Top Product: Uni Ball Jetstream RT | $27 | Amazon
Many of us grab for our smartphone to jot down a quick note, and there’s no shortage of apps designed to help you save your bright ideas before they disappear. However, the screen isn’t always the best place to let your ideas flow out and run freely, in which case a good pen and paper might be the better pick.
Any ol’ functioning pen can get the job done, but it might not be comfortable to hold or the ink might not flow very evenly. And if you’re shopping for a new pen, the number of options and styles can be overwhelming. But we have some favorites, from affordable everyday pens to fancier fare, and we can help steer you in the right direction with our picks below.
Best for Minimal Smudging: uni-ball Jetstream RT Ballpoint Pens
If your hands are begging you for a pen that’s comfier to hold, or you know you’d lose a nicer, more expensive pen if you had one, Uni Ball’s Jetstream RT ballpoint pen is tough to beat. I’ve been using it as my go-to “fine if you lose it” pen to jot down notes on the go for the past couple years, and it has yet to let me down.
It’s thicker than the slim doctor’s office pens you’re used to, and it’s easier to grip since it’s thicker and has an embossed shell that won’t slip around in your hands. Unlike many comparable pens, like say the Pilot G2, the Jetstream RT’s ink is quick to dry, and it doesn’t bleed through your paper, so your notes won’t look too messy after a long day of scribbling. Actually writing with it is a joy, too, as the pen offers little resistance when you glide it across the page. Oh, and even though you buy them in packs of up to twelve, the ink’s replaceable, so if you end up loving it, you won’t have to keep buying more and piling up the waste. Just grab a few replacement packs and save the rest of your pens for backup, just in case.
Best Fountain Pen: Lamy Safari Fountain Pen Medium Nib
No, fountain pens haven’t gone the way of the dinosaur. They’ve evolved, and they have quite a few fans these days. Fountain pens let you write with a lighter touch and an even ink flow, which might be worth the considerable added investment over your average rollerball pen.
I’ve been using the Lamy Safari for the last month and I’m over the moon about it. It takes some getting used to, but once you find the right angle, the smooth, blotch-free output is a dream to see flow from your hand. Lamy has several colors available, including some eye-popping candy-themed special editions, and this is an excellent starter pick for anyone dabbling in fountain pens. Don’t forget a refill pack if you think you’ll be using it often, though.
If you’re prone to color-coding your notes, you might prefer a few extra options. You could get different ink cartridges for a fountain pen, but that’s still a commitment, and swapping them around can be a huge pain. Don’t get one of those funky multi-cartridge pens with the sliders, either; they’re the worst of all worlds.
Instead, grab a pack of pens with different color inks, and see which ones work best for you. I usually stick to black and blue ink, so I don’t have too much experience here, but Amazon reviewers have great things to say about the Pilot Precise V5. Reviews note that the pen doesn’t provide much resistance as you’re writing, the ink is quick to dry and doesn’t smudge, and the tips are fine enough for tiny writing if you need to scribble in the margins before your next book club Zoom.
This pack comes with five colors: black, blue, red, green, and purple, which should cover all your bases. The shells all have colors to match, too, so you’ll never be surprised when you put pen to paper. Oh, and they’re refillable, too, so if you like what these pens are putting out, you can keep the ink flowing without tossing more pens into the dump.
Best Grab-and-Go Pen: BiC Round Stick Pens (Large Bulk Pack)
If you’d rather just have an arsenal of pens at your disposal, and not have to worry about losing every other pen you scribble with, grab a box of BIC Round Stick pens. They don’t produce the best ink, and they aren’t exactly reliable or comfortable to grip, but they’re cheap to buy, even in large quantities.
This pack comes with 120 black ink pens and 120 blue ink pens, giving you 240 total pens for about the same price as one Lamy Safari, without committing to a single color. You won’t get all the niceties of the Safari, but you also won’t have to worry about dropping another $30 on a pen every time you leave one behind at the doctor’s office.
Best Pen for Comfort: Pentel R.S.V.P. Stick Ballpoint Pen
With a latex-free grip for maximum comfort, this Pentel ballpoint pen is guaranteed to keep your hands from cramping mid-meeting or mid-lecture. In fact, the grip is one of the features that first drew me to this pen back in college. Manufactured with a stainless steel tip, this pen is extremely durable, made to withstand all of your heavy duty writing needs.
Best Gel Pen: Sharpie S-Gel Gel Pens in Assorted Colors (12-Pack)
Featuring smooth, bold ink, the Sharpie S-Gel pens are designed for your high performance writing needs. We’re talking to those purists out there who keep their technology use to a minimum and can’t get enough of that thrill of putting pen to paper. At an affordable unit price of $1 per pen, this product has a sleek and modern design without ever sacrificing quality.
This article was originally written by Jordan McMahon on 09/14/2020 and updated by Juliana Clark on 11/16/2020.