All pen bloggers are regularly asked their opinion on the "best pens" for various purposes. Building on my own responses to these questions and several blog posts I've written over the past couple of years, I created the following reference guide. Your mileage may vary with these recommendations: there's no substitute for your own personal preference and experience. Buying and trying lots of pens is the fun part of this hobby! Where possible, I've linked to both my review of the recommended pen and a purchasing option (some of which are affiliate links). If I've not reviewed a specific pen, I've linked to someone else's review that I find well-written and reliable.
Best Fountain Pens for Beginners
Good fountain pens don't have to be expensive. You can get an excellent first writing experience for as little as $10.
- Pilot Metropolitan. The Pilot Metropolitan is not just a pen for first-time fountain pen users - it's a pen for everyone. In fact, I'm taking notes with one right now as I draft this list. A reliable writer that's a bargain, and the only true no-brainer in any of these categories. (Purchase here)
- Pilot Kakuno. The Kakuno features the same excellent steel nib as the Metropolitan in a plastic body with a clipless design and fun colors. (Purchase here)
- Lamy Safari. The quintessential "beginner pen" from German powerhouse Lamy features interchangeable nibs and an original design that's become a classic. If the triangular section doesn't bother you, the Safari (or its aluminum cousin, the AL-Star) are both great options. (Purchase here)
- Kaweco Sport. Kaweco specializes in pocket pens, and makes some great ones. Kaweco offers the Sport, their flagship pen, in multiple models at various price points, from the inexpensive classic to the pricier aluminum AL-Sport to the Carbon Fiber AC-Sport. (Purchase here)
- TWSBI Eco. I hesitated on whether to include a piston-filling pen on my list of recommendations for "beginners," but this pen is so good for the price point I couldn't leave it off. If you're not squeamish about learning to fill from an ink bottle, you can't go wrong with the Eco. (Purchase here)
Best Fountain Pens Under $100
If you're willing to shop around, you can find excellent fountain pens for under $100 that aren't for "beginners," but still don't break the bank.
- TWSBI 580. TWSBI designed the 580 and its predecessors with input from the larger fountain pen community, and offers a reliable piston filler with interchangeable nibs at a price that can't be beat. TWSBI periodically offers the 580 with anodized aluminum trim. (Purchase here)
- TWSBI Mini. TWSBI's smaller piston filler makes for a great pocket pen, but because it posts the TWSBI Mini can also serve as your daily driver. (Purchase here)
- Lamy Studio. The "next step" up in Lamy pens after the Safari and the AL-Star. I don't mind the metal section, but those of you with sweaty paws might find it too slippery. (Purchase here)
- Pilot Custom 74 (Clear Demonstrator). A gold-nibbed bargain. You can find the clear demonstrator pen for under $100 direct from Japan. If you want the color demonstrators, it will cost you more than a Benjamin. (Purchase here)
- Platinum 3776 Century. Another Japanese pen with a gold nib that makes for a beautiful and reliable daily user. (Purchase here)
Note: You may ask why the gold-nibbed offerings such as the Pilot Custom 74 and the Platinum 3776 aren't at the top of the list. That's because in order to get them at this price, you have to order direct from Japan, and if something goes wrong with the transaction, your recourse may be limited in the sense that it may be difficult to get a refund and/or a replacement. I would not recommend this for inexperienced or first-time pen buyers who are unwilling to take on some risk.
Best First fountain Pen over $100 (Steel Nibs)
Many people have a set expectation that once you go over the $100 price point, a fountain pen should have a gold nib to be “worth the money.” When I was first starting out in this hobby I shared that viewpoint. I’ve since come around on this issue, especially now that I’ve had the chance to try some of the extremely high quality steel nibs coming out of Germany.
- Faber-Castell Ambition. Faber-Castell pens are some of the best bargains in the fountain pen world, in my opinion. For just over $100, you can get a pen like the Ambition, which is not only an exceptional writer but comes in a wide array of unique designs, including barrels made from exotic woods. (Purchase here)
- Faber-Castell e-Motion. If you find the Ambition too slender, consider the e-Motion, which is a chunky, heftier pen that nonetheless has exceptional balance posted or unposted. (Purchase here)
- Diplomat Aero. Diplomat is a great example of how sticking with steel nibs can allow companies to be a bit more adventurous in design while still keeping the price relatively low. Diplomat also features some of the best-tuned stainless steel JoWo nibs that I’ve used. (Purchase here)
- Pelikan Tradition 200/M205. I can’t leave the entry-level Pelikan piston-filler off this list. Pelikan nibs are interchangeable, giving you the option to “upgrade” to a gold nib at a later point in time if you so desire. Watch for the special edition M205 demonstrators in various colors. (Purchase here)
- Franklin Christoph Model 20 or Model 02. Which one you go with depends on your style preference, and whether you want a slip-on cap (Model 20) or a threaded cap (Model 02). Franklin-Christoph offers a variety of nib choices, including some custom stub and italic grinds. (Purchase Here)
Honorable Mention: Otto Hutt Design 06 and Cleo Skribent. Otto Hutt and Cleo Skribent are both smaller German brands that make excellent pens, but for whatever reason tend to be difficult to find outside of Europe. Otto Hutt also sits at the higher end of the $100-200 price range.
Best First Fountain Pen Over $100 (Gold Nibs)
The price of gold is still high, but you can find many affordable options for a fountain pen with a gold nib in the $100-200 range. Crossing the century mark for the first time can be a daunting experience, but I don't think you can go wrong with any of these options.
- Lamy 2000. A classic minimalist design in a sturdy, reliable package. Everybody needs a Lamy 2000 in their arsenal. (Purchase here)
- Pilot Custom Heritage 92. An absolute steal at the current pricing for Japan-only models. The orange pen has become one of my daily workhorses. (Purchase here)
- Pilot Custom 74 (Color Demonstrator). The more expensive color demonstrators in transparent blue, orange, purple, and smoke are still a bargain. (Purchase here)
- Sailor Professional Gear. The most expensive option on this list might be my favorite pen of all time. If you want to buy one pricey pen and stop there, I'd recommend either the Pro Gear or the Lamy 2000. (Purchase here)
- Pilot Vanishing Point. One of the few options for a retractable-nib fountain pen, and it's a good one. (Purchase here)
My Favorite Fountain Pens
There's no price limitation here, just my pure, unadorned opinion.
- Sailor Professional Gear Imperial Black Edition. My favorite pen of all time, in my favorite color scheme of all time. (Purchase here)
- Pilot Custom 823. An excellent Pilot nib and a unique filling mechanism keeps this pen at the top of my favorites list. (Purchase here)
- Pelikan M600/M400. I came to the Pelikan game a bit late, and I've settled on the smaller Pelikans as my preferred workhorses because of how nicely they sit in a shirt pocket. (Purchase here)
- Sailor 1911 Black Luster. Another gorgeous pen from Sailor in the matte-black color scheme. This one has a weighted metal section that balances the pen beautifully. (Purchase here)
- Lamy 2000. You can't go wrong with a classic, which is why I own two of these pens: one in a standard extra-fine nib and another with a fine cursive italic nib. (Purchase here)
Honorable Mention: Delta Fusion 82. Fusion nib pseudo-science notwithstanding, Delta's steel nib with a fused gold plate on top is an excellent writer. Unfortunately Delta seems to have discontinued this specific pen and jacked the prices up on other "Fusion nib" models. Visit Bryant at Chatterly Luxuries for his exclusive celluloid editions, which are still available for under $200. (Purchase here)
Note: You can sometimes find lower prices on the Pro Gear Imperial Black, Black Luster, and Custom 823 by purchasing directly from Japan. However, given the higher price point of these products, I won't officially recommend that people do this unless they are willing to accept the risk. If at all possible, use a method of payment that offers buyer protection in the event of a problem.
Best Pocket Pens and Pencils
The majority of the writing I do on a day-to-day basis is note-taking, so I use a lot of pocket pens and pencils. Here are my favorites.
- Fisher Space Pen. While I once preferred the "bullet" version, my current favorite is the "Astronaut" or "Shuttle" model of the Fisher Space Pen, which is still small enough to stick in a pocket. This pressurized ballpoint refill will write anywhere (even underwater, supposedly). (Purchase here)
- Kaweco Sport. The grandaddy of pocket fountain pens. (Purchase here)
- TWSBI Mini. If you like your TWSBIs, you can take the "Mini" with you anywhere. (Purchase here)
- Lamy Pico. Lamy's entry in the pocket pen market expands from a tiny capsule capable of being concealed in your palm, into as full-size pen - the essence of "pocket carry." (Purchase here)
- Franklin-Christoph Model 45. More expensive than a Kaweco Sport, but well-made and customizable with different nib grinds. (Purchase here)
Best Disposable Pens for Everyday Use
I can't use fountain pens all the time at work. These are the gel pens, ballpoints, and fineliners that you will find me using on a day-to-day basis. I may break this list into different categories of pens in the future, but here's what's currently on my desk.
- Pilot G2. People love to hate this pen because it's a more conventional choice, but I've always found the Pilot G2 to be smooth, reliable, and cheap. Though the .7mm writes a very clean line, the .5mm and the .38mm tips are my favorite. (Purchase here)
- Pentel Energel. The smoothest-writing gel pen out there, in my opinion, and I love the needle tip. .5mm for the win. (Purchase here)
- Pilot Razor Point II Ultra Fine. I love porous point / felt-tipped pens, and the Razor Point II is my favorite. It works great in pocket notebooks, even Field Notes and Moleskines. (Purchase here)
- Uniball Signo 207. A good gel pen that you can find in any office supply store. It's not going to unseat my G2 .38mm anytime soon, but you'll definitely find these at my office and in pretty much every room in my house. (Purchase here)
- Pilot Acroball. I like this hybrid ballpoint pen much better than the Uniball Jetstream. The Jetstream works fine, but the Acroball writes a cleaner line and is a smoother pen. (Purchase here)
Best Refillable Ballpoints and Rollerballs
Sometimes you don't want to use a disposable pen, but a fountain pen just won't work for whatever situation you find yourself in. All of these pens will acquit themselves admirably.
- Baron Fig Squire. Baron Fig's first pen is a winner. I like the form factor better than the Retro 51 Tornado, which uses the same refill. Baron Fig also issues quarterly limited editions, which come in all sorts of wonderful designs. (Purchase here)
- Lamy 2000 Ballpoint/4-Color Ballpoint. The Lamy 2000 isn't just one of my favorite fountain pens, it's one of my favorite overall pen concepts. Lamy's ballpoint and 4-Color multifunction versions of its flagship are reasonably priced workhorses that will be with you for the long haul. (Purchase Ballpoint here / Multi pen here)
- Fisher Space Pen. I like the slightly larger "Shuttle" version of the Fisher Space Pen because it can pull double duty as a pocket pen and as a decent sized ballpoint. (Purchase here)
- Retro 51 Tornado. I've come around on this pen, though I still like the Squire's form factor better. (Purchase here)
- Sailor Imperial Black Multifunction Pen. I'm a huge fan of multifunction pens, and I find myself using them more than stand-alone ballpoints and rollerballs because they allow me to switch colors on the fly. If you need a multi pen with a mechanical pencil option, this Sailor is excellent. (Purchase here)
These lists were last updated on May 17, 2017. If you'd like to see how my personal tastes and preferences have evolved over time, check out my original blog posts:
- Top 5 Recommended Fountain Pens for Beginners
- Top 5 Recommended Fountain Pens in the $75 and under Price Range
- Masters Class: 5 Fountain Pens over $100
- My Tier One Pens
- Tier One Pens (Updated June 18, 2016)
- Best Non-Fountain Pens for Everyday Use (Disposable)
- Best Non-Fountain Pens for Everday Use (Non-Disposable Pens)