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The Humble Ballpoint Pen

My interest in pens is always there to some degree, but from time to time I get a little more obsessed than usual.

Recently, it’s with ballpoint pens. Specifically, not the disposable types, but the nicer cartridge jobbies. I’m not really sure what triggered it – for years I was really a pen snob and wouldn’t carry anything but a fountain pen. Eventually I got a little tired of dealing with the usual fountain pen foibles, and moved to roller balls. The Pilot G2 is perhaps the finest roller ball there is, technically it’s a “gel pen?, but it looks and acts like a roller ball to me. It’s cartridge fits perfectly in a Rotring 600, so there’s a stylish way to carry it. Either that or a plain black .5mm G2 was my daily companion.

I’m not sure exactly when or how it happened, but I spontaneously switched to ballpoints. I think it has to do with how smoothly they seem to write at times. Have you ever noticed the pen they hand you at the store just writes like a dream? Slippery smooth, nice even line. I finally figured out that it’s use. If you write a lot with even the cheapest ballpoint it writes better. The pen that displays this trait for me the most is the Fisher Space Pen cartridge. Take one of their bold point cartridges, and write a lot with it and it is very nice to write with – no blobs, no skipping, no dragging. None of the usual traits it displays when you first pick it up. It also writes upside down, and on almost anything.

Here’s a few others I’ve tried recently:

Montblanc – pretty good, although I have a medium in right now and that’s just a little to narrow for me.

Faber Castel – This pen usually has a Fisher refill in it, but I switched back to the F.C. refill. Very nice once you get it going.

Caran d’Ache – I feel this is one of the best pens out there. The refills are expensive, but they’re really nice writers. I’ve got a few of them, and I consider them the best alternative to the venerable Cross.

Cross – Not bad, low capacity though.

Rotring – Too narrow. I know they have a technical focus, so a mathematician will probably love it, though. Large capacity though.

The one thing I cannot test easily is the life of these refills. How long will they write? A broad will not write as long as a medium or fine point, but beyond that is life proportional to refill size? I’ve got to believe the ink is the cheapest part of the package. I think I might just build a machine to test these, but that’s a subject for another post.

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