pixel art pilot metropolitan, gold

It should surprise you not one single iota. Combine the persnicketiness necessary for a programmer, the aesthetic preoccupations evident from how styled it all is, and the hints here and there that I’ve done some drawing in my time… and you get Strong Opinions about Pens.

Now, you may have your own opinions about pens, and if they make you happy, go no further. I am not about to deny anyone their pen pleasures. Not today, not in the year of our Lord twenty fuckin twenty somethin’.

However, if you are unsatisfied enough to be curious…

Everything on this page is under development because I have a handbook’s worth of aforementioned Opinions, and it is not worth waiting to express them in their totality.

ballpoint pens

Read this article in order to understand ballpoint pens, primarily so that you will understand why you should not use them, and to start to understand how handwriting and pen type relate. Their thick ink is a technological kludge; if you’ve ever noticed that they perform better on cheaper paper, you may start connecting dots. The thickness of the ink means that the ball doesn’t always want to roll, and the tooth of rougher paper grabs it. This is all fine and good if you need a pen that is cheap enough that you will not miss it, and I’m sure its invention is blah blah blah good for society, but you’re not here for that.

fountain pens

Fountain pens have a smoother glide. If you use bottled ink, they generate a lot less waste, and even if you use cartridges, I’m pretty sure that’s less plastic into the landfill than even normal pen refills. You can customize the writing experience to a truly stupid degree of exactness. Because they last forever, they are often very beautiful. Fountain pen ink has much more interesting options than pen refills if you are at all curious to venture beyond a functional-enough black.

goulet pens

These people know their pens, they know their inks, they will explain it all to you on video, and I have been ordering from them for years. Unless you are looking for something that is both unusual and Japanese, I would recommend to first try to work with Goulet Pens.
Here’s a sample of their really excellent videos.

swab shop

All those interesting ink options can get pretty overwhelming. The Goulet folks are here to let you compare swatches without having to run down a bunch of strangers’ blogs.

fountain pen arsenal

platinum - DP-1000AN

I haven’t had this one very long but I’m very impressed. Fine-fine-fine line, smooth writing, and it can even handle carbon (waterproof enough for art use) ink! I’ll say more once I’ve tried other ink in it.

ETA: Been a bit, but I have yet to try other ink in it. Sorry! I’m mostly using pens that are more streamlined for carrying around.

faber castell - neo slim, extra fine

The aesthetics of this are undeniable, but the flow is just not what you can get with a cheaper Japanese pen of the same line width. Also tends to dry up real fast.

pilot - metropolitan, fine nib

I have bought a couple of these in my life and they always perform amazingly… but the barrel gets very dinged up very easily1. I don’t totally understand why they don’t coat the whole thing in whatever coating the middle portion gets, because that’s always fine. Excellent flow, fine line, it can even handle sparkly inks…

pilot - kakuno, extra fine nib

Japanese extra fine nibs rock. I have the nib from this one in a Pilot Metropolitan body because I’m not as much of a fan of the appearance of any of the Kakuno pen options. Finer than the Platinum DP-1000AN.

noodler’s - flex nibs, various

I’ve owned a bunch of these and have come to the conclusion that while it’s fun to get the line variation, the pressure necessary for a decent end result is not worth the hand strain. Get a brush pen instead.

homu - hm9015 (barely-more-than-unmarked Shein pens)

I find it infuriating how good these pens are. They are a dollar apiece, for God’s sake. They have the opposite of “a satisfying heft”, being light plastic. And yet they outperform every Chinese-made pen I’ve ever ordered from eBay2. The line is not as fine as the Pilot EF nib’s, but it’s a mystifyingly smooth writer after careful flushing. The piston converter it comes with doesn’t have huge capacity, but it’s working nicely so far3. I’m only restraining myself from evangelizing these fully because I haven’t used them for long enough to know if they leak in bags or so forth. If you like having a lot of colored inks in pens inked up and ready to go, these might be for you!

rollerball pens

A rollerball pen is not a ballpoint pen. A rollerball pen uses proper liquid ink and is therefore spared my general disdain for ballpoints; less technically, they seem less prone to revoltingly overpriced scams aimed at people who know that pens can be fancy, but not why.

If you think you like this category and you like pens with fine lines, I heartily endorse Jetpens’ sampler pack of fine-lined pens.

uni-ball - signo um-151 / signo DX, 0.38 mm

This is my best and most reliable Hella Fine Line pen. If you’re a colored ink person, consider the many cool colors it comes in (including a very classy wine-red-black); if you endure pen theft, consider the 10-pack that brings the price (without shipping) under two bucks a pop. I now use the equivalent multi-pen components in the Uni Style Fit Meister.

zebra - sarasa dry pen, 0.4mm

This is fine, and if I wanted a real solid feeling clicky pen it’d be my top choice. I don’t really understand how people seem to have so much trouble with ink smearing that it’s a selling point; I’m left-handed and don’t typically have issues.

pilot - hi-tec-c, 0.3mm

Boo! Boo, I say! Look, I love the vibe of a needlepoint pen, but the ink for this one is so inconsistent. Even with a full refill, the ink will blob and thin unpredictably.

muji - smooth gel ink ballpoint pen

If for some reason you have this available and not the Uni-ball Signo, go for it. It’s not quite as nice – the ink doesn’t feel as liquid, and it’s not quick-drying – but it’s also sleek if you like Muji-looking things.

  1. Well, this is relative to my being a person who drops things on the floor a lot. 

  2. And oh, I have ordered many of those. 

  3. It wants multiple back-and-forth pumps to shove out air and fill it up properly, not one slow pump. About five seems perfect.