Apart from fountain pens, I find myself using multifunction pens (or "multi pens") often. At work, I usually alternate between writing in pen and pencil, and on the pen side I regularly switch colors when I’m annotating documents and taking notes. When I’m at my desk at home, it’s easy to grab a pencil out of my pencil cup, or to simply reach for a different pen when I want to change colors, but if I’m sitting in a meeting at work or on an airplane, multi pens are the way to go. The universe of multi pens out there on the market, however, can be confusing and frustrating, and if you don’t do your research on the front end you can wind up with an unpleasant surprise when your refills run out and you realize replacements are unexpectedly expensive or difficult to find.
In this brief guide, which is intended to offer a little more information than your typical “top 5 pens” list, I’ll walk you through what I think are the five best multi pen options for most people, with an eye to quality, overall cost, and refill availability. My first two picks, the Lamy 2000 4-Color Ballpoint and the Sailor Imperial Black Multifunction Pen, might come as a surprise to people because they are more expensive pens than the others. However, they top my recommendations list because both are built to take a beating and accept the non-proprietary D1 refill, which comes in a wide variety of ink types and colors, some of which are very inexpensive. While D1 refills have their drawbacks - for one thing, gel versions can run out very quickly - pens that use the D1 “system” are more versatile, and you can usually find some sort of inexpensive D1 refill available at your local office supply store in a pinch.
For each of the pens I discuss, I link to a purchasing option and also to a full review of the pen in question. If I've personally done a review, I've used that. If not, I've tried to locate a good review by another blogger if one exists.
My Top Five Multi Pen Picks
- Lamy 2000 4-Color Ballpoint. The multi pen version of Lamy’s iconic fountain pen isn’t just one of the best multi pens I own, it’s one of the best pens I own. It made my recent year-end list of best purchases from 2016, and I haven’t regretted spending the money to snag this pen. If I had to pick one drawback, it’s that there is no mechanical pencil option, which is a capability all the other multi pens on this list have. Despite this, the Lamy 2000’s looks, quality build, and use of the D1 refill keep it at the top. [My Review Here]
- Sailor Imperial Black Multifunction Pen. Sailor’s latest “Imperial Black” pen was another pleasant surprise for me (though I don't know why because my experience with Sailor has generally been good). If you’re looking for a higher-end multi pen with excellent finishes, a blacked-out "stealth" color scheme, AND a dedicated mechanical pencil slot, this would be my recommendation. The pen also accepts D1 refills, and Sailor’s inexpensive “Chalana” .5mm ballpoint refills write well, even if they are somewhat difficult to find. Oddly, it seems that nobody has written a thorough review of this pen, which I'll have to remedy soon.
- Uni Style Fit. I always thought I’d remain a Hi-Tec-C Coleto guy, but after spending some significant time with Uni’s Style Fit multi pen, I’m slowly becoming a convert. While the standard plastic Style Fit pen body doesn’t do much for me, the metal version is quite nice. The proprietary gel refills come in .28, .38, and .5mm sizes, are super smooth, and last an exceptionally long time for a multi pen refill. They also are relatively inexpensive and available in a wide range of colors. [Check out The Pen Addict's Review Here]
- Uniball Jetstream. An excellent inexpensive option, especially if you are looking for a no-fuss hybrid ballpoint multi pen that has a mechanical pencil option. As I noted in my review last month, the Jetstream multi pen is larger than most of the others on this list, and also takes proprietary refills that are limited to black/blue/red/green colors. The mechanical pencil is available in both .5mm and .7mm sizes. [My Review Here]
- Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto. The first multi pen I ever purchased, and the version of Pilot’s Hi-Tec-C pen that I use most often. If you’re a fan of the Hi-Tec-C or needle-tip pens in general, you should go with the Coleto. It’s relatively easy to find, and the refills come in a wide range of colors across .3mm, .4mm, and .5mm tip sizes. The .4mm is the sweet spot for me. The .3mm is a bit scratchy, and the .5mm runs out too quickly. Unfortunately, Pilot seems to have discontinued the Coleto Lumio (formerly my favorite pen body). [My Review Here]
BIC 4-Color Ballpoint. This childhood classic still rocks, and is sold in both a 1.0mm “medium” tip and a .7mm “fine” tip sizes. I have a bunch of these in lying around in strategic locations (i.e., in the kitchen, in the car, etc.). A great utility writing implement. [Review Here]
Zebra Sharbo X. The Sharbo X is a well-made pen that accepts the universal D1 refill and is available in many different color schemes. It also has a built-in mechanical pencil option. Compared to the Sailor Imperial Black and the Lamy 2000, however, the Sharbo X is too short and too narrow for me to use comfortably for longer periods of time. Plus the Sailor holds 3 colors + a mechanical pencil, while my Sharbo only has 3 slots. That said, this would be a great pen to keep in a planner or for someone with smaller hands. [My Review Here]
Final Thoughts and Takeaways
Multi pens in general aren’t as expensive as fountain pens (or even most high-end ballpoints or rollerballs). Up front, that is. As I mentioned earlier, to be happy with a multi pen system in the long run, you’ll want to keep an eye on refill cost and availability. A multi pen that uses the universal D1 refill will be the easiest and most economical for most people to deal with long-term, especially if you use longer-lasting ballpoint or hybrid ballpoint ink. D1 multi pens are also the most versatile, providing the option of writing with ballpoint, hybrid ballpoint, gel, and even highlighter ink. The only question remaining is whether or not you want a mechanical pencil option.
That said, if you’re a fine-point gel pen aficionado, and use nothing else, a D1 system will be extremely frustrating, given how fast D1 gel refills run out. You would be better served by going with either the Style Fit or the Coleto, which use larger-capacity proprietary refills. (Zebra also offers a Sarasa multi pen, which I’ve not tried and which has received mixed reviews.)
Neither the Uniball Jetstream nor the BIC 4-Color multi pens are primary carries for me, though I own both and use them regularly in situations where writing with a ballpoint is called for. They’re also priced low enough that I don’t feel guilty about only using them sporadically, whereas my more expensive Lamy 2000 and Sailor Imperial Black pens get used all the time.
Hopefully this overview was helpful. I enjoy using multi pens, and as always, I will try to update this guide as new options come to market.
Disclaimer: I purchased all of the pens that I tried for this feature with my own funds, for my own collection. This post contains affiliate links.