What Everybody Ought to Know About Pens

There are thousands of different pens available to buy, made by numerous pen manufacturers and this can be very confusing. When buying a new pen how do you decide which one when they all look very similar?

Do you know what type of pen that you are currently using? Is it a gel pen, ballpoint pen, biro, liquid ink pen or something else?


Pens are categorised by the type of tip that they have and this usually determines what type of ink it contains (by the way you cant get ink poisoning from a pen).  There are always exceptions but as a general rule pens fall into one of the following five categories:

Fountain Pens

Parker IM FP Black GT

Fountain pens have a nib with a thin slit which allows the ink to be applied to the paper. They use a water based liquid ink that is stored in a reservoir within the pen. They are usually refilled by either a mechanism within the pen that is used to draw ink up through the nib, or by replacing an ink cartridge. A good fountain pen should write smoothly using only its own weight to apply the pressure.

Ballpoint Pens

Zebra Z Grip Flight BP Blue

Ballpoint pens have a ball bearing which rotates applying ink to the paper as you write. They use an oil based ink that dries almost immediately after contact with paper. A ballpoint pen requires pushing to start the ink flow. They are generally reasonably priced, reliable and the ink lasts a long time. The diameter of the ball bearing determines the line width produced.

Rollerball Pens

Lamy Studio RB Imperial Blue

Rollerball pens use a ball point writing mechanism and were initially designed to combine the convenience of a ballpoint pen with the smooth “wet ink” effect of a fountain pen. They use either water-based liquid or gel ink, as opposed to the oil-based viscous inks found in a ballpoint pen. Rollerball pens tend to saturate deeply and widely into paper, giving their distinctive writing qualities.

Marker Pens

Pentel N50 A

Marker pens have a porous tip that is usually made from either felt or synthetic fibre. The shape of the tip can either be a bullet tip usually found on smaller markers or a chisel tip for the larger markers. Non permanent markers use water based ink but permanent markers and highlighters use a variety of different special ink types.

Brush Pens

Sakura Pigma Brush Pen Black

As the name implies Brush pens have a hard wearing synthetic brush to apply the ink to the paper. The ink is usually from cartridges of fade-resistant and waterproof pigment ink. Artist favour brush pens as a variety of lines from fine detail to broad sweeping strokes can be produced. They are ideal for oriental artwork, cartoons & calligraphy.

Hopefully reading this will have helped to clarify the different types of pens and inks available. I appreciate that some of our readers already have an in depth knowledge on this subject.

This was written more as a general guide, if you can think of anything that I have missed as always we really appreciate your comments.

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Tony Bridges

As a seasoned journalist and freelance writer, I've spent over three decades telling stories and exploring the world through the written word. With a passion for writing instruments, I found my niche at The Pen Vibe, a blog that shares our collective fascination with pens, pencils, and other tools that have shaped the art of writing.

2 thoughts on “What Everybody Ought to Know About Pens”

  1. Nice Overview of available pens. There are a few missing. For example, goose quill pens, steel pointed dip pens, and even glass dip pens. Pens probably started out as a sharpened stick used with homemade ink. Through the ages people adapt and improve what is available until we get down to what is available to today.


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