Hybrid Ballpoint Showdown

Hybrid ballpoints

Over the past few years I’ve warmed to the idea that not all ballpoint pens are created the same. This is especially true with the hybrid ink ballpoints like the Pilot Acroball, Pentel Vicuna, Zebra Surari and Uniball Jetstream. I decided it was high time to put these four head-to-head. I wanted to know if they were all essentially the same or if there were any  distinct differences worth noting.

These pens are referred to as hybrid inks, emulsion inks, hybrid gel, hybrid ballpoint inks, to name a few. The bottom line is that they use a modified ballpoint ink crossed with the newer gel inks to create a smoother, quick-drying ink made to be easier flowing while maintaining the waterproof characteristics.

Hybrid ballpoints

I wanted an apples-to-apples comparison so I used single-color, retractable, 0.5mm black versions of the Surari, Vicuna and Acroball. I had a multi-pen Jetstream already and tested with that. The Jetstream is also an 0.5mm black but also includes an 0.5mm red and a 0.5mm lead pencil as well. All four brands  offer silicone grips and a whole array of configurations from point size, colors and pen barrel aesthetics. A single color pen can be had for $2.50 and up for a Jetstream, Vicuna and Acroball. The Surari is the budget pen at $1.65. My interest was specifically in the performance of the inks.

Ballpoint Showdown 1

On my standard Quo Vadis bright white notebook, all four pens performed quite similarly. At close examination I could see a little roughness in the swirl tests from the Jetstream and Surari and an occasional skip in the Acroball. The Vicuna was the smoothest on this silky paper. In terms of the richness of the black, the Acroball had the darkest color followed by the Jetstream and Vicuna. The Surari was the lightest black.

Ballpoint Showdown 2

In fairness, I also wanted to test these pens on more “everyday paper” so I used my new Poppin notebook which has better-than-average paper but not as fancy as the Quo Vadis. On the Poppin paper, all  but the Surari looked equally dark black. Vicuna was ever-so-slightly rougher on the paper but only minutely.

For me, the occasion I use ballpoints most frequently are either signing credit card receipts or writing postcards so I really wanted to try these pens on the toughest of all papers, coated stocks! I forgot to photograph my postcards before writing this so you’ll have to trust me on this. The Jetstream and Vicuna performed very well. They dired quickly. The Surari was good as well. The Acroball, for reasons I can’t understand, took FOREVER to dry which resulted in smudged writing and having to wait to post the mail until I felt sure it was dry. So… with that said I would rank the Vicuna as my most recommended for writing, smoothness and darkness. It wasn’t the darkest ink but it is super-smooth and worked on the most surfaces. Second place is the Jetstream. Its widely known to be awesome and it is but I did get a little fuzzing on nice paper.  I’d put the Acroball and Surari tied for third place. The budget price on the Surari gives it a little boost while the Acroball is a rich black color but terrible for glossy paper like greeting cards, postcards and magazines.

Finally, if you want to do your own side-by-side testing of the hybrid pens, I am giving away a $25 gift certificate to JetPens to help you on your way. Just leave a comment and tell me which of the four brands is or might be your favorite hybrid pen.

FINE PRINT: All entries must be submitted by 10pm CST on Friday August 23, 2013. All entries must be submitted at wellappointeddesk.com, not Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook, okay? Winner will be announced on Saturday. Winner will be selected by random number generator from entries that played by the rules (see above). Please include your email address in the comment form so that I can contact you if you win. I will not save email addresses or sell them to anyone — pinky swear. Gift Certificate will be sent via email. One entry per person.

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70 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I love the unistream pens, especially with the BLX inks. Love the site and the giveaways. marlermedia at gmail dot com

  2. I have the Jetstream and the Acroball, and I prefer the Jetstream. I haven’t tried the Surari or the Vicuna.

  3. For me, the Jetstream is still my favorite. I like the .5 in fancy colors! Haven’t tried the Vicuna though… So that might be on the short list!

  4. Vicuna. That way I could say I owned a Vicuna. All humor aside, the Vicuna seems to perform well on the types of paper I would use it on normally (smooth, somewhat glossy).

  5. Of the four, I have only tried the Acroball in blue. It isn’t my favorite pen, but it is by far my favorite ballpoint. It takes a long time to dry on Field Notes Expedition paper, but I guess that’s expected with what amounts to plastic paper.

  6. I’d love to try the Vicuna. I like the look of it. Seems like a smooth writer which is a must for me. Can’t stand scratchy pens of any kind.

  7. Wow – giveaway aside, you presented a really nice evaluation. It covered all the nit picky details in a straightforward manner. Since I have never seen or used any of the four, I just have to say “Thank You” for the info. I guess I’ve been under a rock or something 🙁

  8. Hmm, looks like the vicuna may be one to try, even though I’ve always heard goods things about the Jetstream.

  9. I’d probably go with the Jetstream, since I’ve had some disappointments with both the Vicuna and the Surari. I haven’t yet tried the Acroball though…

  10. Thank you for the opportunity. I’ve never tried your recommended pen, but if I win, be assured I will.

  11. I have a lot of Jetstreams in lots of sizes and colors, and a number of 0.7mm Acroballs that I was able to find at a bookstore. I really like the Jetstreams (hence the over-abundance), but would love to try the other ones to compare!

  12. That would be a toss up between the Jetstream and the Acroball…Either way, it’d be as teeny tiny of a tip as possible. .28, .38.

  13. That was a very thorough review. The Uni-ball is the pen I regularly use in handwritten medical records (along with my trusty old Parker Jotter. I hadn’t thought about the Uni-ball using a hybrid ink. (The only complaint I have with most of the gel and hybrid pens is they tend not to be refillable or the refills cost more than a new pen!) I’d like to see a review of the same pens with blue ink.- my check writing color. Thanks again for the very enlightening review.

  14. Of the pens you tested here, I’ve only personally experienced the Jetstream and the Surari. I favour the Jetstream for its consistent performance and deeper black ink. I remember reading somewhere that Zebra inks are always super saturated but I’ve always found the opposite to be true – their inks are always the lightest amongst my pens.

  15. yeh!! these are just some awesome pens which I need now.. for more letter and postcard writing.. thank you for teh excellend review and for a chance to win.. 😀

  16. I’d love to try the vicuña! before now I hadn’t even heard of it! PS: try the Schneider slider! I’ve only used the XB version but its sure smooth and dark and there’s no “ball line”

  17. really i wouldn’t mind trying any of these pens. but mostly i would like to try another jetstream — i picked up one that seems a bit dry and skips and i’m hoping it is just a dud.

  18. I’m an Acroball man. I agree with you that it’s the darkest, which is most important to me. I think it’s smoothness is on-par with the others. Thanks for doing the giveaway!

  19. I agree with you about the Pentel Vicuma judging by your review as I value a pen’s smoothness and I like it’s apparent color from your photos.

  20. My favorite is the jet stream but I have heard great things about the acroball and I would love to try it out.

  21. I haven’t tried these pens… usually I don’t especially like ballpoints… But I’m willing to change my mind! 🙂

  22. I prefer the Jetstream and I have experienced differences between Jetstream, multi’s, the various Jetstream colored editions, and your basic Jetstream. Basic is the best, the multi’s are OK and the colored series do not write well.

  23. Those who love JetStream clearly haven’t learnt how to hold a pen. Try holding it as you are told by your kindergarten teacher, and notice the scratchy upstrokes. It’s totally destroying the most important element of handwriting – rhythm.

  24. Not meaning to throw a wrench into the pens listed, I offer this as part of the conversation of hybrid ink pen choices.
    I thought nothing would write better than Uniball Jetstreams, but these two offer outstanding results that my style of writing , really tiny and fast, are outstanding.
    a) I discovered my first micropoint hybrid at Fedex/Kinko. They use them for their station supplies. Took me some time to find who makes them. Kittrich Corp Ca. Brand Promarx. Purchasing them on line, I could only find the new line model called TC Ball. Which they said replaces the Fedex version. This is a micro point parallel nib stick pen, but they make a retractable with a conventional pyramidal nib.
    I’ll save my writing experience for another time.

    b) Another retractable I discovered are also great.
    Cello Power. Marked as fine, I’d guess they are 0.5 or less.
    These are very light in weight, thin barreled. So those who prefer heavier and jumbo rubber grips, may find these unsuitable. But with these, absolutely no fatigue, and great for taking lecture notes as little or no pressure required and can keep up.

    Would love to hear back what other opinions are.

  25. I had wondered about the differences between the hybrid ink pens. I appreciate this blog; It certainly cleared some things up for me. Thank you.

    Another thing I wonder about… it’s always recommended that when writing/signing important documents, one should use a water-based ink pen as the ink is absorbed into the paper unlike ballpoint ink that “sits” on top. Does hybrid ink “soak in” or “sit on” top?

    1. With documents, its probably best to sign with permanent inks like standard ballpoint ink even though it sits on the paper. It would be apparent if someone were to try to scratch it off. Water-based inks can be soaked off paper more easily without leaving much of a trace.

  26. Any thoughts about the relative environmental impacts of these brands, i.e. which of the refills last longest resulting in fewer discards adding to a world already awash in plastics? A minor item among all the other single-use plastics but nevertheless of interest.

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