12 Pen Reviews Nobody Asked For

It is one thing to have a personal brand. It’s another thing to have a strong brand. Recently, the strength of my brand was demonstrated when a few people reached out to me because they thought of me when they saw this tweet: 

I don’t have a lot of stuff, but I do have an absurd surplus of pens. I rarely leave the house with only one pen on me, and I officially have too many pens in my home to keep them all on one desktop. Once, in middle school, a would-be bully who was dumping out my backpack made a horrified face at the amount of pens I had on my person. Until that moment, it hadn’t struck me that this might be weird.

The only thing that I have more of is opinions on pens. Without thinking, and without wondering if I should stop, I sent a detailed judgment on these pens to my friends. Read on to find my refined reviews of the pens in Chris Grosse’s tweet, plus a few more everyday pens that deserve commendation.

uni-ball Vision Rollerball 

My original review of this pen was pretty uncharitable - I called it a “dirty, lying cheat who will be flowing fine (if not too well) one moment, and then dry as a bone the next.” One grace I’ll give this pen is that Jason Polan used to draw with them, and the texture on the barrel and feed are a little more luxe than your average rollerball pen. It’s about as close as you can get to the feel of a fountain pen with an entry-level rollerball. Still, the blotchy ink bleeds through some really thick papers, and the amount of clothing I’ve stained with these pens over the years has led me to remain harsh in my judgment. 

Rating: 2/10

Pilot Precise V5/V7

I’ve used these pens for a long time. I especially love the green ink, and the dusty grey-blue barrel on the blue version. Not only are they great for a pleasant note-taking experience, but they’re also excellent for drawing. The Precise’s unique needle-point tip perfects the fountain-ish experience that the Vision tries to achieve. Sadly, I can’t sign on to having this pen as my ride-or-die because the tip gets clogged easily, and if they’re left in disuse for long enough, they’ll clog and dry up permanently. This is all the more unfortunate when you can see the amount of ink in the convenient window on the barrel, even when it has nowhere to go. Truly heartbreaking.

Rating: 9/10

Sharpie S-Gel

When I first saw this tweet, I confused this with the Sharpie Pen, which I’ve never willfully purchased, but is a handy leftover pen I’ve found at the post office time and time again (5/10 for the Sharpie Pen which is really just a teensy Sharpie and not a pen). Upon further investigation, I’ve found that the S-Gel is a standard gel pen. My friend David told me that the S-Gel changed his life, so I went out and bought a pack of white ones. I found it remarkably like the Pilot G2 with quicker-drying ink, and without the cons I’ll outline about the G2 below. The grip on the white barrel is comfy, and the click on the retracting element is slick. I can’t find very much to gripe about with this pen.

Rating: 8/10

uni-ball Vision Elite Rollerball

This is so similar to the uni-ball Vision, I’m surprised it was included in Chris’s tweet. This is an upgraded version of the Vision, with a more satisfying scratch and a slightly sleeker, darker body. Very similar engineering, though, at the end of the day, and subject to the same pitfalls as the normal Vision (drying and/or bleeding out unexpectedly). 

Rating: 3/10

Pilot G2

I’ll admit, I’m torn about this one. Several people told me this was their favorite pen. Pilot’s own website boasts that the G2 is the #1 selling pen in America. I’ve used G2s often over the years. The bodies can take a real beating, the clips are some of the strongest non-metal clips in the business, and the flow of the gel tip definitely makes one’s handwriting nicer. The ink is water-resistant, and it’s a great pen for taking speedy, smudge-proof notes. 

That said, the cons are not to be ignored. On the surface, the ink is a little sticky, and the design is a little too old-fashioned for me. This is, however, because the pen is almost as old as I am. The fact of the G2 being a hardy pen means that they’re most often found in various unseemly places (car seat crevices, classroom corners, communal locker rooms). Because they last a long time, there is a nonzero chance that this hardy pen will be at least slightly sticky on the surface when you unearth a fossilized one. Is it a pen that’s useful to have in a pinch? Absolutely. Is it the first one I reach for? Absolutely not.

Rating: 5/10

Paper Mate Flair Felt Tip

I feel the urge to reject the Flair’s inclusion in this tweet, because there are no other felt tip pens in the listing. To me, this is like asking someone to pick between six apples and an orange. The Flair feels more effective as a marker than a pen, and when you get a good (brand new) one, they’re a lot of fun. Sadly, if you’re finding one out in the wild, there’s a 75% chance it’s bone dry. 

Rating: 4/10 general usefulness, 9/10 for fun marker drawing right out of the box. 

Bic Cristal

Pack it up, other pens. Since their first release in 1950, over 100 billion Bic Cristal pens have been sold worldwide. This workhorse is so ubiquitous, it’s in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. The Cristal is the ur- ballpoint pen, and for this, I have no choice but to pay my many respects.

In addition to its staid range of ink colors and widths, the Cristal is also the Nokia cell phone of pens. If the G2 can take a beating, the Cristal can take on a proverbial Persian army. The only time I’ve seen this pen’s effectiveness come into question is when it’s been run over by a car. Simply put, this pen endures.

When it comes to ink, the above “six apples and an orange” comparison of the pens in Chris’s tweet would actually be five apples, an orange, and a kumquat. All of the above pens have either water-based or gel-based inks, whereas the Cristal (and many other ballpoint pens) have oil-based inks. Where lighter, watery inks are great for quick writing, there’s a resistance on the page with true oil-based ballpoint pens that you don’t get with thinner inks. It’s divisive, but I find it very satisfying. Oil-based pens are also the only pens that work on carbon-copy forms, which are almost as boring as a too-lengthy review of everyday pens. Nevertheless, the Cristal continues to demonstrate its excellence. 

Rating: 11/10 - one additional point because the cap is fun to chew.

The Unsung Heroes
Below are some everyday pens that merit being mentioned in the same breath with the pens from Chris’s tweet. 

uni-ball Signo Gel 207

If you like the G2, there’s a chance you’ll like these. I love the grip and the clip on these, and the barrels come in a range of great colors. I don’t rely on them because, while the tips start out fine enough, they will get dull after enough use, not unlike a Sharpie marker.

uni-ball Onyx

If you’re a fine-point rollerball lover like me, look no further. Before uni-ball released the Jetstream Edge .28mm, I’d have said these were the thinnest ballpoints on the market. They last forever. I have about fifteen of these that were complementary pens from an old job. For a thicker option, try out the Pentel Rolling Writer.

Bic Atlantis/Glide

The newly minted Bic Glide is to the Cristal as the uni-ball Vision Elite is to the Vision: darker, sleeker, some might say sexier. As an added bonus (or not, depending on your preference), the Glide is retractable. 

Bic Round Stic / Clic Stic

The Stic brings the accessibility of the Cristal into the next generation, forgoing the beveled crystal edges for a utilitarian matte barrel. You know exactly what you’re getting when you pull the cap off of a Round Stic, or click a Clic Stic to sign a restaurant check. It won’t dazzle you, but it’ll be there for you, without the grunge or the grime of a G2.

Pentel R.S.V.P.

The longer barrel, the ergonomic grip, and the delicate fine point all contribute to making this elegant but oft-forgotten pen a total joy to write with. 

Paper Mate Write Bros

I want to include an elegy to my favorite everyday pen. The Write Bros I’m talking about are not widely sold anymore, but were ubiquitous when I was young. This pen has the thinnest barrel on the list, which is an added bonus for people like me with small hands.

On the original Write Bros, the Paper Mate logo is etched into the body of the pen, which is only shared by the Bic pens mentioned above. Where the Cristal is a wide-legged trouser, my preferred Write Bros is a tapered jogger - its tip graduates, svelte, the same way a 747’s nose tapers to a point, and its other end curves off like a regal chess piece. The only con I’ll note about this pen is that the clip is far more fashion than function, but very few people purchased a Bang and Olufsen phone for the way it feels in their hand. Perhaps TMI: the end of the cap is also an excellent toothpick. 

The body on the black variation is a glossy obsidian that calls to mind classic cars, rolling dice, and Mia Wallace’s shiny bob. The red version is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about my high school essays being graded. The body of the blue version is the same dusty blue as denim on a quintessential American road trip, the same blue as the color of a stormy sea. 

With the exemplary comes the heartbreaking. The Write Bros you’ll find in stores nowadays was first released in 2020. In the interest of space, time, and letting the stark difference in design speak for itself, I will simply describe its redesign by quoting The Godfather

I was told that liking this pen is the same as when Lutz, on 30 Rock, chooses to eat Subway over all of the other food available in New York City. I’ll stand by my devotion. If I had to use only one pen for the rest of my life, it would likely be this one, but because they aren’t manufactured anymore, the Paper Mate Write Bros is not meant to be mine eternally.

If this wasn’t enough to convince you, let me speak plainly: I won’t sign on to just one pen for the rest of my life. As much as I love them, pens aren’t people, and there are far too many options for me to settle on just one forever. If you’re a one-pen-forever person, I wish you and your uncluttered desktop a long and prosperous life.I’m happy to settle into my ever-growing pen den in the same way that Scrooge McDuck dives into his swimming pool of gold coins. 

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