Ballpoint Pens Vs Fountain Pens

To help you make the right pen choice for your needs, we decided to compare two of the most popular types, ballpoint pens and fountain pens.

In this post, we’re going to be looking at how each pen works, what the difference is between them and how they fare against each other in the following categories:

  • Smoothness
  • Colour & Depth
  • Lifetime
  • Line Quality
  • Comfort
  • Convenience

But before we go any further, we should note that if you were to posit this question of ballpoint pens versus fountain pens to any pen enthusiast, the general consensus will be that the fountain pen is better. Pen fanatics will have a natural bias towards the fountain pen, and if you were to get into pens yourself, you’d probably be the same. But this doesn’t mean that this is a foregone conclusion, the ballpoint has a lot to say for itself.

How Do Ballpoint and Fountain Pens Work?

All those times that you used a ballpoint pen, whether it be at school, the bank or the post office, did you ever stop to think how it works? Probably not. Well we’re going to tell you how.

The purpose of the ballpoint pen is to distribute a fast-drying ink without the ink drying in the pen itself. By using a thick, oil-based ink that’s carried in alcohol solvent, it dries quickly on the page. The ink is dispersed by a small ball in a socket at the head of the pen. Gravity forces ink down the reservoir, normally a plastic cartridge, onto the ball. This is how a ballpoint works.

A fountain pen is different. Instead of a ball, it has a nib that is separated by two tines. The nib is on top of a collector, which is connected to the feed. Attached to the feed is the reservoir which is typically a fountain pen ink cartridge. Again, the power of gravity sends the ink through the feed. The collector does what it says on the tin and collects the ink, making sure too much doesn’t flood out. When you apply pressure to the nib whilst writing, this separates the two tines and disperses ink.

What’s the Difference Between a Ballpoint and Fountain Pen?

Other than the difference in mechanisms that we’ve just highlighted, there are quite a few things that set these two pens apart.

The first major difference is in the ink. Ballpoints use a thicker ink that lasts much longer over time, this can lead to a scratchy writing experience however. Fountain pens use a liquid-based ink which doesn’t dry as quickly. It does allow for the pen to flow more smoothly.

It’s this difference that probably explains the bias that pen enthusiasts have against ballpoints. Fountain pens not only were invented first and as such represent the purist’s option, but they allow for better handwriting. You can’t really gauge someone’s penmanship with a ballpoint pen.

Ballpoint pens can write on more surfaces than a fountain pen can. This is due to the way a fountain pen is built. Rough surfaces will damage the tines of the fountain pen. Ballpoint pens can also be used to make lines in any direction. The same cannot be said for fountain pens. Writing the wrong way with a fountain pen can damage the nib.

Which is Better; A Ballpoint Pen or Fountain Pen?

Like we said, look on any pen forum or discussion board and you’ll find that basically anyone that has an interest in pens will tell you the fountain pen is superior. We don’t think that’s necessarily true. It all comes down to what you’re using it for. There are many occasions where you’d much rather have a ballpoint than a fountain pen. That being said, let’s compare these two pens in the aforementioned categories.

Smoothness of Writing (Winner: Fountain Pen)

The ballpoint pen doesn’t really have a chance on this one, purely because of the two different inks that are used. The thick, oil-based ink in ballpoint pens doesn’t flow as freely as fountain pen ink does. The free-flowing liquid ink of fountain pens causes less surface tension when writing. The way that they’re engineered also means that you can press a fountain pen relatively lightly on a page and the ink will flow through the tines. A ballpoint needs more downward pressure to force the ink out. Clear victory for the fountain pen.

Colour and Depth (Winner: Fountain Pen)

Fountain pens will release more ink onto the page than ballpoint pens. This means that they create more vivid lines. The colour is also deeper with fountain pens. Having said this, a proper ballpoint pen will come closer than you think. If you’re trying to recreate the depth of a fountain pen with a standard biro, you’ll struggle.

Time Span for Ink Cartridges (Winner: Ballpoint Pen)

There is undoubtedly only one winner. You can expect to get around 7 to 12 pages per fountain pen ink cartridge. Whereas with a ballpoint pen, we don’t measure its ink capacity in pages, you can measure it in distance. With a standard biro, you could draw a line up to 3 kilometres long. So, when it comes to time span, the ballpoint pen ink cartridge will undoubtedly last longer.

Line Quality (Winner: Fountain Pen*)

This is a slightly contentious category because the main factor controlling line quality is out of the hands of the two pens. It depends on what paper you use. Because fountain pen’s ink is water-based, on low-quality thin paper, it’s likely to bleed which will ruin your script. A ballpoint pen will deliver consistent performance across all paper types which is why we’ve put an asterisk on the winner of this one.

If you were to draw two lines on some good quality 80+ gsm paper, the fountain pen would be victorious. If you were to use low-quality paper, the ballpoint would win. We can’t in all good conscience declare the ballpoint pen the winner for performing better on low-quality paper, though.

Comfort (Winner: Fountain Pen)

It’s another victory for the fountain pen. It wins for the same reasons that it won the smoothness of writing category. As the ink flows more freely through a fountain pen, you have to exert less pressure on the pen to use it. As such, you will experience more discomfort using a ballpoint for an extended period of time than a fountain pen.

Convenience (Winner: Ballpoint Pen)

The unequivocal winner of this one is the ballpoint pen. There is no pen out there that can match its convenience. The ink cartridge lasts for ages, it’s very unlikely to leak, you don’t need to change the cartridge every few pages, it writes on more surfaces, the ink dries quickly, it’s ideal for lefties, the list goes on.

Conclusion

Whilst our categories have seen the fountain pen come out on top more times, we think that this is unfair to the workhorse that is the ballpoint pen. Sure, if you’re someone that likes to take their time when they write, who appreciates good handwriting and values your writing experience, go for a fountain pen.

Whereas, if you value low maintenance, long life and pure convenience, you can’t beat the ballpoint pen. But if you think ballpoint pens just don’t look the part, you’ve been looking at the wrong ballpoint pens. On our website, you’ll find some seriously sophisticated, top-of-the-range ballpoint pens that could test the mettle of any sworn fountain pen purist. See for yourself!