As much as love writing with a fountain pen, it’s not always the right tool for the job. For jotting random notes, you’re better off with something you don’t have to uncap. Obviously the Pilot Vanishing Point can do that, but its price kind of rules it out as the pocket pen that might end up in the wash.
Something about note taking or making grocery lists with a fountain pen feels like a slight to the instrument. Part of the fun of fountain pens is the ritual aspect. It’s nice to have a pen that’s just for long form writing.
That said, my fountain pen habit has raised my standards for what writing should feel like. I don’t have to use a fountain pen, but I can’t settle for any old pen. Fortunately, I don’t have to settle. There are some excellent jotters out there that are cheap, easy to find, and smooth. here are my favorites.
The current go-to in my pen cup and the #1 pen on Amazon, the Pilot G2 excels at being average and dependable. This is the Honda Civic option. It’s reliable, everyone has one, and for those of us who move on to something nicer, this was often our first experience of a good pen.
I like it because it’s everywhere. This is the best pen you can buy at Rite-Aid or Walgreens. It’s cheap, and you’ll lose it before it runs out of ink.
There are smoother pens out there, even in the disposable category, but what brings me back to the Pilot again and again is its wide availability. For a look at its downsides, check out Office Supply Geek.
Bic Orange Ball Pen
Like Bic lighters, Bic pens are classics of functional thrift that outclass everything in their price range and many above it. They’re made insanely well and priced ludicrously cheap.
The Cristal and Orange Ball models have hexagonal barrels rather than round ones which make them more comfortable to grip than the round Bics, that is until you get writer’s cramp anyway because, after all, you’re writing with a ball point pen.
Bic claims their ball points contain enough ink to lay down 2km worth of ink. But that doesn’t matter, because you’ll never be attached enough to a single Bic to do that much writing with it. At around $5 for a pack of 20, these cost $0.25 apiece.
Or the Jason Bourne option… The Zebra’s barrel is made of solid steel, so it’s indestructible. This pen could save your life. It can be used to punch out glass to escape a wrecked or sinking car or as a last-ditch self defense weapon. But it’s also available wherever cheap pens are sold.
This recommendation comes from retired commando Clint Emerson’s book, 100 Deadly Skills.
Japan’s Uni-ball makes a line of inexpensive gel pens, some of which are widely available in the States, all of which are a joy to write with. If you’re not into fountain pens, but want a smooth writing experience, look no further. I like the Signo because it clicks open and makes for a great pocket pen, but for some reason, the UM151 and the Vision tend to write better and feel more substantial in the hand.
According to JetPen’s Comprehensive Guide to Uni-Ball, these pens owe their smoothness to an edgeless tip with rounded corners where the rolling ball meets the housing at the tip of the pen. The result is zero scratchiness no matter what angle you write at. Few fountain pens write this well.
Blackwing 601 Pencil
John Steinbeck wrote about this pencil, calling “the best he’s ever found.” Quincy Jones used it to correct his sheet music, Nabokov wrote with it–in lawn chairs and passenger seats while his wife, Vera, drove—and the creators of MadMen put it in the hands of the copywriters and the art department on that show. The cult following of this pen has a home online at BlackwingPages.
If you’re into fountain pens for the history and the heritage, the Blackwing delivers that in an erasable media. It was discontinued in 1998, but you can still buy it online.