Ballpoint vs. Gel vs. Rollerball vs. Fountain Pens

Ballpoint vs. Gel vs. Rollerball vs. Fountain Pens
Aug 23

The Great Debate

 Fountain Pen vs. Gel vs. Rollerball vs. Ballpoint

At Notedian, we are of course partial to fountain pens – their tradition, their elegance, and their versatility. It is our goal, however, to provide you with an objective review of all writing implements. If you’re still trying to decide which type of product is best suited to serve as your go-to reliable writing tool, consider the pros and cons of all three options. Then, decide for yourself which is right for you.


Not surprisingly if you are a fan of our blog, you already know that when it comes to pens of any kinds, it’s all about the ink. Pens are typically categorized by the type of ink they use to allow you to get your write-on. More specifically, some pens utilize thicker ink, which dries more quickly, lasts longer, and provides a more distinctive style. Other pens utilize thinner inks, which dries slower, but creates sharper, more precise lines. Deciding which pen style to commit to, you must first consider your ink style preference.


Ballpoint Pens: The Office Supply Closet Staple

You are likely most familiar with the inexpensive, easily accessible ballpoint pen. A favorite of classrooms, convenience stores, and hotel rooms, these pens use a thick, oil-based ink with paste-like properties. The pen functions with a small, metal ball inserted at the tip of the pen that rolls across the page, and in the process picks up ink located inside the pen shaft, rolling it onto the paper as you continue to scribe. The ink utilizes an alcohol solvent, which helps the ink to adhere to the paper and allows it to dry quickly.


As an extra bonus, ballpoint pens typically last the longest, a bonus for those looking for a no-fuss option. Many ballpoint pens are available in inexpensive plastic, but typically limited color options – such as red, blue, and black. Ballpoint pens offer a no-fuss, easily disposable product, but what you gain in convenience you sacrifice in style and flair. Most likely no one will ever compliment the lines of your sketches, or quality of your penmanship when you use choose a ballpoint pen. Keep this in mind if you value quality over convenience.


Rollerball Pens – A Step-up in Style

Rollerball pens certainty do not offer the same level of quality as fountain pens, but by nature of their design, the offer a slightly more sophisticated, more prominent style than the low-end ballpoint pen. Rollerball pens use thinner, water-based ink dispensed in liquid form. With similar functionality as a ballpoint pen, the key difference is the ink. Rollerball pen ink uses more water, making it slower to dry, and giving your lines a wetter, bolder appearance. If you choose a rollerball, know that the wetter ink is more likely to smudge (a particular concern for lefties). The wetter ink also usually runs out more quickly than a ballpoint pen, however rollerballs are equally as convenient to dispose of and replace.


Many also feel that rollerball pens are more comfortable to write with, as the ink on a rollerball pen flows more easily, requiring less pressure and easing hand stress. If you like to write on both sides of the page, watch for bleed through with rollerballs. It is also important to always cap your rollerball pen to prevent leakage in your shirt pocket, purse, or school bag. Further, note that the greatest benefit of rollerball pens is their ability to produce a smooth, comfortable writing experience.


Gel Pens: The Schoolgirl Favorite

Gel pens use the same ink as both ballpoints and rollerballs. The biggest difference is that the ink is composed of a water-based gel that is thinner than ballpoint ink, but not as think as rollerball ink. The benefit to gel pens is that they offer a very smooth writing experience and are typically available in a wider variety of colors, appealing to students and creatives. As a con to gel pens, they tend to dry out more frequently, so be prepared to have replacements on hand. Gel pens produce the thickest and boldest lines of the three previously discussed, and are the best choice for those looking for the most convenient, and expressive option at the lowest price.


Fountain Pens: The Prestige

It is hard to even place fountain pens in the same category as rollerballs, gel pens, and ball point pens, because their structure and form is so unique. Fountain pens use a nib and are built with either a reservoir or a converter to hold ink which must be manually replaced. As a lower-maintenance alternative, you can also choose a fountain pen that utilizes disposable cartridges. Fountain pens offer the greatest flexibility in every way. Choose from a seemingly limitless supply of vibrant, high quality ink colors, and a selection of nibs that give you the ability to define your line style to the minutest detail. From thin, precise lines, to bold lines that offer an almost italic style of thin and thick lines, fountain pens are ideal for calligraphers, artists, sketchers, as well as writers looking to make each piece of personal correspondence stand out among the rest.


As an added bonus for the ecologically-conscious, fountain pens are more environmentally friendly, especially compared to plastic gel, rollerball, and ball point pens. A high quality fountain pen should last for years with proper cleaning and maintenance, requiring only ink refills. Be advised if you choose a fountain pen, however, to keep it capped and safely stored with the tip pointing up during air travel (see our blog post about traveling with your fountain pen here).


By now, you should have an idea of which type of pen offers the perfect combination of form versus functionality for you, but don’t just take our word for it. Perform your own experiment so that you can write with confidence.

Older Post Newer Post


  • Before reading this article I was misguided in the difference of the pen types as all I was used to was a pencil but after having my eyes opened to the varitey of ways I can write my notes I an looiking forward to the arrival of the G-2 gel pens I ordered and eventually getting a fountain pen (that will most likely be in the distant future but I can still dream right?)

    Ben on
  • Well, most of the student in my school that I know prefers gel ink vs the others

    Christian Seiji on

Leave a comment