We recently started our new series on fine writing instruments with a focus on ballpoint pens, and today we want to help you to find the best rollerball pen for you. While ballpoints make an excellent everyday pen and are especially useful for left handed people since the dry so quickly, rollerballs are generally considered a higher quality pen and the next best thing to the fountain pen.
Roller ball pens use the same mechanism as a ballpoint but utilize a water or gel-based liquid ink rather than an oil-based viscous ink that’s found in the ballpoint pen. The ink found in the rollerball gives the pen a different writing style which is closer to the smoothness found in a fountain pen. The tip at the end of the pen is actually a very small ball that quite literally rolls as you write on paper causing the ink to transfer from the ink reservoir to the paper as you write.
The History of the Rollerball
All credit for the history of the rollerball goes to a gentleman named Adam who was kind enough to find an article in Polish and translate it to English for the forum users. There isn’t a great deal of published information on the history of rollerball pens so I must thank Adam for making this information publicly available.
According to the information, the rollerball pen was actually designed by a man named John J. Loud in 1888 as a tool that was capable of writing on rough surfaces. Despite the patent being filed before the dawn of the 1900s, the pen never actually surfaced on the market until the end of World War II in 1945. Many improvements to the original model came after with pens created for writing on materials such as fabric and even wood. Despite the tool being created, the ink available on the market wasn’t as viscous as was required. As decades passed and inks changed over time, the rollerball pen was introduced to the public by various pen manufacturers such as Parker. Despite the capabilities of the rollerball pen, it never actually reached the height of its popularity until the mid 1970s. Today, pen aficionados tend to favor the rollerball pen in comparison to the ballpoint. As far an everyday carry pen, the rollerball is an exceptional choice for those who seek a smooth and comfortable writing experience, especially for those who are partial to fountain pens.
Benefits of a Rollerball Pen
The flow of a rollerball pen is far more consistent than that of a ballpoint and skips less than a ballpoint as well. The writing experience of a rollerball is similar to that of a fountain pen as it requires far less pressure to produce ink on the page.
The writing style is far cleaner and less stressful on the fingers, the wrist and the hand itself. It’s far more comfortable to write with a rollerball and saves energy permitting for extended use without having to resort to shaking the hand; something commonly done with higher impact writing instruments. The inks are typically available in more color options than the standard black, blue and red and there are many options when it comes to the type of ink. Of course, with less stress to the pen and hand, the writer has the ability to write faster than they would with a pencil or ballpoint pen. In addition, the ink on paper tends to be clearer and more dramatic.
Ballpoint Pen, Rollerball & Fountain Pen – PROs and CONs a Comparison
The Disadvantages of a Rollerball
Of course, it goes without saying that many pen collectors will say the biggest disadvantage of a rollerball is that it’s not a fountain pen. For true pen connoisseurs, there is no substitute for a well made fountain pen and no finer writing experience because a flexible gold nib glides over the paper like butter, and with the rib width, it creates a unique handwriting and look that is one of a kind. That aside, a signature is much harder to fake when using a fountain pen.
However, most will argue that when it comes to other styles of writing instruments, the rollerball is a close second to the fountain pen.
Rollerballs Don’t Work for Left-Handed People
I am not one of those people. In fact, I actually find rollerball pens to be abhorrent and it’s for one simple reason: I’m left handed.
There is nothing more annoying to a left handed person than smudging ink all over the side of your hand and the paper you’re writing on. Since the ink used in rollerballs is liquid-based, the chance of smearing the ink is far greater than if you use a ballpoint. With fountain pens, you also see far less smudging and have the ability to use a wider range of ink styles.
I own a number of pens but truth be told, I don’t think I own a single rollerball even though I have tried many. They simply don’t work for left handed people.
Left handed people aren’t the only ones who have to worry about smeared ink, if you are right handed, you are free to choose.
Drying Time Required
One issue many have with rollerballs is that the ink needs to have time to dry before you cover the paper. In other words, if you’re using a notebook or completing a draft that’s multiple pages, once you close one page on top of the other, you run the risk of the ink staining the opposite page. In addition, the ink tends to bleed through the pages easier which can result in stains on paper or even your writing surface. Those who inadvertently leave the tip of the pen on the paper while pausing to think will also notice that the ink will create a blotch on the paper and bleed through onto the next pages or your desk. Gel based inks tend to dry quicker but are still prone to smudging and bleeding more than a ballpoint pen.
Rollerballs Need To Be Refilled More Often
In addition, rollerball pens will usually run out of ink much faster than a ballpoint since they use a large portion of the ink in the reservoir than the ballpoint does. Because the ink is liquid or gel based, rollerballs will also leak more often and easier than a ballpoint which can cause significant issues, especially if you are prone to keeping a pen in your breast pocket or briefcase. Of course, like fountain pens, rollerballs can be difficult to travel with as the change in pressure while flying can result in the pen leaking. In addition, one of the key drawbacks to using a rollerball is that they’re prone to clogging which can render the ink cartridge inoperable requiring you to replace the cartridge, clean the reservoir or replace the pen in some cases.
Rollerballs don’t just come in one-size-fits-it-all but instead you can choose between various tip widths ranging from 0.2mm over 0.5mm and 0.7mm up to 1mm and 1.5mm. Unlike fountain pens, the tip always remains round, which means the width stays the same when you write.
The nibs on wider fountain pens like B or BB are straight, creating beautiful curves when you write, which will make your handwriting look special.
So, if the look of your handwriting is not important to you, the a rollerball is just fine. What tip width you should opt for depends on your needs and tastes though most people seem to like a 0.7mm tip width for general use.
Recommended Rollerball Pens
by Sven Raphael Schneider
Despite the fact that the core of rollerballs is not hugely different, you can buy some for $1 or others for several $1,000
Of course, I recommend avoiding dollar store pens and spending some additional money to procure a pen that will not only last and serve you well, but also matches the rest of your outfit.
For the Budget Conscious not Concerned About the Look of the Pen
If you really don’t care about the look of the pen (why on earth you would not care for the look is beyond me) or if you constantly loose them and you simply want a great pen that writes well, do not just grab the Pilot G2. Although many reach for the Pilot G2 once they want to upgrade from free pens, it can be rather inconsistent in its performance and so I recommend you try a few different ones as well.
Parker has a good gel pen refills or the uni-ball Jetstream RT Fine Point Rollerball Pen works well too. It is less expensive than the Pilot G2 and in my experience it outperforms it in all things concerned writing .
That being said, I would suggest you never carry this kind of a pen with a sport coat combination or a suit simply because it looks extremely cheap. If you are all dressed in a custom three piece suit, your $2 pen will spoil the look in the same manner a cheap tie or poor quality shoes would.
Rollerballs for +/- $100
In this price range, you won’t fine the absolutely top notch pens, but they are a huge step up from all the ugly plastic pens out there. In this price range, we recommend to take a look at the Pelikan R200, the Parker Sonnet Lacquer or the Waterman Expert. All of them are classic and perform well.
Use Gel Refills Instead of Ballpoint Refills
Chances are, you are different than me when it comes to pens. With rollerballs you can actually mix different the outer shells with different refills. What matters is that the refill fits your outer shell. For example you might like the Parker Gel Refills and they fit the Pelikan R200 or Waterman Expert. So if you want to use a Rollerball, I would suggest you test various refills until you find one that you really like.
Once you have decided on a refill, go look for pens that you really love in terms of look, feel and weight, because not all pens are alike and different people prefer different things. Some want a heavy pen because it feels more like quality, other prefer a lighter pen so their hands get tired quickly. It really all depends on your needs, and combining pens in this manner will help you to get the ultimate rollerball for you.
High End Rollerballs
Some of the best known companies that make high quality rollerball pens are Omas, Aurora, Montblanc, Graf Von Faber-Castell, Pelikan, Parker, Cross, Waterman, Lamy and Sheaffer. All of them have different strengths and prices for upscale versions start at around $300 with no end in sight. At this level, I would personally opt for a fountain pen but if you are set on a rollerball, consider the looks weight and feel because as I mentioned before you can change the refill in most cases.
For example OMAS produces beautiful, handmade celluloid shells in great swirls and colors. Every piece is unique so you get a one of a kind piece. At the same time, they are a bit on the lighter side. Montblanc is usually less colorful but a bit heavier and every brand offer something unique to them. At the end of the day it is up to you to decide what you like because all of them are good in terms of quality.
Apart from these manufacturers you will find other high quality pens on the market but I couldn’t possibly list all of them.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this short primer on rollerball pens. Stay tuned for our next article in the series where we’ll focus on the best pens of all; the fountain pen.
What’s your favorite rollerball pen? Do you prefer water or gel based inks?