Fun With Ballpoints

The little ball tip works like a bearing and is lubricated by oil based ink.

Ballpoints, they’re everywhere. They’re in banks, grocery stores, restaurants, under your car seat, there might even be one wedged in between your couch cushions. Ballpoints were invented as a cheaper, cleaner, maintenance-free alternative to fountain pens with patents dating back to 1888. For more on the history of the ballpoint, please click here. Ironically, people today are switching (entirely, if not partially) to fountain pens because they’re not ballpoints. The pressure required to get many ballpoints to write a legible line leads to hand fatigue, which is problematic if you’ve started to write on paper more. It’s also problematic for lefties who already are contorting their hands. Last year, I made a post about gel pens and how they’re a faster-drying and more convenient fountain pen alternative, which you can read here.

I avoided ballpoints for personal use for a while because I wanted a more comfortable pen. Even though gel pens, rollerballs, and fountain pens are smoother and have better flow, they can only be used on a limited range of surfaces. Ballpoints can go anywhere that a human can go (and survive the trip), and can write on many surfaces. I’ve tried using a gel pen on a tyvek mailing envelope, but the ink tends to bead on the surface and will smudge easily. The only difference between a standard rollerball and a standard ballpoint is the ink. Rollerballs have a liquid ink while ballpoints have an oil based ink. There are some hybrid liquid-oil pens, and many gel pens have a ball tip.

Starting in my early teens, I wrote with a Papermate erasable ballpoint in school because I was tired of all the smudging that came with pencils, but still wanted to be able to erase my writing. Then I started using the Bic multicolor ballpoint, and kept using it until I got a Papermate Inkjoy gel pen. I enjoyed switching colors effortlessly, and the click sound. In school my hand and wrist was used to writing and taking notes every day, so hand fatigue was less of an issue, unless there was a test. Five years out of college, I write in a journal and make to-do lists every day, but there is still much less writing output. This makes hand fatigue an issue for me, so I tend to gravitate towards comfortable pens. I like having a variety of writing instruments around, so I’ve acquired a small collection of ballpoints. Here is a list of ballpoints that I have, in no particular order:

Please ignore the Frixion for now, as it is a gel pen.

The Milan Sway Mix:

This is a purse pen for me. It’s compact and brightly colored, so it’s appropriate for people of all ages. This pen is refillable, but I haven’t looked into where the refills can be bought. The tip is 1 millimeter with blue ink. As with most pens on this list, the darkness of the line depends on the pressure you use. To get a readable line though, I was able to get away with using moderate pressure. I purchased this pen from St Louis Art Supply for $1.69 USD.

The Bic Round Stic:

The Round Stic is the ultimate Pen For The People because you could easily go through life without ever buying one. When you do buy them, they’re available in bulk for about $6 to share and share alike. Bic makes some truly iconic ballpoints, and the Cristal is on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This grey Round Stic has black ink and requires moderate pressure. This pen is the only disposable one on this list.

The Pilot Legno Ballpoint:

The Legno ballpoint is the cousin to the now discontinued Legno 89s fountain pen. The impregnated wood feels nice in the hand and looks attractive. This pen has inner brass components that adds some heft. The weight makes it easy to use this pen with minimal pressure, and it can write under its own weight. The ink flows easily and is a hybrid. I purchased this pen from Jetpens for $16.50 USD. Besides this light colored wood, the Legno also comes in red, brown and dark brown.

The Uni Jetstream Edge 0.28 mm:

My favorite ballpoint! The Jetstream Edge has a design similar to a drafting pen/pencil, with an elongated tip area that makes it easy to use this pen with a ruler or stencil. The grip section is brushed aluminum, which weights the pen towards the tip and makes it easier to write with. The Jetstream refills are great because they come in extra-fine tips and require very little pressure to lay down a dark line. I purchased this Edge from Jetpens with a 0.28 mm tip size in black, but replaced that refill with a blue 0.38 mm as the 0.28 is a bit too fine. The Edge now comes in the 0.38 size, as well as a multi-pen.

The Ohto Horizon Needlepoint:

The Ohto Horizon needlepoint ballpoint is also available in a gel version, and a Euro point. This pen came with a 0.28 mm tip as well, but I got rid of that refill because the tip got gummy and didn’t write very well for me. That original refill did write very smoothly, and this version of the Horizon was voted Best Pen by the New York Times. This pen has a side click mechanism like the Uni Boxy 100, but with a metal body. I was able to hack the 0.28 Jetstream refill to fit in this pen by adding an o-ring for the inner spring to rest on. I purchased the Horizon from Yoseka Stationery for $12 USD. Here is a writing sample with the original Horizon refill:

The jetstream refill produces a more consistent line.

The Zebra Blen:

Zebra wanted to create a clicker pen that’s as quiet as possible, and they did. The Blen is a good pen for anyone with sensory issues. The clip is also the click mechanism, and it doesn’t rattle or slide around. The tip also doesn’t wiggle as you’re writing, and is only a little noisy as it glides on the page. The grip is a soft silicone, and has two narrow indentations as well as two narrow windows. “Blen” is engraved into the plastic body of the pen and feels nice to rub your fingers on. The ink writes smoothly and consistently with a pleasant feedback, and can produce a legible line under its own weight. I purchased this pen from St Louis Art Supply for $2.99 USD.

The Fisher Space Pen Cap-O-Matic:

I’ve had this pen for about 9 years now, and it’s the first nicer pen I ever bought. It’s called cap-o-matic because the metal cap on the back of the pen is the clicker mechanism. The Fisher Space Pen is called that because it will write even after you’ve left Earth’s atmosphere. It can write upside down, on wet paper, and greasy paper. The original Space Pen refill was a black medium tip, and it was in there for roughly 8 years. Even though I didn’t use it much, that refill still wrote until I replaced it with a fine blue one. My favorite part about this version of the Space Pen is that the clip is engraved with the word Space, and a little planet. The Space Pen requires light pressure to write a light but legible line. I purchased this pen on Amazon for $16.85 USD.

The Parker Jotter:

The Parker Jotter is a classic design that’s widely imitated. The Jotter comes in many colors, and is also available in an XL version and a gel version. The standard Quink refill that this pen comes with is not pleasant to use, and requires considerable pressure to lay down a consistent line. Thankfully, there are dozens of better refills available in the Parker size. The Ohto Flash Dry gel refill is flawless and is great for lefties. Right now, I have a Monteverde Soft Roll blue-black refill in my Jotter, and that writes much smoother and requires less pressure. This Jotter is available in a three pack on Amazon for $16.50 USD.

The Caran D’Ache 849 Ballpoint:

The Caran D’Ache has a great body with a not so great refill. The body is brushed aluminum with a hexagonal shape, and comes in 6 standard colors. There have also been several special editions, including ones with N’espresso. The click mechanism on this pen is somewhat mushy with the Goliath refill. The Goliath is a thick refill that’s supposed to last a very long time, but requires moderate pressure to write. It’s also a little shorter than Parker-style refills, so you can’t add a different refill without modifying it. I really like the body of the 849, so I looked at my pile of refills and tried to find one that could fit. The Ohto Flash Dry is about 2 or 3 millimeters longer than the Goliath, but it has a plastic housing that can be sanded (or cut) down. To do this, just remove the cap off the end of the refill and sand off at least 1 mm of plastic. This would be easier with a Dremel or an X-Acto knife, but I was able to fit in the refill by using 600 grit sandpaper. Then, put the cap back on, line up the brass feet on the end of the 849 clicker with the notches in the refill cap, and screw the clicker back on. The Caran D’Ache 849 can be purchased at Yoseka Stationery for $24 USD.

Sanding the plastic refill and lining up the notches with the brass feet makes the Ohto Flash Dry just long enough to fit in the 849.

The Pilot Acroball 3+1 Multipen:

The Acroball 3+1 has red, black, and blue interchangeable tips with a mechanical pencil that’s deployed by pushing down the clip. The Acroball colors are great; the ink in these is pigmented and less viscous than regular ballpoint ink. The Acroball flows very well, and requires almost very little pressure to write. The grip is wide and comfortable to hold. I took out the mechanical pencil component though, because the lead wouldn’t stay retracted. According to Jetpens, the body of this pen is made from 80% recycled plastic. I purchased this pen from Jetpens for $8.25 USD.

Disclaimer: All the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, where if you click on them and make a purchase, I make earn a small commission. All the other links are not affiliated and not sponsored, and you should visit them.

Fun with Gel Pens

From left to right: Pilot Hi-tec-C Maica, Zebra Sarasa, Pilot G-Tec-C4, Ohto Rays, Stabilo Bionic Worker, Pentel Energel, Pilot G2, Uni One, Pilot Juice up, Pentel Energel

Sometimes, you may feel like using a pen that isn’t a fountain pen. Situations may arise where you just want to take a note with a retractable pen. You may want a low maintenance change of pace. Sometimes, you just want the pleasant sensation of feeling a tiny gel coated ball rolling against your paper. There are times when you need:

Gel Pens

In grade school, I used Ticonderoga #2 pencils and would come home with the side of my hand a graphite blob. In middle school I discovered the Bic 4 color ballpoint, which I still cherish for its simplicity and design. In high school I started using erasable ballpoint pens. When I was in college the Paper Mate Inkjoy pens came out, and I fell in love with the blue and green ones. They were great for long stretches of note taking, and I didn’t smear. These were the first gel pens that I really enjoyed using consistently. I had some of the Uniball Vision pens, but they didn’t dry fast and tended to bleed on cheap notebook paper. The first non-disposable pen I purchased was a Fisher Space Pen, but I didn’t like how inconsistent the lines were. So, the Inkjoy got me through all 4 years of college.

When I met my partner, they sent me a Pilot Hi-tec C Maica gel pen in blue-black with a 0.4 mm point. I wasn’t used to any point finer than 0.5, so it was nice to be able to write small block letters. The second non-disposable pen I bought was the Ohto Rays. This pen has the vintage look of the space pen, but writes a nice and consistent line.

After using fountain pens almost exclusively, I recently started getting into gel pens again. I made a writing sample of some gel pens that are either recommended for lefties, or are ones that I’ve found work very well for overwriting.

I crossed out the jetstream edge because I remembered while writing that it’s an oil-based ballpoint.

About half of these pens were purchased on Jetpens, and some were found on Yoseka Stationary and St. Louis Art Supply. Jetpens even has a section of different office supplies for lefties, as well as a comprehensive guide. I’ve found this guide to be very helpful while figuring out what you want in a pen. I highly encourage anyone reading this from the United States to purchase from Yoseka Stationary and STL Art Supply, they both offer really warm customer service, and you’d be supporting a small business during a difficult time. Thank you for reading my non-affiliated ad segment.

The first writing sample is a Pentel Energel in navy blue. The Energel feels the most like a fountain pen out of all these samples. The ink is very smooth and consistent. The navy blue refill is in a retractable body with a ribbed silicone grip while the blue refill is in a slim ivory body with a matte grip and snap cap. The snap cap is very robust and satisfying. I recommend the Pentel Energel as a lefty-friendly pen.

Next is the Pilot G-Tec-C4. This is apparently the international version of the Hi-Tec-C gel pen, and unscrews at the tip to refill. If you like the design of the Bic Cristal but want a nicer writing experience, this is the pen for you. The tip writes a very fine and precise line, there’s some feedback but this pen hasn’t felt scratchy for me. The ink dries fast with no smudging or bleeding.

The Zebra Sarasa is on Jetpen’s list of lefty friendly office products, but was my least favorite out of these samples. The clip on these pens is spring loaded, which is neat, but this pen just didn’t write very smoothly for me.

The Pilot G-2 really is as nice as people say. With a 0.7 mm point, it’s the thickest line width in this sampling. This pen gives a smooth, consistent, vibrant line that stands out among the other turquoise gels in this list.

Next is the Uni One. This is a clean and sleek pen with a spring loaded wire clip. With a 0.38 mm tip the One has a slightly thinner point than the Hi-tec-C, but the gel is slightly wetter so the line appears broader and more vibrant. I enjoy writing with this pen and want to try other colors eventually.

The Pilot Juice Up is an upgrade to the regular Juice, which I have not tried. The ink in this pen is water-based pigment ink, which makes it water-resistant. The Juice Up tip is a hybrid between a needlepoint and a conical point, making it a bit more forgiving to use while holding vertically or nearly vertically. A nit-picky drawback of this pen for me is that when the tip is retracted, the clip and push button are one piece, so it tends to jiggle while writing. The grip section is slightly translucent when held up to light, which is neat. I recommend the Pilot Juice Up as a lefty-friendly pen.

The Ohto Rays writes similarly to the Energel, and is on Jetpens lefty-friendly page. The gel is named Flash Dry, and I’ve never smudged with this pen. The body has a classic design similar to a Parker Jotter, making the Rays nice for a professional setting. Personally, I like to use this pen for checks and writing on envelopes. I also carry it in my purse with a Field Notes memo book if I need to write anything down while I’m out. My Mother, who is also left handed, also enjoys using this pen.

The Pilot Hi-tec-C Maica is pretty much the same pen as the G-tec, but the body has a clip less cap and the grip section is bumped rather than ribbed. This particular pen is one that I’ve had a while, so the line starts to fade if I hold the pen a certain way. The same thing happened with the other Maica I used to have, and I wonder if this has something to do with my level of writing pressure.

The last sample in this post is the Stabilo Bionic Worker. This is my most recent gel pen acquisition, and it’s quite nice to write with. The body is covered in grippy orange rubber, and the clip is stiff and wide. The gel is liquid gel and it writes a smooth, wet line. This pen is less precise than an Energel with the same point width, but just as smooth. If you’re a lefty who works in any business requiring a sturdy pen, I recommend it.

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