Everybody Writes: a Beginner’s Guide to Pens

When you sit and think about it, there’s quite a few similarities between a pen and a watch. Both are utility objects, initially designed for practical purposes, and have since evolved into industries driven by both passion and interest. And likewise for both pens and watches, there exists a tiered level of prestige, with options at every budget, from the simple and utilitarian to the highest of luxury. 

But maybe the most obvious similarity is that each can be broken down into varying modes which affect the way either a pen or watch is used and enjoyed. For watches, we have the option for quartz and mechanical movements, as well as a number of hybrid and exotic options. And for pens, there are three broad categories which encompass the majority of writing utensils on the market: rollerball, ballpoint, and fountain pen. While I’m sure you’re at least familiar with these terms, a lot of people might not fully understand the differences in application, writing capabilities, and general feel when it comes to picking up one versus the other.

So if you’re curious to know about each type of pen – and maybe fall into a rabbit hole of pen collecting – keep reading for a brief explanation of the differences between the three.

Rollerball: A Grown-Up Gel Pen

Rollerball pens are often celebrated for their precision, operating on a deceptively simple yet highly effective mechanism. At the pen’s tip,a small tungsten carbide ball is held into a socket, which, as the pen glides over paper, is consistently re-inked as it moves along. The result is a smooth, flowing instrument which needs minimal pressure to (pardon the pun) get the ball rolling. With a rollerball, the finer point makes it great for longform cursive while remaining crisp and clear without any risk of fatigue on the hand. This characteristic makes rollerballs the preferred choice for note-taking and journaling. 

While many people love the feel of a rollerball – think of it like a grown-up gel pen – there are some downsides which some writers can’t easily overlook. One is that rollerball ink is a bit heavier, which can cause bleeding through pages or smudging easily. This is especially an issue for left-handed people or those who are using a lower-quality paper. But even so, I would argue that a rollerball is the most popular option for those who take their writing seriously.

Recommendations for Rollerballs:

Because rollerball pens situate themselves somewhere between a ballpoint and a fountain pen, the price reflects this, too. You can find expensive rollerballs on the market from luxury brands, but the best rollerballs on the market can be found at a much more reasonable price and are some of the most popular pens out there now.

YSTUDIO Classic Revolve Brass Pen ($119)

Uniball Vision ($2.75)

Pilot Precise v5


Ballpoints: Ol’ Faithful

Ballpoint pens stand as the gold standard of reliability within the pen world, utilizing a straightforward yet ingenious mechanism. A rotating ball at the pen’s tip dispenses quick-drying ink, making for efficient writing. The quick-drying ink, combined with the inherent durability of the pen, positions ballpoints as the practical choice for workplaces and can easily be mass-produced. You’ve undoubtedly gotten a few ballpoints at a work conference, for example.

Part of people’s love for a ballpoint is its simplicity. It’s a no-hassle option for those who want to get stuff down on paper, without having to compromise on style. More and more brands are adopting a ballpoint option at their luxury tier, as manufacturers are understanding that choosing a ballpoint doesn’t mean one is choosing a “less sophisticated” option.

Recommendations for Ballpoints:

Being so ubiquitous, the ballpoint’s price tag will be considerably lower, on average, than more luxury pens. Of course, brands like Montblanc and Montegrappa have ballpoint options; but if you’re looking for a regular, run-of-the-mill, ol’ faithful pen, here are a few great picks:

Bic Cristal ($2.99 for a 10 pack)

PILOT Dr. Grip ($10)

Caran d’Ache 849 ($29.50)

Fountain Pens: A Sophisticated Option

When one thinks of fountain pens, one probably thinks of Downton Abbey or your grandfather’s schooldays. But, trust me on this one, there is a booming community within the writing world who are enjoying the feel of a nib gliding effortlessly on paper and all the intricacies in a well-crafted fountain pen.

There is a subtle sophistication that comes from using a fountain pen that can’t easily be explained. Its old-world charm makes it an anachronistic option that, despite that preconception, remains the preferred option for those who take their handwriting seriously. A fountain pen needs very little pressure to easily write, making for a great handfeel and minimal fatigue when writing for extended periods of time, while the endless interchangeable options one pen has – from inks to nib sizes – makes for a wholly personal writing experience for each user.

Yet, the allure of fountain pens comes with a caveat – they demand more care and maintenance. They are very much the “mechanical watch” of the pen world. A fountain pen requires a bit of work and one must be resolved to the occasional inky fingers. But the trade-off is a heightened writing experience that is miles away from the standard Bic one finds at the bank teller’s desk.

Recommendations for Fountain Pens:

Prices for fountain pens range greatly – from $5 pens on Amazon to $18,000 pens that resemble action figures (just look up Montegrappa’s Gladiator pen!). With that said, here are three stellar options for anyone looking to get into the “flow” of fountain pens.

Montblanc Meisterstuck 149 ($1,030)

Esterbrook Estie Honeycomb ($195)

LAMY Safari ($37)

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Brett F. Braley-Palko is a writer based out of Pennsylvania. Having a full-time job in the luxury pens industry has given Brett an appreciation and understanding for the EDC market. When not working, Brett has three dogs and an upcoming novel that both keep him pretty busy.