By Christine Song

The Best Pens for Everyday Life, Travel, Work, and Art


If you’re going to jot something down, you’re most likely reaching for a pen. Look at the pens you have in your pen cup, drawer, or bag. Do you have a favorite pen? Do you always reach for the same style of pen, or do you mix it up depending on what you need to […]

If you’re going to jot something down, you’re most likely reaching for a pen.

Look at the pens you have in your pen cup, drawer, or bag. Do you have a favorite pen? Do you always reach for the same style of pen, or do you mix it up depending on what you need to do?

Not every pen is a winner. Some smear, dry out, or just plain don’t look good when you write with them. If you’re not happy with the pen selection you have to choose from or just want to pick the next pen you buy more conscientiously, we’ve got the best pens for you in this post, whether you’re jotting, writing, doodling, or drawing in ink.

The pen is one of those ubiquitous tools that we probably don’t give enough credit for getting us through the day. Given such an important job, there’s no need to subject yourself or your writing to a below-average pen that smudges, doesn’t write right, or leaks on your favorite pants.

So today, we’re giving pens of all sorts a well deserved shout out for all that they do for us, and sharing the best of the best for every situation.

The best pens for your everyday experiences

Your best bet in an everyday, plain vanilla pen is a ballpoint or rollerball pen.

Ballpoint pens distribute ink from inside the ink reservoir over a tiny little ball at the point or tip of the pen (thus the name “ballpoint”). The ink is traditionally oil-based, but some ink is mixed with water based ink to lower the viscosity (to make it less sticky and clumpy); generally, it still dries faster than purely water-based inks.

Pros for using a ballpoint pen for your everyday writing:

  • Writes on a variety of surfaces
  • Doesn’t leak
  • The ink dries quickly, reducing smudges and smears, and doesn’t bleed
  • The ink is typically waterproof
  • Ballpoints are an easy pen to use, even if you use a refillable version
  • Lasts a long time because the ink doesn’t flow from the pen very quickly

Cons and reasons why you might not choose a ballpoint pen:

  • Writing can feel less smooth compared to a pen like a rollerball
  • The ink may distribute unevenly or “skip” at times
  • The tips are typically 1.0 mm, with the finest tips coming in at 0.7 mm, which may not be as fine of a tip as you need for detail or writing in small spaces
  • Sometimes the ink can accumulate and get sticky/clumpy at the tip
  • Should not be your first pick for endurance writing sessions since they require you to press fairly hard to get the ink out

Give these ballpoint pens a try:

Rollerball pens are a great everyday pen. It has the same design as a ballpoint, but uses water-based ink, rather than oil-based or a hybrid of the two. Water-based ink flows from the pen more quickly, delivering a smooth writing experience, making it conducive to a finer pen tip.

Pros for favoring a rollerball pen:

  • If you need a fine tip, rollerball pen tips range from 0.2 mm to 0.5 mm but go up to 0.7 mm if you prefer
  • The ink flows smoothly and easily, so your writing is uninterrupted
  • The ink can dry quickly depending on the size of the tip and the type of paper you’re using
  • More color options are available with a water-based ink pen!

Cons and why you might not choose a rollerball for your everyday:

  • Rollerballs do not last as long as their ballpoint counterparts because the ink distributes more quickly
  • The ink can bleed or feather depending on the type of paper you’re using
  • These pens have a tendency to leak, especially if uncapped, making them best for staying put in one place (like your desk); they’re not the best travel companions

We like these rollerball pens:

The best pens for on-the-go and facing the elements

Whether you’re trekking across country or just commuting across town, you need a pen that can keep up. Look for a pen that:

Won’t leak or be affected by altitude. This means you can rule out most rollerball pens. They are not your best choice because they succumb to changes in air pressure. An exception to this rule is the Uni-ball Vision Elite which was made specifically to be airplane safe.

Also, look for a pen that has a cap, versus one that is just retractable so it doesn’t click open accidentally. And a clip is especially handy so that it can easily stay put and won’t roll around your bag or pocket and get lost. Clip, cap, comes in various colors, and is smudge-free, we love the Le Pen Dark 4-Pack or Brilliant 4-Pack. They’re versatile too, easily transitioning from writing in your planner to marking up documents.

And when you’re traveling for work or fun, or just have a job that keeps you outdoors, you’re often facing the elements and writing in awkward, tight places, using the nearest hard surface. Consequently, pens that can write in a variety of conditions are a must. The Fisher Space Pen (also in black) can write at any angle and in conditions that are -30 to +250 degrees fahrenheit!

Lastly, you can’t bring your entire desk with you everywhere you go, so sometimes you need a pen that can stand in for some of the attributes of a pencil. Having the flexibility of a pencil’s eraser on a pen for when you make mistakes, makes life that much less stressful. Try the Pilot Frixion Erasable Gel Pens to discover a pen that truly erases ink.

The best pens for marking it up

The traditional pen color of choice when you need to mark up documents for work or give your kid some feedback on their homework is red. Who doesn’t love the boldness of using a red pen every once in a while?

But when it comes to marking up documents, don’t just consider the pen color. Because you may be at it for a while, the pen should be comfortable too. An ergonomic or rubber grip can save your fingers.

And if you don’t like red, any strong, vibrant color that doesn’t smear as you go along, page by page, is essential. Pastel or glittery pens aren’t going to stand out enough and lack a professional look. And avoid erasable pens or ones that are not waterproof.

May we recommend for you:

  • The Pilot Easy Touch Retractable Pen in red is a retractable ballpoint pen with a comfortable rubber grip. Being a ballpoint, it will last you a while.
  • Le Pen Basic 4-Pack gives you a variety of strong color options if you don’t want to use red, with a precise tip and smudge-free ink.
  • Schneider Fineliner Xpress Pens come in three colors, are waterproof and don’t dry out, and an 0.8 mm tip is perfect for any editing job.

The best pens for artwork, decorating, bullet journaling, or just customizing your writing

Your artistic skills can take shape and form with a pen. You can create art with a ballpoint, but options abound among the gel pens, brush pens, and glittery ones too. Look for pens that have minimal smudging/bleeding and bright vibrant colors for art-making.

Glitter and gel pens add a glittery, sparkly touch to your writing or drawings. Wink of Stella comes in black and blue or assorted colors, and Gelly Rolls variety of colors and shades keep you covered for whatever sparkle of color you’re in the mood for. Whether it’s dressing up your planner or adding flair to a card, these are fun options to have on hand.

Gel ink has such vibrant colors because the ink (thick and opaque) is pigmented, where the pigment is suspended in water. The ink is otherwise delivered in the same way as ballpoints and rollerballs. These pens require longer drying time, but give you a strong line that doesn’t feather or bleed (because pigmented ink doesn’t soak through like dye).

Like with rollerball pens, the ink distributes more heavily so they don’t last as long as ballpoints.

Brush pens are like mini paint brushes in a pen form. The tip or nib comes in various levels of firmness – the more flexible the tip the more variation you can achieve in the widths of your lines. The tip material is most commonly felt (stiff), nylon/synthetic hair (flexible), or natural hair (flexible).

Koi Coloring Brush Pens are made of nylon hair and the colors can be layered to add depth and color variation. Pentel Fude Sign Pen Touch uses a water based dye with a flexible tip, great for lettering. For videos on how different brush pens write, check out JetPens Brush Pens for Lettering and Calligraphy.

Sakura’s Pigma Ink is a go-to for detailed drawings, illustrations, scrapbooking, manga drawings, calligraphy, and bullet journaling.

Sakura’s Pigma ink is pigmented ink, similar to the ink in gel pens, that doesn’t smudge! One of its many pens available, the Pigma Micron PN Pen has a fine tip and comes in a variety of beautiful colors.

Fountain pens give you the flexibility to customize your writing and is one way you can up your pen and writing game. Fountain pens rely on a reservoir or cartridge of ink that uses gravity and a capillary system to distribute the ink out of the nib. Though they can be a little finicky especially compared to a ballpoint, and require some maintenance, your writing is more customizable in an eco-friendly fountain pen.

Easy-to-use fountain pens we recommend, that could even be used every day, are the Lamy Al-Star Fountain Pen and Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen.

We’re so excited for you to try these pens and find the best ones for you! Share your thoughts with us on Facebook or Instagram.