Top 5: Pens Under $5


Unlike the lists that Brad at Pen Addict does where pens are sorted into rollerball, fountain, etc., I’m grouping my Top Five lists by price point. Obviously, prices may vary slightly depending on your location but this is based on average US dollar prices.

This list is in no particular order, just the five best under-$5 pens in my opinion. The pen equivalents of “gateway drugs”.

Platinume Preppy EF 0.2 fountain Pen

The Budget Fountain Pen: Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen in F or EF

If you want to get in to fountain pens but don’t know where to start or even if you’ll enjoy them, this is a good place to start. While they are not the prettiest pens at the prom, for $5 or less, you can at least try out what its like to write with a fountain pen. They are pretty reliable although they can be a little scratchy. Did you hear me? They can be a little scratchy! So don’t base all fountain pens on these because they are $5 not $50. Over $25, I get guarantee you a smooth writing experience with a fountain pen but start here. See if you like the light touch needed to write with a fountain pen using a $5 pen before advancing to something more expensive. And once you graduate to a more expensive tool, you can use the Preppy to learn how to nib tune.

$3.95 for F, $4.98 for EF (via Goulet Pens)

The Gel Pen: Uni-ball Signo UM-151 Gel Ink Pen (0.28, 0.38 or 0.5). The UM-138 RT in 0.38mm, the RT1 and the UM-100 capped line are all equally good)

This is the measure for all other gel ink pens. This category is very competitive so its tough to pick THE BEST but the reliability and smoothness of the Signo line sets the bar pretty high. Most of these pens are easy to disassemble and use the refill in other pens since they are largely Pilot G2 compatible-sized.

$1.65 – $2.50 depending on model (via Jet Pens)

Runners up: Zebra Sarasa Clip, Pilot G2, and Pilot Juice. These are all excellent gel ink pens available in an array of colors and tip sizes. Whether you prefer a bold black line or a dainty sakura cherry blossom pink hairline, any of these options have got you covered.

Pilot Precise V5 tip

The Rollerball: Pilot V5 Precise Rollerball This is the pen that introduced me to alternatives to a Bic Stic. Still a good option for a quick.

These retail for about $20/dozen or $10/5-pack. Available in seven colors, retractable or refills for retractable (looks like a G2 compatible refill but will verify). Since they are available in most US big box and office supply stores, this is a great gateway pen. Like the Pilot G-2, if you haven’t tried a pen not swiped from a pharmaceutical rep or your office supply cupboard, start here.

(Runner-up: The Morning Glory Mach 3 0.38mm. The Mach 3 is not as easy to find as a the Pilot V5 Precise but is as good or better and available in a wider variety of ink colors)

The Ballpoint: Uni-Ball Jetstream

Generally speaking, I avoid ballpoint pens. As a lefty, they smear, smudge and perform intermittently for me. So for me to recommend any ballpoint pen at all is fairly high praise. I recommend the Uni-Ball Jetstream to meet all your ball point pen needs. If you’re shopping in a office supply big box in the US, try the 0.7mm or smaller. If you’re willing to shop online, then I really like the 0.5mm available at Jet Pens in a variety of colors but my favorite is still the green grey model I bought in Hong Kong. Again, this is a pen that is widely available but I recommend the smaller tip sizes. The larger ones are often gloppy. The 0.5mm are really the sweet spot especially if you’re writing in a small book like a Field Notes or a planner.

Uni-Ball Jetstream pens are widely available in local shops and online in a variety of configurations starting at about $2.50.

Sharpie Pen

The Felt Tip: The Sharpie Pen.

Honestly, a year ago, I would never have said this. I really like the Sharpie Pen. I thought I was a tried-and-true supporter of the Marvy Le Pen for my felt tip pen needs but I’ve embraced the Sharpie Pen as an excellent option in this category. While not as diverse in color options as the Le Pen, the Sharpie Pen is readily available in most US big box and office supply stores making them a good option in a hurry. I had a couple experiences with the Sharpie pen where is bled and feathered but I think it might have been a Moleskine book to blame and not the pen. Since then, I have come to appreciate the versatility and availability of the Sharpie Pen. Its more water resistant than Le Pen and the tip does not degrade as quickly.

Individual pens are sold from about $2 each and are available in blister packs and boxes in larger quantities and color options.

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19 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Sorry, but I must disagree wholeheartedly with the preppy recommendation. I have been using two of the new EFs for a couple of months. The bottom of the cap cracks and by 8 weeks the cap will not stay on, and that is with off and on use. I asked Goulet if Platinum knows and is doing anything about it. They said yes Platinum knows about it and sent me two replacements. While I appreciate the replacements it is only a matter of time until they too, crack. These are inexpensive fountain pens and I love how they write, but not a good introduction when it ends up being a waste of money. I am not fond of the Varsity disposables, too wide a line for me, they are smooth, but I would go that way and not Preppy.

    1. Too bad that durability is an issue with the new Platinum Preppies. As a gateway to fountain pens, there are not a lot of options below the $5 mark. The Preppies write well and would give someone a chance to experience a fountain for less than a grande mochaccino.

      1. There Is always the Pilot Varsity. While it is a broad, wet writer is is also cheap and frustration free. Leave it unused for weeks at a time and it still works first try.

    2. The cracking caps has always been a Preppy problem. Tackling it is worth the effort, however. I own half a dozen Preppies and use them even though I own more expensive pens.

      If you haven’t thrown yours out the window, Sandy, you might want to try my solution. Wrap the end of the cap with scotch tape, pulling it tight as you wrap. I’ve found that this not only renews the ‘snap’ of caps with small cracks but it prevents them from happening, or so it seems.

      Cheers — Larry

  2. I also got an EF Preppy a couple of months ago, and all is well despite near daily use. I don’t love the new body design, but for the price, there’s truly nothing like it.

  3. I would have to say that my all time favorite “cheap pen” would be the Pentel Energel. For a gel pen, nothing beats it.

  4. There is so much I could say here. I am not sure If I should leave an epic long reply or a reply through a post on my blog.

    I understand and appreciate the lean toward pens that are easy to get in US big box stores. The Pilot V5 and Sharpie Pen were definitely gateway pens for me. But there are so many other great pens in these two categories,

    The new Pilot Hi-Techpoint is superior to the classic V5. And I would even argue that the Morning Glory gives the Pilot V5 series a run for its money. The Hi-Tecpoint would only inch out in the lead because of the new cartridge system which is compatible with the Pilot converters. And can be converted to an eyedropper.

    Sakura Pigma Micron is better than the Sharpie Pen and it uses archival ink. Micron comes in more colors and, more importantly, more sizes.

    I would have to agree with you on the Jetstream. Stay away from ballpoints, but if you must use the Jetstream.

    I have not had much experience with the Uni-ball Signo line. I have one on my desk waiting to be used. I really enjoy my Pilot Juice, however.

    I personally have not had any trouble with my Platinum Preppy (M). I do agree that the Preppy is a good introduction to the fountain pen world. I have my eyes on a couple of sub-five dollar pens that might give the Preppy some competition.

    You mention that the Preppy is scratchy. While I do not disagree with you, I feel that with the sub-five category some scratchiness should be expected or desired. It adds to the charm of the pen. Of course there is also too scratchy, but I have not experienced that yet.

    I could go on, but for now…

    Embrace your scratchy side!

  5. The Jetstream is the Gateway Drug for the pen addict. The silky smoothness takes you in and then you start trying more pens and ooh what is this about fountain pens and you TRY to be cheap about it but you read such good things about the Kaweco Sport and then you realize that at $25 pen isn’t expensive at all and wow I love my new Lamy 2000….

    Be careful, kids.

    1. I love and own Jetstreams but the .7 and up widths are so smooth they run away with my hand. Never felt anything like that before I tried these. I stick with .5 and .38 and I am good to go. The favorite pens at our house, no more hotel pens or stick bics.

  6. I agree with Ana on all of these pen choices…except about the tip/nib sizes. I’ve tried all of the fine and extra fine options listed here, and I agree that the Fine Preppy and Pilot V5 are the right choices. I disagree on the Signo and Jetstream, however. I use the 0.5mm Signo and the 0.7mm Jetstream because I find the smaller tip sizes just too fine and way too scratchy for my taste. I have never had problems with glopping or smearing with these tip sizes. I use my right hand to write, though, so that may be where Ana and I have different opinions…
    Great post, as always!

  7. Japanese pens are my love because of their fine smooth points! A bookstore called Kinokuniya has plenty of them if there is one near you, typically in Japanese neighborhoods. I stock up on Sharbo refills and everything else non fountain pen related. They’re $3 pens are fantastic! I never come out without spending less than $60 worth of pens.

  8. Your taste in cheap pens is exquisite, Ana. 🙂

    Thanks for the delightful roundup.

    Don’t you think it’s pretty amazing the kind of quality that can get built into pens these days for less than $5? They may not be works of art. And they may not be super durable. But some of them sure write well!

    I really like my Platinum Preppies — both the fine and the extra fine. Except, of course, for the problem with their cracking caps. (I wonder what’s up with that!?) But they’re such good writers, they’re addicting!

    I also love the Uni-ball UM-138 RT 0.38mm, the Zebra Sarasa Clip, and the Pilot Juice. And the venerable Pilot V5 Precise. They are all such great choices.

  9. Thanks for sharing this great list of pen. My Lamy Safari has not turned out worth it at all. I’ve had to get the nib replaced at least once, and am about to do so again, the feed fixed at the DC Pen Show, which was another $20, and have spent about $60 total on the darned thing. My Sailor Young Profit Zoom Nib, however, cost me about $56 and never caused me a moment’s worry. Plus, it’s smooth and gives lovely rich line thanks to serious nibbage! (you FP afficionados will know what I mean!) Whereas the Lamy, which is supposed to be smooth, is constantly scratching, stopping and generally a pain.

    1. I’m surprised you had so much trouble with the Lamy. Normally, with a scratchy Lamy, the best solution is to just replace the nib ($11 fix). I’ve never heard of a Lamy having a bad feed. I’m glad the Sailor is treating you well. I love Sailor pens!

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