testing testing

The 87 Best Pens, As Tested by Strategist Editors

Photo: Jed Egan

When it comes to pens, we all have our preferences. For some, the perfect pen glides; for others, a scratchy nib is the most satisfying way to take notes. Aesthetics, grip, and weight are all important, but sometimes price, simplicity, and access (like a dependable multipack you can grab practically anywhere) are just as crucial. We became determined to find the best pens out there from the myriad of options on the internet and set out to undertake some top-tier sleuthing.

We consulted a panel of experts, looked through our own pen coverage on the site, and asked Strategist contributors, editors, and the stylish people in our orbit to help us figure out the best contenders. After tweeting a call for submissions, we were inundated with responses from eager, highly opinionated folks. Then we called in just under a hundred options, from gels, rollerballs, felt-tips, ballpoints, and fountain pens, before putting each and every one to the test.

The result is an almost definitive list of the 87 best pens, according to Strategist editors and writers. Of course, what makes one pen better than another differs from person to person. If you have a favourite that you don’t see in our (quite exhaustive) list, do let us know — we might just test it when we revise our list in the future.

Candidates

Before we started testing pens, we trawled through our own archives (and did some top-notch snooping on the internet) to determine which ones should make the list. What we found were pens favoured by discerning people — such as the one Lynn Enright and her husband fought over during lockdown and the specific nib size that Chinti & Parker founder Anna Singh insists on.

We snooped on the favourite pens from influencers such as My Blossom Journal and Anastasia Dedosha, and we quizzed business owners, such as Papier CEO Taymoor Atighetchi, Pigment Perfect’s Jane D’Offay, and designer Chloe Ainsley on their choices. We thought people who sign a lot of books — such as authors Laura Jane Williams, Raven Leilani, and André Aciman — would be worth consulting, too, to find out what they used day-to-day (or for special occasions). We sifted through our look at the best-reviewed pens on Amazon. And then we lurked on pen sub-Reddits (such as r/ForTheLoveOfPens, r/PenAndInk, and r/FountainPens) to see what highly invested pen enthusiasts recommended for all manner of situations.

Criteria

Among our team we have those who grew up using fountain pens, others who like rich, inky gels, and some who swear by whatever Biro is on sale at WHSmith. Our individual preferences vary, so we put together criteria in order to standardise our reviewing. Each pen was evaluated on a scale of 0 (poor) through 5 (excellent).

Smoothness: How easily does the pen glide across the page? Does the tip feel scratchy or catch on the paper? How smoothly does the ink flow?

Smudging: Does the ink smudge on the paper or on your hand when writing? To what degree?

Bleed-through: Does the ink bleed through to the other side of the page?

Feel: How does the pen feel in your hand? Is it comfortable to hold? Is it heavy or light?

Looks: Is it a beautiful writing instrument? Are there design elements that make the pen stand out?

Editor’s note: With the Smudging and Bleed-through categories, given that these are negative qualities, we would award a pen with absolutely no smudging or bleed-through with 5 and work backwards from there.

Methodology

Once we narrowed our list down to the very best, most highly recommended pens, we divided them up among the Strategist’s U.K. staff to be rated according to our criteria. To standardise the writing surface, we asked each tester to use the pens on the same Muji notebook and averaged each pen’s scores across the five categories. Each tester was given a sample sentence to write a few times; we chose “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” because it contains every letter in the alphabet, and we also encouraged notes, thoughts, and doodles to push the pens to their limits.

If two or more pens ended up with the same average score, we broke the tie by looking at each pen’s smoothness rating, as we collectively found this factor to be the most important one. Still, we were left with some pens that had the same average score and the same smoothness rating, so we broke that tie by looking at the smudging, as we felt this was the next most important criterion. Naturally, there was more than one occasion when a pen had the same average score, smoothness rating, and smudginess, so that’s when we took feel into account to decide the better option.

As our teammates are all right-handed, and conscious that we should heed the wisdom of some lefties, we also asked left-handed friends to occasionally weigh in with their thoughts on whether the specialist left-handed pens were worth it or not.

The best pen clinched the top spot with a mere 0.3-point lead. For devotees of a specific style, we’ve also noted which pens earned top marks within its type; we’ve listed them as “Best in Category,” and you can hit Ctrl-F if you’re specifically interested in our favorite felt-tip, ballpoint, rollerball, gel, or fountain pen. Click here to jump to the top 80, top 60, top 40, or top 20.

87. Uni-ball Air Micro

Smoothness: 0 | Smudging: 3| Bleed-through: 2| Feel: 4 | Looks: 1

The bold, bright design of this pen made me think I’d love it, but it is not pleasant to use. It’s so scratchy that it makes my notes look like I wrote them with an old-timey feather quill. The ink struggled to keep up when writing more than a few sentences, stopping then starting again with a gush that bled through to the next page. —Rosie Percy, senior audience manager

Total score: 2.0

86. Lamy Safari Fine Nib

Smoothness: 3.5 | Smudging: 0| Bleed-through: 3| Feel: 2 | Looks: 2.5

I usually have a cheap-y fountain pen in rotation (Zebra is my preferred brand) and was excited to try a slightly more glamorous model. However, there is something not quite right about this pen: The barrel is angular, so it never quite slots against your finger. This means it’s tricky to set the nib at the correct angle and to get into the flow of the pen. Additionally, there is a very ugly clip on the lid. The ink is very smudgy, and it looks like it only takes Lamy-branded cartridges (a poor outcome), but it warms up swiftly for a cartridge-based fountain pen. —Ailbhe Malone, Strategist UK editor

Total score: 2.2

85. Uni Pin Drawing Pen (1.2 mm.)

Smoothness: 2.1 | Smudging: 1.1| Bleed-through: 2| Feel: 3.1 | Looks: 3

At 1.2 millimetres, this pen is much too thick to be comfortable to write with. I might use it for highlighting or making very short notes, but that’s about it. Because the nib is so thick — it’s basically a felt-tip — it ends up getting quite scratchy, and it’s very clunky, too. Unsurprisingly, there’s also a lot of bleed-through to the other side of the paper. Though I like the body of the pen, the nib is so thick that it looks out of place on the end of the pen — I can’t see myself returning to this pen in the future. —Hannah Holway, contributor.

Total score: 2.3

84. Pilot Pintor Fine

Smoothness: 2.5 | Smudging: 1| Bleed-through: 3| Feel: 2 | Looks: 3

Unlike other markers that feel more like bingo daubers, this pen has a tapered, stronger felt tip that makes it surprisingly easy to write with. It retained my handwriting style (even when I need something thicker to scrawl across a Jiffy bag). Although the highly pigmented, smell-free ink doesn’t bleed too much, you will need to allow drying time or it’ll smudge. —R.P.

Total score: 2.3

83. Pilot DR Drawing Pen (0.5 mm.)

Type: Fineliner
£17 for 12

Smoothness: 2 | Smudging: 3 | Bleed-through: 3| Feel: 2 | Looks: 2

As a staple fineliner for drawing or outlining, this pen does the job. But for everyday (often rushed) writing, its scratchy nib makes my handwriting look spidery, and I can imagine it breaking under the pressure of furious scribbling. —R.P.

Total score: 2.4

82. Uni-ball Eye Fine UB-157

Type: Fineliner
£5 for 3

Smoothness: 3.4 | Smudging: 2.2 | Bleed-through: 1.5| Feel: 2.8 | Looks: 2.5

This professional-looking pen seems like it should belong in a salesperson’s front shirt pocket (the greige colour scheme screams just sign here to me). That aside, the pen writes pretty well: The ink is highly pigmented, but it’s not the smoothest pen I’ve used, and it can bleed through. Depending on the paper, I found that text became fuzzy looking around the edges as the ink blew out. —R.P.

Total score: 2.5

81. Pilot Pintor M

Smoothness: 4 | Smudging: 0 | Bleed-through: 4| Feel: 2 | Looks: 3

This thick marker pen is the definition of an acquired taste. It takes 20 shakes (or shaking for 20 seconds) before the ink bleeds into the tip, and, even then, you need to push and release the nib to get the ink to flow. So it’s fiddly, especially when a Sharpie is probably within arm’s reach. But it’s so dorky, and I kind of liked that — it looks like something Neil Buchanan might have used on Art Attack. As a thick marker, it works very well, but there are far more streamlined options out there. —Chris Mandle, staff writer

Total score: 2.6

80. Stabilo Flow

Smoothness: 4.2 | Smudging: 0 | Bleed-through: 4| Feel: 1 | Looks: 3.8

This is a lovely fountain pen for beginners. The nib width is ideal, and there is very little bleed-through. I dislike the childish chunky barrel, but others may like it — beware the incredibly smudgy ink, though. If you’re new to fountain pens, you’ll be pleased to see that this takes standard cartridges. —A.M. 

Total score: 2.6

79. Stabilo Sensor Fine (0.3 mm.)

Type: Fineliner
£11
£11

Smoothness: 2.8 | Smudging: 3.9 | Bleed-through: 1| Feel: 3 | Looks: 2.5

We reviewed two of Stabilo’s sensor pens; the finer of the two does feel smoother than its medium counterpart (see below), with less scratchiness during general note-taking. But the bleed-through was much worse, which brought the total score down significantly. The fine nib makes me very nervous about pressing too hard — if you’re an (almost aggressively) firm writer like me, this isn’t for you. But it’s likely that, given the two scored quite similarly, your personal taste might dictate which one is best for you. —R.P.

Total score: 2.6

78. Stabilo Sensor Medium (0.7 mm.)

Type: Fineliner
£10 for 10

Smoothness: 2 | Smudging: 3.9 | Bleed-through: 2.5| Feel: 3 | Looks: 2.5

This is a very scratchy fineliner to use for everyday writing. It makes my handwriting look Halloween-y, and I can’t see the nib standing up to my frantic scribbling. This is definitely more for the gentler, precise writers or sketchers among us. —R.P.

Total score: 2.8

77. BIC Round Stic Xtra Comfort (1.2 mm.)

Type: Ballpoint
£4
£4

Smoothness: 2 | Smudging: 5 | Bleed-through: 5| Feel: 1 | Looks: 1

This pen is oddly skinny — it feels like a pen you’d get for free at Freshers’ Week. For such a functional pen, it is dysfunctional to use: It sticks as it writes and feels like it would snap should I accidentally leave it at the bottom of my laptop bag. —A.M.

Total score: 2.8

76. Uni-ball Pin Fine Brush

Smoothness: 4.1 | Smudging: 3 | Bleed-through: 2 | Feel: 2 | Looks: 3.2

This “brush” pen is basically a very smooth paintbrush-style ink, which is quite strange to use for writing with. At times it feels very soft on the page, but because it makes such a thick line, the ink sort of gets clogged up and it often feels very scratchy because of that. As it’s not a very sturdy nib, it’s pretty good for bleed-through, and it’s not too bad when it comes to smudging, either. However, it’s just a very strange pen to write notes with. I could see it being nice for some doodling (which I’m awful at anyway). —H.H.

Total score: 2.8

75. Maped Visio

Smoothness: 4.1 | Smudging: 3 | Bleed-through: 2 | Feel: 2 | Looks: 3.2

To help us judge this pen most effectively, I passed it on to my friend Kevin, who is a leftie, to see what he thought too. When I tried writing with it, despite being right-handed, a few thoughts stuck out: Firstly, it’s awful looking. Sorry, Stabilo. But things like the weighted lower half, which are intended to keep the pen in optimal place when writing, don’t make it any nicer to look at. That said, the grip on the barrel is really effective — I could hold this surprisingly well. And the ink has a very smooth flow to it. Kevin agreed with me, adding that, despite being intended to avoid drag, the pen did smudge and bleed through a fair bit. He also thought it didn’t feel like a more comfortable alternative to his usual pen, which is the Paper Mate Matte Flair (which we review below). —C.M.

Total score: 2.9

74. Sakura Micron 005 (0.2 mm.)

Smoothness: 2 | Smudging: 4.9 | Bleed-through: 4.9 | Feel: 1 | Looks: 2

When I spoke to Jane D’Offay, founder of Pigment Perfect, she spoke highly of these pens, which she uses for line-illustration drawings. I was definitely impressed at the zero smudging and bleed-through. But I found the narrow nib, which I suppose would be perfect for fine illustrating, just a little too frustrating to write with. —C.M.

Total score: 3.0

73. Kaweco Classic Sport

Smoothness: 4.5 | Smudging: 0 | Bleed-through: 2 | Feel: 5 | Looks: 3.7

This didn’t come with an ink cartridge, so I’m going to give it a smudginess based on the cartridge I could fit in (the Stabilo Sporty). Something to note is that this pen has an exceptionally short body. When I had ogled it in fancy stationery stores like Papersmiths, this is what I liked best about it, but upon writing with it, the balance is off. One could wonder if it would be more balanced with a different ink cartridge, but I think the shortness will forever make it a little awkward. However, the mid-century design and the lovely nib width (it writes nicely both on the flat and the tip) mean that I’m fond of it overall. —A.M.

Total score: 3

72. Uni-ball Signo UM-153 Broad (1 mm.)

Smoothness: 2.2 | Smudging: 4 | Bleed-through: 4 | Feel: 2.1 | Looks: 3.3

I’m not a fan of the look or the feel of this pen to write with, although the gel grip is admittedly very comfortable. You have to press down quite hard on the nib to get a satisfying amount of ink on the page, and, even then, the ink breaks quite a lot, which is frustrating. This is technically a Biro, which I don’t really care for, although it does mean there’s no bleed-through or smudginess. —H.H.

Total score: 3.1

71. Monteverde One Touch Stylus

Smoothness: 3 | Smudging: 4| Bleed-through: 4 | Feel: 2.1 | Looks: 2.3

This pen is similar to the Troika Construction Pen (below), but the body is slightly thinner. That said, I still find it much too clunky to hold, and the angles of the pen barrel feel frustrating against my finger while writing. I don’t mind the look of these sorts of pens from the outside, but I just can’t see myself using them regularly at all (unless I need a stylus, spirit level, ruler, or screwdriver, of course). —H.H.

Total score: 3.1

70. Troika Construction

Smoothness: 3 | Smudging: 4.1| Bleed-through: 4 | Feel: 2.2 | Looks: 2.1

Like the Monteverde, this is a multiuse pen that also features a screwdriver, stylus, spirit level, and ruler — so it would be extremely helpful for people who need all of those devices for work. Purely as a pen, though, it’s too uncomfortable to hold for a long period of time, as the body is too thick and rigid. The scratchiness of the nib was to be expected, for me, as it looks and feels just like a regular Biro. These two pens are strong in different areas — the Monteverde got more points for looks but is less comfortable. —H.H.

Total score: 3

69. BIC Soft Feel Fine (1 mm.)

£10 for 12

Smoothness: 4 | Smudging: 3.5 | Bleed-through: 5 | Feel: 2 | Looks: 1

These pens look and feel lower budget: They’re very thin to hold, which causes hand cramp while writing for an extended period, and when I gave it a mild bend for testing, something cracked. That being said, the pens write quite smoothly with next to no scratching, so for a stationery cupboard staple that you wouldn’t mind someone borrowing (or potentially losing), they do the job. —R.P.

Total score: 3.1

68. Lamy Tipo

Smoothness: 2.8 | Smudging: 4.5 | Bleed-through: 3 | Feel: 3.5 | Looks: 2

Unfortunately, this Lamy pen feels a bit cheap. It’s lacking any satisfying weight, and the ridged grip is made from the same plastic as the barrel (rather than rubber), so instead of making the pen more comfortable to hold, it just dug into the side of my finger, leaving a red welt for a while even after I stopped writing. The discomfort affected my handwriting, making it look sloppy. So I wouldn’t recommend this one. —R.P.

Total score: 3.2

67. BIC Gel-ocity Quick Dry

Smoothness: 5 | Smudging: 4 | Bleed-through: 2.5 | Feel: 3 | Looks: 1.5

The smooth writing quality of the pen was overshadowed by its rubbery cover that flares out in a lip above the nib, making it quite uncomfortable to hold depending on your grip. After some adjustment, the ink was nice to write with, but my handwriting did look a little messier because of how I had to hold it. —R.P.

Total score: 3.2

66. Kuretake Zig Letter Pen

Smoothness: 5 | Smudging: 2 | Bleed-through: 2 | Feel: 4 | Looks: 3

It’s a nice-looking pen, but it bleeds and smudges so easily that it can make a real mess. The fine tip provides a smooth flow of ink (maybe too smooth!), and it feels nice and balanced in my hand when I use it. It’s also exceptionally satisfying to doodle with; you can shade and sketch narrow lines effortlessly. I doodled with it when I was on a phone call with my bank, and it felt like the pen was figure skating on the page. —C.M.

Total score 3.2

65. Uni-ball Pin Fine Line (0.9 mm.)

£5 for 3

Smoothness: 4 | Smudging: 2 | Bleed-through: 2 | Feel: 4.1 | Looks: 4

We have reviewed a few of Uni-ball’s Fine Line pens; this is the worst rated of the lot, though. The 0.9-millimetre nib pen is liable to smudging — the ink drags across the page as soon as you touch it, and I imagine it’d be even worse while writing on something like a magazine. The bleed-through is about the same as with the 0.7-millimetre (which we have reviewed below), and the ink looks and feels very similar on the page. The lack of a comfortable grip means I could see this pen getting uncomfortable to write with after a while, but the pen in general does look great. —H.H.

Total score: 3.2

64. Uni-ball Eye Needle (0.5 mm.)

Smoothness: 5 | Smudging: 2 | Bleed-through: 4 | Feel: 1 | Looks: 4.2

Everyone swears by this pen — it’s easy to find, has a lovely liquid ink, and looks quite professional. I found the smoothness excellent, and it’s particularly good for doodling (to which I am partial). My biggest gripe with Uni-ball pens is they look a bit awful, but this slightly more streamlined version attempts to tackle that. Like the others, though, it smudges easily, and I don’t think it’s that remarkable to hold and use, either. Aesthetically, though, it’s pleasing. —C.M.

Total score: 3.2

63. Caran d’Ache Alchemix

Smoothness: 2 | Smudging: 4 | Bleed-through: 4 | Feel: 3.1 | Looks: 3.2

This pen comes in a pleasing case, and I quite like the feel of the pen in my hand. It has a short body, though, which ends up feeling a bit strange when you’re writing. The nib is also short, which is another pet peeve of mine. This pen is great in terms of smudginess and bleed-through, as it’s not a thick stream of ink, and the nib is also very soft on the page. I would probably use this to write shopping or to-do lists sometimes, but I wouldn’t want to write with it for very long — it can get quite scratchy on the paper. —H.H.

Total score: 3.3

62. Pilot G-2 Retractable (0.7 mm.)

Type: Rollerball
£2
£2

Smoothness: 4.1 | Smudging: 4 | Bleed-through: 4 | Feel: 4.2 | Looks: 3

Firstly, I love the case that these Pilot G-2 gel pens come in — a hard plastic case with a lid that clips on satisfyingly. I’m not a huge fan of the look of the actual pens, but the squidgy grip is a massive plus for the comfort factor. I really enjoy the feel of the ink, which doesn’t break at all on the page — the nib is also the perfect width. As it’s quite a thick gel pen, there is a bit of smudging, so I imagine that on thinner or more glossy paper/card, it would be even worse. —H.H.

Total score: 3.3

61. Stabilo Palette (0.4 mm.)

Type: Rollerball
£15 for 20
£15 for 20

Smoothness: 4.1 | Smudging: 4 | Bleed-through: 4 | Feel: 2 | Looks: 2.2

I wasn’t expecting to love this gel-style pen, partly because of the curved shape of the pen’s body, but the soft material means it feels great to write with, and I particularly like the fact that you can see how much ink you have left through the little window near the nib. I was also pleasantly surprised that even though the ink seems to come out pretty thick, it somehow doesn’t smudge on the page. I think with thinner paper, there would probably be some bleed-through, but overall this is a great pen. —H.H.

Total score: 3.3

60. Stabilo Bl@ck+

Type: Rollerball
£20 for 10

Smoothness: 3.3 | Smudging: 4 | Bleed-through: 2 | Feel: 3.1 | Looks: 4

For me, writing with a rollerball definitely beats a Biro, but with this pen, the ink does bleed through to the other side of the page quite a lot. I’d imagine that if I was writing on a thinner type of paper (such as on a newspaper or a magazine), the nib would probably break through the page. But for doodling and writing notes and lists, this pen is great, and it feels smooth and un-scratchy on the paper. Strangely, considering the ink comes out quite thick, there’s practically no smudginess, which makes this a very easy pen to use every day. —H.H.

Total score: 3.3

59. Platinum Preppy

Smoothness: 3.5 | Smudging: 4.2 | Bleed-through: 4 | Feel: 2.8 | Looks: 2

This fountain pen takes a long time to warm up and is then underwhelming. Others may like the frosted plastic casing, but I don’t. —A.M.

Total score: 3.3

58. Cello Tri-Mate

Photo: retailer

Smoothness: 3.8 | Smudging: 4 | Bleed-through: 5 | Feel: 1 | Looks: 3

This pen is fine. A solid C. It’ll do. The three-sided barrel is comfortable to hold, and the fine tip isn’t as scratchy as other fineliners. It’s also not the smoothest pen I’ve tried, and the design is very basic. I wouldn’t recommend it to those who write with harder pressure, but, in a pinch, this pen will be okay. —R.P.

Total score: 3.4

57. Stabilo PointMax Medium (0.8 mm.)

Type: Felt-tip
£11 for 10

Smoothness: 4 | Smudging: 5 | Bleed-through: 2 | Feel: 3 | Looks: 3

The ink on this Stabilo 0.8-millimetre felt-tip comes out very thick, but it does feel smooth on the page. I wouldn’t really use it to write long sentences, but I’ve used the red one to underline and annotate, which works well. As it’s a felt-tip, there’s no smudging at all, but there’s a chance that using this pen to write on different material, such as card, would cause some smudging if you touched the ink straight away. And, unsurprisingly, with such thick ink, there’s a lot of bleed-through on the other side of the page. I do like the look of this pen, though, despite the fact that the lid looks a little strange when placed on top of the pen during use. —H.H.

Total score: 3.4

56. Lamy Safari

Smoothness: 3 | Smudging: 4 | Bleed-through: 5 | Feel: 3 | Looks: 2

This pen is designed for gripping, with grooves in the barrel to make it easy to hold. That said, I thought it felt quite standard for a pen — it writes just like a regular Biro, but aesthetically it’s far less pleasing. It’s quite chunky, too. If you find gripping a pen hard, this might be a better option for you than the more typical ballpoints out there. —C.M.

Total score: 3.4

55. BIC 4 Colours Original

Type: Ballpoint
£5 for 3
£5 for 3

Smoothness: 4 | Smudging: 5 | Bleed-through: 5 | Feel: 2 | Looks: 1

This pen makes me think of school. The chunky barrel is not comfortable in my hand (thought that could be muscle memory from speed-writing history essays). I don’t feel positively towards this pen. —A.M.

Total score: 3.4

54. Pilot B2P BeGreen Retractable

Smoothness: 4 | Smudging: 4 | Bleed-through: 5 | Feel: 3.2 | Looks: 1

This pen looks a little goofy (it’s made from old bottles) but writes very well. It’s incredibly smooth (as it should be — it’s a ballpoint), but the barrel is a little too chunky for me. —A.M.

Total score: 3.4

53. Uni-ball Eye Broad

Smoothness: 4 | Smudging: 2 | Bleed-through: 3 | Feel: 4.2 | Looks: 4

While I love rollerballs, this one-millimetre nib is just a little too thick for me; the ink not only bleeds through the paper a considerable amount but also within its own lettering, meaning I have to make my natural word size a bit larger to make sure it looks coherent. It would be better to have a supportive grip (I can see my fingers getting a bit uncomfortable after a while writing with this). There’s also a considerable amount of smudging, so I think I would only use this for writing shorter notes and lists. —H.H.

Total score: 3.4

52. Uni-ball Pin Fine Line (0.7 mm.)

Smoothness: 4 | Smudging: 3 | Bleed-through: 2 | Feel: 4.2 | Looks: 4

I wouldn’t normally go for a 0.7-millimetre nib, but I really like how easily the ink flows on this pen. It came recommended to us by Penguin illustrator Holly Ovenden, who uses it for her pen and ink drawings. It feels nice and smooth to write with, especially compared to Uni-ball’s thinner fine-line pens (such as the 0.3-millimetre model; see below). The ink smudges much less, but the bleed-through is much more obvious due to the thicker nib, which cost it some points. —H.H.

Total score: 3.4

51. Uni-ball Pin Fine Line (0.3 mm.)

Smoothness: 3 | Smudging: 2| Bleed-through: 4 | Feel: 4.1 | Looks: 4.2

The nib on this is very slightly too thin for my personal taste, but I do love the feel of the pen while writing with it and the look of it (especially the design of the lid). Annoyingly, the ink smudges on the page almost immediately, so you need to leave it to dry every time you write. Because the nib is so thin, there’s barely any bleed-through, which is another bonus. While it’s not my favourite pen to write with, and I could do with the nib being a little thicker, overall it’s a very high-quality pen. —H.H.

Total score: 3.5

50. OHTO Needle (0.3 mm.)

Smoothness: 3 | Smudging: 5 | Bleed-through: 5 | Feel: 1.8 | Looks: 2.5

I couldn’t even write a sentence without this pen making my hand cramp. It’s so thin and feeble, it’s difficult to grip, and the ink is scratchy and unpleasant. Even doodling (my favourite pastime!) is a chore. This might suit someone who wants eyelash-thin lettering, but, for me, the only standout qualities were the lack of smudging and bleed-through. Also a pen this thin is going to be a nightmare to find at the bottom of a bag.C.M. [Editor’s note: this product is currently low in stock.]

Total score: 3.5

49. BIC Gel-ocity (0.7 mm.)

Type: Gel
£10 for 12
£10 for 12

Smoothness: 4 | Smudging: 3.1 | Bleed-through: 4 | Feel: 3 | Looks: 3.2

From the outside, this looks exactly like a standard Biro, but underneath it’s a gel pen that feels great to write with. The ink is smooth, and it doesn’t break at all when writing with it. There’s also hardly any bleed-through at all, though there’s a little bit of smudging, which is to be expected with a gel pen. However, as opposed to something like a Muji gel pen, this just doesn’t look great. Still, I love the way the ink feels on the page with this gel pen, so I’ll definitely be using this regularly. —H.H.

Total score: 3.5

48. Staedtler 334 Triplus (0.3 mm.)

Type: Fineliner
£8 for 10

Smoothness: 4.5 | Smudging: 5 | Bleed-through: 2.9 | Feel: 2 | Looks: 3

This pen is unusually smooth for a fineliner — the nib isn’t angled, so you can write at a slant without the scratchiness you sometimes get. However, I dislike how the top of the pen is a triangle, so you have to slot the lid on in a specific way. —A.M.

Total score: 3.5

47. Pilot Synergy Retractable (0.5 mm.)

£4

Smoothness: 3 | Smudging: 5 | Bleed-through: 4 | Feel: 2 | Looks: 4.1

I wasn’t expecting much from this gel-style pen. This feels really nice to write with. One downside is that the ink is quite faint on the page, so if you’re like me and get frustrated with ink breakages in your writing or doodling, this can be a bit annoying. But the fact that the ink lies more on the fainter side is also a plus, because there’s basically no smudginess or bleed-through on the page at all. While the pen looks pretty sleek and features a soft grip where your finger would rest while writing, unfortunately there’s a fatal design flaw: When the top of the pen is pressed down so as to reveal the nib, part of the pen rattles against the body. This gets pretty annoying when you’re writing, which is a shame because the other components of the pen are all there. —H.H.

Total score: 3.6

46. Pilot V7 Hi-Tecpoint (0.7 mm.)

Smoothness: 3 | Smudging: 5 | Bleed-through: 4.2 | Feel: 4 | Looks: 2

This pen is part rollerball, part fountain pen with an unusual cartridge system: It took me a couple of goes to see how to replace the cartridge (and the pen uses a proprietary cartridge, which is a bit of a pain). As the nib is so fine, it scratches a bit as it writes, but it’s worth noting that I’m used to a fountain pen or a Biro: Other rollerball fans may disagree. —A.M.

Total score: 3.6

45. Uni-ball Eye Micro UB-150

£6 for 5

Smoothness: 4.5 | Smudging: 2.5 | Bleed-through: 3 | Feel: 4 | Looks: 4.1

It’s easy to understand the appeal of the Uni-ball. It feels lovely in your hand — it’s very lightweight, but when you write, the ink has a good bit of heft to it. And on the page, the ink is almost glossy. But like most the Uni-ball pens I reviewed, it’s just not very nice looking; it’s fine, but there are pens on here that I think are gift worthy because of their aesthetics. This is absolutely dependable as a pen, but the smudging is frustrating (which, admittedly, isn’t helped by the fact that I’m a fairly scrappy writer). —C.M.

Total score: 3.6

44. Uni-ball Vision Elite

£21 for 12

Smoothness: 5 | Smudging: 5 | Bleed-through: 3 | Feel: 3 | Looks: 2

This pen was my preferred choice in secondary school, although I recall it being a lot smudgier then. It’s perfectly fine, though I don’t trust the “airplane safe” claims given how often they used to leak in my schoolbag. —A.M.

Total score: 3.6

43. Stabilo Pointball (0.5 mm.)

Smoothness: 3 | Smudging: 4 | Bleed-through: 5 | Feel: 3 | Looks: 3.3

I enjoy the look of these Biros — they come in a four-pack of different colours — and they’re also made from 79 percent recycled plastics. Unfortunately, though, the pen has quite a thick body, so it doesn’t feel too comfortable. It’s also not great to write with; though the ink does flow pretty smoothly, there’s a lot of breakage, as I’ve found to be common with Biros. Not only is the pen quite thick, but the nib that comes out when you click it down is really short, meaning that when you write with it, you can’t really see the nib make contact with the paper. There’s absolutely no bleed-through and barely any smudginess, but it’s not enough to convince me to use this again. —H.H.

Total score: 3.7

42. Moleskine Stylo-roller

Photo: retailer

Smoothness: 3.7 | Smudging: 4 | Bleed-through: 5 | Feel: 4 | Looks: 2

My first thought when unboxing this pen was How am I supposed to hold this? The wide, flat pen is primarily designed to look nice tucked into a notebook rather than write that well — held narrow side up seems to be the easiest way to write with it. It has very little grip, making my hand slip toward the nib every sentence or so, but it’s perfectly fine for note-taking on the go. —R.P.

Total score: 3.7