Pens are essential business tools. You use them every day — maybe more than you realize.
In 1998, pen manufacturers shipped out more than eight billion pens, pencils, markers, and highlighters, according to the Writing Instruments Manufacturers Association.
Consumers have thousands of pen options from which to choose, says pen enthusiast William Golden, Staples vice president of wholesaler merchandising. "First of all, there's the feel. Is the pen barrel thick or thin, short or long, plastic or cushioned? Secondly, the type of ink the pen uses has tremendous influence of how smoothly the pen will write."
From grip to clip and click to cap — the following pen primer should help you decipher all the options and create your own personal "pentopia."
Ballpoint pens suit most writing styles, hence they hold the top spot in pen popularity. Ballpoint pens are filled with oil–based ink, which is water–resistant and long lasting. According to Robert Silberman, director of marketing for Pilot Pen, a ballpoint pen does not provide the "smoothest writing [experience], but...it dries very quickly, it's water–resistant, [and] it's the basic pen that most people know."
Rollerball pens use water–based ink. Rollerball ink flows very easily and smoothly, more so than ink from ballpoint pens. However, water–based ink is more likely to smudge as it is not as water–resistant as oil–based ink.
Gel ink pens are the hottest trend in the pen industry. Gel pens offer the best of the ballpoint and rollerball pen worlds. Silberman says, "gel is in the middle. The benefits of it are that it has the water–resistant properties of a ballpoint pen, but it has the smooth writing feel of a rollerball pen." Plus, gel ink holds color better than rollerball or ballpoint ink. Therefore you can find a greater variety of ink colors, such as traditional, vibrant, pastel, glitter, and metallic.
The barrel is the whole length and width of the pen. Barrel size varies greatly among pen brands and among styles within brands. According to Silberman, wider barrels tend to offer a more pleasurable and comfortable writing experience. "It's easier to write because it's a bigger size. The pressure that you have is spread over a wider surface," requiring less gripping power. Plus, today many pen barrels are cushioned with rubber for added comfort.
You probably have a stock of extra fine, fine, medium, and bold point pens. The pen point size refers to the size of the ball within the pen, which determines how much ink the pen will lay down when you write. Larger point sizes create thicker lines and usually offer a smoother writing experience, but because they dispense more ink, they may not last as long as pens with smaller point sizes.
Personal preference dictates whether you opt for a capped pen or a click (retractable) one. The benefit to the retractable pen is that it's a one–hand experience — just click and write. Plus, there aren't any caps to lose.
Once you use up the ink in a disposable pen, you can throw it in the trash. If you lose it, no harm done. Sounds great, but don't forget the advantages of a refillable pen. "You can get a much nicer [pen] style, many more features and benefits in a refillable pen," says Silberman.
Most fine writing instruments such as Cross, Parker, Sheaffer, Waterman, and Sanford pens are refillable. Many higher–end pens offer decorative and professional design styles such as barrels made of precious metals, imported lacquers, or other exotic materials.
Multifunction pens offer a two/three–in–one experience: Look for the pen, mechanical pencil, and stylus combination, the pen and stylus duo, or the pen and mechanical pencil pair to simplify your multiple tasks.
As left–handed people tend to hold their writing instrument at an acute angle, experts recommend a lightweight rollerball or gel pen, with an extra fine or fine point.