Rollerball vs Ballpoint Pens: A Complete Guide

What’s the difference between rollerball vs ballpoint pens? 

Is there really such a difference that you might want to choose one over the other? Or, are they virtually interchangeable?

Some people may simply pick up any pen from a random pile. Some others may go for an expensive elite one like a Montblanc Meisterstuck pen or a Montblanc Starwalker as a status symbol. 

But, that’s not the case for writers, is it? You probably care deeply about your writing utensils!

If you’re anything like me – when your parents said you could go buy something as a child, you skipped the rows of toys and went for a new pencil, eraser or some kind of writing instrument.

When you’re putting pen to paper, it needs to feel right. But we all have different preferences. Let’s compare these types of pens, so you can decide which one might give you a better writing experience.

This post contains some affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission if you purchase the products I recommend.

Rollerball vs Ballpoint Pens: What are the Differences Between Them?

The main difference between a rollerball and a ballpoint pen lies in the ink. 

And, there are more ways in which they differ. Let’s see what they are:

1. Ink

A rollerball pen uses thinner water based ink that comes in liquid or gel consistencies. The ballpoint pen uses thicker oil based ink. 

The water-based liquid ink or gel ink flows smoothly, just like a fountain pen. 

When you write, it’s easy for a rollerball’s gel ink to smudge, while ballpoint ink dries almost instantly on the paper. 

But, a rollerball’s gel ink can dry up inside the pen. While this doesn’t happen as quickly in a ballpoint pen, its oil based ink can get sticky and thick. This may lead to ink blobs or trouble getting the pen to start writing again. On this point, they both have their challenges.

2. Body

Rollerballs and ball pens have different types of barrels due to the inks used. The rollerball pen’s water based ink can dry out if exposed to air, so it’s nib needs to be covered with a cap. 

The oil based ink of a ballpoint pen will not dry out if exposed to air, so it doesn’t need a cap. It can be operated with a twist or click mechanism.

3. Price Difference 

Basic models of rollerballs are usually a bit more expensive than ballpoint pens. While ballpoint pens start at less than $1, roller balls may start from $1-$2. The price of luxury pens will vary greatly, of course. (For example, a Montblanc Meisterstuck Classique PT 164 Ballpoint starts above $300.)

4. Writing experience

The liquid or gel based ink of rollerballs provide a smoother writing experience that requires you to use less pressure compared to a ballpoint. The fluidity of liquid or gel ink makes for finer and darker lines when using rollerballs. However, the ballpoint may give you a more controlled action. 

5. Leakage

Both pens are leak-free. In fact, the rollerball pen was introduced as a leak-free option to a fountain pen. 

But, in a situation where the pressure varies – like on a flight – a half-filled roller ball pen can leak, causing a mess. So it’s always better to carry a full or empty rollerball gel pen when you fly. A ballpoint pen doesn’t leak during pressure changes.

6. Bleeding through paper

Lastly, the thinner rollerball gel ink tends to bleed through paper, unlike a ballpoint – especially if you use poor quality paper.

Besides all these factors, the topic of rollerball vs ballpoint pen for lefties may also be important for many of you. 

Let’s address that.

Rollerball vs Ballpoint Pen for Lefties

The hand you write with can impact which pen is best for you. When you write with your left hand, your hand slides over the words you just wrote as you move from left to right on the page.

This can be problematic with roller ball pens because the liquid or gel ink takes longer to dry and is highly likely to smear as you write. Because of this, ballpoints are generally the better choice for lefties (unless you’re someone who writes with your fingers lifted, so they don’t touch the page as you write).

So now that we’ve figured out the major differences between rollerball pens and ballpoint ones, it’s time to delve deeper into their finer details of rollerball pens and ballpoints.

What Is a Rollerball Pen?

Simply put, a rollerball pen is one that uses the writing mechanism of a ballpoint pen, but with water-based liquid ink or gel ink. 

Rollerball gel pens are considered by many to be of higher quality than ballpoint pens. This is because its water-based liquid ink or gel ink is similar to a fountain pen but without the price tag. Of course, whether rollerball gel pens are better than ballpoint pens is just a matter of opinion.

When and Where Was the Rollerball Pen Invented?

The rollerball pen was developed by Ohto, a Japanese company that manufactures writing utensils. 

Nakata Touzaburo, the founder of Ohto, first developed a Japanese version of the ballpoint pen in 1949 after the American Army brought ballpoint pens to the country after World War II. In 1964, the company introduced the rollerball pen to provide a smoother writing experience similar to a fountain pen.

This rollerball pen featured the same ball and socket design as the ballpoint pen, with only slight alterations. (The ballpoint was first designed by John J. Loud in 1888. Laszlo Biro patented a modern version of it in 1938.)

How Does a Rollerball Pen Work?

The rollerball pen may seem similar to a fountain pen, but its inner workings and ease of use are closer to that of a ballpoint pen. 

Rollerball gel ink pens have a reservoir to hold the water-based liquid ink or gel ink. In the end, it has a ball in a socket. As you hold the pen upright to write, the liquid or gel ink moves down onto the ball that rolls over the paper and releases ink along the way.

Parts of the Rollerball Pen 

Here’s what the detailed anatomy of a rollerball pen with a nib, ink cartridge, and a barrel looks like:

Rollerball vs ballpoint diagram

Source: Pen Blanks

How to Refill a Rollerball Pen

Rollerball pens come in both disposable and refillable forms. The ones with a cap are refillable, and the ones without are usually disposable. 

You can also buy ink refills of rollerball gel pens – so, you won’t have to throw away your used pen. 

Note that a rollerball pen uses three times more ink on paper than a ballpoint pen. So, you’ll need to replace the ink cartridge, or rollerball refills more often. (Interestingly, some of them can be refilled with fountain pen ink as well.)

Rollerball Pen: Pros and Cons

If I were to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of rollerball pens:

  • ​Free-flowing water-based liquid ink or gel ink like a fountain pen
  • Comes in more environmentally-friendly disposable models that you can reuse using rollerball refills
  • Great for writing for long periods
  • The liquid ink or gel ink takes longer to dry
  • ​Likely to smudge (especially for left-handed writers)
  • Water based ink is likely to bleed through

Now for the next important question: Which rollerball pen should you buy?

The Best Rollerball Pens

I chose these rollerball pens based on smoothness, color, tip size variety, and affordability.

Uni-ball Vision Elite Rollerball Pen

The best-selling Uni ball Vision Elite Rollerball is one of the best rollerball ink pens to own. You’ll love it because of its smoothness when writing and because it is long-lasting.

It is also ideal for signing important documents and checks because of its fraud-resistant design.

I like that this pen comes in various styles so that everyone can find their preference. You can choose between 0.8mm and 0.5mm tips based on whether you prefer smoother or more controlled writing. 

You also get a choice of colors, including black, red, blue, purple, or an assortment.

The Vision Elite has a fancy look fit for business use. It has a sturdy feel to it, as it’s a relatively large pen. You’ll need to decide whether you mind its heaviness and the fact that it doesn’t have a finger grip.

Pilot Precise V5

The Pilot Precise V5 gives you excellent value for money – you can get a full box of these disposable pens at an affordable price. 

It comes in a variety of colors, so you can pick how simple or full-of-flair you want your writing to be.

The V5 has an extra-fine tip that gives you good control of your writing. You also get a smooth writing experience from the rollerball style. You could even choose a different Precise version with a slightly larger tip if that’s what you prefer.

A nice feature is that you get the option of a capped or retractable top to fit your preference. If you’re the type who loses the cap of your ink pens all the time, go for the retractable option.

Besides these, other popular options like the Uni ball Signo Retractable Gel Pens and the Pentel Energel Gel Ink Pen may also give you a smooth writing experience. 

You could even try the Pilot FriXion Clicker Erasable Pens with thermosensitive, gel ink that disappears when you erase.

Tips for Buying a Rollerball Pen

When choosing a rollerball pen, consider the tip size and the feel of the pen itself for an idea of how your writing experience will be. 

This type of pen comes with ink in a variety of colors, so you can pick standard blue or black or even bright hues to have a little fun.

When deciding which pen to buy, you may be looking for a lower price and simplicity, or you might prefer a pen with a fancy or executive look and feel. Some types even offer a compromise in price and style.

Check the pen design as well. It must store ink in such a way that it doesn’t dry for as long as possible.

Consider your specialized needs depending on how you’ll be using the pen. For instance, some rollerball gel pens are fraud-resistant for signing legal and financial items, and some have airplane-safe ink that doesn’t leak with pressure changes.

In summary:

  • Consider how the tip size and feel of the pen will impact your writing experience.
  • Choose from ink colors to fit in different situations.
  • Decide whether you care more about good value for money or a fancy/executive style.
  • See if the pen design contains the ink to keep it from drying up.
  • Determine whether you have special requirements such as fraud-resistance, airplane-safe ink, or other features.

How about ballpoint pens?

What Is a Ballpoint Pen?

Ballpoint pens are simple, standard pens that are often inexpensive. You’ll see them as giveaways or as promotional items (probably as often as you’d see a pencil in a birthday return-gift bag). 

These pens use an oil-based viscous ink that tends to dry as soon as you write, yet it doesn’t dry up quickly in the ink cartridge of the pen.

When Was the Ballpoint Pen Invented?

John J. Loud came up with the first design for a ballpoint pen with a ball in a socket, which he patented in 1888. He only intended the pen to write on rough surfaces, so it was not useful for writing letters. It didn’t become commercialized, and the patent lapsed.

Later, a man named Laszlo Biro invented the modern ballpoint pen in the 1930s. This Jewish-Hungarian journalist and artist was inspired by the method of the printing press, which had ink that dried faster than a fountain pen. He patented his design with the ball tip and a faster-drying ink in 1938.

How Does a Ballpoint Pen Work?

Ever been curious about the mechanism of a ballpoint pen while writing with it? 

It uses the same actions as a rollerball pen (or, more accurately, the rollerball uses the same mechanisms as a ballpoint pen, which was around earlier).

The ballpoint pen features the same ball in a socket at the end, which gets covered in ink coming down the ink reservoir as you hold the pen up. As the ball rolls, the ink slides onto the paper.

Parts of the Ballpoint Pen 

Ballpoint pens come in three typical designs: stick, retractable, and twist designs, with each having some common parts.

  • A stick ballpoint pen has a nib, a grip, barrel, ball, socket, and ink chamber.
  • Besides, a retractable pen has a thrust device, thrust tube, spring, nib, and a clip.
Ballpoint pen diagram

Source: Quality Logo Products

  • A twist type pen has a twist mechanism as its name goes.

How to Refill a Ballpoint Pen

Most ballpoint pens are disposable. Only the more expensive options are refillable pens. However, along with disposable pens, most manufacturers now offer ballpoint refills or ink cartridges to refill yours as well.

Let’s look at both sides of the coin.

Ballpoint Pen: Pros and Cons

  • Oil-based ink dries faster on paper
  • You get disposable options, and ballpoint pen refills as well
  • Doesn’t bleed through paper
  • Disposable ones generate plastic waste
  • Need to apply more pressure to make the ink flow
  • Tends to skip (write inconsistently) when bubbles interfere with the ink flow to the pen’s nib or due to dried ink blocking the passage.

Here’s how to fix a ballpoint pen that skips: Dip the nib in rubbing alcohol, and slowly heat the nib with a lighter. Repeat this process a few times to melt the dried ink and make it flow freely. 

Now, which ballpoint pens should you buy?

The Best Ballpoint Pens

These ballpoint pens made the cut based on look and feel, writing experience and price. These are some of the best ballpoint pens at an affordable price. 

Parker Jotter Ballpoint Pen

The Parker Jotter has a great balance of different factors, which makes it a great pen overall. It gives you a medium size and weight that feel nice to hold and write with, and you get good value for money at an affordable price for a luxury design.

This stainless steel pen offers a sleek, professional look, and you get to choose the color of the bottom half from blue, red, black, purple, and other options. 

This is the type you refill with an ink cartridge, which adds the benefit that you can choose the tip size and ink color of your preference.

You click this pen to open or close the tip, and you’ll find that you can write easily without the ink drying quickly. 

It offers a smooth writing experience with ink that comes out dark on the page and provides much writing control.

Schneider Slider Memo XB Medium

The Schneider Slider Memo XB is an excellent disposable ballpoint pen. You’ll only need to pay a reasonable amount for a whole box of pens.

This pen glides smoothly as you write, and you won’t have to hold it under much pressure.

It gives you waterproof, quick-drying ink, so you can move along on the page without worrying about smudges.

Based on your preferences, it’s worth considering that this pen has a reasonably large design and writes a thick line of ink. The company claims the design to be ergonomic, so you may find it comfortable in your hand during extended writing sessions.


You’ll face a hundred more options when you set out to buy a ballpoint pen – including plenty of good ones like a Pilot FriXion Clicker, Pilot Acroball, or a Uni-Ball Jetstream retractable ball pen.

So, is there something you should keep in mind when you buy one? 

Tips for Buying a Ballpoint Pen

I can’t definitively decide on the best ballpoint pen in the world because I know everyone has individual preferences. That’s why it’s better for you to see the options and choose your ballpoint pen.

With a ballpoint pen, you can choose between differing tip sizes and a few color choices. Consider whether you’d rather have a disposable type or the type that you refill with ink cartridges or ballpoint refills.

Do you prefer a heavy or light feel, or something in between? Also, consider whether you care about the outer look of the pen or whether you are indifferent about the design.

In summary:

  • Decide on your favorite tip size.
  • Choose from different ink colors to fit your style of writing.
  • Consider whether your preference is disposable pens or refillable pens.
  • Determine whether the size, weight, and style of the pen matter to you.

Final Thoughts on Rollerball vs Ballpoint Pens

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of whether you’d prefer rollerball vs ballpoint pens, and which one to buy. Overall, buying a pen is a personal choice based on smoothness, writing control, the feel of the pen, and other factors.

That said, these different types of pens are not the only ones that exist. Some of these might work for you, but it could also happen that none of them ends up as your favorite. Feel free to consider all the best pens for writing before deciding on one. 

You could even decide on one type of pen for writing in your journal, another for signing contracts, and so on. There’s no right or wrong way. It’s all about what works for you.

Do you prefer ballpoint or rollerball pens? What’s your favorite pen? Let me know in the comments.

Pen Buyer’s Guide Resources

Fancy Pens You’ll Love Writing With

Why Is The Montblanc Ballpoint Pen So Expensive?

Best Gel Roller Pens

What Is The Smoothest Pen to Write With?

Best Pens for Writing

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  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.