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|Latest Pens & Markers||Price|
|Reynolds 045 Blue Pen (Pack Of 100)||₹10000|
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The cheap pen that changed writing forever
Heroes of Design | Design
The cheap pen that changed writing forever
(Image credit: Borja Buenafuente/BBC)
Fountain pens were a stylish statement but messy and impractical. Their replacement was a stroke of design genius perfectly in time for the era of mass production.
On 29 October 1945, the New York City branch of Gimbels department store unveiled a new product. Billions upon billions would follow in its wake.
Gimbels was the first to sell a new kind of ink pen, the design of which had taken several decades to come to fruition. The pens, made by the Reynolds International Pen Company, promised an end to the messy mishaps users of fountain pens encountered – leaking ink, smudges and pooling ink blots.
The new ballpoint pens did away with this, using a special viscous ink which dried quickly and didn’t leave smudges. At the heart of it, the rolling ball in the nib – and gravity – ensured a constant, steady stream of ink that didn’t smear or leave solid pools of ink on the page.
The new ballpoint was clean and convenient. What it wasn’t was cheap.
The new Reynolds ballpoint cost $12.50 – convert that to 2020 money and it’s more than $180 (£138.50). Today, if you were buying your pens in bulk, from stack-‘em-high superstores, you could end up with more than 1,000 for the same price.
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The pen was the first to go on sale in the US, but it was by no means the first ballpoint pen – the head of the US company that made it had in fact discovered a version during a business trip in South America. Its evolution is, in many ways, an example of a game-changing design waiting until outside factors – in this case the rise of plastics and mass-production infrastructure, and a brilliant marketeer – allowed it to achieve its full potential.
Loud, then quiet
The creation of the ballpoint pen is usually credited to a Hungarian-Argentinian inventor László Bíró, whose name inspired a catch-all term for modern ballpoints. But it is, in fact, a lot older.
Fountain pens were messy and needed regular refilling (Credit: Borja Buenafente/BBC)
An American, John J Loud, received the first patent for a ballpoint pen back in 1888. Loud, a lawyer and occasional inventor, wanted an ink pen which would be able to write on rougher materials such as wood and leather as well as paper. His masterstroke was the revolving steel ball, which was held in place by a socket. In his 1888 patent filing, he wrote:
“My invention consists of an improved reservoir or fountain pen, especially useful, among other purposes, for marking on rough surfaces-such as wood, coarse wrapping-paper, and other articles where an ordinary pen could not be used.”
Loud’s pen was indeed able to write on leather and wood, but it was too rough for paper. The device was deemed to have no commercial value and the patent eventually lapsed.
Various inventors tried to improve on Loud’s design in the coming decade, but none were able to take it into production until Bíró in the 1930s. A journalist in Hungary, Bíró used fountain pens daily and was very familiar with their drawbacks.
“He was used to the fountain pen which was very leaky and left ink on your hands and smudged and he was very frustrated by it,” says Gemma Curtin, a curator at London’s Design Museum.
Simply adding fountain pen ink to a ballpoint pen was not the solution, however. The ink itself needed to be rethought.
László turned to his brother, Győrgy, a dentist who was also a talented chemist. László had realised the ink used in fountain pains was too slow to dry and needed something more like the ink used on newspapers. Győrgy came up with a viscous ink which spread easily but dried quickly. What’s more, the pen used far less ink than the spotting, dripping fountain pens.
“Other people had thought of it before, but it was down to him, working with his brother – who was a good chemist – and getting the texture of the ink right,” says Curtin. “It is very like printer’s ink, and it doesn’t smudge.”
The principle at the heart of the ballpoint pen mimics the action of a roll-on deodorant – gravity and the force applied smear the rolling ball with a continuous stream of ink as the ball rolls along the writing surface When the pen isn’t used, the ball sits tight against the end of the ink reservoir, preventing air entering and drying out the ink. Most often, ballpoint pens run out of ink long before they dry out.
László Bíró was the first to come up with a practical ballpoint, which was easier to use than a fountain pen (Credit: Borja Buenafente/BBC)
László received a patent for his new pen in Britain in 1938, but World War Two put paid to plans to market his new invention. As László and his brother were Jews, they decided to flee Europe in 1941, and emigrated to Argentina. There, László returned to his new invention, helped by a fellow escapee, Juan Jorge Meyne.
The first “birome”, as it became known in Argentina, was released in 1943, while war was still raging in Europe and the Pacific. The design piqued the interest of the Royal Air Force (RAF), who put in an order for 30,000: the pens were able to be used by aircrew at high altitude unlike fountain pens, which tended to leak because of the pressure changes. Otherwise, the original pen was little-known outside its South American home – the few original models current all for sale on online auctions all hail from Argentina.
In 1945, two US companies – the Eversharp Co and Eberhard Faber Co – teamed up to licence the new pen for the US market, having spent half a million dollars ($7.2m or £5.6m in today’s money) to sew up the rights to North and Central America. But they were too slow on the draw. American businessman Milton Reynolds was visiting Buenos Aires and was impressed with the new pen – he bought several, and on return to America set up the Reynolds International Pen Company to market a new design.
Crucially, the Reynolds design had enough changes to sidestep László Bíró’s patent, and was the first to go on sale on October of that year. It was, almost instantly, a must-have accessory. As Time magazine reported, “thousands of people all but trampled one another last week to spend $12.50 each for a new fountain pen”, noting that the new pen only needed refilling once every two years. Gimbels had ordered 50,000 of the new pens and had sold 30,000 of them by the end of the first week. According to Time, Gimbels made more than $5.6m in sales ($81m or £62m in 2020) from the new pen in the first six months.
László Bíró’s pen gained the interest of Britain’s RAF during World War Two (Credit: Borja Buenafente/BBC)
The biro might now be regarded as an everyday, almost disposable object, but it’s worth taking a step back and appreciating the no-mess simplicity of its operation, says Curtin. “It’s one of those design stars that everybody loves.”
The first generation of ballpoint pens mimicked the style of fountain pens. They were made of metal and intended to be refilled with ink. The Reynolds pen made a big point out of its ability to write for two years without needing to be refilled, worlds away from the experience of using a fountain pen. Ballpoint pens might not have had quite the bookish cachet of fountain pens, but they were still seen as a desirable object. If you wanted a truly cheap writing implement you used a pencil.
But this created a problem. So many companies – including Eversharp and the fountain pen maker Parker – jumped on the ballpoint bandwagon that the market became saturated. People bought refills, but they didn’t buy more pens.
The masterstroke which would change the ballpoint pen forever came not from the US but from France. Michel Bich was an Italian-born French industrialist who ran a company making ballpoint pens. “No one understood better than Marcel Bich that potent 20th-century alchemy of high volume/low cost,” ran his obituary in the UK’s Independent newspaper when he died in 1994. “To this formula he added the magic catalyst of disposability. He invented nothing, but understood the mass market almost perfectly.”
Bich realised the ballpoints so far had been premium products – an alternative designed to be regularly replaced could be a lot cheaper. Bich acquired a dormant factory near Paris and set about creating his new company, Societe Bic. An advertising executive had suggested the industrialists shorten his surname to create an instantly recognisable three-letter trademark. The company’s trademark logo, the Bic Boy, had a smooth featureless orb as a face – a reference to the metal ball in the point of the pen.
“The first ballpoint pens in the UK cost around 55 shillings (£82.50/$107.50 in 2020 prices),” says Curtin. “One of Bic’s biros only cost you a shilling. It combined functionality with affordability.”
The new pen had an equally dramatic effect on the act of writing itself, says David Sax, the Canadian journalist who wrote the book The Revenge of Analog. “The ballpoint pen was the equivalent of today’s smartphone. Before then, writing was a stationary act that had to be done in a certain environment, on a certain kind of desk, with all these other things to hand that allowed you to write.
Marcel Bich was the first to turn the ballpoint pen into a cheap, mass-produced product (Credit: Borja Buenafuente/BBC)
“What the ballpoint pen did was to make writing something that could happen anywhere. I’ve written in snow and rain, on the back of an ATV and in a boat at sea and in the middle of the night,” says Sax. Biros don’t drain batteries, they don’t require plugging in in the middle of nowhere, and even the tightest pocket can accommodate them. “It only fails if it runs out of ink,” Sax adds.
The ballpoint pen is testament, Sax says, to one of the tenets of “really great design – it almost disappears. If the ballpoint didn’t exist and you launched one today on Kickstarter, it would be the biggest thing ever,” he says.
One major reason Bich’s cheap and cheerful pen took off was thanks to changes in production techniques. Plastic mass production allowed the new ballpoint pens to be made very cheaply. Over the following decades, the pens have become even cheaper, without compromising on their ability to write. “The basic, cheap example made by Bic works as well as it did 50 or 60 years ago,” Sax says.
Author Philip Hensher, who also runs a creative writing course at Bath Spa University in the UK, wrote a 2012 book on handwriting called The Missing Ink in which he praised the ballpoint pen. He says Bic not only found the way to produce vast quantities cheaply, but crucially hit upon a winning design right from the start. “If you have a product that needs no improvement – only tiny changes have been made to the Bic pens since the 1960s – you probably don’t have a lot of overheads.”
Produced since 1950, the Cristal has sold in mind-boggling quantities: it notched up 100 billion sales by 2006. It is such an everyday object that its strengths are easy to overlook.
The hexagonal body makes it easy to grip; the “transparent shaft that allows you to see the ink running out”, Hensher says. A tiny hole in the body equalises the air pressure both inside and outside the pen. Then there is the ink, drying in a couple of seconds instead of the 10s of seconds. “To be perfectly honest, the Bic pen is just such a miracle you don’t even think about it anymore.
“You have to look, too, at the effect the Bic biro had on Africa,” Hensher says. “It was marketed by Bic as something very modern. It really transformed African society. There just wasn’t a way for people to write easily before the Bic.”
The billions upon billions of cheap ballpoint pens made by various manufacturers since the 1950s have another lasting legacy, however, and this one is less heralded. Their disposable nature has created an enormous amount of plastic waste. More than 1.6 billion are thought to be thrown out every year in the US alone.
More than 100 billion Bic Cristals were sold by the year 2006 (Credit: Borja Buenafuente/BBC)
“Those 100 billion ballpoint pens sold are probably all still in landfill,” says Curtin, noting that in most cases the pens’ bodies themselves are perfectly able to be reused again and again. “Just because the ink has run dry, we throw the whole thing out. That’s quite strange.”
Ballpoint pen manufacturers are aware of this plastic pollution crisis. Bic themselves make a range of pens produced from 74% recycled plastic. More producers are promoting the idea of refills for plastic pens, and not just the metal ones that come with premium price tags. Other pen manufacturers have replaced the plastic body with tubes made of cardboard, or metal – the very material the first premium ballpoints were made of more than seven decades ago.
Our digital-first culture might celebrate screen over paper, but Sax believes the cheap ballpoint is here to stay. “When people in the tech world talk about outdated tech, they are never arguing that pens are outdated. Even Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk will have a bunch of pens sitting around.”
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The Best Pen | Reviews by Wirecutter
Affordable, smooth, left-hand friendly, and filled with the best-performing ink, the Jetstream is a verified go-to pen.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.
For most people in most situations, the Uni-ball Jetstream is the best pen for the job. Its pigment-darkened ballpoint ink flows out smoothly and evenly, without skipping and with minimal pressure. The ink sinks into paper and dries quickly (which is great for lefties), and it rarely, if ever, feathers out from your lines or bleeds through good notebook paper. Available in a variety of tip widths and colors, the Jetstream is sold in office-supply stores and through online merchants. It felt reasonably good in our testers’ hands, and it has been a Wirecutter pick since 2013.
Tip width as tested: 0.7 mm
Widths available: 0.38 mm, 0.5 mm, 0.7 mm, 1.0 mm
Ink type: hybrid (low-viscosity ballpoint ink with pigments)
Pilot Precise V5 RT
This pen isn’t the smoothest writing, but that slight bit of friction and its dark ink make it great for fine lettering or drawing.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $20.
If you prefer a darker line than the Jetstream’s, if you write in smaller, tighter letters, or if you like a bit of resistance from the paper whether you’re writing or drawing, the Pilot Precise V5 RT is another affordable and widely available pen to consider. Some experts and testers liked that it wasn’t as smooth as the Jetstream, preferring the feel of its finer point. It has a slightly thicker grip than the Jetstream, and it has darker ink that doesn’t dry as quickly but performs well on most paper.
Tip width as tested: 0.5 mm
Widths available: 0.5 mm (V5), 0.7 mm (V7)
Ink type: liquid
Uni-ball Signo 307
The Signo 307 is a smooth, quick writing tool that lays down a thick line more reliably than other popular gel pens.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.
If you want broad lines and even more of a gliding stroke than the Jetstream offers, and you don’t mind some smudging, a bit of paper bleed-through, or the occasional feathering or ink pooling, the Uni-ball Signo 307 is a highly recommended gel pen. Experts and staff testers called it an upgrade in smoothness, grip, and legibility compared with the well-known Pilot G2.
Tip width as tested: 0.7 mm
Widths available: 0.38 mm, 0.5 mm, 0.7 mm
Ink type: gel
If you love a pen but hate the commitment, an erasable pen is the way to go. The Pilot FriXion Clicker Erasable Retractable Gel Pen is our favorite because it’s satisfyingly inky, it comes in a variety of colors, and it erased just as cleanly in our testing on day five, after the ink had time to settle in, as it did on day one. Unlike with other pens, which left streaks behind when we erased their marks days later, with the Pilot FriXion you can come back and update your calendar the week after and still erase cleanly.
Tip width as tested: 0.7 mm
Widths available: 0.5, 0.7
Ink type: erasable gel
Writing samples from our picks
The Uni-ball Jetstream on Field Notes paper. Writing sample: Lilly Bellman / Photo: Tim Barribeau
The Pilot Precise V5 RT on Field Notes paper. Writing sample: Lilly Bellman / Photo: Tim Barribeau
The Uni-ball Signo 307 on Field Notes paper. Writing sample: Lilly Bellman / Photo: Tim Barribeau
The Uni-ball Jetstream on Field Notes paper. Writing sample: Lilly Bellman / Photo: Tim Barribeau
Top 5 Pens — The Pen Addict
Top 5 Micro Gel Ink Pens
- Uni-Ball Signo DX 0.38 mm – It’s so good that I helped design an upgraded pen barrel for it. What more can I say? (Buy)
- Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4 mm – I think you can argue for several pens in the two-spot, but the Sarasa Clip is consistently good, and a joy to use. (Buy)
- Pilot Juice Up 0.4 mm – The standard Juice has been on this list forever, but the Juice Up is better than the original in every regard. (Buy)
- Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.3 mm – If you can put up with frequent inconsistency and finickiness, then the Pilot Hi-Tec-C will provide you the sharpest fine line on this list. (Buy)
- Uni-ball Signo RT1 0.38 mm – Signo 307 or Signo RT1, that is the question here. I like the 307 better, but the RT1 has many, many more colors available, and that wins out in the end. (Buy)
(Notes: In my dream scenario, Pentel kills off the Slicci lineup, and adds a sub-0.5 mm refill to the EnerGel lineup. Preferably, in the barrel they refer to as the Euro Needle. Do that, and it would be the number two pen in this list I believe. Updated 2/11/2020.)
Top 5 Pens In The Store
- Uni-ball Jetstream – Stay away from the 1.0 mm. (Buy)
- Uni-ball Signo 307 – “But what can I buy at Staples that is good?” This. (Buy)
- Uni-Ball Signo DX 0.38 mm – They are here, and they are fabulous. Would be number one if they were more widely available. (Buy)
- Pentel EnerGel – People swear by their EnerGels, and for good reason. Maybe the darkest and smoothest of the bunch. (Buy)
- Sharpie Pen – Would be #1 if it was more durable. (Buy)
(Notes: If you want to argue that the Pilot Precise is better than any pen on this list I won’t disagree. I’ll just say that it is difficult to recommend any liquid ink pen ahead of these in the current market we are in.)
Top 5 Fountain Pens Under $50
- Lamy Safari – It’s universally great. Yes, the molded grip section could be an issue for some, but I don’t believe it is enough to move it out of the top spot. (Buy)
- Pilot Metropolitan – A 30% price increase last year slowed down the hype train, but it is the most traditional fountain pen on this list. (Buy)
- TWSBI ECO – My personal favorite in this range, but the piston filling mechanism is a turn off for new users. If you are fine with it, then this is number one. (Buy)
- Kaweco Sport – It isn’t just a great portable, pocketable fountain pen. It’s a great fountain pen period. (Buy)
- Platinum Preppy – Is there such a thing as a quality fountain pen under $5? Yes. Yes there is. (Buy)
(Notes: The Kaweco Sport is a personal favorite, but an odd pen for a beginner. The Platinum Preppy almost has to make the list strictly from a value perspective. The Pilot Kakuno is always in consideration, along with the Pilot Prera. I need to spend more time with the Platinum Prefounte to see if should be ahead of the Preppy. Updated 2/18/2020.)
Top 5 Fountain Pens $50-$100
- TWSBI 580AL – The same as the 580 before it, but improved with aluminum parts. (Buy)
- Kaweco AL Sport – The durable aluminum barrel makes this one of the best portable fountain pens on the market. (Buy)
- Lamy Studio – The Studio is the perfect step up for Lamy Safari fans. The nibs are identical and the metal barrel is much nicer. (Buy)
- Faber-Castell Ambition – I’m glad to see Faber-Castell making waves in a somewhat desolate category. Great style, build, and fantastic nib. (Buy)
- Lamy Aion – The latest from Lamy, and not without its detractors. I think it is a solid workhorse of a pen, and fun to use. (Buy)
(Notes: If I had my druthers this category wouldn’t exist. The only pen even remotely interesting to me is the Kaweco AL Sport. I’d be fine spending down or spending up and skipping this range completely.)
Top 5 Fountain Pens $100-$200
- Platinum 3776 – It’s been years in the making, and the 3776 is finally on top. The nibs are the best, and the styles have caught up to the rest of the market. (Buy)
- Leonardo Momento Zero/Furore – Beautiful Italian materials and craftsmanship, with an amazing writing experience. (Buy)
- Diplomat Aero – A unique fluted metal barrel design that I can’t get enough of. (Buy)
- Esterbrook Estie – Fun colors, great feel in the hand, and many options to choose from. (Buy)
- Lamy 2000 – One of the most beautiful fountain pens ever designed and the perfect entry point into gold nib pens. (Buy)
(Notes: If and when you get into fountain pens, this category gives you everything you need. Quality, performance, style, options – everything. I’d skip the $50-$100 range in all honesty. This is also where you can branch out into more custom brands like Franklin-Christoph and Edison.)
Top 5 Fountain Pens $200-$500
- Pilot Custom 823 – It’s expensive, and the barrel colors are limited, but I have a hard time not saying this is the best pen in this price range. The quality is superior. (Buy)
- Sailor Professional Gear – This is where I like the Pro Gear over the 1911 style. So much fun, so much quality. (Buy)
- Pilot Custom 912 – This is a workhorse of a pen. And like the Pro Gear, it has a wide variety of nibs available, including the Falcon. (Buy)
- Aurora Optima – These last two on the list are this low because they are on the upper end of this wide price range. The Optima is a new pen to me and I have been very impressed so far. (Buy)
- Pelikan Souveran 600 – The sweet spot for many in Pelikan’s lineup, the 600 series is just the right size all the way around with wonderful gold nibs. (Buy)
(Notes: Personal taste comes into play here more than anywhere else. You are spending a lot of money on a pen in this category, so be sure to get everything you want here, including style.)
Top 5 Fountain Pen Ink Brands
- Robert Oster – There are very few ink brands that I can recommend across the board with no caveats, and Robert Oster is one of them. In fact, they may be the only one. The colors are great, the performance is great, the price is great, heck, even the shimmer is great! They are doing all of the right things. (Buy) (Disclosure: Robert Oster manufactures the Pen Addict ink I sell, for good reason.)
- Sailor – Speaking of doing the right thing, Sailor had a moment where I was concerned they were heading down the wrong path with their ink lineups. They went from a point where I could say the same things about them as I did Robert Oster above, to a place where the inks were so overpriced for what you got that they weren’t worth it. Their recent Manyo series release saved them in my eyes. (Buy)
- Pilot Iroshizuku – With all of the new brands and crazy prices we see for fountain pen inks, Iroshizuku has gone from a premium price point to standard, or even cheap for the quality and quantity you get. They rarely introduce new colors, but when your base offerings are this good, do they really need to? (Buy)
- P.W. Akkerman – Copy/paste everything I said about Iroshizuku above into this section. The only difference is more ink in their standard bottle (60 ml vs 50 ml) and the best looking ink bottle in the business. (Buy)
- Montblanc – I am very serious when I say this: Montblanc standard inks are a good value. I know, as a brand they don’t want to hear it, but it’s true. Their special editions are more on the pricey side, but are unique enough to command respect. (Buy)
(Notes: If any list on this page deserves to be expanded to 10 entries, it’s this one. Classics such as Diamine, Faber-Castell, Pelikan, and Rohrer & Klingner all make great inks, as do relative newcomers such as Colorverse and Vinta. It’s a good time to be an ink fan. Updated 3/24/2020.)
Top 5 Plastic Tip Pens
- Kuretake Zig Cartoonist Mangaka – There will come a point when the lack of color choices will catch up to it, but not here, and not now. (Buy)
- Sakura Pigma Micron – Seen anywhere and everywhere fineliners are sold. And for good reason. Far more colors and tip sizes than the Kuretake, but not quite on par with performance. (Buy)
- Staedtler Pigment Liner – Number three on my list, but number one with the artists I follow on Instagram. Especially artists who focus on tiny, detailed drawing. (Buy)
- Copic Multiliner SP – If it weren’t so damn good I would have taken it off the list during the last price increase. You can buy 4 to 5 of the other pens on this list for every one SP. The standard Multiliner isn’t a good pivot either. (Buy)
- Paper Mate Flair – I could have gone many different directions in this last spot, but the Flair is a great pen and adds a more utilitarian option to the list. The Ultra Fine Model is great too. (Buy)
(Notes: This is a big category, as seen by solid entrants like the Uni Pen, Sharpie Pen, Stabilo 88, and more being left off. Updated 2/25/2020.)
Top 5 Paper Brands
- Rhodia – The best all around writing paper in nearly every format you can imagine. (Buy)
- Apica – This brand keeps moving up the charts and I find myself reaching for it constantly. (Buy)
- Midori – The Travelers Notebook has shown people what good paper should feel like, and the growth of the MD lineup pushes them up the list. (Buy)
- Maruman – Slightly more expensive than Rhodia and slightly fewer options, but the quality is elite. (Buy)
- Leuchtturm1917 – High quality and wide availability make this a popular choice no matter your writing instrument. (Buy)
(Notes: Life and Kyokuto are two of my favorite Japanese brands. Field Notes and Write Notepads both make amazing pocket notebooks.)
Top 5 Multi Pens
- Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto – So many options and a great refill makes it tough to beat. (Buy)
- Uni Style Fit – Late to the game but compares well to the Coleto. (Buy)
- Zebra Sharbo X – Only cost (initial and ongoing) keeps this from being #1. (Buy)
- Lamy 2000 – For some reason I didn’t know this pen existed until last year. D1 refill compatible. (Buy)
- Uni-ball Jetstream – The best ballpoint multi pen option by far. (Buy)
(Notes: Anything by Pilot, Uni-ball, or Zebra in this category is a good choice.)
Top 5 Ballpoint Pens
- Uni-ball Jetstream 0.7 mm – Sharp, fine and solid lines. Elite, but not for everyone. (Buy)
- Pilot Acroball 0.7 mm – More like a 1A with the Jetstream. (Buy)
- Lamy 2000 – If you are looking for a cheap ballpoint, look elsewhere. The 2000 model is all over this list for a reason. (Buy)
- Fisher Space Pen – One of the most functional pens on the market, I make sure I have one – or at least the refill – close at all times. (Buy)
- Bic Cristal – The classic Bic deserves this spot on merit, not historical significance. It’s a great pen. (Buy)
(Notes: The Parker Jotter is an all-time classic that is a decent option. It will never crack the Top 5, but it is fun to use.)
Top 5 Liquid Ink (aka Roller Ball) Pens
- Retro 51 Tornado – This may be the most recommended pen on this entire page. (Buy)
- Pilot Precise V5 – This pen should be number one on popularity alone. (Buy)
- Uni-ball Vision Elite – A great writer with an impressive feature set. (Buy)
- Morning Glory Mach 3 – Extremely underrated pen. In fact, I need to stock up on a few more. (Buy)
- Ohto Graphic Liner – Somewhat of an outlier compared to the rest, but really great. (Buy)
(Notes: The remainder of Pilot’s V-Series should be on the list, as they are all tried and true writers and easy to get.)
Top 5 Machined Pens
- Ti2 TechLiner – It’s the ugly duckling that turns into the beautiful swan when you actually use it. (Buy)
- Schon DSGN 01A – I use this pen all the time when I just want to grab and go. (Buy)
- Sunderland mk1 – I really love this pen, especially as one of the few machined pens designed to post properly. (Buy)
- BIGiDESIGN Ti Arto – It fits all the refills! (Buy)
- Ajoto The Pen – This is such a well-made product it delights every time I use it. Only downside is the price. (Buy)
(Notes: The Pen Type-B is my personal favorite, and the Tactile Turn Mover is another great build that is Pilot Juice compatible.)
Top 5 Mechanical Pencils
- Rotring 600 – What, you thought that lead-in meant the number one spot changed? Not so fast my friend! I think the Rotring 600 is the best mechanical pen on the market. It’s also the most expensive mechanical pencil on this list. That doesn’t always translate into best, but in this case it does. The brass barrel is weighted perfectly, the grip knurling is properly edgy, and it can take a beating. (Buy)
- Pentel Sharp – This pencil is more of the reason for the above commentary. Like the Rotring, the Sharp has been around for decades, but at a much different price point. In fact, this was a primary office supply pencil as recently as the 1990’s. Something about this traditional design and overall feel scream mechanical pencil to me and make me want to pick it up and use it. (Buy)
- Pentel Kerry – If you think mechanical pencils are boring, then you haven’t seen the Pentel Kerry. I’ve been on the bandwagon for years, but I need to be louder and more vocal about how great this capped mechanical pencil is. That’s right: Capped! (Buy)
- Uni-ball Kuru Toga – There it is! You can argue this should be number one on the list, and you will get no argument from me. In fact, I’m sure I’ve had it there myself over the years. The mechanics work flawlessly, and if the lead rotation mechanism is something you need, then go for it. I just rarely pick it up compared to the rest of these. Bonus point for tons of design variety. (Buy)
- Uni Shift-Pipe Lock – When it comes to mechanical pencils, pipe protection is important. This pencil does it effectively, and beautifully. Give me more color options and I might rank it ahead of the Kuru Toga. (Buy)
(Notes: If I’m feeling frisky one year I may knock the Kuru Toga off completely and replace it with the Tombow Mono Graph Shaker. It’s one of the best bang-for-your-buck mechanical pencils on the market. Updated 3/17/2020.)
Top 5 Wooden Pencils
- Blackwing 602 – The modern pencil that all other modern pencils are measured against. The perfect amount of firmness and darkness. (Buy)
- Tombow Mono 100 – This was my gateway pencil from the fountain pen world into Japanese pencils. I was spoiled from the word go. (Buy)
- Caran D’Ache Swiss Wood – Pen lovers love to show off their fancy pens. This is the pencil equivalent. Plus, it smells wonderful. (Buy)
- Camel Pencil HB – What appears to be a simple pencil is a master class in Japanese design. Perfect form and function. (Buy)
- Mitsubishi Office 9850 HB – Don’t let the basic appearance and “Office Use” branding fool you. This isn’t your basic office pencil. Every time I use it, I give it the “Really?’ look. Yes, really. (Buy)
(Notes: The Mitsubishi Mark Sheet is a new fascination, as is the 2H Tajima Carpenter Pencil. The Caran d’Ache Natura School Pencil is another good one too.)
Top 5 Most Useful Pens
- Fisher Space Pen – This is more about the pressurized refill that the pen barrel, although the standard barrel is perfect for how this pen needs to be used. I use the refill in my Schon DSGN pen, which is the pen I carry the most on a daily basis. (Buy)
- Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38 – My love for micro-tipped gel ink pen knows no bounds, and the DX is the runaway winner in this category. (Buy)
- Sakura Pigma Micron – The Micron is not actually my top pick for best plastic tip pen, but for some reason I find it with me the most because it can take a beating. (Buy)
- Uni-ball Jetstream 0.7 mm – Regardless of your opinion on ballpoint pens, there are situations in life where they are the best tool for the job. Make it the Jetstream. (Buy)
- Sharpie Permanent Marker – This pen doesn’t fit on any of the other lists, but it belongs in the conversation. When you need it, it is because it’s the only pen that can do the job. (Buy)
Top 5 Blue Black Fountain Pen Inks
- Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-Kai – It’s rare when the premium ink is also my top recommendation, but with the Iroshizuku price drop, Shin-kai is hard to beat. One of the best color ranges in a blue black ink while remaining traditional. (Buy)
- Pilot Blue Black – A smart man once told me that this is the only ink he trusts explicitly in all of his pens. And, with Sailor doing who knows what with it’s stock blue black, this is the easy stock ink choice. (Buy)
- Rohrer & Klinger Salix – Maybe the best iron gall ink I have ever used. The words iron gall turn off some people, but if you make this your first, you will be happy. (Buy)
- Akkerman #8 Diep-Duinwaterblauw – There is a brightness that peeks out from under the covers that many other blue blacks don’t possess. The bottle alone is worth the price of admission. (Buy)
- Lamy Blue Black – I think this ink has been on and off the list more than any other over the years. It’s a bit drier and lighter than some of the inks up top, but is such a classic color it sneaks into the back of the list when there is a shake up. (Buy)
(Notes: What happened to Sailor Blue Black, the former number one on this list? That’s a great question! Sailor has been reshuffling its ink lineup over the past couple of years, and their stock ink colors appear and disappear at random intervals, and at different prices and sizes. If they made it easier to sort out, they would still be near the top of the list. Updated 2/4/2020.)
Top 5 Orange Fountain Pen Inks
- Sailor Apricot – The first orange ink I ever latched on to, and the one I measure all others by. A perfect light shade with great character. (Buy)
- Papier Plume Sazerac – I didn’t realize what I was in for when I was handed a sample of Sazerac a couple of years ago in San Francisco. The most unique orange I use on a regular basis. (Buy)
- Akkerman #16 Oranje Boven – My idea of a pure orange. Few, if any, undertones of yellow, red, or brown, which are common. Not here. It’s just orange. (Buy)
- Pilot Iroshizuku Yu-Yake – It’s darker than Apricot, but has similar shading characteristics. (Buy)
- Montblanc Lucky Orange – I hesitate to put special editions on any list, but this one has been around a while, and doesn’t look like it is going anywhere any time soon. (Buy)
Where To Buy Pens in 2021
Unsharpen may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.
One of the most popular questions sent to the Unsharpen Youtube channel is, “Where do I buy that pen?” And it makes sense, because while pens are sold almost everywhere, finding a specific pen can be a real challenge.
Here is our guide to buying pens in 2021.
This is a guide focused helping people buy pens online. Unsharpen.com is based in the US, so the guide will assumed a US-focused buyer to cut down on confusion. This article only contains retailer that we’ve purchased from before and will be purchasing from again in the future.
It’s worth noting that when we buy pens for Unsharpen.com, they are being bought as a normal consumer would make the purchase, with no special treatment asked for or expected. Most of the sales over the years have been done as an individual, with no mention of “Unsharpen.”
Where To Buy Pens Online
The internet is, as expected, the best and easiest place to find pens in 2021. But the internet is a big place! Where should you go to get your pens?
Love it or hate it, Amazon.com is probably the best place to buy pens online. They have a huge variety of pens, and not just mainstream models either. Amazon.com has a incredible selection of European pens, Japanese pens, smaller brands, and so much more.
Amazon also has helpful tools for finding pens, like sorting by newly release pens or top-selling pens.
Amazon also normally has, by far, the lowest price on Rotring and great deals on Japanese pens, like a Platinum 3776 Century for about $100. They even have boutique options, like Blackwing pencils.
There have been numerous complaints about counterfeit products being sold on Amazon, but I’ve yet to run into a counterfeit pen being sold through Amazon’s marketplace.
Amazon.co.jp is also quite good, but ordering from it and shipping outside of Japan can be a challenge. It’s well worth it, thanks to a good selection, great prices, and cheap international shipping, but not all sellers will ship outside of Japan so it can be a frustrating experience.
Japanese Pen Shops
The internet, it all its greatness, has a number of Japanese pen shops. These stores curate a selection of Japanese pens, import them from Japan, and then charge a relatively slight premium on the retail price to accomodate for shipping, duties, and so forth.
There are others that exist, but these two really stand out. TokyoPenShop for finding newly release pens and Jetpens for their overall selection.
Online Pen Stores
There are many dedicated online pen stores (some of which have physical locations). These tend to have higher prices than places like Amazon but they will offer actual customer service if you need it as well as better quality control and warranty support if something happens to your pen. These pen stores will offer a better selection of smaller brand pens as well.
There are many, many other options, some of which we buy from regularly, but these are solid resellers that have been particularly helpful to us at some point.
Ebay is very hit-and-miss but it’s still one of the best places to find pens online. In fact Ebay is a critical resource for finding vintage pens as it’s the online place where many older and rare pens will pop up.
When looking through Ebay, start your search with the vintage and collectible section of the writing instrument market for the best results.
Where To Buy Pens In Person
Unfortunately buying pens in person can be a real challenge depending on where you are located. Most of the serious pen stores are in large cities, which means some travel might be required. Some more common big box type stores will have good pen selections as well, but you’ll be limited to buying from larger pen brands (which is fine!).
NYC has a number of great pen shops, as do other good-sized cities (like Portland, Oregon) but most of these shops are one-offs that will only help you if you are in a specific neighborhood of a specific city. You can call some of these places and make an order, like NYC’s famous Fountain Pen Hospital, but they are really designed for in-person buying.
Not every shop is a one-off boutique though. Here are some more common places to buy pens in person.
- Target – Target stores are easy to find and they tend to have a wide selection of pens from Pilot, Pentel, and others. You won’t find fountain pens, but gel pens and good ballpoints will not be a problem
- Muji – Muji stores almost all have a dedicated pen and paper section with great gel pens and some other useful stationery items. They have a good selection and great prices.
- Kinokuniya – This set of 20 or so Japanese culture and speciality stores appear in most large cities in the US and they have a great selection of standard Japanese pens, just like you’d find in a store in Japan.
90,000 Universal, Compact Ballpoint Pens Online Options
Students and educators looking for ease and convenience in highlighting, writing notes, and marking sections of documents should buy the Universal Features Ballpoint Pens online from Alibaba.com . Writers of all skill levels can use the outstanding features of these gorgeous and quirky multi-purpose pen sets to make their work easier.They can examine the brand and promotional ballpoint pens online . from leading manufacturers and suppliers of pens for quick selection.
Customers will surely love the ease of switching between pencil and pen, color, marker and style, and a host of other features. They can easily switch between functions and colors using sophisticated gravity mechanisms, rotary actions, or a dedicated slider. Find elegant metal and multicolor ballpoint pens online .available with sophisticated features like pendant key rings, standard D1 top-up mechanism and more.
Wide range of ballpoint pens online at Alibaba.com. includes superbly designed handles with smooth selection and excellent performance for a variety of materials. These pens have a professional and sleek look that makes them suitable for a variety of everyday situations, including in the office and at home. Check out the pens to find options with different types and sizes of stylus tips, balls, markers and gel.
Explore Alibaba.com to find very reasonable ballpoint pens online . offers compact pens with expandable ballpoint pens that make it easy to write and easy to store. Order the convenient multipurpose pens wholesale or retail for great deals. Buyers can appreciate the convenience and simplicity provided by the intelligent and versatile nature of these pens for writing notes, highlighting text, marking up documents, and more.D.
Fixies online | Episode 19 | Ballpoint pen
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90,000 Ballpoint Pen Patent Celebrates 125 Years Anniversary – News
On October 30, 1888, a patent was issued for the principle of operation of a ballpoint pen. The inventor was American John D.Loud. Since then, more than 350 patent applications have been filed for a variety of ball-and-shank pen designs.
125 years ago John D. Loud of Massachusetts became the official inventor of the ballpoint pen. He patented a device that helped to carry out writing without using an inkwell and a pen. A pen with a small ball at the end of a hollow rod filled with ink immortalized the name of the American.
The next patent was registered in 1916.After that, many patents were issued around the world for the principle of operation of the ballpoint pen.
The pen, which is used by most modern people, was invented in the late thirties of the last century. It was proposed by the Hungarian journalist Joseph Laszlo Biro, who had to write a lot, and the pen and ink familiar for that time did not meet his requirements.
Ballpoint pens were primarily produced for British Air Force pilots. They got into mass production in the middle of the last century, when an Argentine manufacturer bought a patent from journalist Biro for one million dollars.
Since the patent for Biro’s invention was valid in only two countries, the American Milton Reynolds filed a patent for a similar technology in the United States in 1943, which brought him a millionth profit. And although Biro tried to sue his invention, the American court upheld the patent acts.
Millions on ballpoint pens were earned also by the Frenchman Marcel Bik, who in 1958, having improved the technology, was able to put into circulation a cheap model under the BIC brand. Until now, products under the BIC brand are popular: every third pen on the American market is produced by the BIC Corporation.
Ballpoint pens began to spread in the USSR in the late 1960s. Younger schoolchildren were not allowed to abuse them, since it was believed that pens only harm the development of beautiful handwriting.
Ballpoint Pen | Autodesk Online Gallery
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