WARNING: There are not a lot of pictures to be found in this post. I’m working through some issues here, so please bear with me. Also, this is a fountain pen-free post. If you’re all and only about fountain pens, don’t waste your time. If you’re interested in reading about my travails with several common/office-supply store gel, roller and ballpoint pens please read on.
Pens, pens, pens, everywhere pens. If you frequent this or other pen blogs then you’re likely searching for new pens to try. Odds are you currently own or have tried more pens than you can remember. I’m no different. But as much as I like opening the box or cracking the blister pack to reveal my latest pen prize, the sheer volume of options can be a bit much. Go ahead and click on the “Pens” tab at JetPens and you’ll be presented with some 5430 choices and this is just one particular vendor specializing in bringing Asian writing implements to the US market. Heck, go to your local office supply store and browse the pen section. I’m just guessing here, but there’s probably around 100 different pen options between ink type, point size and color. Throw in the pencil choices and even your basic Staples and Office Depot can seem like too much. Don’t misunderstand me – I dig searching for great-looking, excellent-writing pens. Apparently, I like it so much that I’m willing to spend a fair amount of my free time writing about it. What I’m looking for these days; however, is a little bit of closure. Well, maybe closure isn’t the right word. I guess what I’m looking for are some conclusions regarding what I know works for me and what does not – at least for now. So, to that end, I spent the last few weeks and more than a few bucks surveying a wide array of gel and ballpoint options. I dug out forgotten pens from desk drawers, took trips to Staples and Office Depot and placed multiple orders with online vendors. I haven’t specifically counted, but I suspect I checked out about three dozen widely available pens options.
I put several pens through their paces on a variety of fairly common paper types including cheap copy paper, nice copy paper, a Rhodia pad, a Clairefontaine notebook, Field Notes (FN Lager to be specific), cheap note cards, nice note cards and yes, the devil’s paper itself, Post-it Notes. Not only did the pen have to pass through this paper gauntlet reasonably unscathed, but the ink had to dry quickly enough to be lefty friendly in order to make the short list. (You “north paws” are so spoiled when it comes to pens that I just want to punch you all in the face. Hold on. Sorry. That was a bit much. I love being a lefty, especially on the tennis court, but it does make finding “that one pen” a bit more of a challenge.) Let’s get to the pens shall we.
Below, in no particular order, are our contestants. My primary concern in this collective review is the performance of the refill in terms of smoothness, saturation of color and dry time. Obviously, the body of the pen matters a great deal but if the refill doesn’t work for me then there isn’t much point in debating the finer points of the body (unless a suitable hack can be found).
Signo 207 gel in 0.7 and 0.50
Jetstream gel in 0.7 and 1.0
Acroball ballpoint in 0.5, 0,7 and 1.0
Pilot G2 1.0 and 0.7
Zebra Surari ballpoint 0.7
Pilot Juice in 0.7, 0.50 and 0.38
Pilot Easytouch 0.7
Pentel Energel in 0.7 and 0.5
Zebra F301 ballpoint
Zebra G301 gel
Zebra Sarasa 0.7
Moleskin gel M and F
Retro 51 with Retro 51, Schmidt M and Schmidt F rollerball refill
Parker rollerball refill
Sheaffer rollerball refill
Paper Mate Liquid Flair 0.7
Various Parker-style ballpoint refills including:
Parker Quinkflow in M and F point size
Schneider Slider 755 M
Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 M
Fisher Space Pen refill M and F
Monteverde gel refill M and F
I’m going to place each of these pens into one of three categories. (1) The winners. These pens write well, dry quickly and have good color saturation. (2) The losers. These pens are, for me at least, fatally flawed. Maybe it’s the balance. Maybe it’s the looks. Most likely, it’s the ink. In between we’ll have (3) The runner ups. These pens ultimately fall short of working for me for one reason or another but they’re great pens and will very likely make most people pretty darn happy. I’ll offer a short blurb why each pen/refill is ranked where it’s ranked. I may follow-up with a more detailed review on many of these pens down the road.
Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up. Some readers may find a favorite on my loser list. Don’t take it personally as pen preferences are incredibly subjective.
Monteverde gel M and F – scratchy and skippy – ’nuff said.
Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 M – I don’t get it. A lot of people have nice things to say about this refill but I must have a bad batch because these things suck big time. It’s like there’s a pebble in the tip. Yuck.
Parker gel – Smooth. Actually very smooth. But, they skip like a flat rock on a calm pond and the quality control from one refill to the next seems nonexistent.
Paper Mate Liquid Flair – Smear city and the design is sophomoric.
Shaeffer and Parker Rollerball refills – We’re headed back to skip city here. The Shaeffer was a bit better but still a no go.
Retro 51 and Schmidt M Rollerball refills – A bit splotchy when I write with them. Some skipping but the best of the poor performing rollers.
Moleskin M and F – Smear city and the rectangular pen shape is trying too hard to be “all that”.
Zebra G301 and F301 – The gel smears and there are better ball point options out there.
Pilot Easytouch – I like the body but the refill is about as boring as ball point refills get.
Pilot Juice 0.38 and 0.7 – The 0.38 is too scratchy and the 0.7 smears too much. Nice colors, but not pens I’ll go back to at all.
Zebra Surari – Some folks like this pen and I can sort of see why. But, it smears readily and there are similar pens that are a bit better.
Pilot G2 1.0 and 0.7 – The body length fits my hand nicely but there are way better gel inks out there as far as I’m concerned.
Jetstream 1.0 – Holy cow this pen is slippery. It’s like writing on ice with an icicle.
Signo 207 0.5 – A touch too scratchy for me and the ink smears; like the grip and the length of the pen though.
Bottom line – I’m unlikely to ever buy one of these pens again even if one or two aspects of many of these pen have some positives.
The Runner Ups:
Fisher space pen refill M and F – There’s nothing to hate about these refills but their color saturation falls short of other ball point options.
Schneider Slider 755 – Compared to the Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 M, these refills write like a dream. Still, they fall just a bit short of the winners.
Retro 51 Schmidt F refill – The best of the Retro 51 refill lot. There is some skipping on less expensive paper types, but these are decent writers.
Zebra Sarasa 0.7 – Of course the gel colors are great. The pen body size works well for me too. The ink dry times are good but not excellent.
Pentel Energel 0.5 – Maybe I’m not into the whole needle point look. Also, and more importantly, these refills will skip a touch on cheaper paper.
Pilot Juice 0.5 – The Goldilocks of the Pilot Juice pens? They do smear too much for me but the colors and smoothness make the 0.5 worth keeping around for occasional use.
Parker Quinkflow F – The Quink ink is very good. The F point is less consistent than the M.
Acroball (all types) – I want to love these pens. The grip section may be the best of any office supply store pen and the color saturation is very good. Unfortunately, they smear too much for lefties. Come on Pilot, figure out a formulation that dries a bit quicker!
Jetstream 0.7 – These pens write on everything, even Post-it Notes. They are a bit too slippery for me which keeps them at the runner up level.
Signo 0.7 – Like the Acroballs, I want to love the Signo 0.7. It’s smoother than the 0.5 and the body/grip is excellent but the ink does smear too easily.
Energel 0.7 – My affection for the Energel is well-known. The blue and black colors are a bit slippery and can be a challenge to control at times. For some reason, the purple 0.7 isn’t as slippery and writes like a dream. That said, the dry times on these pens are fan-freaking-tastic. Great colors, various body options and nearly perfect dry times all make these pens a big winner. Also, they wrote on every type of paper I threw at them which is no small feat for a gel pen.
Parker Quinkflow M – Look, I get it. Parker refills, seriously, Todd? You’re putting these most boring of boring refills on your winners list? Yes, I am. They’re not perfect but they do have better color saturation than most ball points (Acroball notwithstanding). They are smooth but not Jetstream slippery. The dry times are functional for lefties and, like most ballpoints, they write on every paper type I throw at them. The fact that these refills fit into all sorts of pens is an added bonus. I have plenty of Parker Jotters loaded with these refills, but I probably use Quink refills most frequently in Pelikan ballpoint bodies.
So, there you have it. If another common/office supply store pen is to make it into my hands on a consistent basis then it’s going to have to be on par or better than an Energel or a Quinkflow refill.