Choose Your Weapon
I am not a calligrapher, I not an architect, nor am I even a professional artist; but I am something of a pen enthusiast. Some people may label me a "pen snob", but I like to think of myself as a "stylophile"! I loved writing and drawing ever since I was a child, but as I have gotten older and my sketching abilities have diminished, I have found my experience in the professional world opening the door to a huge new variety of writing utensils! Every office in America has their own favorite brand of writing-ware, and I have had the chance to test out easily over a hundred different makes and models of ink pens. I have seen everything from clicky-tops to twisty-bottoms, from rainbow gel grippers to 4-color retractable ballpoints, and from custom handcrafted wood pens to pens made from recycled plastic bottles. Eventually though, as us creatures of habit so often do, I have resorted back to the best and the most useful pens, which ones I use in my day-to-day activities. What follows are some of my favorite pens, in hopes that you will step up your pen game, and become a "stylophile" too!
The Good But Not Great Award - We have all been there when we use a pen that we think is going to write well, but then it lets us down. How many times have you been jotting down notes when the ink goes out on you? Or how about when you've written half of a letter or a proposal on paper, but you look back and realize that you hate how the lines look because of how the pen writes? Well, the Pentel EnerGel Deluxe RTX Retractable Pens Needle Point 0.7 mm will NEVER let you down like that. However, they are uncomfortable to hold and feel cheaply made in your hand. An uncomfortable pen is worse than a pen that doesn't write well, and that is what is so depressing about the EnerGel line. Pentel pens often feel cheaply made, and it is the only thing holding this pen back from world domination. The grip is a little slippy, the click feels hollow, but the part that drives me crazy is the looseness of the clip. I can feel it wobble in my hand depending on how I am applying pressure when I write. The whole "handfeel" is unbalanced as a result, so you are often thinking about how the pen feels as you are writing, as opposed to it being an extension of your hand. That being said, the needle point tip is very accurate, even at the 0.7mm size, with the ink gliding across the page, drying in a snap. Maybe a 2.0 version will succeed where this one did not and I will still use this pen, but it's not going to be my favorite any time soon.
The Special Projects Award - I referred to these pens in an a previous blog, heralding their awesomeness for crafting purposes, and I will do so again here! The Sharpie Ultra Fine Point Permanent Marker is one of my favorite tools for crafting, as the ink is rich and dark, a tool that can write on slick surfaces as well as rough ones. Although they are permanent markers and not pens, they are often lumped in to the mix with other pens, so they are fair game! The downside of these makers is that, like other permanent markers that use oil-based or alcohol-based inks, the ink tends spread out on regular paper, absorbing into the fibers, making wider lines that are harder to control. If you want to make bold characters that often have a soft blur to them, then this is still a good option. But for crafting purposes, they apply ink to just about everything, giving you the applicability of a paint marker with the control of a pen. I love using these pens on cardboard, plastic, and other medium, although dry porous wood will quickly drink in the ink, which will spread and blur like crazy. I recommend this pen/marker for the crafters out there, less so than for office work.
The Novelty Pen Award - My choice in pen for this category is more likely to change from year to year, but it is currently a pen that I did not see coming. One afternoon about 6 months ago, I went into the local grocery store and a basketful of general office supplies. I was wanting to organize paperwork into new folders and clean lined notebooks. I decided to play with a metallic look for this one notebook, and a small trio of metallic pens caught my eye right away. I figured they wouldn't write very well, but that they might be useful enough to be worth the purchase. Then, two weeks later, when I remembered I had bought them, I used them in a quick test, and was surprised by the results. These were Pentel Slicci Metallic Gel Pens - 0.8 mm which I realized were likely designed to pop out better on dark or black paper, especially the silver and gold colors, but the bronze colored pen was fantastic! The metallic ink was rich enough to have an impact on the page, bringing a rustic copper color that I could see being used in all sorts of applications. This small and mighty pen was quickly used in a dozen ways, and my only two regrets were that the other two colors wouldn't have the same level of pizzaz, and that the pen itself wasn't larger. I know that I will have to replace it sooner rather than later, so I hope Pentel shifts gears and sells newer versions of their bronze pen, or I will have to switch over to the Metallic Bronze Uni-ball Signo UM-151 Gel Pen (currently sold out). Now, if I could only find a good rose-gold ink pen, THEN we'd be in serious business!
Before I unveil my top 3 pens, I will share with you a few honorable mentions:
Uni-ball VISION series - Good pens, low profile, great ink.
Zebra F701 - Super sturdy, good weight and feel, but writes scratchy.
Uni-ball Signo MICRO 207 - Writes smooth, good grip, but the ink is too light.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ And now for the finalists ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Third Place - The Best Value Award - These pens are a no-brainer. The Pilot Precise V5 Stick Roller Ball Pen, Extra-Fine 0.5mm grew in popularity everywhere in the mid 2000's and is still highly regarded today. The decorative elements are minimal, with a clean glossy profile and no frills. Although it lacks a big rubbery grip, I felt the engraved grip area was comfortable enough and allowed me an extra bit of dexterity to guide the pen around. These needle nose rollerball pens also rely on the precision of their tip to give the user more control over their line placement, and as such, I remember the Pilot Precise V5 being perfect for writing annotations that were very small in confined spaces. The 0.5mm was the gauge I would most often see, with the 0.7mm's being equally as useful when available. These pens last a long time, and the sightline into the ink chamber let you know with greater accuracy as to when it was about to run dry. The only drawback with these pens was that the needle-nose tip which could become bent if used incorrectly. This pen is a college student's best friend, as it writes for weeks on end, has a smooth and comfy feel, but will allow you to compact your notes while never sacrificing dark lines. This was my go-to pen for almost a decade and I still highly recommend them.
Second Place - The Rookie of the Year Award - The newcomer to the pen game in 2020 was the Sharpie S-Gel. Sharpie was better known for their markers and their fiber-tipped, marker-like pens, but this new pen really went over well with people, pushed by good marketing and lots of personal endorsements on social media. On a whim, I decided to buy a set and I have certainly not regretted it! Personally, I really love that they have a matte finish, which has a bold silhouette and a technologically advanced appeal when combined with the bright silver logos and the pop of color you get from the small ring just underneath the grip which determines the ink color. Speaking of the contoured rubber grip, it is an unusual design that took me a while to appreciate, giving comfort, style, and control, all in equal measure. Currently, they only come the traditional black, blue, and red; but also the more unorthodox colors of green and purple. I have only purchased the multipack with 3 blacks, 1 blue and 1 red, so I cannot speak for the quality of the other two hues. The black is good, really on par with any other gel pen out there, and it writes smoothly enough. However, the big standout for me here is the rich color you get with the blue pen. It is a great balance of color and darkness, without leaning to far in either direction where its so light it seems to fade or too dark that it might as well be black. I have only tested the 0.7 mm pens, but from my experience, that is the sweet spot for precision and deep color. For office work or for creating charts at home, I really enjoy using both the black and the blue to highlight different breakout areas, to distinguish between sections, and just to add a variety on the page while keeping a uniform look. This is a 4 1/2 Star pen, hands down.
First Place - The 'Every Day Carry' Award - My favorite pen has to be the Pilot G2 Retractable Premium Gel Ink Roller Ball Pen. I was using this pen long before I ever learned that it is one of the most popular pens available and the #1 selling gel pen in America. It features a translucent barrel and contoured rubber grip, which is the first rubber grip that felt 100% natural to me. Being a gel ink, the pen won’t bleed through paper and is smear-proof, which makes it great for left-handers. It is very precise and offers a smooth writing experience. The gel also spreads smooth and lasts a long time, which means you will get a lot more writing out of it that most every other pen on the market. I have used the 0.5 mm, the 0.7 mm, and the 1.0 mm versions, and of different colors. While the 0.5 mm version is still great, I don't like the look of it as much as I would a 0.5 mm in other brands. The 0.7 mm is good for most of your writing and looks a little cleaner on the page, but the thickness of the 1.0 is superior in those applications where you want your ink placement to be ooey-gooey and dark. Since I like to doodle and make lines for emphasis when I am writing, I tend to use them both, and I consider them to be equally fantastic. The black ink will always be your best bet here, with their variety of colors falling way behind in quality. Some of their niche colors like gold and silver are laughably bland, but their blue is above average while the black is 10 out of 10. This pen replaced the Pilot Precise V5 Stick Roller Ball Pen as my favorite a few years ago, and I am prone to having one with me everywhere I go!