With the top ten non-fountain pen list, I decided I needed to break it up into two categories, refillable pens and non-refillable. I didn’t want to call the first group disposable pens because, in some cases, the refill can be replaced, but generally speaking, they are sold to be used until the refill is empty and then tossed. While I prefer refillable pens for their more durable construction and being better for the environment overall, there are some cases where a non-refillable pen is the the most reasonable option. I won’t say they are the only option because there is ALWAYS another way. However, non-refillable pens serve a purpose or are a good jumping off point into the world of better writing experiences.
So, let’s get started.
I went a little heavy on brush pens and drawing-specific tools on my non-refillable list. These pens are harder to replicate is a refillable version, or no one has made a concerted effort to try.
- Pilot Futayaku Double-Sided Brush Pen: The model I have is a combination of black ink on one end and grey ink on the other. Both tips are a stiff medium felt-tip brush. It’s a great option for getting a lot in one package. The ink dries a bit more slowly than some others but the black is a dark black and the ink is water-resistant so it can be combined with watercolor, water-based markers or fountain pen ink without bleeding. ($3.30 from JetPens)
- Uni- Mitsubishi Dual Tip Pocket Brush: For shame! When I selected this pen, I didn’t realize it was impossible to find in the US. It’s a brush pen I found at my local Artist & Craftsman Art Supply store. It’s a soft felt tip-style brush pen with a broad tip on one end and a fine tip on the other. The felt material does lose its point over time but it has good spring and the combination points make it a good pen for lettering, sketching, and linework. It’s waterproof too. The closest comparable pen is the Uni Mistubishi Double-Sided Fine Broad Bush Pen which appears to have a similar combination of points and is listed as water-resistant too. ($4.95 from JetPens)
- Kuretake Fudegokochi Brush Pen: Shown above is the extra fine version of the pen but I’m a fan of the regular width as well. I haven’t tried the grey but it’s on my list. Even if you’re not into lettering or drawing, the extra fine Fudegokochi Brush Pens are firm enough to give a taste of brush pens without making you feel like the nib is bouncing all over the place. ($4.25 each at JetPens)
- Sharpie Water-Based Poster Paint Pen (White, Extra Fine Point): This is the BEST opaque white paint marker. In this case, the water-based version from Sharpie far outperforms the oil-based version for most purposes. If you are trying to add those last little highlights, sparkles or other embellishments to lettering or artwork (two words: eye lights) than this is the marker you want. Because its water-based, if you don’t get your eye light of highlight just right, you can use a water brush to lift it out. Look at your local art supply or craft shop to find this particular model. Other colors can be fun too like the fluorescent colors but the only one you really need in the white.
- Uni-Ball Signo Broad in White: The Uni-Ball Signo Broad in white is the OTHER white pen you might want to add to your pen collection. What it offers that the Sharpie does not is a considerably finer point for even more detail work and it is waterproof when dry. ($2.55 from Jet Pens)
- Sharpie Pen: If you check below for the Honorable Mention, you’ll see that my husband favors the original Sharpie Marker but I like the Sharpie Pen. It is about the equivalent of an 0.7mm technical pen, the tip is relatively durable and the ink is pretty water resistant. If I’m not using a refillable technical pen or fountain pen with permanent ink, then I am probably using a Sharpie Pen. The cap-off time is pretty good too. It’s inexpensive and widely available making it a great gateway pen. (available in most office supply stores, big box retailers, pharmacies, etc)
- Copic Multiliner SP: Okay, technically, the Copic Multiliner is a refillable technical pen but I don’t actually have any non-refillable technical pens in the house anymore. I have given all mine away. So… it’s a stand-in for the Sakura Pigma Micron, the gold standard by which all other “felt-tipped” technical pens are measured. Is the Sakura Pigma Micron really the gold standard? It’s debatable. I have burned through more of those pens than I want to admit which is why I don’t own any anymore. The amount of waste I created was shameful. The thin pipes and tips warp and bend with pressure over time, often before all the ink in the pen barrel has been used with no way to repair the pen so the plastic barrel gets thrown away. So, why is it on this list? Because, if you have never used a technical pen before, investing in a refillable Copic Multiliner SP probably seems excessive. So, I recommend investing in one Micron, maybe two. Get a 0.25-0.35 and a 0.5. Sakura doesn’t align their numbering with the nib width exactly so if you prefer to try on of the other brands instead be sure to double check the tip sizing.
- Caran d’Ache Fibralo Brush Pen: This pen in my top ten surprises me as much as you. I pick this brush pen more often than so many others. I only have this one and I’ve had it for a couple years. I got it in one of the Art Snacks subscription boxes. The felt tip has held its shape, the ink is still flowing smoothly and the hex shape keeps it from rolling off me desk. Not rolling away is a big thing with me. My floors must not be level because anything perfectly round rolls right off my desk and on to the floor and then under something else never to be seen again. For Caran d’Ache, this is a pretty reasonably priced pen too. ($2.25 each from JetPens)
- Uni-ball Signo RT1 UMN-155 Gel Pen: If you’ve made it this far in the non-refillable list, you finally made it to the gel pens! This is my favorite gel pen. The Uni Signo black ink is waterproof and this retractable 0.38mm model is sleek, comfortable and my all-around gel pen of choice. ($2.85 from JetPens)
- Pentel Energel (Clena Gel Pen – 0.4 mm): My second choice in the gel pen category is the Energel line. I prefer the Energel needlepoint models for a lifted-above-the-paper writing experience. Both the Energel and Signo are retractable pens which are great for the pocket, bag or backpack for quick notes, lists and other “oh, here, jot this down” moments. They are both good writing experiences and pens that you could easily pass along to a friend or colleague who says “oh, this writes really nice” and you can could then welcome them to the pen fold. (Energel Pens start at $1.80 on JetPens)
- Sharpie Marker: The Sharpie Marker (the classic alcohol-based permanent marker) is my husband’s absolute most-used tool. He spends his days labelling cardboard boxes and other large industrial tasks and Sharpies get the job done. There are not a lot of other options that fill this niche as handily. Everyone needs at least one black Sharpie in their pen cup.
- Pilot Juice Up: First there was the Pilot Hi-Tec C then the Pilot Juice and now the smoother Juice Up pens. These are the premium gel pens. If you want some fun, smooth, retractable gel pens for your bullet journal, then these may be what you want to consider. They are a close second to the Uni Signo line for me. ($3.60 from JetPens)
Much of my ballpoint, rollerball and gel pen love has moved from non-refillable pens to more durable, refillable pens. In this category, I’ve included a couple multi-pens as well.
- Pokka Pens: The Pokka Pen is a recent discovery for me and a very happy discovery. In the era of “please don’t make me use your pen!” the Pokka Pen is the perfect solution for having in your car, in your bag and everywhere you might be required to sign a document or receipt in our new era of social distancing. It is refillable and takes a fairly standard ballpoint refill that writes surprisingly well. So, if you’re having to fill out paperwork at the DMV, your kids’ school or anywhere else, make sure you have one of these in your pocket so you don’t have to use the one on the counter with the daisy attached. There’s no telling how many people have touched it before you. (3-pack for $8.45 from Gentleman Stationer Shop)
- Fisher Space Pen Bullet: Whether the Fisher Space is the original pocket pen or not is debatable, but it is probably one of the smallest pocket pens. It will easily slide into the pocket of your jeans or spacesuit. It is steely-eyed missile man sleek. It takes the Fisher Space Pen refill, a modified version of the Parker refill, with a pressurized cartridge designed to write in the harshest of conditions. My biggest problem with the Fisher Space Pen is that it tends to go into a pocket like it’s dropped into a black hole and its months before I find it again. It has always resurfaced but be warned, these little guys have a tendency to wander. (starting from $26.35 at Goldspot Pens)
- Baron Fig Squire Click: There are lots of fans of the Baron Fig Squire and I do like it but I prefer the Squire Click. I like the quiet click mechanism and the slightly more slender barrel of the Click model. It takes the same Schmidt style refills beloved by so many that Retro51 uses which means it will also accept standard Parker style refills like the Retro51 Tornado does. I’m nothing if not a shameless pen hack. ($45 from Baron Fig)
- Retro 51 Tornado: While many of us are aware that the end of an era is upon us, there are still many places to acquire a classic Retro51 Tornado, even one in a classic lacquer. This pen is an icon of an era, accepting both the Schmidt P8126 capless refill (branded as the Retro51 refill REF5P) and the regular Parker-style ballpoint refills (see the refill guide for the whole list) and becoming the template for hundreds of different designs in their Popper and Limited Edition series for various retailers. Some people love the wide stubby shape of the Tornado pen but there’s no denying that it’s become a classic and an icon. (available at your favorite online pen shops)
- Uni Style Fit Multi Pen (pictured is a very old Pilot Hi-Tec C Coleto. I think my Uni Style Fit multipen is still in the boxes from my packing my office): The Uni Style multipens are available with 3-component or 5-component bodies and 215 possible refill options to choose from. You are not even limited to using just Uni brand refills either Pilot Acra, Zebra Sarasa and the Uni Style Fit (which is basically Uni Signo gel ink) all fit into the Uni Style Fit multipens. You can also add a mechanical pencil (I always add my mechanical pencil on the clip knock) so one pen can really rule them all. The slender gel refills will run out pretty quickly but somehow it feels a little less wasteful to only throw away the refill rather than a whole pen and these multipens have such a huge variety of color options and tip sizes. It’s possible to outfit a multipen with a range of tip sizes all in one color of ink and another multipen in a range of colors. Maybe one multipen in cool colors (blue, green and purple) and another in warm colors (red, orange and pink). This is getting expensive, isn’t it? I’ll stop now. (pen bodies start at $4.20, components start at $1.65 from JetPens)
- Zebra Sharbo X LT3 Multipen: The Sharbo X is a step up in materials from the Uni Style Fit in regards to multipens. Its a more rugged, metal body which holds 3-components. The most notable feature of the pen is that it takes standard D1 sized refills making finding refills easier. Zebra also makes some of the most coveted D1 refills with its 0.4mm gel and 0.5mm emulsion ballpoint refills. Add to those the 0.3mm mechanical pencil refill and the Sharbo X becomes the tiny writer’s favored multipen. ($28 for the body, components start at $2.65 from JetPens
- Big i Design Ti Arto EDC: Since the release of the Ti Arto EDC pen, Big i Design has created several other iterations of their refill locking pen but I still like the original best. The pen barrel uses a chuck-locking design (like the way your drill locks onto you bit) to grip onto any refill you want to use. It’s the pen that puts an end to the question “Which pen will take my favorite refill?” This one. There. Done.($90 from Big i Design)
- Parker Jotter Ballpoint Pen: What needs to be said about this classic click pen which take the most common refill? It’s available in tons of materials — plastic, metal, combination of the two. You can get it new or used because they’ve been making them forever. Chances are your parents probably have one tucked in a drawer somewhere that they got as a gift, maybe from their parents. (starting at $8.95 on Goldspot Pens)
- Caran d’Ache 849 Ballpoint Pen: The Caran d’Ache 849 is a classic design. It’s more slender than the Retro51 or even the Baron Fig Squire Click. The pen takes its dimensions from the Caran d’Ache pencils which are slightly more robust than the average hex pencil. There is minimal branding on the pen, only the brand name, hidden under the clip. Caran d’Ache uses a refill similar to a Parker style refill but flat on the end so, with some slight modifications, it’s possible to get a standard Parker refill to fit but it can be touch-and-go. A similar mechanical pencil is available, the 844 for 0.5mm or 0.7mm or the Fixpencil for the lead holder model but these seem to be harder to find and not available in as many colors as the pen. Overall, the 849 is an icon and once you find one that strike your fancy, either for its brillance or its simplicity you too will be under its spell. (starting at $19.20 on Pen Chalet)
- Lamy 2000 Multisystem: Reams of (digital) paper have been written about the Lamy 2000 fountain pen but not much gets said about the other iterations of the Lamy 2000 line. The Makrolon material alone used to create the original pens (and mechanical pencil) are noteworthy since very few other manufacturers have been able to maintain production with this type of fiberglass material for long. I like the weight-controlled multipen since it baffles my brain how it actually works. Tip the pen so the color bar you want is facing up and then click the knock on the top and voila! the refill you want is selected. To retract the refill, press the knock again. Repeat the process for the next color you want. Amazing. Then you add in the warming feeling of the Makralon, the smooth taper of the shape of the pen barrel design and the overal aesthetic of the pen and honestly, what’s not to love? Not a fan of Lamy’s refills? Remember those really good Zebra D1 refills I mentioned earlier? They fit in the Lamy 2000 Multisystem… just sayin’. (€€56.20 from Appelboom)