So why does it sometimes feel like a good pen is never around when you actually need it? Our guess: You haven’t found the right one. So with nothing more than pads of paper and a dream, we scoured the web and asked around the BuzzFeed offices for recommendations and personal favorites, then tested more than 30 writing instruments to find the best pens, evaluating each on ink flow, size, comfort, reliability, and aesthetics. Our testing covered both rollerball and ballpoint ink styles — sorry, fountain-pen fans, we’ll get to you another day.
Now what’s the difference between rollerball and ballpoint, you ask? It all comes down to the ink. With their oil-based ink, ballpoints provide smooth, consistent lines that dry quickly, though they require more pressure to operate. Rollerballs, meanwhile, typically use water- and gel-based ink, which make for broader, more pronounced lines. And even though liquid ink dries more slowly (meaning it’s more prone to smudging), the upside is you don’t need to apply as much pressure while you write, which means less hand stress and a more relaxed writing experience.
As you’ll find out, our testing panel overall preferred rollerball. But your choice rather depends on your penmanship style and preference. That said, we’ve found a selection that we think will please even the most discerning writer. Below, our top choices for both ballpoint and rollerball pens at three different price points.