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The best ballpoint pens to buy in 2023

Nik Rawlinson
23 Jan 2023

Write comfortably and neatly with our selection of the best ballpoint pens from less than £1 each

Ballpoint pens are a cheap, traditional give-away. Gather up all the branded ball pens in your home and, between them, you probably have enough ink to write non-stop for the next several years. So why would you want to spend good money on yet more writing implements?

It’s a good question, with a very simple answer. Free pens are often made with one thing in mind – the price. The only reason brands can afford to give them away, aside from the fact they keep their name and logo in your eyeline, is that they cost almost nothing to buy. As a result, the ink might not be as smooth as you’d like, the barrel might quickly get slippy in sweaty hands, and they may run dry or break sooner than you’d expect.

But you don’t need to spend much to replace them with something that’s truly a joy to use. The cheapest pens in our roundup start at just 60p, yet come in a wide range of vibrant shades, are comfortable to use, and are refillable, reducing their environmental impact.

Here, we’ve picked out eight of our favourite ballpoint pens, each of which we’ve used in person, to help you identify which is best suited to your own particular needs. But before that, check out our buying guide, as there may be some factors you haven’t yet considered.

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Best ballpoint pens: At a glance

How to choose the best ballpoint pen for you

Ballpoint pens are the height of convenience. They don’t need refilling as often as fountain pens, don’t contain easily spilled ink, and can easily be capped and carried wherever you go. However, when buying a ballpoint pen, there are several factors you should consider.

What kind of ink do you prefer?

This is perhaps the most important question of all, since there are fundamental differences between the look of different inks and the experience of writing with them. Gel ink is similar to the ink in a rollerball, being slightly wetter, but not enough to drip. Paste-based ballpoint ink is thicker, and pens using it may move slightly more slowly, making them easier for some to control.

What colour ink do you need?

Black, blue, red and green ink are easy to source, but in rounding up pens for this review we’ve come across all manner of avant garde and arty tones, including pastel shades, fluorescent colours and even metallics. If you’re looking for a particularly unusual colour, this may limit the range of pens you can buy, but if that colour is available as a refill, your choice will be widened by buying the refill and inserting it into a compatible barrel, even if it means disposing of the ink that ships with the pen itself.

Look and feel

We’ve only included pens that we’ve actually used and found comfortable in our tests. However, your writing style, how you hold the pen, the kind of media you’re writing on, and other factors, may colour your own experience. Wherever possible, try out a pen in person if you can. If buying for younger users, you might find they have more success with a chunkier, possibly shorter pen, which they may find easier to grip.

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The best ballpoint pens you can buy in 2023

1. Tombow Reporter 4-Colour Pen: Best multi colour ballpoint pen

Price: £4 | Buy now from CultPens

Why carry four pens when you could just carry one? Tombow’s Reporter pen is well named, putting multiple colours in a single barrel, so you can quickly switch between them when taking notes. For anyone who needs to make an accurate record of what was said by whom, to record up to four different people’s words without mixing them up or putting names between paragraphs, or simply to highlight important points in a longer piece of text, it’s a great tool to have at hand.

The ink, in blue, black, red and green, is refillable using BR-CS2 refills, and the selectors have a definite clicky action. Each springs back up and retracts the associated 0.7mm nib when you half-press any other colour. Each also has a unique pattern on the protruding part, which means, when you get to know them, you can tell them apart by touch alone and needn’t take your eyes off your writing.

The ink is smooth and the colours are vibrant, and the pen itself feels well balanced. While it’s slightly chunkier than a single-ink pen, it’s not overly fat, so is comfortable to use, and it has a generous rubber grip to help with traction. It’s available with a choice of a black, blue, pink or clear barrel, and has a plastic pocket clip to keep it safe.

Key specs – Ink colours: Blue, black, red and green; Barrel colour: Black, blue, clear or pink; Grip: Rubberised; Mechanism: Push button

Buy now from CultPens

2. Legami Erasable Gel Pen: Best erasable ballpoint pen

Price: £4 | Buy now from Amazon

How cute is this? Legami’s character ballpoint pens are 15cm long, just under 1cm in diameter, and have a cute animal head on the lid. Ours is a bear, as we picked a pen with blue ink, but choose a different ink colour and you’ll get a different character. Black ink gets you an astronaut, panda, cat or unicorn; purple is a rabbit; red is a koala; pink a pig; and if you opt for green you get a dinosaur. The ink flows smoothly from the 0.7mm tip, and the end-to-end texture on the barrel makes the pen itself comfortable to grip.

Each of the pens is refillable, so if your preferred character and colour aren’t available as a combo, you could buy the pen you prefer and a £4 pack of three refills in the colour of your choice. The really clever bit is that the ink is heat sensitive, so rubbing it with the domed end of the pen removes it from the page.

You can’t deny this is a cute range, which kids (and a lot of adults) will love. If you can’t choose between them, you can buy a pack of three featuring the bear (blue), panda (black) and koala (red) for £5.50.

Key specs – Ink colour: Blue, black, red, green, purple, pink, turquoise; Barrel colour: Dependent on ink colour; Grip: Smoothly textured shaft; Mechanism: Physical cap

3. Edding 2185 Gel Roller Pen: Best gel-based rollerball

Price: £1.22 | Buy now from CultPens

This is a great-looking pen. It’s slim, a little shorter than you might expect (13cm from nib to end), and beautifully colour-coordinated, with a grip and pocket clip matching the ink. And what a choice of inks you have. There are 16 options, from everyday blue, black and red, through metallic green, pink, violet and dark blue, to gold and silver, a couple of pastel tones, and a striking hot pink. We love the pink option for writing in greetings cards.

The barrel is transparent for most of its length, but fades to white at the upper end until becoming fully opaque at the point where the cap optionally clips in place while writing. Whether you decide to clip the cap there or not, the pen feels well balanced, and it has a rubber grip for comfort. The gel-based ink flows smoothly from the 0.7mm nib for a very pleasant experience overall.

At less than £1.50 per colour, we’d say this is pretty good value, even before you consider the price of a multi-pack. Seven of the more unusual colours – gold, silver, copper, blue, green, violet and pink – can be yours for just shy of £7.

Key specs – Ink colour: Blue, black, red, green, copper, gold, silver, violet, pink, light blue, metallic dark blue, metallic pink, metallic green, metallic violet, pastel orange, pastel yellow; Barrel colour: Clear and white; Grip: Rubberised; Mechanism: Physical cap

Buy now from CultPens

4. Kaweco Skyline Classic Sport Ballpoint: Best stubby pen

Price: £18 | Buy now from Amazon

This is a pen with considerable heritage. First sold in 1911, the Kaweco Skyline Sport ballpoint pen is part of a family comprising matching fountain pen, rollerball, mechanical pencil and clutch pencil. They’re available in a wide variety of colours, including the orangey brown “fox” we have here.

This ballpen is simple and unfussy, shipping without a pocket clip, although you can buy one separately – in silver, gold, bronze or black – if you prefer. It ships in a cardboard box, but if you’re giving it as a gift Kaweco also produces a tin box, which is available separately.

At just 10.5cm, it’s stubby, chunky, and light, tipping the scales at just 12g. And it’s versatile, too. Although our pen has blue ink, you can refill it with black or red. The black and blue nibs are available in 0.8mm, 1mm and 1.2mm widths, and the red in 1mm. There’s no grip and no see-through barrel, and barely even a click when you extend and retract the nib. This is a quiet pen, in both looks and volume, and as stylish today as it was in 1911.

Key specs – Ink colour: Blue; Barrel colour: Black, mint; fox, macchiato, grey, white; Grip: None; Mechanism: Push button

5. OHTO Rays Flash Dry Gel Ballpoint Pen: Best retractable ballpoint pen

Price: £3.49 | Buy now from CultPens

You’re not going to lose this pen. It’s an absolute steal at less than £3.50, and available in a wide variety of colours, including yellow, orange, pink and turquoise, and more conventional options such as blue, black and white. The 14cm barrel is half metal, half plastic, and although it doesn’t have a grip, it’s comfortable to use.

The ink, as supplied, feeds through a very fine point, which we like, but if you don’t get on with it, it takes standard Parker G2 style refills, so there are plenty of alternative options to choose from, including paste-style ballpoint pen inks from a wide variety of suppliers, including Parker, Pelikan, Kaweco and Faber-Castell. In some cases, they’ll cost more than the OHTO Rays itself, which costs far less than its looks would suggest.

If you want a smarter than average ballpoint pen that you won’t be too worried about scratching or losing, this could be the one. We’d say the price also makes it a good choice as a younger writer’s first “grown-up” pen, perhaps as a back-to-school gift.

Key specs – Ink colour: Black; Barrel colour: Black, blue, red, pink, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, white; Grip: None; Mechanism: Push button

Buy now from CultPens

6. Pentel iZee Ballpoint Pen: Best refillable ballpoint pen

Price: 60p | Buy now from CultPens

Cheap and cheerful can sometimes equate to throw-away and ecologically harmful, but not here. You can pick up a Pentel iZee for less than £1 at CultPens, a multi-colour pack of eight for £4.50, or 12 of a single colour for £6. Despite the low cost, they’re easily refilled: just unscrew the end and slip in a new oil-based cartridge and nib. Even the card packaging on the eight-pen back, which has no plastic windows or foil printing, is made using card produced from sustainably managed woodland.

This wouldn’t count for much if the pens weren’t comfortable to use, but they are. The barrel is a no-nonsense, uncontoured 13.5cm tube, with a subtle honeycomb imprint at the grip end, which obviates the need to use a separate material. Each has a metal pocket clip with a colour identification spot at the top end.

Key specs – Ink colour: Blue, black, red, green, orange, pink, violet, sky blue; Barrel colour: Matches ink colour; Grip: Subtle hexagon print; Mechanism: Physical cap

Buy now from CultPens

7. Stabilo Exam Grade Ballpoint Pen: Best ballpoint pen for school

Price: £1.20 | Buy now from CultPens

Exams are stressful enough without worrying that you’re going to run out of ink sooner than you run out of time or paper. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be an issue with the Stabilo Exam Grade Ballpoint Pen, which has a transparent ink reservoir and a window in the shaft so you can see how much is left. Better yet, a coloured gauge above the window runs through green, blue, amber and yellow to denote where you have around 80, 65, 50 or 35 pages of safe writing remaining. When you hit red, which is below 35, you might want to consider having another pen on standby, or refilling, which is easily done by unscrewing the end and fitting a new ink sleeve and nib.

Refills are available in black and blue, with a 0.4mm or 0.45mm line width. We found the ink to be extremely smooth-flowing for a comfortable writing experience, which is enhanced by the rubberised grip. If you have a lot of writing to do, and need to be sure you’ll get to the end of it, add this pen to your list.

Key specs – Ink colour: Blue, black; Barrel colour: Blue, black; Grip: Rubberised; Mechanism: Physical cap

Buy now from CultPens

8. Staedtler Concrete: Best looking ballpoint pen

Price: £23 | Buy now from Amazon

You’d expect a pen cast in concrete to be heavy, but it isn’t. Neither is it cold or rough. The actual concrete mix was formulated with the Civil Engineering Faculty at the Nuremberg Institute of Technology, which perhaps explains why it feels so good. The result is a chunky but well balanced and surprisingly light writing instrument encased in an unusual smooth shell. The clip, tip, and push button are manufactured from matt chrome metal for a pen that, all things considered, is likely to turn a few heads.

The six sides, meanwhile, are all different widths and set at slightly different angles. You might think this would make it uncomfortable to hold, but quite the opposite is true: it sits naturally in the hand, and, being paired with a smooth, free-flowing ink, it’s a joy to use. When the ink runs dry, you can easily replenish it with a refill that’s widely available in high street stationers.

Better yet, each is unique on account of the manufacturing process. Our own pen has a small imperfection in the back, presumably from an air bubble, and uneven colouring, all of which contributes to the industrial aesthetic, and helps us to identify it as our own.

Although more expensive than the other pens on our list, the Staedtler Concrete justifies its price as a curio that should, if looked after, give years of service.

Key specs – Ink colour: Black; Barrel colour: Dark grey, light grey, red; Grip: none; Mechanism: Push button

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