If you are looking for the too-long-didn’t-read version of Unsharpen.com then you’ve found it. This is a brief list of the best of the best — the top pens from the major categories. We do the work so you can cut through the details and get the best supplies. And then if you want to dive deep into the specifications, dimensions, history, and other details… we have that too.
High Quality Pens
Any time you are saying “best” you have to decide whether you mean the best pen or the best ink, since so often you can just get your favorite ink and put it in any pen. For this list we’ll be talking about the best pen, unless otherwise mentioned!
Please note that the pens in each list are in no particular order. Pens are either in the Top List or they aren’t! Also, pens are broken down by ink type. You can learn more about that in our ink type guide.
When Unsharpen is considering a pen for this list, we are looking for high quality pens (as well as pencils, paper, etc.) from manufacturers that we know and trust. The pens must be of impeccable quality each time we buy them, with consistency in their manufacture as well as reliability and comfort in their usage.
The list is not limited to specific manufacturers, but a manufacturer’s track record can be a major quality signal.
If you go by Unsharpen’s review score — which each item featured on the site gets — this page will contain items that are 4.5 or 5 out of 5 possible stars.
Best Ballpoint Pens
Unsharpen.com defines a ballpoint as a pen with oil-based ink with a classic feel to it. Many pen manufacturers, particularly those based in Japan, will include hybrid ink pens in their “ballpoint” category, but this site differentiates between the two.
These pens above are our favorite ballpoints — you’ll notice a number of them are in fact classics, pens that have been for sale for decades but that have stood the test of time. Ballpoints pens like these are super long-lasting and versatile, but they lack the smoothness of a rollerball, fountain, or even gel pen. The main strengths of these pens in 2020 are their versatility — a good ballpoint can write on masking type, glossy magazine covers, and all sorts of other materials that other pens just can’t handle.
Best Hybrid Pens
Hybrid ink is ink whose composition combines that of ballpoints (oil-based) and gel (water-based). This is a huge category of pens with intense competition because it’s an area of active development by modern pen companies.
The two main lines in this category are Pilot’s Acro and Uni’s (aka Uni-ball or Mitsubishi Pencil) Jetstream. The Jetstream line is super robust with multi-pens, executive pens, limited editions, and much more. Pilot’s Acro ink has many of the same qualities as the Jetstream but has a much more limited set of pen bodies available.
The Acro 300 and standard Jetstream are our top pens, but if you prefer other options there are many. For example the Acro 1000 and Jetstream Prime Single (Twist or Click) are fantastic options that use the same ink as the more affordable versions.
Best Gel Pens
We dug deep into the best gel pens in our full deep dive. Check out that full articles for all the information you might want about gel pens, but here is a brief look at our picks.
- Pentel Energel Alloy
- Uni-ball Signo 207
- Zebra Sarasa Dry / SE
- Pentel Energel Infree
- Pilot Juice Up
- Pilot Hi-Tec-C
Best Rollerball Pens
Rollerballs aren’t as popular a pen choice as they once were, with gel pens largely taking over this category. That said, there are still some excellent rollerball pens for sale.
Rollerballs use a water-based ink, which means it’s a wet writer and as close as you can get to a fountain pen when using a pen refill. Rollerballs generally use a refill that looks like that found in a Pilot G2 gel pen or a European-style rollerball refill, like the Schmidt 888.
Read more at our best rollerball pens of 2021 article.
There are many different multi-pens sold today but most of them are, in our humble opinion, not that good. There are some excellent ones that surpass the quality of the category by a wide margin.
Best Parker-style G2 Pens
These are pens that use the Parker-style G2 refill, which is an ISO standard pen refill that almost every manufacturer uses in some of its pens.
This is a huge category of pens, so picking any number is a challenge.
Best Entry-level Fountain Pens
These are sub-$20 fountain pens that are very beginner-friendly. That means they are easy to use, easy to find, easy to replace, and built to last. They should give people an excellent impression of what using a fountain pen can be like.
Note: This list doesn’t include pens based on pricing alone, so the best Chinese fountain pens is another list. Most Chinese pens are under $20 like the above pens, but most are not easy to understand or easy to use, so while they aren’t specifically excluded from this list, they aren’t a shoe-in based solely on their price.
Best Entry-level Gold Nib Fountain Pens
Best Erasable Pen
Like multi-pens, many erasable pens simply aren’t that good. Without naming name, we’ll just say that major brands struggle to make a good erasable pen.
Best Lamy Pens
Best Wood Pens and Pencils
Wood is not as popular a material for making writing instruments as it once was, but there are still some excellent products available. Interestingly, they are generally more expensive than metal pens, presumably because manufacturing with natural materials presents many more problems then with something predictable, like brass or plastic.