking after about 130 seconds of continuous use. Users can work around the issue by raising the pen away from the screen for a few seconds or rotating the pen around while gripping, then resuming writing or drawing. Microsoft has not been forthcoming regarding whether this is an intentional design feature to conserve power or not.

References:

Did I miss anything? Please comment and I’ll add it to the article.

Back to https://dancharblog.wordpress.com

23 Comments

  1. Despite what the patent says, there are no accelerometers or gyroscopes in any tilt-sensing pen technology (Apple, Wacom EMR, Microsoft). Apple uses additional sensors that are perpendicular to the tip of the pen and analyzes the shape of the signal on the digitizer. Wacom EMR analyzes the shape of the signal on the digitizer without any additional emitters. Microsoft (according to the patent) added more emitters to create an asymmetrical signal on the digitizer, which then lets it calculate 3D orientation. Not a single one uses accelerometers or gyroscopes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jack. I misread the filing. I’ve updated the post accordingly to indicate n-Trig may be using one or more of these techniques. A secondary emitter makes a lot more sense given power consumption of an accelerometer/gyro package.

      Like

  2. So there’s no current evidence that the surface studio nor surface book performance base will be capable of the lowest latency features?

    Like

  3. I just purchased a new surface pro having never had one before. The new pen seems a bit steep (im not an artist, just want a pen) so want to buy and old version of surface pen . Some information says the old pens are compatible with the new pro and other websites don’t. Any chance you can clarity?

    Like

    1. Sarah, the Surface Pro 4 pen (aka Ver.3) will work fine on your Surface Pro 2017. Can you please point out the websites you found which claim the older pen does not work?

      Like

  4. So the latency depends on the digitizer layer on the screen of the Surface Pro/Book Etc. itself not the Pen. Interesting. I thought it was the pen in conjunction with the Surface device initially.

    Like

  5. I just had to upgrade from the first generation surface pro to the newest surface pro tablet. I keep reading that any pen should work like finger point touch in Microsoft 365 apps, but my old SP1 pen won’t work on newSP. Am I mistaken??
    Thanks!

    Like

  6. Got the surface pro 2017 with the pen shipped with the pro 3 model. The purple button Works perfectly but i cant write with it. Is There anything im missing? The AAAA battery is full btw. Thanks for your help. Cheers

    Like

  7. I have a ver.2 pen and tried it on the new surface pro in the store, it worked just fine! I’m glad that I can use my old pen with the new surface pro that I’m buying.

    Like

  8. The SP4 pen (last one with a clip) works much better for me, even after the jitter was fixed (note, I’m on the 2017 SP). The newer non-clip pen was borderline unusable before the jitter fix, but even after the update it’s somehow broken for text recognition. If you use your pen with OneNote and covert the writing to text, the new pen somehow manages to be much, much worse. The recognition will be so awful that it’s not even easily edited. I think the extra data provided by the new pen somehow messes up the recognition algorithm. If anyone else tries it and has similar experience, I would be curious to hear your thoughts. The visual handwriting prior to recognition is fine and probably looks even a little better than that of the older pen–as would be expected–but as soon as you convert to text it’s not even close.

    Like

  9. Hello Dan, that’s an awful lot of research in one Article, Thanks!! You’ve even covered whether the halves of different Pens can be swapped!! I use the latest Surface Pen (the one with 4096 Pressure Sensitivities and NO CLIP) on my Surface Pro 4. Some loss of Tilt, etc., but works just great. Now, someone (not me!!) went ahead and broke its tip… It still works, but looks plug-ugly – even if the lovey Surface Pro is nowhere near the Pen… While there are plenty of Replacement Surface Pen Tips available in the market even here in India where I am from, everyone is silent on whether their Tips work on the Surface Pen with 4096 Pressure Sensitivities (the one with NO CLIP), the Surface Pen with 1024 Pressure Sensitivities (and YES CLIP), or both. So, could you tell me whether the Tips for the Surface Pen (1024) and Surface Pen (4096) are inter-changeable or not? Thanks in advance for your considered answer!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you so much! Very informative! I love tables, makes it so much easier! 🙂
    My only problem now is that I love my pen that came with my SP4 (Ver.3 1024) and the replacements used to be$50 I thought. Now all I can find to replace the same Ver.3 model (3XY-00001) is pens that are just as expensive as the Ver. 4 pen. I’m guessing I should just upgrade to the Ver.4 pen if I am going to pay $100 anyway right?

    Like

  11. Amazon and eBay offer additional third party pens that claim to be compatible. One interesting option is Adonit ( http://www.adonit.net/creative/ ) which offers two models of rechargeable pen that will work with the Surface Pro 3 and later models: the Adonit Ink and the Adonit Ink Pro. Amazon reviews of the Ink are mixed, but the one star reviews all seem to come from people who received a defective pen or own an incompatible device.

    Like

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