May 24, 2024

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Think Differently

The 6 Best Pens of 2023

The good news is you don’t have to spend a lot to get a pen that’s worthy of your signature. After researching 45 pens and writing zealously with 26 of them, we have recommendations for ballpoint, rollerball, and gel pens that are affordable and satisfying to write with.

Our picks include:

  • the Uni-ball Jetstream RT, a ballpoint pen for everyday writing
  • the Uni Jetstream Slim Multi-Color, a 3-in-1 slim, multicolor ballpoint, for switching ink colors
  • the Pilot Dr. Grip Center of Gravity, an ergonomic ballpoint, for people who get hand cramps, have arthritis, or just want something with a larger barrel size
  • the Pilot Precise V5 RT, a rollerball pen, for writing with a more saturated, darker line than you get from a lower-priced ballpoint
  • the Pentel EnerGel RTX and the Uni-ball Signo RT1, two gel pen picks that offer a variety of pen-tip sizes and vivid ink-refill options

Our pick

With its fast-drying ink, this pen is our go-to for everyday writing on any kind of paper.

In most situations, the Uni-ball Jetstream RT is the best pen for the job.

It dries quickly, so it’s great for lefties and anyone who’s concerned about smudging (especially when writing on slick paper, labels, or receipts). Thanks to its “hybrid” ink, the Jetstream RT produces the darkest lines of any ballpoint pen we tested. And the ink flows out smoothly and evenly without skipping—like a gel pen, but with the quick-drying advantages of a ballpoint. It’s water-resistant, fade-resistant, and formulated to resist check washing, too.

A Wirecutter pick since 2013, the Jetstream RT comes in a variety of tip widths and colors. And our testers found that it felt and looked better than other, more-plasticky ballpoint pens.

Style: ballpoint
Tip width tested: 0.7 mm
Widths available: 0.7 mm, 1.0 mm
Colors: black, blue, red; RT BLX version: blue-black, brown-black, green-black, red-black

Also great

This pen is as slim as a typical ballpoint, and you can switch between writing with black, blue, and red ink—without having to carry multiple pens.

If you like to color-code your notes or journal entries, the Uni Jetstream Slim Multi-Color is a thin, handy alternative to having several pens cluttering your desk or bag.

This pen is the same shape and size as our top pick, the Jetstream RT. But the Jetstream Slim Multi-Color is much slimmer than most multicolor pens, which tend to have chunkier barrels. The knocks (the buttons at the top of the pen that make the pen nibs retract) operate smoothly and with a satisfying click.

The Jetstream Slim Multi-Color has a rubber grip, so it’s pleasant to hold. And this pen comes with the same refillable smooth ink found in other Jetstream pens.

The ink refills are smaller than those in a regular Jetstream pen, though, so they’re a bit less cost-effective. But if you often write in different colors, we think the convenience is worth it.

Style: ballpoint
Tip width tested: 0.5 mm
Widths available: 0.38 mm, 0.5 mm
Colors: black, blue, red, green

Also great

If you experience hand strain or fatigue while writing with slim pens, this pen’s large, soft grip and balanced weight distribution can make writing more comfortable.

Among pens designed to reduce writing stress, the Pilot Dr. Grip Center of Gravity is the best we’ve tested. Our testers—including a retired medical professional with arthritis—found the wide grip easy to hold, and this pen had the best balance of softness and firmness.

What sets this pen apart the most from other ergonomic pens is its weight distribution: It’s balanced closer to the tip, so writing is effortless and requires less pressure.

The Center of Gravity is also just a great pen in general. Its hybrid ink combines the long-lasting elements of a ballpoint pen with the dark, vibrant lines of a gel pen.

Style: ballpoint
Tip width tested: 1.0 mm
Widths available: 0.7 mm (fine), 1.0 mm (medium)
Colors: black, blue

Also great

This rollerball pen is great for fine lettering or drawing, and it costs less than similar pens. It doesn’t dry as quickly as our other picks, though, so it’s not the best choice for lefties.

If you like dark lines, prefer a bit of resistance from your paper when writing and drawing, or have handwriting that produces especially small letters, consider the Pilot Precise V5 RT.

Some experts—and most of our testers—preferred this pen’s finer point compared with other rollerballs’ points, which produce wetter, thicker lines.

Although the Precise V5 RT doesn’t dry as quickly as the Jetstream, and therefore can smudge (not ideal for lefties), it performs well on most paper. It’s also the least expensive pen we recommend, on a per-pen basis.

Style: rollerball
Tip width tested: 0.5 mm
Widths available: 0.5 mm (V5), 0.7 mm (V7)
Colors: black, blue, green, pink, purple, red, turquoise, orange, yellow, lime green, navy, burgundy, hunter green, caramel, periwinkle, teal

Also great

This pen produces dark, crisp lines, and it’s available in a wide range of colors and tip sizes to suit various writing preferences.

If you like writing with dark, vivid lines and can’t bear any smudging, the Pentel EnerGel RTX is our gel pen pick.

In our tests, the EnerGel RTX wrote smoothly—never skipping or smudging—and its needle-point tip was as precise as that of the Pilot Precise V5 RT. Available ink colors include options we haven’t seen often with other pens, including gray.

The EnerGel RTX has a slightly thicker barrel and grip than the Jetstream and the Precise V5 RT, so some people might find it more comfortable to hold. But this pen’s bright blue body and colored grip section are pretty flashy-looking. If you prefer a more-incognito pen, consider the similarly performing Uni-ball Signo RT1.

Style: rollerball with gel ink
Tip width tested: 0.5 mm
Widths available: 0.3 mm, 0.5 mm, 0.7 mm, 1.0 mm
Colors: black, blue, red, brown, orange, sky blue, green, pink, lime green, violet, magenta, gray, lilac, yellow, turquoise

Also great

This pen has an understated, single-color barrel design. It writes smoothly, with vivid inks and very thin lines.

A pen’s aesthetics can contribute to the overall writing experience. And this was confirmed in our testing: Several of our testers preferred the Uni-ball Signo RT1 to the Pentel EnerGel RTX due to the Signo RT1’s understated (albeit all-plastic) design.

In our tests, the Signo RT1’s performance was nearly identical to that of the EnerGel and the Precise V5 RT (with just a bit of smudging when we forced it). The main difference between these pens is how they look, plus their available colors and tip sizes.

Style: rollerball with gel ink
Tip width tested: 0.5 mm
Widths available: 0.28 mm, 0.38 mm, 0.5 mm
Colors: black, blue, blue black, light blue, violet, green, lime green, red, orange, baby pink