Succotash at the Studio

What The Ink? The Difference Between a Rollerball, Ballpoint, and Fountain Pen

We are often asked: "what is the difference between a ballpoint pen, a roller ball and a fountain pen?"

"Which type is the best?"

Well, it depends on the situation and the way you intend to use your pen.


what the ink

First ask yourself: what are you writing? In what environment are you writing? Will you be at a desk? Traveling? Journaling? Making a grocery list or writing a letter? These are some questions and answers to keep in mind.

Bottom Line: it all comes down to ink. Ink. Ink!

The ink is what gives you a certain experience when you are writing and can make a pleasant or not so pleasant experience. It could be a reason you don’t write more or like your handwriting. Of course it could also be the paper you are writing on, however that is for another blog post...

Back on track, the different writing instruments and how they differ…

Ballpoint Pens

Delfonics Pen

Ballpoint pens are pretty common and typically the least expensive type of pen. The thick, oil-based ink, sort of like a paste or a goop, dries quickly on paper. However, the pens themselves don't easily dry out, even without a cap, which is why you see them in doctor's offices and other high-traffic environments.

Ballpoint pens use a “ball” at the end of the ink cartridge that lets ink flow through when you begin to write. When part of the ball doesn’t have ink or enough ink on it, it can skip and feel scratchy. If you have rougher paper, this can exacerbate the situation.

A good entry level ballpoint pen that is stylish, with a wooden finish and an excellent needle point tip comes from Delfonics. They're very popular, inexpensive, and portable, with a clip and click action.

We can't keep them in stock!

Rollerball Pens

Rollerball pens use more liquid ink (or gel ink), thus your writing often feels smoother vs. a ballpoint. Less pressure is needed to make a mark and it feels more fluid.

The mark is often darker than a ballpoint and it uses more ink, almost three times as much. It can smudge easily (dries more slowly), so be careful.

Rollerballs also need to be capped, or if retractable, need to be retracted since they will dry out quickly.

The smoothness of writing with one can make your writing come alive because you are in fact gliding across the paper. These are good if you write fast. If you are using poor paper you can get bleed through to the back side of the paper. Using smoother paper eliminates this.

Rollerball pens come in all price points. Some rollerballs have changeable cartridges so you can put better ink in them. An example is the J.Herbin clear rollerball pen.

Fountain Pens

Lamy Kaweco Faber Castell fountain pen

Fountain pens are the top-quality writing instrument for many reasons. They too come in a very wide range of price points and styles.

The construction of fountain pens means they accommodate interchangeable nib of different sizes (thick to extra fine), however the main reason for using one is the ink.

Fountain pens allow you to change ink through cartridges or bottled ink using a convertor. With a convertor you can use any ink you like and get really fancy.

Some pen cartridges are proprietary to that maker, like Lamy, however, the majority are universal. You must wait for fountain pen ink to dry like a roller ball, which is usually a bit longer than your average ballpoint.

Most ink isn't not waterproof either, so you must be careful when addressing envelopes going in the mail. The liquid ink for fountain pens is truly amazing, there are a vast range of colors, limited editions, scented inks, sparkly ink, and so on.

You must be diligent and only use ink that is made for fountain pens or you can ruin the mechanisms of our fountain pen, the metal nib being the most important.

For more about fountain pens start here.

ballpoint rollerball fountain pen

Remember the paper. Even a mediocre pen can feel great on smooth paper. So imagine a great pen on great paper, now we’re talkin’….

1 comment

Jun 18, 2018

I wanted to read more on fountain pens, but the link said the site already expired. The email was from yesterday. How could it have expired so quickly?

Carla Warner

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