It’s April, and you know what that means: it’s time for the annual update to my “Best Pens” Recommendations list. There may be a few surprises on here, particularly in the “beginners” category, the $100-200 price point, and my list of personal favorites. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
Most people are not like me. Meaning, they don’t own dozens of writing instruments, whether fountain pens, ballpoints, rollerballs, or even a mechanical pencil. Yes, believe it or not, the majority of people out there - so-called “normal people” - would be perfectly happy with ONE nice writing instrument. Heck, even I’ve grown a little exhausted choosing which pen to use. I’ve spent a lot of time on the road for the day job during the first half of the year, and more often than not would find myself using the same pen for an entire day without switching things up at all, which is a rarity for me. All of this got me thinking - if I had to pick one pen, what would it be? Likewise, if I had to make a recommendation to someone who only wanted to own one nice pen, what would I tell them?
For a "one pen" setup, my key considerations would be:
- Durable Construction. Can I throw this pen in a bag or pocket without worrying that it will shatter/crack/scratch?
- Unassuming Looks. Can I carry this pen into a business meeting without it being distracting to other people or getting a lot of "what the heck is that thing" questions?
- Versatility. Can the pen accept a wide variety of refills to account for all sorts of different paper types and writing conditions?
- Refill Availability. Are refills easy to get/inexpensive?
Based on these criteria, I’ve narrowed it down to five options/recommendations.
Lamy 2000 4-Color Ballpoint. If I was forced to choose one pen to use for the rest of my life, it likely would be a Lamy 2000, and probably the 4-Color Ballpoint Multipen. In fact, I would probably choose a multipen as my “one pen” over a fountain pen, if you can believe it. The Lamy 2000’s unassuming looks, durable construction, reasonable price point, and general availability makes it my top choice. It also takes universal D1 refills, which can be found basically anywhere, including most big-box office supply stores, and come in a wide range of gel, ballpoint, hybrid-ballpoint, and even highlighter variants. Check out my full review here.
Sailor Imperial Black Multipen. My second-favorite multi pen, which I use when I want a mechanical pencil option. I don’t like the aesthetics of this pen as much as the Lamy 2000 multi pen, and it’s a bit heavier, but the pencil unit adds versatility. It also takes universal D1 refills. Check out my full review here.
Ti Arto Ultimate Refill Friendly Pen. I haven’t yet published a stand-alone review of this particular pen, but if what you’re looking for is a single pen that will accept as many different refills as possible, the Ti Arto should be your choice. There’s also a “Ti Arto EDC,” which is a shorter, more compact pen that also accepts hundreds of compatible refills. I only have the full-size version, which is where my Uniball Signo DX refills live.
RIIND Pen. Another machined pen that accepts a wide variety of refills, though not as many as the Ti Arto. Unlike the Ti Arto, this pen is retractable and has a clip, so if you’re not looking to cap/uncap as part of your everyday carry, consider the RIIND. Both the big clip and the the “continuous cam” deployment mechanism are well made and highly functional. Check out my full review here.
Baron Fig Squire. Though the Baron Fig Squire is one of my favorite pens currently on the market, it sits at number five on this list. Why? Refill versatility. The pen ships with a Schmidt P8126 rollerball refill, and while that refill is excellent, it’s not particularly versatile. Liquid Ink rollerballs tend to bleed on cheap paper. While you can swap in a Parker-style refill such as the excellent Schmidt Easyflow 9000 or a Primec gel refill, there aren't many options for those who like a super-fine point on their pen. I've previously published a comparison between the Baron Fig Squire and the also popular Retro 51 Tornado, which is another great option and earns an "honorable mention" below. If you're interested in picking up a Baron Fig Squire, you can use my referral link for a discount on your order (and it also kicks a discount my way, in the interests of full disclosure.)
While I don’t use them as much as the pens on this list, I’d also highly recommend the Retro 51 Tornado, the Karas Kustoms EDK, and the Fisher Space Pen “Shuttle Pen” or “Astronaut” Pen. The Tornado and the EDK have the same refill options as the Squire, only with a clip and slightly different ergonomics. The refill limitations are the same. The Fisher Space Pen is much slimmer, and uses a proprietary pressurized cartridge that people either love or hate, but the pen will literally write anywhere and under all sorts of adverse conditions.
I hope you find this little resource helpful. I get a lot of questions about the best "one pen" setup, particularly where a reader is looking for a gift for someone who would appreciate a quality pen but wouldn't necessarily want to carry multiple options. Look for similar content in the future!
Disclaimer: This post contains links to paid sponsors and affiliates.
I'm officially on "break" until sometime after Christmas. That doesn't mean that I won't post, but I definitely won't be sticking to a regular schedule, and there will not be any fresh review content until after the first of the year. In the meantime, enjoy a series of recap posts, discussing some curated content from 2017, and catch up on some things you might have missed.
Every year around this time, I look back through posts I've written to try to pick out a few things that really grabbed hold and kept my attention past the initial "new shiny" phase. With pens, that's hard. So much stuff comes across my desk for review purposes that in order for something to stay in my rotation, it has to be either really unique or just that good. Here are five things that stuck with me in 2017, in no particular order.
- Multifunction ("Multi") Pens. I've carried a multi pen on a daily basis throughout 2017. Being able to color-code notes in a meeting without switching pens is, for me, invaluable, and I also like having the option to include a mechanical pencil or highlighter in one of the refill slots. For the record, my two favorite multi pens are the Lamy 2000 4-Color Ballpoint and the Sailor Imperial Black Multi Pen.
- Montblanc 146 and 144. While my updated review of the 146 is still in progress, I had the opportunity to review (and then purchase) the UNICEF Classique Doue 144, the smaller, cartridge-converter Montblanc fountain pen, courtesy of site-sponsor Appelboom. (Many thanks to Appelboom for sponsoring me this year, and giving me the opportunity to borrow and review many pens that I otherwise could not afford to purchase solely for review purposes.) I also picked up two more versions of the 146 throughout the year, and at least one of these pens has a slot in my daily carry at all times.
- Visconti Van Gogh "Vincent's Chair" Fountain Pen. This somewhat understated little Visconti really surprised me. Though it's no longer in my possession since it was a loaner from Goldspot, I'm going to pick up a Van Gogh fairly soon. I much prefer Visconti's stainless steel nibs over the Palladium "Dreamtouch" used in the Homo Sapiens, which I find a touch too wet and "mushy" for my taste.
- Inventery Mechanical Pen. I'm generally not a liquid ink rollerball aficionado, but the matte black version of Inventery's single-facet mechanical pen has been sitting next to my keyboard ever since it arrived. A touch heavy for longer-form writing, I find it perfect for short notes while I'm on the computer. It uses the standard Schmidt P8126 refill found in most machined rollerball pens, providing a reliably smooth writing experience.
- Morning Glory Mach 3 Liquid Ink Rollerball. Another "rollerball" makes the list (surprising, right?) but this one features an ultra-fine .38mm tip and comes in a wide array of colors. It's sort of the Pilot V5 meets the Hi-Tec-C, and is also a fairly economical choice for a standard office writer.
That's all for now! Happy holidays, and as always, thanks for reading!
A revised “Best Pens” page is now live on the blog! I haven’t updated this list in a while (since September 2016), and I wanted to account for several changes that have occurred since then, both in the market and in my personal use.
So What's New?
On the lower end of the pricing spectrum, nothing changed at all, other than some minor additions to the "Pocket Pens" category. Moving towards the “higher end,” I restructured things a bit. Major changes include:
- Splitting my “Best First Fountain Pen over $100” list into two separate categories: gold nibs and steel nibs. The category is getting crowded, and I find myself becoming more and more a fan of higher-end steel nibs, especially those coming out of Germany. I suspect that using steel nibs allows pen companies to be more creative with their design and materials, while still keeping the price point reasonable. Faber-Castell, Diplomat, and Franklin-Christoph are all good examples.
- Dropping Delta. The Delta Fusion 82 sat in the No. 5 slot on my “Personal Favorites” list for a while, and I still love the pen. The problem is that Delta seems to have discontinued this model and jacked the price up on other “Fusion” pens, and appears to be in the midst of reshuffling its entire product line. While my experience with Delta pens (and especially their nibs) has been on the whole positive, I have absolutely no idea what to recommend to people at the moment.
- Overhauling my ballpoint and rollerball recommendations. I’m using a lot more non-fountain pens these days, and my tastes have evolved. These recommendations probably won’t surprise many people, as they are decidedly mainstream, but I go with what works.
Enjoy! I don't have a regular schedule for updating my recommendations pages, but I do review them a few times a year to make sure they still reflect my opinion and my own personal use.
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.