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How do ballpoint refills perform?

November 21 2016

The most popular pens these days are ballpoints (aka Biro) or rollerballs.

A ballpoint has thick, sticky ink, which needs a rotating ball in the end to drag it out. They don’t need to be capped between writing. A rollerball refill looks similar, but has a larger ink capacity, the ink is runny and the colour is dense, but they don’t last as long and they generally need a cap to stop them drying out.

Most people buy ballpoints.

We buy them in all shapes and sizes and for all prices from dirt cheap to shockingly expensive.

However, the writing experience is all about the refill.

How do the refills compare? Here are some examples.

1.     Parker. The Parker T Ball Jotter pioneered mid range ballpoint pens in the 1950’s and their clever refill has become the de-facto standard for dozens of pen brands. There are also dozens of Parker-clone refills, all interchangeable. They are available anywhere. That is a plus. On the writing side, they are an average performer. They can get blotchy and can dry out before the ink is finished. The blue is an uninteresting black-blue. Writing length for medium is 4km.

2.     Lamy. Lamy is the big German brand and reflects the German obsession with design, precision and quality. The refills therefore write cleanly, are reliable, but can be a bit tight-arsed. Nice bright blue. Writing lengths are impressive: the M16 refills are 9.4 km for the fine, 8km for the medium, 6.4km for the broad and only 1.4 km for the  (M21) multi-pen refills. If you really like rollerball pens, look for pens that use the Lamy M66 refill. This is a precision rollerball that does not need a cap to stop it drying out, so it features in a number of Lamy retractable pens.

3.     Fisher Space Pen. This is a revolutionary refill. It is pressurized and this overcomes all the problems that can arise with other refills. Forget about writing in Space, underwater, and so on. That is true, but not relevant for most of us. The real advantage is, that for ever long it has sat in the drawer, it will start writing as soon as the nib touches the paper, with a dense colour line. Fisher provides an adaptor with every refill so that it can be used in Parker or Parker clone pens. If you need a super-reliable pen, this is the pen for you. Writing length for the medium nib is 8km.

4.     Cross.  Cross pens have a very small refill with a limited capacity, around 2km, however they are reliable and always write with a dense colour line. If you like the unique Cross style, buy it. You'll love it.

5.     Diplomat Easy-Flo. This is a Parker clone. It is interchangeable with all the other Parker clones. It has an easy flowing, dense coloured ink and gives a luxurious writing experience. Moneverde have the same refill type with the same qualities.

6. Caran d"Ache. Caran d'Ache (pronounced Karen Dash) is a popular Swiss brand with a great reputation for quality, especially for their ballpoint refills. Experts say they have the best refill on the market. Maybe they do, their refills are superb.

7. Mont Blanc. We don't sell them, but among Mont Blanc pen fanciers and Rolex enthusiasts - often one and the same - the wry comment is that the ballpoint is very messy and the other can't keep good time. Mind you, maybe that misses the point, or maybe it doesn't.


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