The Write Stuff – Choosing the Writing Instrument That’s Right for You


The Write Stuff – Choosing the Writing Instrument That’s Right for You

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

If you have to do any amount of writing for work, study, or in your home life then you are bound to have been dissatisfied with your pen at some point.

Either it’s just too ‘scratchy’ on the paper, or the tip has become all gummed up, or it’s leaked, or the ink didn’t dry quickly enough and it ended up smeared halfway across the page. Yes, I know, you probably should have been more patient and let it dry for longer, but who has the time to wait, right?

Whatever the issue, spending a few minutes thinking about what pen suits you, and what you are writing, is worthwhile.

So, what’s the deal?

Finding a pen that is right for your needs should be pretty easy. In today’s market, you have a much greater choice than was once the case.

If you’re looking for a cheap, effective, disposable option to fill up the stationery cupboard then you probably need look no further than a box of simple ballpoints (see below).

If the pen is for personal use, then it’s worth trying a few options. Many pens these days come in a variety of ergonomic designs, including cushioned gripping surfaces and nicely balanced weights to suit most writing styles.

Let’s run through a few types of pen. You are probably familiar with them, even if you don’t quite know the differences between them or maybe even what they’re called.

Ballpoint pens.

Ballpoints are the most common ‘stick’ pens on the market. Loads of people in the UK refer to these pens as the ‘Biro’, which is understandable (Lazlo Biro was the Hungarian inventor who developed the first ever ballpoint pen) but most stationers will list the pens as either ‘stick’ pens or, more commonly, ‘ballpoints’. They are inexpensive, usually disposable, and use an oil-based ink that dries quickly on the page. However, over time the ink can start to coagulate and collect dust in the tip of the pen, which creates gummed-up blobs. Because these pens are available so cheaply in large quantities, they are the usual ‘pen of choice’ for stationery cupboards in businesses and schools. A typical example would be the Bic Cristal pen – a pen that is so common it’s almost impossible for you not to be familiar with it.

Rollerball pens

Rollerballs. These pens use similar technology to the traditional ballpoint, but they typically have a finer tip (producing a thinner, neater, line when writing) and they use a water-based ink. The ink flow of a rollerball is therefore much more consistent than a ballpoint so it ‘skips’ less often when you are writing. You also need apply less pressure, so it can be much more comfortable to write with than the ballpoint. They do have a greater tendency to leak than ballpoint pens, however, so a rollerball is not a pen you would want to store in your shirt pocket. Also, the ink takes slightly longer to dry than the oil-based ink in a ball pen so, if you are left-handed, a rollerball may be a turn off for you, depending on your writing style.

Gel pens.

Well, the clue is in the name… these pens use a thick gel instead of an oil-based or water-based ink. The gel does have a shelf-life (it dries up after about three years, so an older gel pen may not work) but whilst they are working they are very nice to write with. They have an effortless ‘gliding’ feel to them as the pen slides across the page. However, these pens require you to be patient. The ‘ink’ takes a long time to dry so don’t go touching it too quickly afterwards, or you will end up with your writing smeared halfway across the page. Again, as with rollerballs, gel pens may not be great for left-handed writers.

Fountain pens.

The fountain pen is the oldest form of pen that is still commonplace in the market. Typically, these pens come with a selection of interchangeable nibs, making the fountain pen a versatile writing instrument that rewards practice with some truly excellent handwriting results. The application of different pressure whilst you’re writing can also result in different weights of line, making the fountain pen a more technically challenging instrument to use, but also one that can yield very good results. The downside of fountain pens in general is that, as mentioned it does take quite a bit of practice to use a fountain pen well, and they can have a tendency towards leaking too. However, it can be worth persevering and there are some fantastic relatively inexpensive fountain pens on the market – Lamy do a range of brightly coloured, modern, pens that are comparatively easy to get to grips with.

Felt tip pens.

There are a bunch of different felt tips on the market, most of which are a sort of halfway house between a stick pen and a marker pen (so not something you would normally use for writing). They can be good for bigger, bolder pieces of writing, but not on a lighter weight or matte paper because the ink will tend to ‘bleed’ on the paper. If you want to write on unusual surfaces (i.e. – not paper) then you could do worse than choose a felt tip pen like the world-famous Sharpie – a brand that has become almost synonymous with ‘permanent marker’, and is rightly lauded for its ability to write on almost anything.


Fineliners are pens that are worth a mention because, although they are intended for use with graphic design or drawing, a lot of people favour them for writing too. Fineliners have a fine fibre or plastic tip and a long metal-clad nib, and they use dye-based inks. The inks are not always permanent, so if you want your writing to last then it’s worth checking that the ones you are buying use lightfast and waterproof pigments.

Hang on, aren’t posh pens kind of expensive?

Sure, you can spend anything from a few pence to a few hundred pounds on a writing instrument and whilst you might not be in the market for a high-end pen, you might want to consider giving a refillable pen a go. It means you have a pen that you get to know well and that you love writing with, and for from being expensive it’s actually cheaper in the long run.

Fountain pens are the most obvious example of refillable pens. Most of the modern ones come with plastic ink cartridges, although you can also still get the old-fashioned type that have a reservoir that you fill from an ink bottle.

But it’s not only fountain pens that are refillable. The more expensive gel pens, ballpoints, and rollerballs are also reusable rather than disposable. And here’s the thing. Refill sticks or cartridges use up fewer resources than a disposable pen so, not only will you have a nicer writing experience but also, it’s a bit better for the environment too.

Thanks for reading, and if you think that this information will be of use to someone else you know, please don’t hesitate to share it.

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