Look in the pocket or bag of any self-respecting geek and you’ll find a pen. Or two. Or 12. I have about 40 pens within a 3′ stretch of me where I’m writing this.
Of course, I don’t use all of them. They’re the detritus of years of experimentation, checking out new pens all the time, in my ever-present quest to find The Perfect Pen – or at least my next one.
The right pen is important, as Lifehack contributor David Pierce recently told us. As with all tools, the better it feels to use a pen, the more likely you are to do so.
And pens have personalities. Some pens might make you feel creative and free, while others make you feel formal and official — which explains why I take roll in my classes with a different pen from the one clipped to my Moleskine.
Now, it’s easy to spend a fortune on a pen — $200 is chicken feed in the world of premium pens, a world far beyond this poor writer’s means. But there are plenty of affordable pens out there that have gotten the “seal of approval” (signed with a flourish, of course) from pen geeks everywhere. Here, then, are ten decently-priced pens that bring a flush to the cheeks of even the snobbiest geeks.
(Note: All prices in US dollars.)
- Pilot G2: Cheap, comfortable, and wonderful to write with, the Pilot G2 is especially favored by Moleskine enthusiasts because its gel ink flows nicely on the notebook’s ultra-smooth pages and it doesn’t soak through to the other side. The G2 sells for about $2.00 each in black and comes in three thicknesses (0.5mm, 0.7mm, and 1mm) and a variety of colors (colored pens cost a little more). They’re even refillable! A variety of Pilot pens use the same refills, including models with much thicker barrels, metal barrels, and the G2 mini which is a little over half the size of the standard G2.
- Staedtler Pigment Liners: Often sold in the technical drawing section of the office supply or art store, pigment pens are fiber-tipped pens with archival-quality liquid ink. They’re available in a variety of widths, from 1mm all the way down to 0.05mm for incredibly detailed work. Preferred by artists and drafters, pigment pens are also great for things like writing “cheat sheets” of information onto index cards or Post-Its. They’re sold individually for a few bucks each, but are commonly available in sets of 4 sizes for under $10.
- Zebra Telescopic Brights: A comfortable pen with a wolid-feeling metal barrel, Zebra’s telescoping pens collapse to about half their length, making them great for keeping in a pocket or wallet. They’re refillable, come in 6 colors, and cost under $5 for a 2-pack.
- Lamy Logo Multi-Color Ballpoint: Most multi-color pens look like kids toys, but not the Lamy Multi-Color Ballpoint. Lamy pens are the height of style, and the Logo Multi-Color is no exception — it fits black, red, and blue ink cartridges into a barrel no wider than most single-color pens. It’s a tad pricey at $35, making itthe most expensive on this list, but Lamy pens are well-made and a joy to write with — a lot of cheaper multi-color pens (or multi-function pens, for that matter) feel cheap, even when they’re not.
- Inka: For people who don’t like to keep pens in their pockets, the Inka’s got you covered. This collapsible pen has a keyring at one end so you always have it with you. The two-piece design screws together to form a typical-length pen, with a pressurized ink cartridge that will write upside-down and on wet surfaces. The pen closes sexcurely (so the pen won’t fall out ofthe cap when notin use) and is even waterproof. Inka pens run $20.
- Fisher Space Bullet: Is there anything cooler than using the same pen that astronauts use? Designed to write in any conditions, the Fisher Space Pen’s pressurized cartridge write upside-down, across wet or greasy surfaces, and in extreme cold — perfect if you ever find yourself needing to add a “next action” while in orbit. The Bullet pen closes to about 3″ long, with round ends, so you can keep it in your pocket easily. Fisher makes other pens that use their special ink cartridges — I have a 4-function pen my brother gave me for my birthday last year — but the $22 Space Bullet is the classic.
- Sharpie Pen: Not just for packing labels and toilet stall graffiti anymore, Sharpie’s new line of pens get almost everything right. The ink doesn’t bleed (it’s not the same ink you find in Sharpie permanent markers), the barrels are not too thick nor too thin, and the fiber-tip draws a line that’s fine but not invisible. And they’re cheap — $6 or $7 for a pack of 4. The only drawback is that the writing on the barrel chips off if you keep it in your pocket for months. (Obviously not enough of a problem to keep me from keeping one in my pocket for months…)
- Flair: Often overlooked in favor of newer, fancier markers, Flair pens are great for tasks like mind-mapping and taking notes where several colors are useful. As always, they have that funky-feeling grooved body and quick-drying fiber tip that squashes flat over time. But if you treat them nice, they’ll treat you nice in return. A little over a buck a pop, the thing to do is to buy sets of 12 colors for around $15 and keep a handful in your bag all the time.
- Rotring Expandable Pen: The official GTD pen, this one is discontinued but is available exclusively through David Allen’s store. Like the Zebra pen above, but classy — a brass barrel with lacquered finish gives it that substantial feeling that I love. Rotring is a premium brand, but these can be had for $19.
- Pilot Varsity: I started with a Pilot pen and I’ll finish with a Pilot pen: the Varsity. This is a strange beast — a disposable fountain pen. Ilove fountain pens, but cheap ones tend not to write very nicely and and expensive ones are, well, expensive. Plus, nearly every fountain pen I’ve ever had has blackened my fingers something fierce — except the Varsity. For only a bit above $3 apiece, these little plastic pens write nicely (and the ink flows immediately every time) and don’t leak. Used normally, the line is about 1 mm, but you can flip it over and use the tippy-tip (I’m sure there’s a technical name for it…) for a great fine line, too. Be careful, especially if you’re left-handed – fountain pen ink smudges.
What are your favorite pens? Feel free to share your own favorites, and the reasons why, in the comments — like I said, I’m always on the lookout for a new great pen.