Choosing the right pen for school

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They say the pen is mightier than the sword. For students, choosing the “write weapon” for their daily classroom battles can be tough with the abundance of brands, pen types and colours to choose from. Here is a handy guide to help students make the right choice.

Ballpoint pens – a budget-friendly choice
If budget is your concern, ballpoint pens are your best bet. You can get them from as low as under $1 and they are typically available in blue, red, black and green. Ballpoint pens use an oil-based solvent which dries fast and are therefore more resistant to smudging. This is helpful for left-handed users who may rub their hands over writings before they are dry. Another advantage of ballpoint pens is they are the most resistant to bleeding.

However, ballpoint pens typically have a bad reputation for being scratchy, producing uneven writing and requiring more force when writing.

Rollerball, gels and hybrids – what’s the difference?
The main difference between these pens and ballpoint pens is that the former uses water-soluble ink instead of oil-based ink. Water-based ink is smoother but takes longer to dry, making it more likely to smudge. It is also more likely to bleed, which makes writing on exercise books tricky. Traditionally, rollerball pens are the smoothest but poor handling can lead to awful leakage in the breast pocket. Gel ink pens typically use pigment ink and are available in a plethora of colours, making them a favourite among girls.

Having tested over 30 different types of pens, I find that it is increasingly difficult to categorise these water-based ink pens into their traditional categories of rollerball versus gel. As a rule, they are smoother than oil-based ballpoints but are more likely to smudge and bleed through porous paper. Rollerballs, gels and hybrids are also more expensive and typically cost about $2 to $2.50 a piece.

The nib size is important
The larger the nib size, the bolder your writing will appear but it also makes it more likely to bleed through paper because more ink is produced with every stroke. The standard size for students is 0.5mm and 0.7mm. I personally prefer the larger 0.7mm as larger nibs also mean a smoother write. I have tried 1.0mm pens but I think they are too big for daily writing and are more suited for signatures. I generally dislike anything smaller than 0.5mm but have had good experiences with some smaller-nib pens that can produce surprising results.

There are two types of nibs – the typical broader type and the needle tip. Needle tip pens produce more precise drawing lines than broader pens, but both work well for writing.

Some pens to consider:

Pilot Acroball and Pilot Hi-Tecpoint V5 Left: Pilot Acroball. Right: Pilot Hi-Tecpoint V5

Pilot Acroball
Type: Ballpoint
This is one of the best ballpoint pens that I have tried. It may not glide like a good rollerball but the 0.7mm version I tried is definitely one of the smoothest ballpoints available. The ink dries fast as well and at $1.80 it is affordable. A good choice for students.

Pilot Hi-Tecpoint V5 
Type: Liquid Ink (Rollerball)
Pilot classifies its rollerball-class pens as liquid ink for a good reason. The Pilot V5 is one of the smoothest pens I have tried. I usually demand a 0.7mm nib size for smoothness but even the 0.5mm version of the Pilot V5 was good enough for me. The cap version of the V5 costs $2.15 but I really liked the retractable version which costs 20 cents more at $2.35. I still recall the early versions of the V5 where the ink would smudge all over the paper and leak through my shirt pocket but it feels like the latest versions have improved significantly. The V5 dried as quickly as most of the other gel-based pens.

Uni Jetstream 101 and Pilot Juice Up 0.4 Top: Pilot Juice Up 0.4. Bottom: Uni Jetstream 101

Uni Jetstream 101
Type: Ballpoint
At 50 cents cheaper than the Pilot Acroball, the Uni Jetstream is a good option for the budget-conscious. I gave the 0.7mm version a spin and found it less smooth than the Acroball, but still a notch higher than the standard no-frills ballpoint pens.

Pilot Juice Up 0.4
Type: Gel ink
If you like a pen with a finer nib size, the Pilot Juice Up offers amazing smoothness in a 0.4mm tip. The needle tip pen is great for drawing lines and is worth its premium price – about 50 cents more than the Uni-ball Signo and the Pilot G2. I usually dislike pens with small nibs, but the Juice Up is definitely a cut above the competition. My favourite gel pen tested, by a long shot.

Zebra Sarasa Clip and Uni-ball Signo 207 Top: Zebra Sarasa Clip. Bottom: Uni-ball Signo 207

Zebra Sarasa Clip
Type: Gel ink
A good gel pen usually costs $2 and above but the Zebra Sarasa Clip is challenging its competitors with its $1.80 price tag. Pilot has two gel ink pens – the Juice ($1.70) and the G2 ($2.15) – and I feel the Zebra Sarasa is a match for the more expensive G2. This is a good option for students who want their first gel-pen and is a good balance of quality and smoothness.

Uni-ball Signo 207
Type: Gel Ink
If I wanted to get a gel pen that costs about $2, the Uni-ball Signo would be my choice. It costs more than the Zebra Sarasa, the Pentel Energel and the Pilot Juice but is 10 cents cheaper than the Pilot G2. From my extensive tests with it, I feel that the Uni-ball Signo offers the best writing experience for a gel pen. I tried the 0.5mm, 0.7mm and 1.0mm versions, and as usual found that I liked the 0.7mm best. The 1.0mm version, as expected, produces too much ink and should only be used for signatures. The build of the pen also feels a little more premium and less plasticky than its competitors.


You can find these pens at Times bookstores islandwide. Click here to find the nearest outlet.

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