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Pilot Precise V5 RT Rollerball Pen Retro 1951 Tornado Rollerball Pen Baron Fig Squire Rollerball Pen

The Best Pens

We hope you love the products we recommend! We do a lot of research and testing before making our picks for the best thing to buy in each price-point. Just so you know, BuzzFeed may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Prices and availability subject to change. For more info on how we choose products and make money, go here.

Pilot Precise V5 RT Rollerball Pen

  • Surprisingly sleek writing experience
  • Dark, vivid lines
  • Super reliable and fairly stylish
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Retro 1951 Tornado Rollerball Pen

  • Well-built stainless steel body
  • Ideal for taking on-the-go
  • Available in dozens of colors and patterns
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Baron Fig Squire Rollerball Pen

  • Clean, minimalist design
  • Exceptionally balanced and comfortable
  • Just plain fun to write with
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You may not realize it, but there are pens around you all the time. In the recesses of your home. On your desk at work. Lost at the bottom of your bag. You probably have a pen in your jacket pocket right now, from that one time you accidentally stole it after paying the dinner bill (it’s cool, we won’t tell).

 

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.

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Pilot Precise V5 RT Rollerball Pen

Starting from $6 (3-pack)

The Details

Retractable rollerball click pen

5.8” length, 0.4” diameter

Refillable

Sold in multiples

Available in nine ink colors

Rubberized grip

0.5mm line size (also available in 0.7mm size)

Extra-fine needle-point tip

What / Who It's Best For

  • Everyday note-takers
  • (Roller)ballers on a budget
  • Folks with neat and tidy handwriting

Why We Love It

In these pixelated times, pens can make a statement. In fact, we’ll go so far as to say that they have personality — at least a snazzy pen can reflect who you are in a way a laptop or phone never could. And if you’re looking for a pen that writes like a dream and lets everyone know you mean business (even though your bank account may say otherwise), your best bet is the Pilot Precise V5 RT.

As expected, our budget-pens test group was a crowded one. Pens in this price range ($10 or less for each) tend to be sold in bulk, often relegated to the office supply drawer, and generally seen as throwaway items. And while a few pens were certainly a pleasure to write with — the Zebra F-301 (and it’s all-metal sibling the F-701) and the Uni-Ball Vision Elite come to mind — no pen captured our attention quite like the V5 RT.  

Best Pens Pilot writing on paper

So what makes the Pilot Precise V5 RT a winner? This baby is one smooth operator! Lightweight and made of plastic with a dimpled rubberized grip for those who practice good form, the pen has a lot going for it: consistent ink flow, dark lines, relatively fast dry time, and just the right amount of resistance to paper, making it ideal for both everyday note-taking and impromptu doodles. It’s also worth noting that it’s available in a wider 0.7mm line width and comes in both retractable and capped versions, though we’re partial to the retractable model because we tend to leave pen caps all over the place. Plus, it’s got a good click that’s neither underwhelming nor annoying.

Despite its wildly affordable price, the Pilot doesn’t look cheap. The pen’s plastic barrel — which is thicker and more ergonomic than your average Bic or Papermate — is coated to look like metal. The pocket clip is nothing groundbreaking, but it definitely comes in handy. Its look may lean slightly “technical engineer,” but testers agreed that it can easily play in a variety of settings, whether at school, at work, or on-the-go. Did we mention that this pen is refillable, too?

Best Pens Pilot tip

When it came to feedback, some testers initially found the tip of the pen scratchy. That’s likely because the Precise V5 sports a needle-point tip, a style traditionally favored by engineers and architects for its precision and reliability, not to mention for a better view of the writing surface. Because they stroke the paper like, well, a needle, needle-point tips do tend to “drag” (we promise it’s hardly noticeable), but the trade-off is consistent lines and zero skippage.

That said, testers gave the Pilot high marks for its uniformity of lines, noting that line width didn’t change regardless of pressure or force applied. No matter their handwriting style, our panel of testers commented how little effort it took for the pen to produce dark, rich lines, and on a consistent basis. And even though the ink flows heavy and quickly, it dries relatively swiftly. Sure, if you try hard enough, you’ll get some smudging, but in our testing, the Pilot was by no means the worst offender.

Best Pens Pilot pen in hand clicker

Now, we know rollerball-style pens aren’t for everyone. Maybe you prefer the comfort and familiarity of a ballpoint pen. And as far as cheap ballpoints go, we’re suckers for Bic’s tried-and-true classic: the Cristal. Introduced in 1950 and a part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent Architecture and Design Collection, the Cristal features a slim plastic hexagonal barrel and comes in a wide range of colors and line widths. This delightful throwback writes like pen should — freely and smoothly, with little pressure needed. Also, fun(?) fact: Cristal caps are perforated at the top in order to minimize the risk of wind pipe blockage if swallowed. Safety first, y’all.

Iconic ballpoint pens aside, we here at BuzzFeed like a rollerball for its thicker, more viscous ink, and if you’re of the same persuasion, the Pilot Precise V5 RT will literally check all the boxes.

User Reviews

“THESE ARE MY FAVORITE PENS. Alright, so I have used Sharpie pens for a while and some uniball pens, but then I tried these bad boys out because I was feeling like I wanted something that gave a finer point. The Sharpies are nice, but the issue I have with them was that they didn't flow as smooth as these bad boys. When I bust these out during class for notes, the teacher knows I am not messing around. I swear when he walked by during a lecture he looked down at my notes, leaned into my ear, and whispered, ‘Nicceeeee pen.’”
— Pen for Ballers From Amazon
“These pens are the only ones I will use. They are incredibly smooth, and with the fine print, you are capable of fitting more information in a neat format. The only downfall of these pens is that they do occasionally smudge, but what pen doesn't? Worth every penny, and I will buy again for sure. So should you purchase these? ABSOLUTELY. And if you are a college student, these will be the best decision you make — and these are the best-priced packages out there!”
— Shopping Addict From Amazon
“I've tried many different pens, and after borrowing this pen from a friend, I knew I needed to get some of them for myself! I like to write in cursive, but a lot of pens I've used in the past required too much pressure for the ink to come out legibly. As a result, writing things down was not a pleasant experience. With these Pilot pens, the ink comes out smoothly and precisely without much pressure at all. I've definitely noticed that my handwriting looks much cleaner with this pen. Just something to note about these pens is that though the ink does dry very fast, it can smudge a little as it is liquid-based. This hasn't been much of a problem for me, though!”
— J. Karl From Amazon
“These pens have spoiled me! I love them! I'm a lefty, so when it comes to writing I have to choose a pen that won't smear! The V5 ink dries fast enough to where it doesn't smear or get all over my hand! The V7 seems to not dry as fast and I get a lot of smear, but this one is just right. If I don't have this pen to write with, I choose to write in pencil. That's how much I love this pen!”
— Kelly Louviere From Amazon

Pilot

Office supply pens don’t stand a chance

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Retro 1951 Tornado Rollerball Pen

Starting from $20

The Details

Retractable rollerball twist pen

4.8” length, 0.4” diameter

Refillable

High-gloss metallic lacquer finish

Conical tip

0.7mm line size

Can be converted to ballpoint with refills

Made in the USA

What / Who It's Best For

  • Anyone curious about the world of “nicer” pens
  • People who’d like a twist top that can double as a fidget toy
  • Wordsmiths looking for a weighty pen for their weighty prose

Why We Love It

Sure, you can buy a cheap plastic pen and stop there. You’ll be able to write, draw, and chew the heck out of its cap. But if you’re willing to spend just a bit more, you can buy a pen that’s — dare we say — actually cool. The Retro 1951 Tornado Pen is, at its essence, a gorgeous, classic writing instrument that can be customized in hundreds of ways. Allow us to put it this way: It’s a kind of pen you’ll want to take to a meeting, give as a gift, and offer a prominent place on your desk, all just to show off.

Best Pens Pilot writing on paper

Retro 1951 only makes one style of pen, but boy does it make that pen well. The Tornado, which confusingly has only been around since 1997, offers a sleek, streamlined, and retro-fied design. It’s a stealthy rollerball, with a hefty stainless steel barrel and a rather lovely ornate knurled twist top. Knurling, in case you were wondering, is a manufacturing technique that uses a lathe to roll a pattern onto metal. The knurling here helps users grip and twist the pen top.

Let’s talk weight, because it’s important. As Ellen Carpenter, a fountain-pen consultant at one of our favorite stationery stores, Goods for the Study, tell us, “A pen with a barrel that is too heavy or too light, too narrow or wide, requires you to grip with more force than necessary, which will prematurely tire the muscles and cut your writing session short.” When figuring out if a pen is too heavy for you, Carpenter also recommends thinking about how you hold the pen: “Similarly, a top-heavy pen will resist assuming a natural position in the hand and feel as if it’s pulling away from the paper.”

Best Pens Retro1951 in hand writing position

We say this because all of our testers noted how heavy this pen felt in hand. With a slightly tapered barrel design that narrows as you get closer to the tip, much of the weight comes from the knurled twist-top. For some, it was the perfect balance, and for others, it was a bit much. If your hands are on the smaller side, you may want to give our ballpoint runner-up a try — but more on that a little later.

Related5 Fancy (and Not-So-Fancy) Pens That Make Excellent Gifts

The Tornado comes in 12 colors and dozens of themes. While the basic stainless steel pen is $20-$30, prices do go up for colors and designs and different materials. You can get the Tornado design in bamboo wood ($34), or in rose gold with inlaid shell ($80), and the “Speakeasy” series includes fun details like a cork top on the wine-themed pen and a twist bottle cap on the beer pen. All Tornados are refillable, and one especially cool feature is that the pen can be converted from a rollerball (see: here) to a ballpoint (see: here).

Best Pens Retro1951 refills

When it comes to performance, pens in this range are only as good as the cartridges inside them. And while the Tornado has its own cartridge, it’s important to note that they’re all actually made by Schmidt, a German-based company widely recognized for peddling some of the best refills around. The Tornado is shipped with Retro 1951-branded Schmidt 8127 rollerball cartridge, and that, along with the pen’s heft, offers a virtually skip-free writing experience that’s ideal for extended writing sessions. Sure, $20 is a lot to pay for a pen, but it’s comparatively little when you’re getting best-in-class ink with a quality make.

If a weightier pen casts any doubt, we recommend looking at the Parker Jotter, a great ballpoint option distinct for the cool arrow design that’s emblazoned on the pen’s clip. This steel pen performed incredibly well in our tests, lending a smooth, smudge-free writing experience. And even though it’s built from stainless steel, like the Tornado, it features a thinner barrel and is all together much lighter.

Best Pens Retro1951 notebook testing

As pretty and ornate as the Parker Jotter is, our testers preferred the Tornado for its substantial weight and better writing experience. For around $20, the Tornado is a perfect pen for anyone who wants to give this whole “nice” pen game a shot without going all in. As Mike Dudek of pen and notebook blog The ClickyPost writes, “Hands down it is probably the best feeling, weightiest, and smoothest writing option” in its price range. We couldn’t agree more.

User Reviews

“I love these pens! I received one 12 years ago and have used them as thank-you gifts for my clinical rotations. They are well constructed and stylish. The stainless steel pens can be further personalized with engraved initials.”
— P.L. Rogers From Amazon
“This is my new favorite pen. It writes effortlessly. In fact, just lightly dragging it across the page produces a line. I also prefer it to a number of other comparably priced rollerballs — it skips less and feels heftier.”
— fanofhistory From Amazon
“I'm a pen snob, and this is a great little pen. Fits easy in the hand with its nicely balanced weight and widening body. It comes in colors for all personalities, and refills are easy to find. It is especially good for the price.”
— Darrien From Amazon

Retro 1951

The gateway to better pens

Where to buy

$20 at Amazon
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Baron Fig Squire Rollerball Pen

Starting from $55

The Details

Retractable rollerball twist pen

5” length, 0.4” diameter

High-grade aluminum body

Precision-weighted ergonomic shape

Refillable

Available in five colorways

0.6mm line size

Conical tip

What / Who It's Best For

  • Stationery lovers who are feeling the “treat yo’self” vibe
  • Fans of the clean, modern aesthetic
  • Stumped shoppers looking for a practical, fun gift

Why We Love It

For most of us, expensive pens mean fancy boardrooms and people who wear pinstriped suits. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We plebes deserve a really nice pen, too! If you’ve found that you’ve deep-dived into the pen-iverse, or you just want to treat yourself to something a little special, there’s the inimitable, ultra-cute, OMG-where-has-this-thing-been-all-my-life Squire Rollerball pen from Baron Fig.

Best Pens Baron Fig notebook testing

Baron Fig has quickly become one of our favorite modern stationery brands around. The idea behind the Squire was to create something sleek and simple with a few surprising twists. For one, the Squire is sized to be longer than a pocket pen but shorter than a regular pen, allowing it to be stored safely in a pocket or purse. For another, the Squire’s barrel is ergonomically designed with an ever-so-slight wider head, so that your hand may comfortably rest on the barrel without slipping.  

In the words of one of our particularly eloquent testers: “This pen has its shit together.”

Best Pens Baron Fig full set

The barrel is cut from high-grade aluminum and is precision weighted so that it rests comfortably in your hand. Rather than a retractable tip or capped pen, the Baron Fig twists clockwise to open. Twisting the top counter-clockwise allows you to take the top of the pen off when you need to refill it, and you’d better believe Baron Fig sells replacement cartridges for this beaut.

All of these minor tweaks really add up to a truly enjoyable writing experience. Ink flows effortlessly and consistently, with even the lightest of pressure. Heavier hand pressure yields the same line width. The tip is smooth, and there was no detection of scratching. While our other winners hold caveats depending on one’s writing style or general preferences, the Squire pleased all of our testers — whether they wrote in print or cursive, were neat or sloppy, and whether they enjoyed a heavier pen or a lighter one. Simply put: The Squire is here to please.

Best Pens Baron Fig twist

The Baron Fig rated high in all categories, and topped its competitors in terms of ink drying time and smoothness of writing. That said, the twist-cap is something to be mindful about. While it’s a quiet, smooth mechanism, it is easy to forget about; we left it open several times (in our pocket, on the couch) and had a few ink-blot accidents. Aside from that, however, you’re looking at a pretty flawless pen from top to bottom.

If you prefer ballpoint over rollerball, our favorite splurge-worthy ballpoint was the Lamy 2000. Designed by Gerd A. Müller in 1966, the Lamy 2000 has a cool, slightly space-age ‘60s feel while offering a smooth, comfortable writing experience. The retractable barrel is made from Makrolon, a type of fiberglass, and has brushed stainless steel details. Though the barrel doesn’t have any finger grips, testers reported it resting comfortably in their hands. The Lamy isn’t a particularly heavy pen, so if you prefer a writing utensil with real heft you might want to try something else.

Best Pens Baron Fig writing

But if we’re being honest, we think Baron Fig’s Squire Rollerball has the power to turn any ballpoint-pen enthusiast into a rollerball believer. Yes, the Baron Fig is pricier than most rollerballs, but it’s got a timeless design and it’s refillable — so you’ll have it for years to come.

Baron Fig

A modern pen that’ll impress

Where to buy

$55 at Baron Fig
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