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The best pens in 2020

best pens
(Image credit: Pilot)

The best pens available today are a combination of great ergonomics, a smooth writing experience, and the proper price point. These factors are mostly subjective, of course, which is why taking your writing tools for a test drive is always key. The stakes are usually pretty low for your wallet in this regard, but depending on your lifestyle, having the right pen can mean the difference between daily wrist comfort or daily strain in your fingers. 

With all of the mobile tech we have at our fingertips these days, does anyone even care about pen tech anymore? Absolutely! Whether we’re talking ballpoint, rollerball, fountain, or gel, physical pens haven’t been overshadowed by touchscreens just yet; on the contrary, they’re more popular than ever. In 2016, the Chicago Tribune reported that writing instruments were anticipated to reach $20.2 billion in worldwide revenue by 2019, and speaking from 20/20 hindsight, it shows. 

There’s actually a thriving subculture of nib-scratching moleskin users out there. For proof, check out PenAddict.com and JetPens.com, which describes itself as “an online stationery store for people in pursuit of the perfect pen.” Hey, it makes sense. Whether you’re a student, parent, business professional, outdoorsman, techie, or just an occasional check-signer, pens are not to be written off. Never underestimate the human affinity for old-school scribbling.

Looking for the best pen on the market? We’ve rounded up seven of our top everyday carry picks for the slickest, smoothest writing instruments we could find. The best part: none of them are going to break the bank. 

What are the best pens?

If you’re looking for even lines, fast-drying ink, and all the ergonomics you need for ambidextrous use, look no further than the Uni-ball Jetstream. After all of our research, it’s the best pen overall we could find. Minimal smudging means this ballpoint is lefty-friendly, and it earns consistently good ratings amongst consumers and product reviewers alike.

Did you have something more fashionable in mind? The Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen is another favorite for fans of the written word, and it’s the best pen for those dipping their toes into the world of fountain-style pens. It’s heavier than most writing instruments you’ll find laying around the average home office, but the extra heft adds to the extra elegance. 

And now for the big guns. Smith & Wesson raises the bar on what to expect from your everyday carry (EDC) pen. This 1.4-ounce ballpoint doubles as a personal protection tool, and it even comes with a lifetime warranty. The aircraft aluminum construction means business, and it slips snugly into your pocket. 

The best pens you can buy today

Best pens: Uni-ball Jetstream

(Image credit: Uni-ball)

1. Uni-ball Jetstream

The best pen overall

Pen type: Ballpoint | Retractable/stick: Yes | Refillable: Yes | Ink colors: 3 | Line size: Bold (1.0 mm), Fine (0.7 mm) | Length: 5.6 inches | Weight: 0.4 ounces

Comfortable grip
Fast-drying hybrid ink is great for lefties
Resists water, fading, and fraud
Inexpensive
Runs out of ink quickly, according to some reviews
Somewhat expensive for a ballpoint pen

A top pick amongst professional scriveners, the Uni-ball Jetstream pen combines the smooth, crisp lines of a gel pen with the fast-drying properties of a traditional ballpoint. Utilizing a unique hybrid ink that resists water, fading, and fraud, the Jetstream’s embossed grip is a pleasure to hold; the stainless steel accents look pretty darn slick, too.

Available in bold (1.0 mm) or fine point (0.7 mm), the quick-drying hybrid ink is especially ideal for lefties, who must be constantly vigilant of smearing the page as they write. And with three choices of ink to choose from (black, blue, red), the Uni-ball Jetstream is a fantastic all-purpose pen for just about anyone. If you need a comfortable everyday writing instrument that won’t smear or fade, look no further. 

Best pens: Pilot Dr. Grip Center of Gravity Retractable Pen

(Image credit: Pilot)

2. Pilot Dr. Grip Center of Gravity Retractable Pen

The best ergonomic ballpoint pen

Pen type: Ballpoint | Retractable/stick: Retractable | Refillable: Yes | Ink colors: 5 | Line size: Medium (1.0 mm), Fine (0.7 mm) | Length: 7.0 inches | Weight: 0.8 ounces

Ergonomically comfortable grip
Retractable and refillable
Multiple ink options
Smooth writing lines
Expensive
Hefty

For those who suffer from arthritis or general hand fatigue, The Pilot Dr. Grip Center of Gravity pen has just the prescription. This silky-smooth ballpoint pen features an extra-wide barrel with an ergonomic, cushioned grip to alleviate writing stress. Available in medium or fine points (and a variety of attractive colors), this pen has even been endorsed by the Arthritis Foundation for its exceptional comfort and ease of use. Heck, it might be the best pen you never knew existed.

The Dr. Grip Center of Gravity pen is on the expensive side, but it’s worth the extra coin. Consumer reviews are consistently impressed with the thick, rubbery grip, balanced weight, and seamless writing experience; you don’t have to push hard at all for proper ink distribution.  (This style is also available in advanced ink, gel ink, or mechanical pencil options.) For office and hospital workers who fill out a lot of paperwork, it could be a godsend.

Best pens: Uni-ball Vision Elite Rollerball Pen

(Image credit: Uni-ball)

3. Uni-ball Vision Elite Rollerball Pen

The best rollerball pen for frequent travelers

Pen type: Rollerball | Retractable/stick: Stick | Refillable: Yes | Ink colors: 5 | Line size: Bold (0.8 mm), Micro (0.5mm) | Length: 5.6 inches | Weight: 0.5 ounces

Airplane-safe ink won’t explode or leak
Hybrid ink resists water, fading, and fraud
Uni-flow ink system is smooth and consistent
Relatively expensive

Sometimes you need a pen that just works, no matter where you take it. The Uni-ball Vision Elite Rollerball pen is such an instrument, utilizing an advanced ink formula that bonds to paper fibers; uni-flow technology allows for smooth, consistent lines that dry quickly, sans-smears. This ink is also resistant to chemicals, water, and fading, which means more peace of mind with any sensitive documents. (This helps prevent criminal check washing and other illicit document alterations.)  

Speaking of piece of mind, jetsetters will love the Vision Elite Rollerball pen for its extra durability; the airplane-safe barrels won’t leak when the cabin pressure fluctuates. A leaky pen can ruin your day, but Uni-ball has your covered. 

Best pens: Pilot G2 Retractable Gel-Ink Pens

(Image credit: Pilot)

4. Pilot G2 Retractable Gel-Ink Pens

The best gel-ink pen

Pen type: Gel Ink | Retractable/stick: Retractable | Refillable: Yes | Ink colors: 27 | Line size: Bold (1.0 mm), Fine, (0.7 mm), Extra Fine, (0.5 mm), Ultra Fine (0.38) | Length: 5.6 inches | Weight: 0.4 ounces

Tons of color options
Retractable and refillable
Smooth, precise lines
Fast-drying ink
Lefty-friendly
Ink is not waterproof, from anecdotal reviews

If gel ink is your jam, you won’t be disappointed with the Pilot G2 Retractable Gel-Ink pens. Available in a plethora of diverse colors (27 to be exact) and 4 tip sizes (1.0 mm to 0.38 mm), this is hands-down (heyo!) one of the best pens you can find on the market today. The rubber grip keeps the Pilot G2 firmly in hand, and the sturdy clip makes it easy to slip into your pocket.

Whether you’re using it for drawing or longhand writing, gel pens are a great choice for everyday use, thanks to the ink’s long-lasting, fast-drying properties. Some consumer reviews reported that the ink may smear when wet, but overall, this is still the best gel-ink pen you can get your paws on today.

Best pens: Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen

(Image credit: Pilot)

5. Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen

The best fountain pen

Pen type: Fountain | Retractable/stick: Stick | Refillable: Yes | Ink colors: 14 | Nib size: Medium-Italic, Medium, Fine | Length: 5.4 inches | Weight: 1.0 ounce

Solid construction
Attractive brass-and-steel accents
Lots of ink color options
Affordable
Heavier than other pen styles

Pilot makes a variety of reliable pens, but the Metropolitan fountain pen is more elegant than many of its cheaper cousins. It’s also more affordable than you’d expect, and the superior build is equally functional; reviewers noted smooth ink lines and a comfortably slim grip. The medium, medium-italic, and fine lines (available in over a dozen colors) offer something for everyone.

Designed for everyday use, the laser-cut Japanese nib is superbly utilitarian, and the brass barrel adds a little extra heft; the included hard-shell case is an added bonus. The Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen comes with an ink cartridge in addition to a squeeze converter, so you can add your own ink from an inkwell. If you’ve never used a fountain pen before, this is absolutely the one to start your collection with.

Best pens: Pilot Precise V5 RT

(Image credit: Pilot)

6. Pilot Precise V5 RT

The best pen for lefties

Pen type: Rollerball | Retractable/stick: Retractable | Refillable: Yes | Ink colors: 12 | Line size: Fine (0.7 mm), Extra Fine (0.5 mm) | Length: 5.6 inches | Weight: 0.4 ounces

Retractable and refillable
Airplane-safe
Fast-drying ink
No smudging
Somewhat expensive

Looking for extra-fine precision in a rollerball pen that’s also good for lefties? The Pilot Precise V5 RT is our top choice. This retractable pen delivers smooth, skip-free writing, laser-accurate lines, and a variety of vibrant colors. The unique ink formula allows for consistent strokes; the rubber grip is comfortable for longhand writing; and the airplane-safe design prevents any leakage during altitude hops. 

Pilot’s products pride themselves as the pinnacle of premium penmanship, and the Precise line is a popular pick, indeed. Especially for lefties, since smudging is nearly nonexistent. Sure, it’s a little expensive, but the Pilot Precise V5 RT is worth it. The classic design will have you reaching for your favorite moleskin.

Best pens: Smith & Wesson Military & Police Tactical Pen

(Image credit: Smith & Wesson)

7. Smith & Wesson Military & Police Tactical Pen (SWPENMPBK)

The best pen for everyday carry

Pen type: Ballpoint | Retractable/stick: Retractable | Refillable: Yes | Ink colors: 3 | Line size: Medium | Length: 6.1 inches | Weight: 1.4 ounces

Rock-solid construction
Doubles as self-defense tool
Lifetime warranty
Heavy
User reviews report poor-quality cap

Now this is a pen! Forgoing the dull-and-dreary design of traditional scribblers, Smith & Wesson redefines what a writing instrument can do. In short, it’s the Crocodile Dundee of office stationery: at a solid 1.4 ounces, the Military & Police Tactical Pen (WPENMPBK) is a lot bigger than the average Bic, which is why it also doubles as a self-defense tool. (This makes sense, since this company is mostly known for their knives, not their calligraphy.) Constructed from T6061 aircraft aluminum, the Smith & Wesson “tactical pen” has a convenient pocket clip that’s ideal for everyday carry; this bad boy can also be refilled with Schmidt P900M Parker ballpoint cartridges. 

Can you think of another pen that comes with a lifetime warranty? Well, this one does. Whether you’re a survivalist, farmer, or first-responder, the Smith & Wesson Military & Police Tactical Pen (WPENMPBK) is the perfect complement to any of your on-the-go outdoor gear.

How to choose the best pen for you?

Which is the best pen for you? It all depends on what you need it for. But one way or another, you’ll want one that has a comfortable barrel (ie, the part you hold). There are myriad styles of pens on the market today, but you’ve only got one pair of hands; use trial-and-error to figure out the best style to fit your personal physiology. (For example, those with arthritic hands might want to consider something with a wide, cushioned barrel.)

The ink you’re using is important, too. Some kinds of ink dry super fast, while others are prone to smearing, or bleeding through paper. Make sure the line size is bold or fine enough for its purpose; your handwriting should be clean, easily legible, and smear-free. (Speaking of smears, lefties will want to keep an eye out for quick-drying ink and ambidextrous barrel designs.)

Here are some of the main categories you’ll find on your search for the best pen:

Ballpoint: Utilizing oil-based ink, these pens employ a miniature ball bearing for ink distribution. This ink dries quickly, and delivers a lighter stream than gel, rollerball, or fountain pens.

Rollerball: These pens also use a ball bearing, but the ink is water-based, which means longer drying times. This also makes for thicker lines and lettering; they’re great for journaling. 

Gel: These pens often come with lots of color options; the water-based gel ink takes longer to dry, and is easier to smear. Lefties beware.  

Fountain: These elegant pens are great for functional fashion statements, but they’re heavier and more complex instruments than other pen styles. Some of the best fountain pens aren’t that expensive, though; this particular luxury is absolutely for the masses.

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  • Elessar.CM
    I'm surprised that some model of the Fisher Space Pen wouldn't make this list. The "Bullet" compact version hase been my faithful companion. Tiny and leakproof when closed, full-length and capable when in use.
    Reply