Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In Search of the Perfect Pen

[Note: Much of this post has been previously published on my other blog. However, since Pen Reviews is focused exclusively on reviewing pens, I will make sure this is the most up-to-date list.]

I am not a pen addict. No sir.

I have a fascination with pens, and I eagerly await each post from the Pen Addict. But I myself am not an addict.

I am, rather, a simple connaisseur of fine (but inexpensive) writing instruments. As a connaisseur, I find myself needing to, uh, familiarize myself with the available options from time to time. The fact that pen companies insist on flooding the market with good cheap pens simply makes my "familiarization" take longer!

In my search for the perfect pen, I have tested numerous candidates in a small Moleskine sketchbook. Because the sketchbook is made up of heavier than normal paper stock, bleed-through is not generally a problem. The other characteristics I am looking for in a pen are that it:
  • doesn't skip,
  • produces a fine line, and
  • does not feather.
I realize that these characteristics are not dependent on the pen alone. The paper plays an important role, too. So if you see a pen in the list below that you feel should be rated higher, make a note of it in the comments (along with the type of paper you used).

Here is an alphabetical list of the pens I have tested. My favorites are highlighted in red, and at the end of the list I have ranked my favorites.

Alvin Penstix 3017-F (0.7mm),
Alvin Penstix 3015-EF (0.5mm),
Alvin Penstix 3013-EEF (0.3mm)

Marker tip. I could discern little difference in the width of the line produced by these three pens, all of which feathered slightly. I think it's a decent pen; it's just not suited for Moleskine paper.

Faber-Castell PITT artist pen S
Marker tip. I like the sophisticated colors this pen comes in: burnt sienna, sepia, and gray. Personally, I prefer it more for sketching than for writing.

Fisher Space Pen
Pressurized ball point. I keep hearing about this pen, but other than its cool styling and the fact that it can write in very cold temperatures (which makes it a handy car pen for Minnesota winters!), I don't understand its appeal. Do they generally write skip-free? Mine sure doesn't!

Itoya 0.2 — regular ink
Marker tip. Fine, even line; no feathering

Itoya 0.1 — permanent ink
Marker tip. Interestingly, the finer tip of this pen when combined with a different ink produced a line that (with bleeding and feathering) was three times wider than the 0.2mm, regular ink pen!

Itoya PaperSkater Synergy 0.5
Decent. Feathered slightly.

Koh-i-noor Nexux art pen
Marker tip. I really like the beautiful colors of ink available with this pen: true sepia, red ochre, burnt sienna, blue, green, orange, red, purple, and gray. Unfortunately, it feathered slightly, so I'm not going to recommend it as a writing pen.

Marvy Gel Excel 0.7
I hadn't heard of Marvy pens before, but was pleasantly surprised by how nicely they wrote. The blue pen I tested produced a nice dark line with no feathering. The black ink did not write quite as nicely.

Pentel EnerGel 0.7
Nice line; did not feather. Slightly too wide of a line for most of my needs.

Pentel Impulse BK 96
Very smooth, but skipped — similar to the UniBall Jetstream.

Pentel Hybrid Gel Roller K105
I tested an old one that was lying around, and it still wrote smoothly and finely with no feathering. It didn't seem to lay down the ink quite evenly, but was fun to write with anyway. I would like to find a new one (if Pentel still makes them) and give it another chance.

Pentel Hybrid Gell Roller H2
Uneven ink distribution; slight feathering.

Pentel Slicci 0.3
A nice little pen with no problems to speak of. If my hands were a little smaller, I think I would enjoy it even more. The barrel is noticeably thinner than most other pens, which makes writing with it a bit tiring for me. But if you like skinny barrels, it writes well.

Pilot Explorer extra fine
The styling on this pen is a little odd. Apparently it's a disposable pen — I don't see any way to put in a refill. It did produce a very fine line, but in spite of that it still feathered slightly. It writes decently — just not on Moleskine paper.

Pilot Fineliner
Marker tip. Feathered.

Pilot G-2 05
Many Moleskine fans have commented positively about this pen. It did not disappoint. After searching most of the retail chain stores and a few art stores in Minneapolis, I was finally able to track down this pen at Office Depot. I like the dark, rich, even line that leaves no feathering.

Pilot G-2 07
Much more readily available, but just a tad too wide for most of my tasks. Same great ink, though. It's a nice "signature" pen.

Pilot G-2 mini
Essentially the same as the Pilot G-2 07, but it's so cute! If Pilot made a mini with a .5mm tip, I would figure out a way to attach it to my small Moleskine.

Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.3
The Pilot Hi-Tec-C is a cult classic. It's available in several colors and sizes. I've even seen a few Kickstarter projects that feature this pen! Maybe it was the color I tested (blue), but the point on this pen wasn't consistent enough for me to endorse it.

Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.4
Unlike its finer pointed sibling, the .4mm is a writer! Once in a while, and for whatever reason (perhaps oil from my hand?) it has problems starting. But when it writes, it's a pleasure to use!

Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.5
I like this pen a lot, too! But for some reason I prefer the narrower point of the (slightly more finicky) 0.4.

Pilot Precise V5 Extra Fine / Pilot V500
This was the pen to beat. It had been my gold standard, and until I started using it in my Moleskine notebooks, I had been perfectly happy with it. It gives a nice, fine line, but like the Pilot Explorer, the ink feathered slightly. Also, compared to the G-2, the ink is slightly more watery.

Pilot VBall Extra Fine
Very similar to the V5 and P500, but since the tip of the pen physically looks different from the others, I'm assuming it uses a slightly different technology. If it does use different technology, the net effect is about the same. It has the same pros and cons and the V5 and P500.

Pilot Vrazor extra fine

RoseArt Premium Gels
I wouldn't have even considered testing a RoseArt, but since I had one lying around the house, I decided to include it. I was actually surprised by how nicely it wrote. The rich ink covered well, but it feathered ever so slightly.

Sakura Gelato fine (.5mm) /
Sakura Gelato extra fine (.4mm)

This was a pleasant discovery. I had heard of the Gelato, but had not tested it before. I like both the .5mm and the .4mm: nice line with no feathering. For some reason, the wider .8mm pens I tried skipped more than their finer tipped counterparts. Also, the clicking mechanism on these pens is noticeably inferior to the Pilot G-2.

Sakura Microperm 01
Marker tip. The line didn't feather so much as it spread [somehow!] without feathering. By the time it finished spreading, it was too wide for my use.

Sakura Pigma Micron .20, .30, .35, .45, .50
Marker tip. The .20mm produced a very fine line. Everything wider than the .30mm feathered slightly.

Uni-ball Deluxe Micro
Nice, even line. I need to test this one further.

Uni-ball fine
Skipped; feathered.

Uni-ball Gell Med
Nice dark, even line with an occasional slight skip.

Uni-ball Gell Impact RT 1.0
This pen is too wide for most of what I need in a pen, but it really lays down the ink! Rich, heavy and wide. I might pick one up to use as a "signature" pen.

Uni-ball Jetstream 1.0
I don't know what's in the ink, but this pen wrote finer than a typical 1.0mm pen, and was unusually smooth. Unfortunately, it had a significant problem with skipping.

Uni-ball Jetstream 0.5
After the problems I experienced with the wider Jetstream, I wasn't prepared for the nice line that the .5mm pen produced. Particularly the black. I could learn to like this pen a lot if I weren't so smitten by gel ink pens.

Uni-ball Signo 207
Smooth, rich ink. I've been using the blue ink and really like it. It does skip every once in a while, and the line is just a touch too wide for most of my needs. I've seen a Signo 207 micro tip that I'm anxious to try out. [Update -- see following entry]

Uni-ball Signo 207 Signo Micro 0.5
Wow!! Very nice ink! The finer tip on this pen helps prevent bleed-through on my Moleskine. This is one of my top three favorite pens.

Uni-ball Signo Bit 0.18
I'm not really sure what practical uses this pen might have, but it's fun to see how tiny I can print! I'm tempted to see if I can write on a grain of rice, but I don't want to clog up the point!

Uni-ball Signo MC3 Gel 0.5
The barrel of this pen is a bit wider than most because it contains three colors of ink: black, blue, and red. I like the rich, dark line that does not feather. This pen skipped very little, and the line is narrower than the nice-writing Signo 207. So far the blue and the red have been working better than the black.

Uni-ball Signo DX (UM-151) 0.38
This is a very nice stick pen alternative to the Uni-ball Signo RT.

Uni-ball Signo RT 0.38
This could be it! I haven't found a pen that works for me better than this one. It puts down a nice, fine line without skipping, and without bleeding through the page. Because of its extra fine tip, I don't like to write my signature with this pen. But for my everyday note-taking, I LOVE it!

Uni-ball PowerTank
Pressurized ball point. Skipped badly — similar to the Fisher Space Pen.

Uni-ball Vision Elite 0.5
I like the styling on this pen, but it let me down by feathering.

Uni-ball Vision Exact micro
Feathered slightly (green ink).

Uni-ball Vision Fine
Didn't skip, but distributed the ink unevenly (rather like a watercolor brush does); bled.

Uni-ball Vision micro
With the variation in the darkness of the line (but no feathering) the ink in this pen reminds me of a fountain pen. I like the looks of it, and I'm looking forward to testing it more.

Y&C Gel Stylist 0.5
Feathered slightly

Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4
Last but far from least, this is one of my top favorites. I'm not sure what more you can ask from an inexpensive gel pen. Excellent!

This is getting to be quite the list! I've enjoyed putting it together, and I feel much more knowledgeable about the current gel pen market than when I started. I still would like to test a few specific pens, but currently these are my favorite Moleskine pens:
  1. Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4
    The all-around best gel pen that I've found so far.
  2. Uni-ball Signo RT 0.38
    A very worthy runner-up.
  3. Uni-ball Signo DX (UM-151) 0.38
    This writes very much the same as the RT, but is a stick vs. a retractable.
  4. Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.4
    This one's my favorite when it's actually writing. It seems a little finicky at times.
  5. Pilot G-2 05 and theUni-ball Signo 207 Micro 0.5
    Very nice alternative pens, if a .38 feels too "scratchy" to you. You can't go wrong with either one.
  6. Uni-ball Signo 207
    The tip on this pen is a bit wide for me for everyday use, but I love using this pen when writing my signature. While I like this pen, the tip is just a bit wide for me. I'm hoping the Signo 207 micro will be the answer. I'll update this once I've tested the micro.
If there are other pens (including fountain pens) or pencils that you really enjoy, let me know!


UPDATE: 2014 October 18
I added another two pens to the list, cleaned up some page formatting, and updated my recommendations:

  • Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4
  • Uni-ball Signo DX (UM-151)

UPDATE: 2011 Dec 30
I added two pens to the list:
  • Jetstream 0.5
  • Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.4 (a new favorite!)

UPDATE: 2008 May 21
I added two more pens, and modified my recommendations. What's up with Uni-ball?! I used to avoid their pens because they skipped so much. Their Signo series, however, has won me over. I'm not wild about the styling of the pen, but they write great.

UPDATE: 2006 Feb 20
I added a few more pens to this review, and rearranged the entries to form one continuous alphabetical listing.

About Me

The pens that I review on this blog are pens that I have tested extensively. I have occasionally been impressed with a pen, only to discover that after a few days it has lost some of its functionality. By delaying my review of a pen until I have written with it repeatedly, I hope to give you more than just my initial impressions. These reviews are obviously my opinions, and what works best for me may not work best for you. Finally, to keep these reviews as unbiased as possible, my policy is to accept no free pens from any manufacturer, retailer or blogger.