Different pen types: how, when, why
What type of pen or pen refill should I buy?
If you are buying a pen refill, you will need to buy the one which fits your pen. With a few exceptions, rollerball refills are different sizes to ballpoints. If you have a ballpoint pen, you will need a ballpoint refill. How do you tell which type your pen is? Check our refill finder.
A fountain pen works by having a reservoir of ink, which is drawn via capillary action to a nib and therefore onto the paper.
They are the smoothest pens to use - no pressure is needed on the nib to draw the line, and have the widest range of ink colours. We generally stock about 100 colours of fountain pen ink, and if that is not enough they can generally be mixed!
The main downside of fountain pens is that they can leak - catastrophic leaks are rare, but ink stains on your fingers sometimes do occur (it washes off). A tip: I find that fountain pens are less likely to leak on a plane if the pen is full of ink - air expands at low pressures, ink does not, a completely full pen will have no expansion & therefore no leaks.
Another consideration with a fountain peen is that the nib is fragile. If you drop a fountain pen on the nib, you are likely to bend it (though they can generally be replaced or repaired).
Fountain pens are also sensitive to the paper you are writing on. The respond beautifully to good qualtiy paper, but if you are writing on newsprint, or other poor quality paper then a fountain pen will not give nice crisp lines. Equally, if you are trying to write on coated paper or plastic, the water based ink will not dry properly.
Shop New Zealand's largest range of fountain pens here.
The ball pen was invented in the 1930s by László Bíró and rapidly became popular because of the convenience.
A viscous ink is applied to the paper using a ball in the point of the pen. The viscous ink is the key to the best and worst features of a ballpoint pen. It doesn't leak - take apart a cheap ballpoint pen and you will find the end of the refill is not even sealed. The thick ink lasts a long time, meaning you do not need to change refills often (and therefore making disposable pens possible) The viscous nature of the pen also means that downward pressure is needed to mark the paper. The “imprint on the notepad revealing the bad guy's evil plans” trope in the movies would be simply solved if the bad guy simply used a fountain pen! If you are writing a lot and get hand cramps, dump the cheap ballpoint pen. I switched to a fountain pen during school for this reason and the difference was amazing. Three hour written exams were no longer a literal pain.
The viscous ink can write on most anything, and does not dry in the pen.
See our range of ball pens here.
Invented in the 1970s, rollerballs use a less viscous ink to attempt to mimic the smoothness of a fountain pen while keeping the convenience of a ballpoint.
Again, the key to the characteristics of a rollerball is the ink. It is a less viscous water-based ink, providing a smoother flow. Rollerballs suffer similar issues with paper quality to fountain pens i.e., not performing well on either highly absorbent paper or non-absorbent paper.
Rollerball refills do not last as long as ballpoint refills, and if the pen is left uncapped, will dry over time. It is for this reason that most fountain pens and rollerballs have caps rather than click mechanisms.
I have found that rollerballs have a nasty habit of running out of ink extremely rapidly - within a sentence they will go from writing well to not at all, generally at inconvenient moments. It's particularily useful to have a rollerball refill close to hand. Ballpoints more often write badly for a while before stopping entirely.
See our range of rollerball pens here.
A recent development, and not widely produced, this is a type of rollerball pen which uses standard fountain pen cartridges (or a converter) instead of the more familar ballpen refills. This opens your range of colours to hundreds rather than just a few.
See our range of inkball pens here.
Gel ink, developed in the 1980s, is a cross between the ink in a ballpoint and a rollerball.
While the ink is viscous, it becomes liquid when it is disturbed (by the action of the roller on the paper and ink), so writes more like a rollerball.
Gel refills are available for some pens (notably Parker) as a replacement for their ballpoint refills. Unfortunately they last for less time than rollerballs.
What pen is for me?
Writing for a long period at a time
Want a variety of ink colour choices
Able to accept the 'old school' idiosyncrasies
You wish to be a successful evil genius
Solving newspaper crosswords and other puzzles
Writing for long periods, but need the modern convenience
You have a ballpoint, but want the smooth writing of a rollerball
Gel refills are available for your pen