The old pen survives digital innovations but does not standstill. With the same product, today, we can write in ink on paper, or type and scribble on a tablet.
There are even 3D pens, which allow you to create three-dimensional models thanks to polymer filaments drawn literally in the air.
Our guide to choosing the best pen has explored all the news, but without neglecting, rather enhancing it, the tradition of old fountain pens and ballpoint pens.
Buyer Guide to Choose Pens
We all think we know how to use a pen, and as far as normal ballpoint pens are concerned, this is probably true.
It is not said that this is the case for fountain pens, now in disuse even in schools, which still need, if not ability, at least some attention in handling and maintenance.
Fountain Pen or Ballpoint Pen?
The ballpoint pen was created to solve some problems created by the fountain pens, which in the meantime, however, have improved performance in terms of practicality.
The charm of fountain pens, however, survives, so much so that many children use it at school or ask to use it. Needless to deny that it remains unbeatable for the expressiveness and lightness with which it flows on the sheets.
Characteristics that make it the best pen for the few but fierce lovers of the art of calligraphy. However, in terms of convenience, despite the progress made, it still cannot compete with the ballpoint pen.
It requires a minimum of maintenance and cleaning and, why not, some manual use. It is possible to obtain strokes with different widths, thanks to the flexibility of the nib, but it takes a little practice.
On the other hand, pens with a refillable tank (with plunger or converter) are more ecological, compared to those that use cartridges or ballpoint pens to which the refill must be periodically replaced.
The ink that does not dry immediately can be a small problem, especially for left-handed people who risk passing over the writing with their hand. There are all prices and all kinds, from the precious Mont-Blanc to those all colored for children.
The Ballpoint Pen
The story goes that a brilliant handyman named László József Bíró (1899 – 1985) invented the ballpoint pen fed up with the problems of the fountain pens of the times.
His idea, apparently inspired by children playing marbles in puddles, was to insert a steel ball of less than a millimeter diameter in the tip of the pen. The ball, rolling, collects the color from the tank and releases it on the sheet.
For this to work, a more viscous ink that dried quickly was needed to eliminate the problem of stains and smudges. The name biro, therefore, derives from its inventor, but many of us are still used to calling it Bic.
It is a brand, because the French Marcel Bich bought the patent and spread the famous bic pen around the world, an example of design also preserved at the MOMA in New York.
Since then, the materials and the quality of the ink have been perfected, but the principle is always the same. Looking for the best ballpoint pen, you often come across the distinction with rollerballs.
The main difference is in ink, based on water or gel, less oily than that found in normal ball models. According to experts, writing is smoother, with a brighter trace even without exerting too much pressure.
It takes a little longer for the ink to dry, increasing, but slightly, the danger of smudging. Another difference is economic: roller refills have slightly higher costs.
Pens of The Future
Since we are dealing with which pen to buy, we must remember that under this item, there are also products that have nothing to do with writing.
The 3d pen, for example, is an object that produces plastic filaments, a bit like hot glue guns, and allows you to create three-dimensional objects. There are professional ones, but also models for children.
Conversely, there are digital pens for writing or drawing on tablets. They range from the simpler and cheaper model, which resembles the erasers that are at the end of a pencil, to more professional and expensive products.
Such as those of Wacom or the Apple Pencil, which provide different pressure levels, tips of spare, and a precision that comes very close to the experience of the pen or pencil on paper.
Finally, there are products on the border between digital and traditional pens, such as the Ellipse distributed by Moleskine, the famous manufacturer of notebooks, and notebooks.
How to Use and Distinguish Pens?
The rules of the fountain pen
Among our best pens, there is no shortage of the fountain pen, but as we have mentioned, you must know how to use it. Nothing difficult, but there are few rules to respect.
Not so obvious: a fountain pen cannot be handled at will like a bic. The upper part of the nib must always remain facing upwards. Otherwise, you risk ruining the tip, consisting of two prongs, and not being able to write.
Secondly, you shouldn’t exert too much pressure when writing. The fountain pen is made to release the ink thanks to its weight.
You can do the test by holding the back of the pen and sliding the tip without exerting any pressure, and you will see that you will leave a clear and evident trace. The pressure only produces the effect of ruining the nib.
The fountain pens must also be refilled. In the case of the most common cartridge refills, the operation is simple: unscrew the body of the pen and insert the cartridge until it is pierced from the bottom of the feeder.
It takes a few seconds for the ink to start flowing. Just be careful because not all cartridges are always usable on any brand. It is the most comfortable system, but not the most ecological nor the most romantic.
We recommend a fountain pen with a converter (you can add it to a cartridge pen, buying it separately). It is a tank with a small plunger, thanks to which you can take the ink from any ink bottle.
The nib is dipped, and a wheel is turned, which operates the plunger and allows the color to be aspirated like a syringe.
The disposable ballpoint pens do not give any problem of refilling and maintenance but create a large amount of non-recyclable garbage.
They have both the body and the plastic tank unless you buy one of those products made in recycled paper, increasingly popular, but a little more expensive. If, on the other hand, you opt for a refill pen, you can only replace the plastic or metal tank and keep the pen.
It is fair to remember that when we judge the use of a pen as sliding or evaluate its duration, we are referring to the qualities of the internal refill.
In short, the refills are the engine of the car, and the rest is the bodywork. And staying in the street metaphor, a thin-tipped ballpoint pen can produce about 3.5 km of writing, while with a “standard” tip, it can reach an average of 2.5 km.
The digital pen that we recommended in our top five (of which there are several variations on the market) is a normal pen, from writing and ink.
It also has a system for reading and storing written pages, which can be transferred in real-time to a digital device via the app, or at a later time, if the pen’s memory capacity allows it. Data transmission takes place via Bluetooth.
There are rather rigorous studies that have measured greater learning and memorization skills when taking notes written on paper rather than typing on a keyboard.
This technology tries to combine the positive elements of manual writing with those of digitization: the possibility of revision, search for terms, duplication, and sharing on the Net.
Unfortunately, there is still a significant limit, which is that of handwriting recognition. For the system to work, you need to have legible handwriting, a feature that most of us don’t have or have lost.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Difference Between a Ballpoint Pen and A Fountain Pen?
The main difference is in how the ink is collected on the tip and distributed on the sheet, but the ink itself is also different.
At the tip of the ballpoint pen, there is a very small steel ball that rolls and, in contact with the ink released from the tank, collects the color and leaves it on the sheet. The ink is more oily and dries faster.
In the fountain pen, the ink flows towards the nib by the simple force of gravity. It passes through a very small opening of the feeder, which, taking advantage of the phenomenon of capillarity, guarantees an outflow of ink sufficient to write, but limited enough not to stain.
What Is the Difference Between a Ballpoint Pen, Rollerball Pen, and Gel Pen?
We mentioned it in the guide: they are always ballpoint pens, which, however, use different inks.
Rollerball ink is watery, dries less quickly, but is brighter and more expressive. It makes the writing experience a little more similar to what you have with fountain pens.
Gel ink is a recent invention (relatively) and has the advantage of being permanent and very resistant to light. The contraindication is that the refills last significantly less, and often the tip of the pens flows less fluid and produces small slags.
Normal biro ink is oily, can not stand high temperatures, but dries quickly, and a charge can last for a few kilometers of writing.
How Long Should a Quality Refill Last?
A quality refill must not only last but also demonstrate that it does not break, as happens, however, also with famous brands.
A normal Bic pen should be able to last for about two kilometers of writing. Schneider, Dupont, Goliath (guaranteed for an entire ream of A4 paper), and Caran d’Ache are among the most loved by fans.
When Were the Ballpoint Pen and Fountain Pen Born?
On the origins of the fountain pen, there is a certain conflict between historians and enthusiasts. The idea that Lewis Waterman invented the first fountain pen comparable to what we all know today in 1883 has taken root.
Numerous fountain pen prototypes have been patented and invented since the second half of the 19th century—the idea of using capillarity and the force of gravity to make an ink pen work.
Dates back to before the year one thousand, and it seems that Leonardo himself had designed models of fountain pen “primitives.” Since Waterman enjoyed great commercial success and spread his pen around the world, he will likely continue to associate his name with the invention.