Buyer’s Guide: Pens

Buyer’s Guide: Pens

2nd January 2017

8 Minutes

Though the digital age reigns supreme, pens haven’t been relegated to the past. From ballpoint to gel, and even felt-tip, you have a wealth of options to choose from, whether you’re stocking up for the office or simply need a trusty pen for your desk.

Not sure which pen to buy? Before you stock up, explore the different types available.

What are the different types of pens?

Fountain pen

Fuelled by water-based ink, which is most often housed in disposable cartridges, this type of pen creates a classic look and can enhance handwriting.

Advantages: Most people find fountain pens a pleasure to use, with the scratch and liquid ink creating a simple joy. You’re also able to demonstrate great character in your handwriting thanks to its flexible nib, encouraging more than just a normal scribble.

Disadvantages: It’s wise to take care when using a fountain pen as its ink can easily smudge. Ink cartridges are also known to leak and cause pesky stains which can be difficult to remove from documents, desks and clothing.

Ballpoint pen

The ballpoint pen was revolutionary in the stationery world, created to eliminate constant ink smudges. The rolling motion of a small sphere makes this pen special, dispensing an oil-based ink.

Advantages: Fill your pencil case with the world’s most used writing instrument, if you are searching for a low-maintenance pen with a long ink life. Thanks to its ballpoint function, the ink won’t smudge as you write.

Disadvantages: Expressive writing is limited due to the fixed ball in the nib. The oil-based ink can also make ballpoint pens prone to clumping.

Rollerball pen

Rollerball pens use the same formula as a ballpoint to dispense ink. The difference is with the ink itself, using a water-based liquid ink rather than oil.

Advantages: Your words will flow with this easy-to-use pen. The rich saturation also makes the outcome more attractive.

Disadvantages: Ink can run out considerably quicker than ballpoint pens, plus the fixed ball can scupper expressive handwriting. Its water-based ink is also vulnerable to smudging.

Felt-tip pen

Often referred to as a marker, the tip is made from pressed felt fibres soaked in an alcohol-based ink.

Advantages: Felt-tip pens are an effortless way to feature colour, producing attractive and defining strokes.

Disadvantages: Forget to put the lid back on and you’ll be left with a dried-up pen. If you have small handwriting, it can also be difficult to create legible work.

Gel pen

Gel pens use a water-based ink to offer a smooth writing style.

Advantages: This type of pen offers a richer ink colour, with a variety of shades to choose from. It’s also smooth to write with compared to a rollerball thanks to its viscous nature.

Disadvantages: Don’t forget to put the lid back on – the ink is known to dry out quickly. If used regularly, these colourful pens tend to run out within weeks.

What are the different types of brand pens?

Across the many types of pens that we have covered above, several brands of pens are well-known, used and loved all around the world. Here are a few examples of the best in the market;


Officially known as the Bic Cristal, this disposable ballpoint is the best-selling pen in the world. Types of Bic pens vary from colour to colour, as well as width and tip size, which will determine which is the best Bic pen for you.


Japanese manufacturer Pilot produces a whole manner of different pens, from gel to rollerball, fountain pen to ballpoint. The best Pilot pen for writing will depend on exactly what you want to use it for – see our table below to help make your decision. When browsing through Pilot pen reviews, always look at the particular pen type and what it was used for before making a judgement, as its performance will be dependent on these two factors.


Parker pens are well-established in the market, best known for their quality fountain pens, although they do produce rollerballs and gel pens, too. Reading through Parker pen reviews can take time – all you need to know is that they’re a reliable, reputable brand pen that is often the go-to writing instrument when looking for durability.


This American pen manufacturer pioneered the mechanical pencil as well as a range of aerodynamic writing instruments. But just what is a Cross pen? You’ll find the brand supplies rollerballs and ballpoints, but their fountain pens are their most famous product. Wondering if Cross Pens are good? Look for Cross pen reviews, particularly Cross fountain pen reviews, and you’ll find glowing recommendations and happy customers. Again, the best Cross pen is all dependent on what you need to use it for.


Wondering what is a Uni-ball pen? It’s a popular type of brand pen that’s known for its high quality and value, with products varying from rollerballs to ballpoints, plus everything in between. Not sure which is the best Uni-ball pen for you? Take a look at our table below.


If you’re searching for pens that come in all colours under the sun, Stabilo has them all. But it’s not just felt tips, you’ll find they also have rollerballs, fineliner’s and ballpoints in multiple shades. Whether you need a new set for the office or are looking for art materials, Stabilo has a range of products suitable for your every pen-related need.

Paper Mate

This American brand of pen is best known for its revolutionary quick-drying ink, with the ballpoint being its most famous type. Paper Mate also sells gel pens and fineliner’s in a variety of colours.

The best pens for writing

Deciding which pen is the best depends on the purpose you need it for. We’ve broken down the various types of pens available to help figure out which is best suited to you.

Type of penBest used forWriting pressure requiredWriting qualityBest brand pen
FountainHandwritten notes, signatures, and wedding stationery.Super smooth and graceful.Creates a quality finish, but can easily smudge.Parker, Cross
RollerballNote taking, meeting minutes.Smooth easy flow.Tends to create a smooth, fine line. Prone to smudging.Uni-ball, Pilot, Cross
GelBold signatures, journal entries, artwork.Flows freely and writes smoothly.Bold, rich and precise lines. Occasionally clumps.Pilot, Uni-ball
Felt-tipArts and crafts, brainstorming, sketching.Dispenses ink in one clean swipe.Provides plenty of definition. However, ink can bleed through paper.Stabilo
BallpointDay-to-day tasks.Lots of pressure is necessary.Less likely to smudge, with fine lines. Can be prone to clumping.Bic, Paper Mate

When deliberating over which pen to purchase, it’s also useful to be in the know about tip sizes. Use our handy guide to identify the various sizes of different types of common pens.


We’ve tackled a number of the most common queries that you may face when thinking of buying your next pen(s).

What are the best felt-tip pens?

The best felt-tip pens are those that don’t bleed through paper. These tend to be created with pigments or from water-based ink. However, if you require a marker pen that works on glossy paper, glass or plastic, you’ll have to purchase an oil or alcohol-based felt tip.

What is the best fountain pen ink?

You’ll find there’s a plethora of fountain pen ink available in a spectrum of colours, each with its beneficial trait. A handful can arrive in a bottle, others specifically suit artists and a number are designed to create colour on the page – it all depends on the purpose of the pen and its ink. For everyday writing, look for an ink that dries quickly or if you need ink for calligraphy, try to use an ink that is waterproof so you can layer other colours on top without any smudging. Artists may prefer to stay away from water-based inks as they can fade when exposed to sunlight. Largely though, it all comes down to personal preference.

Disposable vs refillable pens: What’s best?

If you opt for a refillable pen, though it may be more costly upfront, money can be saved in the long term with pen refills – plus it’s much better for the environment. While disposable pens may be less of a burden on your purse strings, they are usually not as good quality and are not often recyclable.

Fountain pen vs rollerball: What’s best?

What is best for you all depends on what the purpose of the pen is. Use our table above to help discover which pen is best for you. If you are looking to create distinctive handwritten notes, a fountain pen may be best. However, if you are short on time, a rollerball pen may be better, especially when in the office.

Bic vs Paper Mate: What’s best?

Both of these brands are reputable in the ballpoint market but there are many differences which can help you define which brand pen is best for you. Bic pens are inexpensive to buy but tend to run out relatively quickly, whereas Paper Mate ballpoints contain quick-drying ink, which helps to prevent smudging and stains.

How to hold a pen without cramping

  1. Make sure you choose a pen that is comfortable in your grip.
  2. Ensure that you don’t grip the pen too firmly – doing so will cause your hand to become sore very quickly.
  3. Try not to press down too hard on your page, as this can also encourage cramping.
  4. Use your arm to write rather than your fingers.
  5. Always maintain good posture as you write.

Now that you know everything that you need to about pens, discover our wide selection. Whether you’re looking for a ballpoint or felt tip, we stock everything you’ll need.

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