Choosing a Ballpoint Pen

We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on ballpoint pens to help you find the right style to suit. We have information on the different types of ball pens, the nib sizes, the pros and cons as well as information about they work. Our guide has all the answers you need so you can make an informed decision when purchasing your new pen.

How Do Ballpoint Pens Work?

Ballpoint pens have a round ball nib that uses a thick oil-based ink. As you write the ball will draw the ink and distribute it on the paper. The oil based ink is extremely thick, like a paste, so as soon as your print your letters, it is more or less dry. This makes it less likely to smudge or seep through low quality paper. Due to the thickness of the ink, less comes out when writing. This may mean you have to go over characters when writing and apply more pressure to the page. This can make writing feel more tedious.

Why Choose a Ballpoint Pen?

While pen aficionados often opt for a fountain or rollerball pen due to their smoother ink flow and elegant handwriting style, ballpoint pens have a convenience that can’t be ignored. Ballpoint pens have fast become the go to pen for everyday use due to their easy writing style and their versatility.

Ballpoint pen ink is oil based and quite thick, so you don’t often have to worry about leakage. The ink also dries quickly and rarely smudges. These qualities make ballpoints the perfect pen to carry around and use for any occasion.

Ballpoint pens can be used by anyone at a given minute; unlike with fountain pens where the specific nib and pen style is personal to the user, ballpoints can be used interchangeably by anyone. Left-handed people also tend to opt for ballpoint pens as the ink dries fast, so they don’t have to worry about the outcome of their writing, or their hand getting covered in ink.

Ballpoint pens are often used in school and work environments. They are the common choice for activities like exams and note-taking, as people can write fast and easily without worry.

Ballpoint pens are also used by artists for drawings and sketches. Unlike other pen types, the ballpoint pen ink type is easy to control. You can use the pen to create different tones and effects, and artists often use ballpoints for stippling (creating a pattern with numerous small dots) or cross-hatching (creating a pattern from parallel lines drawn closely together). Unlike with other drawing equipment such as brushes and crayons, ballpoint pens can also create precise sharp lines.

Disadvantages of Ballpoint Pens

Ballpoint pens are extremely convenient for day to day use; however, they are arguably not as smooth to write with nor do they create the most elegant handwriting. Rollerball pens have a smoother ink flow that makes them effortless to write with, whereas ballpoint pens sometimes struggle with ink flow due to the ink viscosity and their reliance on gravity. Ballpoint pens rely on the gravitational force to draw the ink, so they cannot be used upside down. Ballpoint pens are inconsistent to write with also. Often, the ink can fade or skip out when writing which is less of a problem for other pen types. The thickness of the ink also means the ball in the nib can also block and cause ink to cluster. It’s easy to unclog but can be an inconvenience when writing.

Many of the limitations of ballpoint pens can be dismissed by purchasing a luxury ball pen. High quality pens are made with better ink flow than a cheaper pen.

Is a Biro Different to a Ballpoint Pen?

Biros are exactly the same pens as ballpoints. However, in the UK, they often refer to cheaper clear, plastic, disposable pens. John Loud developed the idea for the ballpoint pen towards the end of the 19th century but his flawed idea, at the time, was neglected until Laszlo Biro, a newspaper editor, decided that fountain pens had too many limitations for his needs. The ink took too long to dry and after experimenting with the ink from the printed press in his own fountain pen, him and his brother decided they needed to come up with an alternative mechanism to make the better ink choice a viable solution.

Biro faced competition when bringing his pen to market as he didn’t have the right patents to stop others stealing his idea. Reynolds decided to copy the idea and sell them to the US market, as Biro didn’t have a patent, but his pens were flawed and more broke than worked. Biro did sell his French patent to Marcel Bich however and he created the plastic Bic pens you know today. It’s these cheap pens which are now associated with biros, whereas ballpoint pen is a term more associated with luxury casing and refillable pens.

Types of Ballpoint Pens

There are two types of ballpoint pens; disposable cheap plastic pens known as biros and fine writing instruments. The latter combat a lot of the ink flow issues and are used professionally by most people. Fine writing pens are easy to use but they are encased in similar styles to the fountain pen, making them look more elegant. High quality ballpoint pens cross a wide range of price points. Mid-range ballpoints are often made from plastic casing, while more luxurious pens tend to come in a metal shell. The more you invest in your ballpoint, the longer it will often last. Ballpoint pens are refillable, whereas biros tend to be thrown away once they run out.

How to Choose a Ballpoint Pen

For quite some time, there has been the aged old battle of whether people should opt for a disposable biro or a high-quality ballpoint pen. Sure, biros seem cheaper in the moment and rather than having to refill them, you can simply dispose of the pen. However, biros tend to break easier, have ink flow problems and they look as cheap as they cost. While they might seemingly do the job in a rush, if you use a pen in a daily basis, you would be better opting for a ballpoint pen. Smoother ink flow will save you time and the smooth casing will feel more comfortable to write with, both of which are helpful if you write a lot. The style associated with luxury ballpoint pens also suit a professional atmosphere. Biros can give off the wrong impression at work, whereas the image of a proper ballpoint pen can speak wonders.

When looking at ballpoint pens, you should consider colour, size, material and barrel. These are mainly aesthetical options, but you will have to make that choice. The colour is purely personal preference; some materials however will feel more comfortable to hold than others – for example a smooth metal material will feel different to hold than a quilted or patterned barrel. Likewise, the shape of the barrel will have an impact on hold you feel when holding the pen. If you have smaller hands, a chunkier barrel may prove difficult to hold so you may want to opt for a slimmer model. Often people choose pens based on their experience of what feels more comfortable with. Choice of pen comes down to trial and error, but if you’re looking for a luxury pen and you’re only used to a certain model, it would either be recommended you try some cheaper models until you find the right shape for you or stick with the style you are familiar with.

One choice you will need to consider more carefully is the width of the nib of your ballpoint pen. Pen widths tends to range from 0.2mm to 1.6mm with the former being classed as extra fine and the latter being classed as broad. Often when you shop you will find your width choice comes in either fine, medium or broad. The choice is based on personal preference and handwriting style. Unlike with rollerball pens, where you might opt for a finer nib, so the ink dries quicker, there are no restrictions on ballpoint pens.

If choosing a gift for a loved one, you may also want to consider personalised options. Many people who opt for a luxury ballpoint pen choose to have their name or initials on the pen to make it extra special to them. Personalised ballpoint pens make special gifts, but only some models will allow personalisation. When choosing your pen, you may want to consider whether this is something you want or not.