How to Tell What Pen is Right for You

With so many different choices of pens on the market today, it is hard to know which type of pen can most benefit you. It seems so simple – just go to a store and buy a pen. But then when you take a look, you notice they come in all different types, sizes, shapes and colours. Now it doesn’t seem so simple after all. It is important, as a buyer, that you inform yourself on the difference between all these pens, so that you choose the right type and in return, maximize the value it adds to your usage.

The main types of pens that are used today are fountain, calligraphy, ballpoint and rollerball. See the descriptions below to learn more about these pens.

The Artsy One: Fountain and Calligraphy Pens


Fountain and Calligraphy pens involve ink that is water-based and flows through a metallic nib. There is little effort required to put the ink onto the paper, however, the pen must be held at a certain angle when writing so that the ink can dispense evenly. Old-fashioned fountain pens were filled from an ink bottle, but modern day pens use a sealed plastic ink cartridge. The metal nib utilizes a cartridge, converter, and other internal reservoir in order to provide a continuous and refillable ink supply. Fountain pens were introduced in the late 19th century and largely replaced the earlier dip pen, which had evolved from feather pens and required dipping in an ink well every few lines in order to maintain an ink supply.


  • Smooth flowing writing
  • Refillable
  • Many different customizations to the nib (such as stub, italic or oblique points)
  • Long ink life
  • Requires little skill
  • Eco friendly
  • Saves money on ink in the long run


  • Ink can have troubles flowing evenly
  • Non-water resistant ink
  • Low ink capacity
  • Highest priced
  • Must use high quality paper

Most used for: Journal and letter writing, signature, art, custom lettering


The Convenient One: Ballpoint Pens


Ballpoint pens have replaced the fountain pen as the most popular tool for everyday writing. The oil based ink is dispensed at the tip during use by the rolling action of the tungsten carbide. The ink dries almost immediately after contact with the paper. Most Ballpoint pens are generally retractable and they are available in refillable and disposable options.


  • Ink dries quickly
  • Inexpensive
  • No maintenance
  • Long ink life
  • Doesn’t bleed
  • Resists smudging
  • Simple and practical
  • Lowest cost
  • Longest shelf life


  • Cannot write on wet or oily surfaces, nor upside down or against a wall
  • Fewer ink colours
  • Requires more pressure to write cleanly
  • Limits expressive writing
  • Not as smooth as other pen options

Most used for: Common everyday purposes

Example: Writing/taking personal notes

The Modernized One: Rollerball Pens


The Rollerball pen was designed to combine the convenience of a ballpoint pen with the smooth ‘wet ink’ effect of a fountain pen. The rollerball pens use ballpoint writing technology with a water based liquid or gel ink. These pens are available in retractable and capped styles, as well as refillable or disposable. Rollerball Pens were designed to give the pleasure of liquid ink with the ease of use.


  • Variety of colours
  • Requires little pressure
  • Available in liquid ink or gel ink
  • Smoothest to write
  • Fade proof
  • Waterproof


  • Ink dispenses through the tip more quickly (won’t last as long as a ballpoint pen)
  • Ink tends to seep through paper
  • Tendency to leak
  • Bleeds on low quality porous paper
  • Fixed ball limits expression

Most used for: Significant everyday purposes

Example: Writing a formal letter








The Funky One: Gel Ink Pens


Gel ink pens uses ink in which pigment is suspended in a water-based gel. The general design of a gel pen is similar to that of a rollerball pen, with a barrel containing the writing mechanism and a cap, and a reservoir filled with inks.


  • Fade proof
  • Waterproof
  • Shows up more clearly on dark surfaces than other pens
  • Richer ink colour
  • More colours to choose from
  • Smoother than roller ball because ink is more viscous


  • Long dry time
  • Tends to smear
  • Ink dries out quickly
  • Shortest life span out of all pens

Most used for: Scrapbooking, arts and crafts

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