There are two types of people in the world – those who think a pen is just a pen and those who know that a pen is an instrument of such power that they are fanatically particular about what they write with. The enjoyment of writing with a pen you find brilliant is one of life’s simple pleasures, particularly in a world dominated by digital life.
There is of course a certain amount of subjectivity when it comes to what makes a great pen – some people love those that create thin lines, others like the impact of a chunky felt tip or the elegance of a fountain pen.
We know that pens can be used for other things besides writing, including illustration, architecture and technical drawing. but here we are focusing on pens for handwriting.
In this round-up we’ve asked the same things of each pen: does it write smoothly, gliding across the page and releasing ink evenly? How does it feel to hold? Does the ink dry quickly? Does it bleed into the other side of the paper? What does it look like? Is it expensive? How long does it last?
How we tested
We used the same paper (85gsm) and wrote up to an A5 sheet’s worth with each pen. This, we felt, gave us ample opportunity to get to grips, literally, with what each pen offered. The tester was right-handed.
The best pens for 2021 are:
Best overall – Pilot hi-tecpoint: £8.70, Amazon.co.uk
Best fountain pen – Lamy safari fountain pen: £14.99, Ryman.co.uk
Best value – Manuscript handwriting pen: £3, Hobbycraft.co.uk
Best design – Classic cap roller pen: £13.99, Moleskine.com
Best fountain pen for beginners – Pilot v-pen: £4.75, Paperchase.com
Best looking pen – Poketo prism rollerball: £5.00, Leavesstationerystore.co.uk
Best felt tip – Papermate pastel flair felt tips: £7.00, Hobbycraft.co.uk
Best for projectors – Stabilo OHP fineliner: £2.39, Ryman.co.uk
Best for students – Bic 4 colours shine ballpoint pen: £3, Hobbycraft.co.uk
With the consistent flow of a fountain pen, but the cheapness of a biro – the Hi-Tecpoint is an absolute design classic, allowing users to write evenly and neatly with no smudge to speak of. At 0.5mm the tip results in fine lines, brilliant for small, neat handwriting: ideal for thank you notes or invitations.
Available in a handful of colours including green and red, we found this so easy to write with it became almost meditative – a smooth, relaxing process with beautiful, even results, even for those of us not blessed with a perfect hand.
Buy now £8.70, Amazon.co.uk
Lamy safari fountain pen
Best: Fountain pen
With a polished steel nib and beautiful red casing, this is a gorgeous fountain pen that won’t break the bank.
Offering a smooth flow of ink (cartridges must be changed) and an ergonomic grip for fingers this is a pleasure to use. You just need the softest of pressure and the nib and ink takes care of themselves – gliding across the page effortlessly.
If looked after carefully, there’s no reason this pen couldn’t last years, making it a sustainable investment piece.
Buy now £14.99, Ryman.co.uk
Manuscript handwriting pen
With a triangular circumference for your fingers to grip as you write, these pens are really comfortable to hold. There’s also something lovely and tactile about the matt exterior of the pen, too. The 0.5mm tip is fine without being scratchy and the ink distribution is smooth and regular – you don’t need to push down hard. This all contributes to neat writing for any occasion.
Classic cap roller pen
First off – we love the look of this pen: a handsome square design created so with a clip that can easily attach onto the hard surface of any notebook – either from the top or the side. Who knew it was possible to be so wowed by a pen clip?
Available in a kaleidoscope of colours and with a retractable 0.5mm roller tip, this produces fine, neat lines in a matt finish. We love that this is refillable and although we had reservations about writing with a square pen, it was actually really comfortable and easy to manoeuvre.
Buy now £13.99, Moleskine.com
Best: Fountain pen for beginners
This is a single-use fountain pen – ideal for beginners to get their practice in or people who don’t want to think about cartridges. It’s just so lush to write with. The ink flows so smoothly – and yet takes almost no time to dry, it’s also absorbed easily without a heavy bleed.
Buy now £4.75, Paperchase.com
Poketo prism rollerball
Best: Looking pen
Available in five different colours, these pens are so beautiful to look at – they will absolutely be a talking point at meetings and an aesthetic boon for your desk.
We loved how slim and lightweight they felt in our hands – the fine rollerball tip produces really delicate, neat handwriting in a slightly shimmery, chrome finish which will certainly jazz up any journals, letters or cards.
Buy now £5.00, Leavesstationerystore.co.uk
Papermate pastel flair felt tips
Best: Felt tip
Purists will probably be furious about the inclusion of felt tips in a story focused on handwriting, but there is definitely a case for this type of pen being a joy to write with. Especially these, which have thinner tips than most – these are 0.7mm which create bold but not chunky lines. Best of all, unlike most felt tips, these don’t bleed into the other side of the paper.
We loved the easy flow of these pens – six pastel colours for those who really like to express themselves – not least because they made a satisfying squeaky sound as we wrote.
Stabilo OHP fineliner
Best: For projectors
We didn’t realise that this fineliner is actually designed for use on glass, film and metal to work with projectors, but are happy to report that it works beautifully on paper too. Smooth, even, dense without bleeding either to the other side or outwards onto the page – we wrote neatly and easily with this. And there was no smudging to speak of, either.
Buy now £2.39, Ryman.co.uk
Bic 4 colours shine ballpoint pen
Best: For students
This pen has been a pen lover’s staple since 1970 – and Bic still find ways of updating it while staying true to the elements that make it a design favourite. This still boasts four colours in one pen, each retractable, but the main body of the pen has a shimmering shiny sheen that rings the changes.
We think this is the perfect pen for note-taking, particularly for students who might need to colour code points or themes. In terms of writing, the nibs are each 1mm and write evenly with no smudging, but they are essentially simply biros so those hunting for the satisfaction of a deliciously smooth flow might be disappointed.
The verdict: Pens
We don’t think you can beat the Pilot hi-tecpoint when it comes to precision, ink flow, price, neatness and just general satisfaction when it comes to both the act of writing and the end result. But we have to say the Poketo prisms are a gorgeous revelation and the Lamy fountain pen is something lovely to keep forever.
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