A Better Option


When recently asked “What pen do you reach for most often?” my less-than-pen-nerdy husband answered, “Whatever is at hand.” Oh, my aching pen geek heart! I succinctly told him that using “any old pen” when you’re married to a pen nerd is akin to me getting business cards printed at Kinko’s. No offense to Kinko’s but my husband is a premium letterpress printer and I would never dare to tarnish his reputation or sensibility by carrying a less-than-fabulous card. That said, I’m on the hunt for pens that are not “fancy-pants” fountain pens but not a disposable plastic pen either. The catch is that he genuinely likes the writing quality of the Uni-Ball Vision and similar gel/rollerball pens.

This conversation synced with thoughts I have been having about the upscale (non-fountain) pen. Like most pen geeks, I have a deep-seeded respect for the writing quality of the gel/hybrid rollerball pens but I just don’t want to carry around a plastic pen. One of the things I like best about the fountain pens I use is that they are aesthetically appealing and endlessly refillable.

In looking for a suitable pen for Bob (and continue my own search for a good non-fountain pen), I went to the most successful Kickstarter pens. Most of these are well-designed pen body that utilizes the most favored refills (either the Pilot G2-sized refills or the Pilot Hi-Tec C-style refills).

Render K Uni Ball Signo Refill

I immediately went back to my well-loved Karas Kustoms Render K which tends to be my go-to pen at work. It is loaded with a Pilot Hi-Tec C refill (in green, of course). It looks professional but will write on any surface I might be faced with in the average meeting (photocopies, 3×5 notecards, post-it notes or my own notebook). I’m considering adding a Render K that accepts the G2-style cartridges to the mix as well to expand my refill options.

Eco-Essentials Pen

Another pen up for consideration is the Ishuja’s Eco-Essential Pen ($55) which is a bamboo outer casing with aluminum interior and hardware. I really like the look of this pen. Its a clean, simple design and is available for either the Hi-Tec C-sized refills or for the G2-sized refills. The mix of silver metal and warm bamboo wood is gorgeous.

Big Idea Design Aluminum Pen + Stylus

The Big Idea Design’s Solid Aluminum Pen + Stylus ($59) is also a possibility. It has an all-aluminum body with a titanium clip and is the less expensive sibling to the solid titanium version that was originally a Kickstarter project. This pen also includes a touch-sensitive tip for digital devices on the end. This can be swapped out with a flat screw for a cleaner look that ships with the pen. The pen accepts the G2-style refills too, of which there are lots of refills to choose from.


As a temporary solution to my husband’s lack of appropriate pen, I gave him my Karas Kustoms RETRAKT in brass ($65) with a standard G2 black refill in 0.5mm. Hopefully, he’ll resist the urge to just use “any old pen”, especially in front of clients.

He has a Fisher Space pen, a Sherpa and an Acme pen, all of which he’s misplaced. Maybe I shouldn’t have given him the RETRAKT after all?

Do you have a favorite pen that accepts standard rollerball/gel refills? Let me know in the comments!

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20 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I always have a fisher space pen in my bag, but my go to pens (when I can’t use my fountain pens) are always Retro 51 Tornados.

  2. I second the Retro 51 choice. I have been collecting them for years. Rock solid build, and can take Schmidt capless roller or Parker bp refills.

  3. Great post! I, too, am married to a “whatever is at hand” guy. He just came home the other day with a bag of non-descript Bic stick style cheapies since he “can’t find one” when he needs one! *note- he also bought a three pack of generic yellow notepads to “use in a pinch”. My heart aches! I ALWAYS carry at least one pen on me and a notebook, so I’ve never been at a loss. The boy perked up a bit when I got him a Uni power tank for work. Maybe a guided tour of jetpens.com is needed!

  4. I was in Paradise Pens in Dallas at the Galleria this week. I tried this very classy looking Parker “5th”. Not sure I got the name exactly right but it is a new pen and “felt tip” kinda. It was smooth as silk, several colors/texture combos to choose from. It was $50, I think, and I just could not bring myself to spend that on a non-fountain pen, but I was very tempted. I would hate to run into it again, I am not sure I could resist it again. Check it out. The pen store was so fun, the people running it were wonderful to talk to and do business with. I bought a Lamy Studio brushed aluminum and a Pilot Vanishing Point fine, green. Love them, filled with PR Ebony Green.

  5. The Retro 51 Tornado is always a good option. The Karas Kustoms Render K G2 would be a good option because he could use a Schmidt 5888 rollerball refill which is better than the Vision, though it’s not as good as the Schmidt capless in the Tornado. A Kaweco Sport rollerball would be another good option, because you can use the Schmidt capless refill.

    I’m a fan of rollerballs, if you couldn’t figure it out. I need to try the Uni Signo Dx and the Pilot Juice, though I’ve never been a fan of Gel pens (call me crazy)

    1. Great tips! I hadn’t considered the kaweco rollerballs and I’m a huge fan if kaweco. Try the pilot juice in the 0.5 version if you decide to give it a whirl. It’s denser and smoother at this size.

      1. I got my Juice & DX pens (both .5mm) today. Really surprised I got them as quickly as I did, JetPens shipped them Thursday evening and they were delivered on the East Coast today. So far I am really liking them. They write really smoothly and lay down a really consistent line. Probably the best gel pens I’ve used. They will probably convert me to gels (with the exception of my Schmidt capless refill, I will always love it). The real test for them will come later today and tomorrow morning when I use them on duplicate forms at work. As long as they don’t leak in flight (never heard of a gel pen having this issue) we should get along just fine

  6. This is the most useful post! I’ve been looking for a rollerball that will take the standard (but pink) refills I bought in a sale somewhere. Instead I ended up with an Autograph, which is gorgeous but just non-standard enough that they don’t fit. I had my eye on the (pink) WH Smith own-brand one, but will have a look at some of the ones you’ve mentioned.

  7. I have a Monteverde Prima rollerball that I replaced the refill with my favorite gel refill, the Pentel Energel 0.7 mm. It also accepts the G2 and W2 refills. It’s a beautiful pen and writes just the way I want it to.

  8. Hi – I’m the husband. It’s not that I don’t like pens, it’s just that I tend to lose things! I loved my old ACME pen, and had the same model (a Karim Rashid pretty orange design) for 10 years. TEN YEARS. Nice hefty weight, was a conversation starter when I taught high school and was hefty enough for crowd control. The Chair thoughtfully even got a fountain nib for it. I have a feeling it’s floating around the house. I also loved the simplicity of the Fischer Space Pen. Even though a ballpoint, it flowed really well.

    But I run a letterpress print shop and quite often find that using a Sharpies (with Sherpa covers) come in handy most of the time, either writing on film or cardboard. I also have a few Conté mechanical pencils which get used. Quite often it’s more function over form.

    I love The Chair’s collection of writing implements, but the ones she tends to love are too small for my hands. Not that I have gorilla-like catcher’s mitts hands, but pens like the Liliput are physically uncomfortable to hold. And sadly, I’m often using pens for ‘mark making’, not writing. Thanks for the Retro 51 pen nods. I believe I’ve held a couple, but there was no magic spark. I’ll have to keep looking!

  9. The Pilot Metropolitan holds G2/Juice refills. I’ve got mine hacked right now to hold a Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 blue hybrid gel-ballpoint refill–all you need to do is to put a spacer in the body before inserting the refill. Classic stylings and great quality at the $15 price point!

    1. Is there some sort of “hack” needed to put a juice refill in the pilot metropolitan? I can’t find much confirmation of this online–does it require a spacer? Or cutting it short? Or shaving down that ridge thingy on the plastic collar around the tip? Please let me know!

      1. I’ll have to look into this. I don’t have a rollerball version of the Metropolitan but I’ll try to find a solution for you!

  10. I’d echo the Kaweco Sport with a Schmidt capless refill. I have very large hands, and I have no problems with the Sport when it’s posted. And if a “writing” pen is not what Bob is using constantly, the Kaweco is very pocketable, and then he has a nice writer close at hand.

  11. My non-FP go-tos are Retro 51 Tornados. I have one that always has the Retro 51 Black Rollerball refil, but in another I have the Parker Blue Gel Refill. I also keep a Sherpa handy that has Uniball Vision/Vision Elites in it & It’s functional on all types of paper.

  12. If you use an X-acto or sharp pocket knife to cut off the weird collar, then the standard Uni Ball Jetstream refill (.38mm is my preferred size) can be trimmed to fit a number of retractable pens: Retro 51 Tornado, Cross Click, Pilot Knight (also Axiom, Metropolitan BP, and Dr. Grip Full Black), Fisher Cap-O-Matic, Pentel Client, and Parker Jotter (aluminum barrel only; I think the collar gets on the way on the plastic ones). Also, if you switch out springs, then Uni Ball Signo 207s, 307s, and Jetstream refills and Pilot G2 and Precise RT refills will all fit a Cross Edge with no other modification.

    Each pen may need a different spring, and the Jotter hack requires one of the little white caps that come with standard Fisher Space Pen refills. This can be useful, though. Use the Space Pen refill to measure the Jetstream refill length.

    Capped pens I use these refills in: Libelle Siena, ACME Studio, Monteverde Artista Crystal demonstrator, Jinhao 149, Cross Roadster, Lamy Safari. N.b., many of these pens won’t take G2 or Precise RT refills because of the little shoulder on Pilot refills. I think Signo and Jetstream refills write better anyway.

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