The modern ballpoint, which has a long and fascinating history, is still quite relevant. While many other pen types have come about and fountain pens have seen a serious resurgence, ballpoints have gotten much better as well.
Ballpoints are no longer the default writing utensil they once were, but they are still useful and pretty great.
As always, check out our Best Pens page for an overview of all the best pens you can buy today. If you only care about ballpoint pens then read on.
What Is A Ballpoint Pen?
At Unsharpen.com we define ballpoints as pens with oil-based ink and a traditional feel. Many Japanese pen manufacturers call all pens with oil-based ink “ballpoints,” including hybrid pens. Hybrid inks (which Zebra calls emulsion ink) is what is found in great pens lines like the Uni-ball Jetstream, Zebra Surari, and Pilot Acro.
This article will focus on traditional ballpoints and we’ll do another article on the best hybrid ballpoint pens. The good news is that traditional ballpoint pens have improved greatly over the years and are far different from the cheap “advertising” pens of the 1980s and 1990s.
If you want further explanation, check out our guide explaining the difference between a ballpoint pen and a rollerball.
Ballpoint Pen Sizes
Ballpoint pens are unique in that their oil-based in doesn’t spread out past the size of the ball. In fact, the width of the line that is left by a ballpoint pen will only be as wide as the contact area of the ball with the paper. This is why many artists have starting using ballpoint pens — you can control the strokes and create variable width lines the way you would do with a fountain pen or even a brush.
What this means in a practical sense is that a 1.6 mm ballpoint pen writes at under 1.6 mm, where a 1.0 mm rollerball will have lines over 1.0 mm, because the water-based ink spreads out (known as “feathering”) on most papers.
This is why ballpoint pens are commonly found at what would otherwise be huge writing tips. 1.0 mm, 1.4 mm, and even 1.6 mm ballpoints are not uncommon. They might seem hugely wide, but that’s only because a 1.6 mm rollerball or gel pen would leave an impractically wide line, so they don’t go over 1.0 mm.
Also, ballpoint pens last longer than other pen types, so very wide line — that uses a lot of ink — won’t run out the reservoir nearly as fast as it would on a gel pen or rollerball.
Zebra Tapli Clip
The Zebra Tapli Clip is a super smooth ballpoint pen with a retractable design. The main features are a spring-loaded, binder-style clip, and extra long ink cartridge, and a rubberized grip.
The pen is sold in 0.4 mm, 0.5 mm, 0.7 mm, 1.0 mm, and 1.6 mm sizes, with the 1.0 and 1.6 mm models being exceptionally smooth.
The refill, known as the LH-1.6 (in the 1.6 mm size), is affordable and very long longstanding but is quite long and skinny so it’s difficult to use in other pen bodies.
Bic Cristal Bold
The Bic Cristal is the classic ballpoint pen. It’s been made forever and the quality has tipped in all those years. It still has the sturdy clear plastic bodies we all know and love and the ink, while remaining a classic ballpoint, has only gotten smoother with time.
While the Cristal is now available in a number of difference sizes, down to the skinny Cristal Xtra Precision at 0.7 mm, the 1.6 mm Bold remains our favorite. The wide, luxurious ballpoint is made for comfort but is still undeniably reliable. The Bold is also incredibly fun to use, with many people using its width for serious art (as in, not just doodling).
Fisher Space Pen CH4
No ballpoint pen list could be complete without at least one Fisher Space Pen. The typical choice would be the classic AG7, the real-deal Space Pen, but the Shuttle Pen CH4 is our pick. Why? The CH4 is cheaper, lighter, and better balanced than the AG7, all while being nearly as iconic a design as the original Space Pen. It’s also more comfortable to hold over extended periods of time and uses the same excellent ballpoint refill.
Here is a comparison of the CH4 vs AG7 Space Pens.
- Buy a Fisher Space Pen CH4
The Parker Jotter is basically the most recommended ballpoint pen of all time, which makes sense because it’s such a great pen. The Jotter is known for it’s powerful click, sturdy construction (especially the full stainless steel model), and small size which makes it extra portable. The Jotter is the often imitated — but never replicated –ballpoint that seems so simple but has been able to withstand the test of time because Parker got it just right.
The Jotter wins extra points for its long history and numerous collectible editions. Many Jotter enthusiasts happily spend top dollar to find vintage models online, usually prizing the “brass thread” models as well as hard-to-find colors and clip designs.
Note that the Jotter is also sold in a gel model, so be careful what you buy. The ballpoint version is the standard Jotter and will contain Parker’s popular QuinkFlow ballpoint refill.
Ballograf Epoca P
The Epoca P isn’t an icon in the United States (yet), but it’s been a great ballpoint pen for over 50 years. This Swedish pen is wonderfully designed and super handsome, with a really comfortable shape. It has metal hardware and high-end plastic for the body. If all that wasn’t enough it has a traditional ballpoint refill that is good for 8 kilometers of writing.
What is a ballpoint pen?
A ballpoint pen is a writing utensil with a rotating writing ball at the end of a tube of thick, oil-based ink. The invention of the ballpoint is commonly attributed to Lazlo Biro in the 1930s but non-commercially viable designs existed before that.
How long does a ballpoint pen last?
A ballpoint pen will last a very long time, longer than any other pen type. Some pen refills, like that found in the Ballograf Epoca P can last for up to 8000 meters (about 5 miles) of writing. This writing length will vary based on the width of the writing up as well as the size of the refill. Some ballpoints, like the Fisher Space Pen Infinium, are designed to last for a lifetime of writing.