Choosing the right pen for the job can be as important as the words you write.

The type of ink, tip and grip dictates the quality of penmanship for simple notes or official ledgers. Each has a value and purpose. So let’s take a look at the types of pens and what makes each special.

6 basic types of pens

different types of pens in use

1. Ballpoint pens

Just as its name suggests, ballpoint pens use a ball at the tip of the pen to distribute the ink. These pens are filled with thick, oil-based ink that tends to last longer than water-based inks. However, because ballpoint pen ink is somewhat stickier, it can build on the tip and leave occasional blobs on paper. The ballpoint pen also requires more hand pressure due to the thicker ink. This might not be a good choice for youngsters or the elderly.

Ballpoint pens are recommended for filling out important forms because the thicker ink is easier to control when writing. They are also known to perform better on glossy paper. The ink typically does not bleed through paper and rarely leaves smudges.

The vast majority of ballpoint pens do not have caps because they are less prone to drying out. Most require a simple click or twist to expose the ink. One of our most popular, high-end-looking styles is the Ledwedge Pen.

2. Rollerball pens

The tip of rollerball pens is very similar to the ball-shaped end of ballpoint pens. The difference, however, is in the ink. Rollerball pens use water-based ink, not oil-based. This makes them a little easier to use because the ink flows with minimal hand pressure.

As you write with rollerball pens, the thin ink spreads out faster onto the surface. The result is wider lines than oil-based inks. This also can lead to more smudges immediately after writing if you’re not careful.

3. Gel pens

Gel pens are a happy mix of other pen styles. The ink in a gel pen is water-based but thicker than the type used in rollerball pens and thinner than the ink in ballpoint pens. Its tip is a ball, just like ballpoints and rollerballs.

The gel pen’s ink is thixotropic, which means it’s a solid when not in use but a liquid when the ball at the tip moves it. The ink returns to a solidified state once it hits paper or whatever surface you’re writing on. The ink of the gel pen is almost always water-resistant and/or waterproof and is popular for its rich colors.

Gel pens are known to write smoothly but can smear on glossy surfaces such as paper receipts. They typically create bold lines with minimal clumping. Check out our Thrilled Gel Pens.

4. Fountain pens

The faithful fountain pen debuted in the late 19th century to replace feather pens that are used by dipping into ink. Instead of distributing ink via a ball, the fountain pen has a metal “nib” that is fed ink from an internal reservoir or cartridge. The water-based ink it holds is moved to the nib mainly by the power of gravity.

The liquid-based ink used by fountain pens doesn’t dry as quickly but it allows for a smoother flow. This gives the fountain pen a reputation for enhancing just about anyone’s handwriting. On the downside, fountain pens aren’t built to write on rough surfaces or make lines in every direction. Doing so can damage the nib.

Although we don’t carry original fountain pens, our Fountain Inspired Pen is a very affordable alternative.

5. Felt-tip pens and markers

The tips of felt-tip pens and markers are either thin, plastic nibs embedded in metal, or soft, cone-shaped nibs. Each brand offers its own tip sizes; there is no standard.

The ink used for felt-tip pens and markers can be water-based, oil-based, acid-free, alcohol-based or permanent. Water-based inks are preferred because they are less likely to bleed through paper than other types. Felt-tip pens and markers have different widths at the tip for handling all types of tasks from precision writing to artwork.

Felt-tip pens and markers dry quicker so there is less smudging. You’ll also enjoy the extensive array of colors available for art projects.

Totally Promotional currently offers permanent markers, dry erase markers and washable markers.

6. Stylus pens

The basic task of a stylus pen is to easily and accurately tap touchscreen devices instead of using fingers. Stylus pens typically are pen-shaped with soft, round tips made of rubber or foam. They are used frequently to tap or write on tablets and smartphones for a smudge-free experience. Most stylus pens include an actual pen on the opposite end so the user can switch between a device and paper.

Fun fact: The plural of stylus is styli or styluses.

Our bestselling stylus is the twist-action iBex Pens.

Everything you wanted to know about pens

Pens are like people; it’s important to choose the best one for the job. Learn more about these writing utensils with our FAQs:

Pens FAQs

purple custom branded pen

What is the smoothest pen to write with?

Rollerball pens are considered the smoothest pens to write with because they use water-based ink. The ink flows out faster, which requires less hand pressure when writing.

What is better, ballpoint pens or gel pens?

Each of these pens has valuable qualities, which makes this a really tough question! But I lean toward gel pens as superior. Gel pens take favorable qualities such as medium ink thickness and a ball tip — and roll them into one great writing utensil.

What is the most popular pen?

Hands-down the most popular pen today is the ballpoint. It debuted in the U.S. in 1945 to replace the messier fountain pen. The ballpoint is often cheaper than other styles, which makes it a big hit as custom trade show giveaways!

What is the most famous pen brand?

The most famous pen brand in the world is Parker, according to marketing experts across the globe. The Parker Pen® company debuted in 1888 when George Safford Parker successfully applied for his first pen patent. Bic® also shares the spotlight and was likely the brand most of us used to write with in school. Take a look at our BIC® WideBody® Message Pen.

What type of pen doesn’t smear?

Ballpoint pens and felt-tipped pens rarely smear because the type of ink used in most varieties dries quicker.

Which type of pen is best for writing?

A lot of factors can influence which pens are best for writing. My straight answer: Ballpoint pens deliver the best overall writing experience. But before you eliminate other types of pens, keep these factors in mind when shopping:

  • Writing surface (type of paper, thickness)
  • Affordability for giveaways
  • Color options for the barrel and ink
  • Smearing or clumping probability
  • Ease of writing based on ink flow

To further help you find the perfect pens for your business, take a look at the Top 6 pens to fit every business need.

shop custom pens with your logo

Shelley Grieshop is a former newspaper journalist who earned more than a dozen Associated Press awards for her in-depth research and writing skills. In May 2016, she joined Totally Promotional as a creative writer. She currently writes company blogs about branding, marketing, logos, wedding planning and much more. One of her life goals is to teach people when to use hyphens and apostrophes.

Write A Comment