by Harry Guinness on
If you’ve any interest in writing nicely then a $1 ballpoint won’t cut it, you need to look at a fountain pen.
More and more of everyday life is going digital but it’s still not 100% there yet. If you need to fill out a form or sign a check, you need to do it physically. Similarly, jotting down notes or shopping lists is often easier with a pen than your phone. Here’s our top picks for solid pens for everyday use.
While someone will almost always have a—cheap, disgusting, barely usable—ballpoint pen for you to use, it’s much nicer to carry your own pen. These are our favorite everyday pens, whether you need them for the office, air travel, or more.
An everyday pen is, well, just that: a pen for everyday use. This isn’t a prized golden fountain pen that only comes out of the safe to sign 7-figure deals, it’s something you keep in your pocket or bag all the time. It needs to be cheap enough that, if it does go missing or someone you lend it to walks off with it, it won’t break the bank to replace but it still has to be a quality writing implement. There’s no point carrying your own stash of bad Bic ballpoints, no matter how little they cost.
Another big concern is refills. They need to be affordable and readily available. It can’t take six months for Nepalese monks to catch small butterflies, grind them into ink, and post you your refills. You don’t have to be able to get them in a 7/11, but you should be able to buy them in Staples or from Amazon.
The Uni-ball Jetstream is nearly universally regarded as the best ballpoint for day to day use. My writing is jittery chicken-scratch but even I can feel the difference between it and other ballpoints. The ink flows out smoothly and consistently, and dries so fast that even lefties won’t smudge it.
Really, the only downside to the Jetstream is just how utilitarian it is. At $8 for a pack of three (your choice of three black; three blue; or one black, one blue, and one red) it’s only marginally more expensive than the terrible ballpoints most people use. This isn’t a pen with a story; it’s one you keep a fistful of jammed into a coffee mug on your desk. Hell, you can even buy a 12 pack.
Without a doubt, the Uni-ball Jetstream is the best cheap pen going. If you’re looking to upgrade the pens you use—or you regularly lose pens—it’s the one to go for. On the other hand, if you like to carry high quality gear with a bit of a story, one of our other picks will suit you better.
Paul Fisher invented the Anti-Gravity 7 (#AG7) or Fisher Space Pen in the 1960s. It was designed to work on any surface, underwater, upside down, at any angle, at extreme temperatures, and even in zero gravity. It was a massive success. (It’s a myth the Russians saved millions by using a pencil. A broken pencil lead floating around a space capsule in zero gravity is an electrical disaster waiting to happen).
The original Fisher Space Pen was followed by something arguably even more iconic: the Bullet Pen. When open, the Bullet Pen, like the Space Pen, can write anywhere on anything, but it closes down to just 3.75” long; perfect for keeping in your pocket every day. It’s even in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection as an example of American industrial design.
With this sort of pedigree, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Bullet Pen comes with a hefty price tag. You’d be wrong though; it’s actually—an incredibly affordable—$19 and refills are about $6.
The Fisher Bullet Space Pen really ticks every possible box you could ask for an EDC pen. It’s a full sized pen that closes down small enough to fit in your pocket. It’s made of high quality materials and available in a wide array of styles and colors, but doesn’t cost a fortune. Plus, it writes pretty damn well too.
Ballpoint pens are all well and good but fountain pens are still prized by anyone who truly cares about writing and penmanship. Our pick for the best fountain pen you can carry all day, everyday is the Lamy AL-star ($34)—seriously, what’s with pen companies and hyphens?
Our biggest concern with choosing a fountain pen you could keep in your pocket every day was leakage. Otherwise great pens like the Lamy Safari were excluded because we just weren’t sure their plastic bodies would stand up to months of abuse and misuse. That’s why we went with the all aluminium AL-star.
The AL-star is a bit pricier than the Safari, but at less than $35, still completely affordable. It takes the same cheap and readily available refills and has the same wonderful feel in the hand, but is just that little bit more durable and less likely to turn your pocket blue. If the pen you carry absolutely has to be a fountain pen, you can’t go wrong with the AL-star.
Do you have a different favorite pen for everyday use? Let us know in the comments.
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