The Best Pens for Writing in 2020: A Buyer’s Guide

Best pens for writing

Are you looking to buy the best pens for writing?

If you’re fond of writing with pens, you know they are a key part of the writing experience.

Even in this age of tablets and phones, pens are irreplaceable, because they help writers think through their work in a way that’s not possible on screen.

Buying the best pen is fun and it can help you enjoy handwriting more.

Some people are lucky as they accidentally come across the right pen for themselves. For other writers, it’s a little harder to find the perfect pen. Many types of writing pens are for sale, including fountain pens, ballpoint pens (or biros), gel pens and more. 

With thousands of pens to choose from, most writers lack the time or budget to try them all. 

Generally, people prefer to buy cheaper pens in bulk, whereas the best pens for writing can cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars. 

For this guide, I selected some affordable and more expensive options based on the different types of pens on sale today. If you are planning to buy a writing pen, first consider what type you want and then how you’ll use it.

This post contains affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission if you use one. I bought each of the pens in this guide and tested them before writing my review. 

Popular Types of Best Pens for Writing

The way a pen delivers ink depends how you hold it, how much pressure you apply and the type of pen. Here are some of the most popular different types of pens.

Ballpoint pen

When you write with a ballpoint pen, the ball bearing in the tip of the pen rolls across the paper. Most ballpoint ink is oil baed and dries immediately. Biros are an example of popular, yet cheap, ballpoint pens. 

Both ballpoint and rollerball pens tend to deliver lighter ink than fountain and gel pens. If your ballpoint doesn’t work, scribble on a piece of paper so the ink can move to the ball bearing and be delivered to the paper. 

Rollerball pen

Rollerball pens also use a ball bearing to deliver ink onto the paper, but the ink is water- or gel-based. This makes the ink richer and more prominent, but it takes a while to dry.

But be careful. If your paper is too thin, the ink can spread or bleed through quickly. This pen is better for stationery cards or other thick papers. Personally, I prefer rollerball pens over ballpoints for writing notes on the go.

Fountain pen

The air in a fountain pen flows up to the top through a small vent in the tip and causes the ink to flow out. This is why fountain pens are best for thicker paper and cards. Even the best fountain pen ink dries slower than other pen types.

To use the best fountain pens, you must change or fill the ink cartridges. Don’t worry, it’s (mostly) easy to change these. If you’re travelling or a week or two, bring pack with you.

Since writing this guide, I have begun to use fountain pens a lot more to outline story and article ideas and for journal entry ideas and for checking grammar. These pens are pleasing and tactile to use.

 Felt tip pen

A lot of felt tip pens use water based ink, but some use archival ink, which means the ink lasts a long time. The tip’s pressed fibers allow the wick to soak up a lot of ink in just one go. 

Make sure to cover your felt tip pen as soon as you’re finished using it, because the ink dries quickly. I’m not a huge fan of felt tip pens, as I’m a heavy-handed writer, and the ink smudges on paper and over my hands.

 Gel pen

These pens use a thick, water-based gel ink that tends to show more clearly on dark and smooth surfaces. Gel pens are available in different colors.

Gel pens take much longer to dry than ballpoint and rollerball pens, so try not to touch the paper right after using a gel pen on it. The best gel pens look nice, but I don’t use them often for the reasons mentioned above.

How Do You Hold Your Pen?

How you hold your pen matters quite a lot when choosing a pen. For example, if you’re heavy handed, holding the pen perpendicular to the paper results in a dragged and scratchy experience. The tip of the pen expires faster.

People who hold their pens delicately might prefer ballpoints because all they need is gentle pressure to write. 

Writers who hold their pens between their pointer and middle fingers should avoid a rollerball pen, or their hands might get messy because of the ink. 

Some left-handed writers complain about ink getting on their fingers more easily than right-handed writers.

Before you choose an expensive writing pen, consider how you hold it. This way, you can buy one that’s within budget and doesn’t leave too many marks on your fingers.

(An aside for writers on a budget: if you want to save money on writing apps and tools check out my Grammarly coupon)

Why Do You Need a Pen?

Although writing notes on phones or computers is common, many writers prefer the simplicity of pens. They don’t need a better computer, Wi-Fi password, or screen protector. 

Whether you’re in class taking notes during a lecture, writing a thank you note or even writing notes for a story, use the right pen for the situation.

I use expensive pens at home and cheaper pens on the go in case I lose them. 

Is Legibility Important?

You can write a grocery list with almost any pen, but if you’re sending a personal invitation to someone, fancier penmanship is more pleasing to read. 

If you’re writing for yourself, it’s okay if your handwriting is a little messy, whereas if you’re writing for someone else, make sure your handwriting is legible.

What’s Your Writing Style?

Buying the best writing pen depends on your style. 
Do you prefer writing in cursive or simple handwriting? Do you take bullet point notes or write out longer sentences by hand? Do you like to draw multi-colored mind maps or simply record key phrases and ideas?

Cheap pens are good for fast notes, while more expensive pens are ideal for drawings and entries you’ll reread. 

If you plan to write lengthy notes, look for a heavier pen with a finger grip. That said, I talked to one writer who said she has smaller hands and finds heavy pens awkward and difficult to balance.

What Impact Does Environment Play?

If you’re in a room on a rainy day writing poetry, you might prefer a flowy gel pen or highlighter pens in different colors. 

If you’re in class haphazardly taking notes, you might prefer a pen that flows easily without cramping your hand.

If you’re in space, you might prefer a pen that works in zero gravity. )

What Type of Paper Do You Use?

When searching for the right pen, you also need to know the kind of paper you will be writing on. Take your personal journal or notebook with you if you’re buying a pen from a shop so you can easily test the performance and flow of the pen. 

The size of the paper, thickness, texture, color and what is under the paper will affect your pen’s performance.

Here is a list of the most common paper media and the best pens for them:

Notebook paper

This thin paper has a matte surface. A ballpoint or gel pen is perfect for this type of paper.  You can also use a felt tip pen if you write with a light hand.

Legal pad

This padded paper is thin, but not as thin as notebook paper, with a sheen on the surface. It is usually yellow but is available in other colors. .The cardboard backing can range from flexible to rigid. The best pen to use on this paper is a rollerball or ballpoint pen. Heavier ink and fountain pens tend to bleed through paper on a legal pad.

Printer paper

This paper is much thicker than the first two and has a sheen like the legal pad. The best pen to write on this paper is a felt-tip or ballpoint pen. Fountain pens smudge easily on this paper.

Stationery or index cards

Stationery cards, or note cards, are thick and absorb ink really well. The best pens for stationery cards are felt tip, fountain pens and markers.

Good index cards are usually heavy and absorb ink. The cards will smudge though. I use rollerball pens and fountain pens for these, as I file and refer to my index cards. I don’t use ballpoint pens or biro when writing on these for long. It causes my hand to cramp.

How I Tested the Pens In This Guide

I bought every pen in this guide and spent a few minutes writing with each one on index cards and paper. I considered factors like the pen’s weight, price, ease of use, looks and form. 

I also checked to see if the ink smudged easily and considered if I’d want to write with this pen for a few weeks or months. I focused mostly on affordable and budget-friendly pens, assuming writers aren’t going to spend thousands to try a pen.

Best Fountain Pens

Wordsworth & Black Fountain Pen

This is one of the more expensive luxury pen brands in this guide and came in a faux leather box.

I keep this pen at my desk rather than taking it out and about, as I was afraid I’d lose it.

Billed as an executive pen, it’s heavier than other fountain pens in this guide. It feels solid, looks expensive and writes smoothly. 

The pen comes with six free ink cartridges and a lifetime warranty. Writers can use it with a converter, which allows any bottled fountain pen ink for fountain pens.

Writing by candlelight optional.

This is my favourite writing pen in this guide.

Wordsworth & Black Fountain Pens Set-[Black Gold]-Medium Nib–Journaling and Calligraphy-Smooth Writing Pen- 6 Free Ink Cartridges & Ink Refill Converter- Luxury Gift Case-Perfect for Men & Women
  • ✅BALANCE AND BEAUTY, ALL-IN-ONE - Beautifully balanced and artfully crafted, the Wordsworth & Black Fountain Pen Set is top of its class. Complete with six ink cartridges, easy to use ink refill converter, and a luxurious gift case, it makes an amazing gift for any calligrapher or journalist. Pulled directly from out Erudite Collection, weve combined the weight of superior metals and masterful craftsmanship to create a writing tool that is not only worth having, but is built to last.
  • ✅THOUGHTFULLY CONSTRUCTED - Built to offer a delicate weight that is perfect for both left and right handed writers, we ensure only the very best materials are used. Our pens utilize a medium nib with perfect ink flow for easy, even strokes and an expertly matched lid to ensure it absolutely NEVER falls off. Get up close and personal with the Wordsworth & Black Erudite Fountain Pen and see the difference for yourself.
  • ✅SOMETHING EXTRA - New to fountain pens? Included with every order is a PDF file complete with instructions and best practices for your Wordsworth & Black Pen Set. Any and all information youll need to get started using and enjoying your luxurious writing tool will be right at your fingertips! Our customers come first and well do what we can to make sure youre taken care of. Dont forget, every set comes with FREE ink cartridges to keep your writing right out of the box.
  • ✅A BEAUTIFUL ADDITION - From the sometimes journalist, constant writer, or somewhere in between, having a balanced scribe tool at your disposal is a wonderful thing. Crafted to liberate creativity, our remarkable writing tool is a perfect gift for yourself, your family, or absolutely anyone else. Wordsworth & Black help bring new meaning to the old adage, The pen is mightier than the sword with this luxurious gift set.

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen

The Pilot Metropolitan pen is a good fountain pen for beginners. It has a superior metal build and an exceptionally smooth nib, which is perfect for beginners. This pen is available in a variety of colours. 

It has three nib sizes—fine, medium and medium italic—and can be easily filled with ink using cartridges.  Most people prefer the medium nib version. It glides smoothly on paper and doesn’t make a mess on the paper or your hand. 

If you’ve wondered how to use a fountain pen, start with this model, as it’s affordable and comes with a travel case.

Pilot Metropolitan Collection Fountain Pen, Black Barrel, Classic Design, Medium Nib, Black Ink (91107)
  • Pilots sleek Metropolitan Collection signature pens
  • Finest quality at a mid-range price
  • Medium nib
  • Brass barrel with stainless accents
  • POWER TO THE PEN: Pilot makes exceptional writing instruments to suit all your needs. We have fountain, ballpoint, retractable, erasable & gel ink pens, whiteboard markers & more for every writing style.

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

TWSBI ECO Fountain Pen

The TWSBI ECO is a cool pen that looks futuristic and comes in a clear plastic case.

Besides a high-quality piston filler, this fountain pen has a sleek, clear body that reveals how much ink remains in the pen. It writes exceptionally well and comes in different nib sizes ranging from extra fine to 1.1mm italic. 

The TWSBI ECO fountain pen requires more time to master than other pens. I had to watch a 10-minute YouTube video to figure out how to fill and clean it. Refills require an ink bottle, so the pen is more suited for home use than on the go.

This luxury pen would make a nice present for a writer.

TWSBI ECO Fountain Pen Black F Nib
  • Piston Filler Fountain Pen
  • Pen cap is able to post onto the back of the pen
  • Comes in EF, F, M, B, or stub1.1 nib size choices.
  • Inner cap to insure a perfect seal when pen is capped
  • Black, Clear demonstrator

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

PARKER Vector Fountain Pen

Parker makes nice, elegant pens that most people can afford. 

This no-nonsense fountain pen is suitable for an office. 

It’s not quite as pleasing to write with as the fountain pens above, and the plastic barrel doesn’t feel as satisfying. Still, the “quick ink technology” produces a pleasant effect on the page, and it costs less.

PARKER Vector Fountain Pen, Emerald with Chrome Trim, Fine Nib, Blue Ink, Gift Box
  • Bold, modern colors pair with Sharp designs for an accessible introduction to fine writing
  • Ultra-resilient, scratch-resistant Emerald barrel accented with chrome color trim and the signature arrowhead clip
  • Quink ink technology for smooth, clean and consistent performance
  • Practical cylinder shape and durable stainless steel nib deliver a comfortable writing experience
  • Packaged in a Parker gift box with a long blue ink cartridge

Prices pulled from the Amazon Product Advertising API on:

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

Best Fountain Pen for Beginners

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen

I bought this fountain pen from Amazon because Neil Gaiman recommended it in an interview with Tim Ferriss. I’ve used it for months without issue.

It’s comparable to the Wordsworth & Black luxury pen, although it’s lighter and has a matte rather than a glossy coating. I write with this fountain pen a lot when taking notes on index cards.

If you’re new to fountain pens start with this one. I like the look and feel of it, but another writer told me it’s ugly.

Lamy Safari 1232522 044 Fountain Pen Black

Best Gel Pen

Uni-ball Signo Gel Pen

There are lots of affordable gel pens to choose from, but the Uni-ball Signo DX UM-151 is a good choice. 

It glides on all types of paper, and it has a large 0.7mm nib size, which comes in metallic and pastel options. Nib sizes vary from 0.7mm to 0.28mm. As a heavy-handed writer, I prefer large nibs.

If you prefer bold colors, go for the metallic option, but if you want something light, try pastel colors. Both ink types are vibrant.

The Uni-ball Signo gel pen offers more than various nibs and colours. Its pigment-based formula is waterproof and unaffected by too much exposure to light. The ink smudged a little when I tested it on a Moleskine notebook, but that’s par for the course with gel pens.

The pen includes a finger grip.

Uni-ball Signo DX UM-151 Gel Pen

Best Rollerball Pen

Uni-ball Vision Elite Rollerball Pen

The Uni-ball Vision Elite is a best-selling rollerball pen that you’ve probably used before. It glides smoothly on the paper and feels sturdy. 

This pen comes with two tip options, 0.8mm and 0.5mm. The 0.8mm tip is silky smooth, and the 0.5mm option makes sure your pen never scratches the paper. 

The Uni-ball Vision Elite pen is fraud-resistant, so you can use it to write checks and sign legal documents. 

It comes in different variations of black, such as blue black, brown black and purple black, which gives more choices.

This pen doesn’t include a finger grip and is heavier than other Uni-ball pens in this guide.

Uni-ball Vision Elite Rollerball Pen

Best Ballpoint Pens

With the Uni-ball Jetstream ballpoint pen, you side-step the rollerball vs. ballpoint debate because of Uni’s proprietary ink.

This pen provides all the benefits of writing with a ballpoint pen. Besides giving the user a smooth glide on all kinds of paper—whether a legal pad or stationery cards—the Uni-ball Jetstream ballpoint pen is available in several colours and tip sizes. You can simply choose your favorite one. 

It also has a 0.38mm tip size.

This is a good, lightweight pen to keep in your bag or use on the go. It’s also not so expensive that losing it will annoy you.

Uni-ball Jetstream Ballpoint Pen

Parker Jotter Ballpoint Pen

Parker is known for making luxury pens. 

I’ve bought this ballpoint pen several times over the past few years, because it balances looks with affordability. The Jotter looks smart and isn’t too big or heavy. You can insert your ink cartridge of choice into the pen.

This clickable stainless steel pen allows you to write fast and easily. 

It’s never leaked on me either. The pen’s bottom comes in multiple colours (Red is my favourite.), although the paint on the case will scratch with heavy use.

Parker Jotter Kensington Red CT Ballpoint Pen

Best Quick-Drying Pen

Zebra Sarasa Dry Gel Pen

The Zebra Sarasa dry gel pen dries pretty quickly as compared to other gel pens. It has a large tip and is great for thick papers like stationery cards. It writes smoothly and comes in 0.4mm, 0.5mm and 0.7mm tip sizes. 

The Zebra Sarasa also comes with a clip that lets you easily attach it to your notebooks or even your pocket.

It’s another cheap, cheerful and affordable writing pen.

Zebra Sarasa Dry Gel Pen

Best Ergonomic Pen

Uni-ball Signo Premier Gel Pen

This is an ergonomic pen for heavy-handed writers like me and those worried about hand size or RSI. (I get repetitive strain injury when using smaller pens or devices like a mini-mouse for extended periods)

The Uni-ball Signo 207 Premier gel pen bills itself as the best ergonomic pen on the market. It has free flowing ink, meaning you can hold the pen lightly or heavily, and it will still glide over your paper. 

The pigmented ink is dark, no matter how much pressure you apply. 

This pen is heavier than other models in this guide, but the large gel strip on the side means you won’t hurt your fingers. It’s ideal for writers who take notes in class or write a lot on paper in the office.

Uni-ball Signo 207 Premier Gel Pen

Best Erasable Pen

Pilot Frixon Gel Pen

The Pilot FriXion gel pen is a fun erasable pen. It has a special thermo-sensitive ink, which disappears easily when you rub it with the eraser on top of the pen. 

Don’t let the cheap packaging fool you; the pen works great.

The Pilot FriXion gel pen comes in different colours, tip sizes and styles.

Fun fact: The ink from this pen will disappear if the page gets too hot. If that happens, keep the paper or the notepad in the freezer with a temperature below 10 degrees.

Pilot FriXion Gel Pen

Best Felt Tip Pen

Sakura Pigma Micron Pen

Personally, I find felt tip pens difficult to write with, because I lean heavily on the page and my writing smudges easily.

That said, your writing style might vary.

The Sakura Pigma felt tip pen is suitable for writing letters. The tip of the pen is gentle and allows the user to make precise markings. It is a good option if you want to experiment with drawing fonts. 

The ink is pigment based, which means the color is very strong. It is also archival, so it will last for a long time. The ink is also waterproof. 

The Sakura Pigma felt tip pen comes in 15 colours and different sizes, ranging from 0.15mm to 0.5mm. I bought the .25mm pack, which contained six pens. If I were buying this pen again, I’d opt for a larger nib.

Sakura Pigma Micron Pen

Best Pen for Note Taking

Zebra Sarasa Mark On Gel Pen

If you use pens to write or highlight notes, consider the Zebra Sarasa gel pen. This cheap and cheerful pen is water resistant and rarely smears, unlike other gel pens. It comes with a clip, so you can easily attach it to your notebook or pocket. The Zebra Sarasa pen is great for people who write a lot.

I bought a five-pack of these and received a bag of about twenty pens! They’re usually sold as packs of five.

The ink dries quickly on both card and paper. The ink also looks heavier and more solid than other pens I tested in this guide. 

The clickable pen is lightweight and ideal for note-taking, as it doesn’t smudge. The pen features a finger rest near the nib so you’re unlikely to get finger pain while writing quickly.

Zebra Sarasa Mark On Gel Pen

Buying The Best Pens for Writing: Final Verdict

Much like with writing desks, anyone looking to buy the best pen, a luxury pen or just an affordable pen have lots of options. No matter your budget or what you use pens for, there’s a choice available today that’s pleasing to use when you write. 

What pens would you like me to add next to this guide? 

Let me know in the comments section below.

Best pens for writers

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