When it comes to choosing a writing tool, there are a lot of options to consider. Two popular choices are rollerball pens and ballpoint pens. While both types of pens serve the same purpose, there are some key differences between them that can make a big difference in the writing experience. In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at rollerball pens and ballpoint pens, compare their pros and cons, and help you decide which type of pen might be best for your needs. Whether you're a professional writer, a student, or just someone who enjoys jotting down notes, this comparison will give you a better understanding of the differences between these two popular types of pens.
How does a pen work?
Both ballpoints and rollerballs, as the names suggest, apply ink to a surface via a tiny, rolling ball in the tip or ‘nib’ of the pen. Gravity brings the ink down to the ball and as you write, the ball moves around, simultaneously applying the ink to the writing surface, while also allowing new ink to meet the surface of the ball.
So, while ballpoints and rollerballs work by the same mechanism, the major difference is in the type of ink that they use; ballpoints use a thicker oil-based ink and rollerballs use water-based ink, similar to that of fountain pens.
The original patent for the first ballpoint pen was made in 1888, by the American Lawyer, John J. Loud. He wanted a pen that could write on rough materials such as wood & leather, which a fountain pen was simply not suited for. His patent contained a rotating steel ball placed in a socket. Though his pen was able to write on the rough surfaces that he intended, it was far too coarse for typical paper.
The ballpoint, as we know it today, was created by Hungarian journalist László Bíró in the 1930s. He became frustrated with the messiness and slow-drying, smudge-prone ink of the pens of the day. He and his brother György devised an oil-based, quick-drying, paste ink similar to that used for newspapers. They combined their new ink and the ball-in-socket design, and thus the ballpoint pen was born and has since become the most common writing instrument in the world due to its low cost, ease of use and convenience.
Following World War II, ballpoint pens were introduced to Japan by Americans, and in 1949, Japanese ink manufacturer, OHTO, began developing Japan’s first ballpoint. In 1963, OHTO’s founder Nakata Tozaburo, thought about a pen that was as easy to use as a ballpoint, but had the flow and smoothness of a fountain pen. So by using a less viscous, water-based ink, with the ballpoint design, the world’s first rollerball appeared.
Pros and Cons
The most obvious advantage of a ballpoint is its cost. Ballpoint pens are often very affordable and accessible and while some are refillable, many are disposable. Another big advantage is its oil-based ink, which is quick-drying and due to its viscosity, less likely to leak and can be used to write on many different types of surfaces.
And what about rollerballs?
While the rollerball is generally more costly and not as versatile as the ballpoint, the water-based ink offers a different, arguably greater writing experience. Since the ink is less viscous, more flows from the pen, allowing the pen to glide across the page more easily, allowing for smoother writing and also requiring less force to produce a line, which may reduce hand strain from writing for long periods. It also usually results in a darker, ‘richer’, more consistent line.
The downside to this ink is that because of the low viscosity and higher rate of flow, the ink will run out more quickly and it has a tendency to ‘bleed’ through low-quality or thin paper and has a minimally higher drying time compared to ballpoint pens, which could lead to smudging.
The ink is not the only factor that contributes to the higher price of rollerballs. Often, they have superior build quality and are designed to be long-lasting and durable and usually have the option to be refilled. Rollerballs generally have sturdier, weightier and a more ‘premium’ or classic feel to their construction and appearance. Many fountain pen manufacturers produce rollerball versions of their most popular fountain pen models, such the LAMY Safari and Kaweco Sport and even in some of the mid to high-end models such as the Kaweco Student, so the quality of these pens cannot be matched by most ballpoints.
Some of our favourite rollerballs are the $25 Fox & Fallow Rollerballs. They are smooth to write with while affordable AND refillable!
- Affordable and readily available
- Thicker ink dries more quickly and smudges less
- Versatile; can write on any paper and many surfaces
- Requires more pressure to produce lines
- Lines produced can be inconsistent
- Often disposable, lower build-quality or uses cheaper materials
- Writes more smoothly and with more consistent, darker lines
- Requires less pressure to write with, potentially reducing the risk of hand cramping and strain
- Often higher build quality, more durable and can be refilled
- Typically more expensive than ballpoints
- The thinner ink can ‘bleed’ through lower quality paper, dries slightly less quickly than ballpoints and can run out more quickly
What do you think? What is your favourite?