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Making the Choice: Ballpoint vs. Rollerball

1 Oct

Are you in the market for the perfect everyday pen, a trusty workhorse always at the ready? Ballpoint and rollerballs pens are the usual go-to pen, but the perfect ballpoint or rollerball pen for you depends on several factors.

How do you use pens? Do you write big, flowing script, or do you pack a slew of tiny perfect words onto teeny slips of paper? Do you press hard when you write? Does writing make your hand, wrists or elbows hurt after only a few minutes? All these questions will make a difference in determining the best pen for you.

Shop all Ballpoint and Rollerball Pens on The Ink

The primary difference isn’t the pen – it’s the ink. Ballpoint ink is oil-based and takes longer to dry than a rollerball’s water-based ink, but the ballpoint ink tends to smear less during the drying process. If you are a person that tends to run a finger or hand over recently written lines as you add more, ballpoints may be the best choice for you.

* “Gel” pens are often (errantly) lumped in with rollerball pens, but these use yet another type of ink with its own traits – both benefits (like not requiring a cap) and failings (like not writing as smoothly, with as little effort) of a ballpoint as compared to a true rollerball.

Paper Choices

Ballpoint ink tends to float “on top” of the paper, whereas rollerball ink tends to “soak into” the paper.

If you use thin, delicate paper you may prefer using ballpoint pens, since rollerball ink will often bleed through. This is especially true in journals or other instances where you write on both sides of the paper.

Moleskine Classic Rollerball Pen on

Moleskine Classic Rollerball Pen on

Coated or treated paper also won’t be as receptive to rollerball ink as it is to the oil-based ballpoint, since the rollerball ink won’t be able to saturate the paper. Writing with a rollerball on standard paper may not be as sharp either, since the body of each letter, each stroke, may spread a little wider as the ink wicks into the paper. If you are a tiny text writer, this may pose a problem. People who write tiny are better served by a ballpoint pen (or a mechanical pencil, for that matter).

Rollerball ink often delivers a more expressive script because the water-based ink is thinner and the ball that delivers the ink to the paper rolls smoother. Rollerball ink is less “sticky” than ballpoint ink, so it flows onto the paper with less effort from the writer, making the act of writing less stressful on the hand.

The Physical Act of Writing

If you have a tendency to push down hard when you write, a rollerball may help you reverse that trend because additional pressure is not needed to get a dark, crisp line. If you have arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, hands that are weak and/or tire easily, a rollerball may be your best choice.

In these instances, selecting a pen with a hefty weight and a thicker barrel will reduce the stress required to write. Properly weighted pens require less downward pressure and a balanced, thicker barrel reduces the cramping caused by holding a too-slender or poorly balanced instrument.

Keeping Up With Caps

Ballpoint pens are often easier to use as an “everything” pen because they usually have retractable tips (by a click or twist mechanism) to always be at the ready.

Rollerball pens require a cap to prevent the water-based ink from drying out. This means removing and keeping up with the cap every time the pen is used. Aside from protecting the ink from evaporating, a cap also protects clothing and other objects from potential ink leaks.

Fisher Original Astronaut Ballpoint Space Pen on

Fisher Original Astronaut Ballpoint Space Pen on

The Importance of Aesthetics

The perfect pen will be eye-candy, too. You should love the way it looks and embrace the beauty in the tools you use. Life is short. Why write with just any pen when you can use one that adds joy, style, and luxury to your daily routine?

Don’t worry about losing your investment. We don’t pay attention to disposable things because we don’t have to. We do pay attention to pens we love. It’s personal. And, when you own one, you clear the clutter of the disposables. Your perfect pen will be so compelling you’ll cringe when you consider using a disposable product. Yes, that is proof you have found your perfect pen.

Don’t settle. Take your time. Enjoy the treasure-hunt and bring home a gem! You will be glad you did.


Meet the Writer: Angela Allen has been creating online content for small business clients since 1999, when she had to use a painfully slow dial-up connection. Now, she specializes in real estate topics and organic content marketing for entrepreneurs on a gloriously high speed connection. When she’s not writing for clients, she enjoys the discipline of living small in her high-tech cabin deep in the woods of Kentucky, blogging on WickedBlog, and enjoying the pure tactile titillation of going “old-school” and writing with a fountain pen on luxury paper.


4 Responses to “Making the Choice: Ballpoint vs. Rollerball”

  1. Steve Duncan December 6, 2012 at 5:37 AM #

    Another thing to consider is life. A gel pen lasts me maybe a month, a good ballpoint refill goes for a year. The density of liquid ink comes at a price.

    • europeanpaper December 14, 2012 at 3:00 PM #

      Great point Steve! Thanks for the comment.

    • Chino November 28, 2014 at 7:26 AM #


      Although not as practical as rollerball or ballpoint pens, have you tried fountain pens? If you don’t need to use your pen on the go, and mostly use it in an office or other similar settings. Fountain pens are a very good choice, they don’t need to be expensive either. A bottle of fountain pen ink also lasts a long time :)

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    [...] to Making the Choice: Ballpoint vs. Rollerball Good write-up on the differences between a Ballpoint and a Rollerball pen, and why you might choose … Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponRedditDiggLinkedInEmailPrintTumblrPinterestLike this:LikeBe [...]

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