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The Best Cheap Pens

It occurred to me that I have never given much thought to which pen I use, and that is a shame. In the search for a great pen, I asked Grammar Girl Facebook fans to name their favorite pen. Here are the results.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
December 22, 2014

In a nonscientific survey, these are the best pens according to Grammar Girl Facebook fans:

Best Cheap Pens Chart

I decided to test each pen myself. (I went to two stores, but couldn't find the Papermate Stic or the Parker pen.) Jump to my favorite.

Smear Test and Prices

I could not buy just one of any pen. They all came in packs of two, except the Bic Stic, which came in a box of 24. I now have pens for life! The prices listed below are the price of a single pen. For example, I paid $2.74 for two Pilot G-2 pens and $2.97 for a box of 24 Bic Stic pens.

To test the smearability, I wrote out the words and then immediately ran my finger over the line. The Pilot smeared the most, which isn't surprising because it also has the most "wet ink" feel of all the pens I tested. The Sharpie also smeared a bit. The other three pens make thinner lines and smeared less. The photo below exaggerates the smeariness of all the pens a bit.

best cheap pens

I used each pen over the time I was grading my students' final papers, and these are my impressions:

Pilot G-2 (07)

Pilot G-2 review

This click pen has thick, wet ink, so you don't have to push hard to write, but sometimes if you hold the pen at too sharp an angle to the paper, the ink doesn't flow smoothly. I'm not sure whether this would be a common problem or is just a quirk of how I hold a pen. The heavier ink makes this a good choice for a document you'll need to photocopy or scan. It has a grooved rubber collar that is supposed to make the pen more comfortable, but the grooves actually started hurting my finger after extended use. This pen was especially good at writing on a coated surface (e.g., the back of a shiny greeting card.) Buy the G-2.

Sharpie Pen

Sharpie Pen Review

There are many different types of Sharpies. The one I tested is a capped pen called the "Pen," and the style was black, medium point. It makes a thicker line than some of the other pens, so it would be a good choice if you need to copy or scan your document. Like the Pilot G-2, the wetness of the ink means you don't have to push hard to write. Having used thicker Sharpies in the past, I was worried that the pen would bleed through the paper, but it didn't. I liked that the pen wrote smoothly regardless of the angle I held it to the paper. The pen has a relatively sharp ridge near the top, but the way I held the pen, it did not hit my fingers, so it wasn't a problem. Buy the Sharpie Pen.

Pentel RSVP

Pentel RSVP review

This capped pen makes a thin line. The pen feels longer and differently balanced from the rest of the pens I reviewed. Part of the difference is that the cap is relatively heavy, so when you put it on the bottom of the pen, it changes the balance, but the tip of the pen is also actually longer than that of the Bic Stic. Its rubber collar has indents instead of grooves, so it didn't hurt my finger as much as the Pilot G-2, but I still didn't like the resistance from the rubber. Buy the Pentel RSVP.

Bic Stic

The capped Bic Stic makes a thin line and is the cheapest of the pens I tested.  It's reliable, easy to write with, and almost invisible because it's so ubiquitous. It's the old standard that you are used to using when you sign a credit card bill at a restaurant, check into a hotel, or get a free pen from a business. Its line is just slightly thicker than that made by the Pentel RSVP, and it has no rubber comfort collar. Buy the Bic Stic.

Papermate Inkjoy (1.0MM)

This click pen makes a line of wetness and thickness between that of the wet pens (Pilot G-2 and Sharpie Pen) and the drier pens (Pentel RSVP and Bic Stic). It requires less force to make a line than the other dry pens. It has a rubber coating at the point where you hold the pen instead of an added collar and the rubber is smooth. Buy the Inkjoy.

My Choice: The Sharpie Pen

After testing all the pens, the Sharpie Pen was my favorite and I will likely use it as my everyday pen. It's less smeary than the Pilot G-2 and doesn't require as much pressure to write as the drier pens. Also, I didn't like any of the rubber collars or coatings. They are supposed to make the pen more comfortable, but for me, they did the opposite. The grippiness of all of them irritated my finger after a while.

It's hard to say which pen I'll use when I want a thinner pen for something like commenting on single-spaced text. Most likely, I'll choose the Bic Stic because it doesn't have a rubber grip and I now have 24 of them, but the others are perfectly fine too and I did like the feel and balance of the Pentel RSVP. Buy the Sharpie Pen.>

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