Hybrid Maple Burl and Resin Pen

Comparing Ink Pens

You may wonder: What’s the difference between a ballpoint, a rollerball and a fountain pen? What are the advantages or disadvantages of each? In this article I’ll compare the different ink pens and help clear it all up for you.

Ballpoint Pens

These are the pens you’re most familiar with and have used a thousand times. What you might not know is that the ink in a ballpoint pen is oil-based ink. The single greatest advantage is that it doesn’t dry out. You can find an old ballpoint bank pen under the seat of your car and chances are it’ll resume writing after a couple of scribbles. The other advantage is that the ink lasts a long time. You could fill a whole journal with a single pen.

The disadvantages are that it skips occasionally and that the tip can get gloppy. They make better quality oil-based inks than what comes in your basic Bic pen. I use the Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 in my ballpoint pens, and they write pretty darn nice.

Rollerball Pens

Rollerball pens use a water-based ink. Actually it’s often water and denatured alcohol based, and the alcohol helps the ink to dry quicker once it hits the paper. Rollerball pens write crisp bold lines that don’t skip. The thinner ink flows out easily with very little pressure on the page, which reduces hand fatigue.

The largest disadvantage of a rollerball is that the ink does evaporate and so the pen needs to be kept capped when not in use. A small price to pay for such a lovely writing piece. A secondary disadvantage is that the ink takes a moment to dry on the page, and so left-handed people may find the ink smears if they write too quickly.

Fountain Pens

The elegant and sophisticated fountain pen is the pinnacle of writing pieces. They’ve only been around since the 1800s, but feel very old fashioned to today’s iPhone generation. A fountain pen uses the same water-based ink that Rollerballs use, but is delivered to the paper through a slit in the pen’s nib. The pen needs to be held with the nib flat and the ink comes out with a very light touch. The amount of pressure applied, and the direction of the line effects the weight of the line on the paper. With no ball rolling on the paper’s surface, the fountain pen user has a tactile connection to the texture of the paper being written on (there is even paper manufactured specifically for fountain pen users).

You can buy fountain pen ink cartridges where the ink is contained in a tube that is punctured when pressed into the back of the nib. But a huge advantage of the fountain pen is the ability to use bottled fountain pen ink. There are thousands of colors available commercially and the quality of bottled inks are much higher than cartridges or refills.

As with Rollerballs, the pen has to be kept capped when not in use, and the ink takes a moment to dry on the page. With a nibbed pen, there is also some light cleaning and maintenance that the pen’s owner needs to do periodically (usually just unscrewing the nib and soaking it in warm water overnight), but a carefully used fountain pen should last for years and years.