(Updated 1/11/2016)

I built this Top 5 Pens list originally to discuss what some of my favorite pens are in various categories. That worked well for a while, but as this page has grown I realized it was time for a change in how it is presented.

The Top 5 Pens list represents my recommendations in the categories below. That differentiates it from my personal favorites, while giving readers more clarity on products they may want to check out.

That said, just because I recommend a product doesn’t mean it is perfect for your needs. As I said previously: Use these lists as guidelines. Do your research. Ask questions. Test them out if at all possible. Only then will you find the pen that is the perfect match for you.

Aside from the lists below, here are some great places to get your research started:

JetPens Guide to Fine-Tip Gel Pens
Goldspot Guide to Perfect Pen Personalization
Goulet Pens Nib Nook
Anderson Pens Ink Comparison Tool

TWSBI ECO, Blackwing 602, Midori MD.

TWSBI ECO, Blackwing 602, Midori MD.

Top 5 Micro Gel Ink Pens

  1. Uni-Ball Signo DX 0.38 mm - The only way I see this pen being unseated is if it is discontinued. It’s really good. (Buy)
  2. Pilot Juice 0.38 mm - Please discontinue the G2 and bring the Juice to the mainstream. (Buy)
  3. Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.3 mm - When it’s going well it’s a game changer. (Buy)
  4. Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4 mm - Super sharp lines, great clip. Needs more love! (Buy)
  5. Uni-ball Signo RT1 - Close to the DX in performance, and retractable. (Buy)

(Brad’s Notes: The Pilot Hi-Tec-C could be first on my personal list or off the list completely depending on how it has been treating me of late. Recently, it’s been my go to micro gel. By the next time I update the list, I may have shattered it against the wall. If you have never used a Zebra Sarasa Clip you need to try one ASAP, especially some of the bright colors.

Top 5 Pens In The Store

  1. Uni-ball Jetstream - Stay away from the 1.0 mm. (Buy)
  2. Uni-ball Signo 207 - "But what can I buy at Staples that is good?" This. (Buy)
  3. Uni-ball Vision Elite - I've been overlooking this one for too long. The new BLX line got me back on track. (Buy)
  4. Sharpie Pen - Would be #1 if it was more durable. (Buy)
  5. Pentel EnerGel - People swear by their EnerGels, and for good reason. Maybe the darkest and smoothest of the bunch. (Buy)

(Brad’s Notes: No change in this list, and that’s unfortunate. Uni-ball introduced the Signo 307 but only in 0.7 mm sizes so far. I’m assuming it will eventually replace the 207 but it has a way to go.)

Top 5 Fountain Pens Under $50

  1. Pilot Metropolitan - The battle for the best fountain pen for beginners is over and the Pilot Metropolitan has won. (Buy)
  2. TWSBI ECO - An entry level piston-filler for the price of an entry level cartridge/converter pen. (Buy)
  3. Lamy Safari - The Safari used to top this list and is still a great choice if you are ok with the molded grip section. (Buy)
  4. Kaweco Sport - It isn't just a great portable, pocketable fountain pen. It's a great fountain pen period. (Buy)
  5. Platinum Preppy - Is there such a thing as a quality fountain pen under $5? Yes. Yes there is. (Buy)

(Brad’s Notes: Well hello TWSBI ECO! There was a lot of hype surrounding this release and TWSBI delivered. It is an excellent pen, and only second to the Metropolitan because new users may be scared off by the filling mechanism. Don’t let that sway you. The Pilot Kakuno dropped out of this list, mainly because you can get the same experience with the Metropolitan and the Metro appeals to more users.)

Top 5 Fountain Pens $50-$100

  1. TWSBI 580AL - The same as the 580 before it, but improved with aluminum parts. (Buy)
  2. Kaweco AL Sport - The durable aluminum barrel makes this one of the best portable fountain pens on the market. (Buy)
  3. Kaweco Liliput - You think the AL Sport is small? The Liliput is about half the diameter, but all of the awesomeness. (Buy)
  4. Lamy Studio - The Studio is the perfect step up for Lamy Safari fans. The nibs are identical and the metal barrel is much nicer. (Buy)
  5. TWSBI Mini - Just like the 580 above, but smaller! The new Vac Mini could take this spot once I spend some time with it. (Buy)

(Brad’s Notes: This is the no-man’s land of the fountain pen market. TWSBI and Kaweco dominate in this realm, and other options can’t compete on the value spectrum. TWSBI should probably go ahead and retire the standard 580 though.)

Top 5 Fountain Pens $100-$200

  1. Lamy 2000 - One of the most beautiful fountain pens ever designed and the perfect entry point into gold nib pens. (Buy)
  2. Franklin-Christoph Model 20 Marietta - New in 2015, the Marietta is a great all-around pen with tons of options, including the option to turn it into an eyedropper. (Buy)
  3. Pilot Custom 74 - Pilot's gold nibs are the best on the market for the price. Add in a slick barrel like on the 74 and you have a real winner. (Buy)
  4. Pilot Vanishing Point - An engineering marvel, the Vanishing Point is as fascinating to use as it is to look at. (Buy)
  5. Franklin-Christoph Pocket 66 - Another big win for F-C in 2015. Great build and design, plus it made for some of the best Instagram photos in recent memory. (Buy)

(Brad’s Notes: There was a lot of change in this list, and like I said last time, I could expand it by another 10 choices easily. This is the sweet spot for great pens at a great price.)

Top 5 Fountain Pen Ink Brands

  1. Pilot Iroshizuku - If you are going to pay for a premium ink, make sure it is one that performs as well as the inks in the Iroshizuku line. (Buy)
  2. Sailor - The perfect mid-range ink. The colors pop and it behaves wonderfully. (Buy)
  3. P.W. Akkerman - As its popularity rises its availability increases, making it a great choice for any fountain pen user. The beautiful bottles are an added bonus. (Buy)
  4. Pelikan Edelstein - The German Iroshizuku? Yeah, I guess so. Great colors and at least one limited release per year. (Buy)
  5. Montblanc - High quality and great performance for cheaper than you think. (Buy)

(Brad’s Notes: There are a lot of high end brands on this list but I have found that they are well worth the added cost. The colors and performance of these inks are great across the board.)

Top 5 Plastic Tip Pens

  1. Kuretake Zig Cartoonist Mangaka - One of the biggest surprises I have tested. Makes up for lack of colors in feel and performance. (Buy)
  2. Sakura Pigma Micron - The ubiquitous art pen. Everyone can, and does, use Microns. (Buy)
  3. Staedtler Pigment Liner - I was late to the game on this one but it has proven excellent do far. (Buy)
  4. Copic Multiliner SP - Beautiful and refillable...and expensive. (Buy)
  5. Sharpie Pen - Readily available and solid choice. (Buy)

(Brad's Notes: No change here. The Kuretake continues to be the best performer and the Micron continues to be the top seller. Staedtler could make inroads with more color in their lineup.)

Top 5 Paper Brands

  1. Rhodia - The best all around writing paper in nearly every format you can imagine. (Buy)
  2. Maruman - Slightly more expensive than Rhodia and slightly fewer options, but the quality is elite. (Buy)
  3. Tomoe River - Finally easier to get a hold of in various products. Amazing for fountain pens and sheen, minus the long dry time. (Buy)
  4. Midori - The Travellers Notebook has shown people what good paper should feel like. Midori offers many other sizes and formats as well. (Buy)
  5. Leuchtturm 1917 - If you like your Moleskine, try one of these next time. You won’t go back. (Buy)

(Brad's Notes: More and more paper products come on the market each year, but this is a hard list to break into. I added Tomoe and Midori this year because they have started to become more available.)

Top 5 Multi Pens

  1. Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto - So many options and a great refill makes it tough to beat. (Buy)
  2. Uni Style Fit - Late to the game but compares well to the Coleto. (Buy)
  3. Zebra Sharbo X - Only cost (initial and ongoing) keeps this from being #1. (Buy)
  4. Lamy 2000 - For some reason I didn’t know this pen existed until last year. D1 refill compatible. (Buy)
  5. Uni-ball Jetstream - The best ballpoint multi pen option by far. (Buy)

(Brad's Notes: The Coleto is still the runaway here, and the Sharbo X is the choice on the high end. The Lamy 2000 is expensive, but oh so nice.)

Top 5 Ballpoint Pens

  1. Uni-ball Jetstream 0.7 mm - Sharp, fine and solid lines. Elite, but not for everyone. (Buy)
  2. Pilot Acroball 0.7 mm - More like a 1A with the Jetstream. (Buy)
  3. Lamy 2000 - If you are looking for a cheap ballpoint, look elsewhere. The 2000 model is all over this list for a reason. (Buy)
  4. Parker Jotter - Pocketable, durable, and classicly styled.(Buy)
  5. Pentel Vicuna 0.7 mm - A big surprise with its pitch black ink. (Buy)

(Brad's Notes: I think this is a Top 2 list, then everything else. The Lamy 2000 is the best high-end ballpoint I have used, and the Jotter is a cool classic.)

Top 5 Liquid Ink (aka Roller Ball) Pens

  1. Retro 51 Tornado - This may be the most recommended pen on this entire page. (Buy)
  2. Ohto Graphic Liner - Somewhat of an outlier compared to the rest, but really great. (Buy)
  3. Morning Glory Mach 3 - Extremely underrated pen. In fact, I need to stock up on a few more. (Buy)
  4. Uni-ball Vision Elite - A great writer with an impressive feature set. (Buy)
  5. Lamy Tipo - Surprisingly good stock refill, also swappable for G2 compatible refills. (Buy)

(Brad's Notes: There is a ton of variance in styles within this list. I love the two super-fine writers in the Ohto and Morning Glory, but the Retro 51 is the best all-around pen in this group.)

Top 5 Kickstarter Pens

  1. Ti2 TechLiner - It’s the ugly duckling that turns into the beautiful swan when you actually use it. (Buy)
  2. Karas Kustoms Retrakt - The two-tone designs of the Retrakt are a throwback, and the Juice compatible build is a bonus. (Buy)
  3. Karas Customs INK - It looks like I need to review my two favorite Karas pens, don’t I? The version 2 model is fantastic. (Buy)
  4. Sunderland mk1 - I really love this pen, especailly as one of the few machined pens designed to post properly. (Buy)
  5. Tactile Turn Mover - A complete surprise, and an amazing grip. Also Juice compatible. (Buy)

(Brad's Notes: There are ebbs and flows in the world of Kickstarter pens but some nice models have launched in the past year. Take a look at the refill options available for this group and see which one will work best for you.)

Top 5 Mechanical Pencils

  1. Rotring 600 - The mechanical pencil all others are measured by. And none have been able to topple it yet. (Buy)
  2. Uni-ball Kuru Toga - The most unique pencil on the list is also one of the best. Not a gimmick either. It actually works. (Buy)
  3. Pentel Graph Gear 1000 - From a technical pencil perspective, the Graph Gear compares well to the Rotring 600. (Buy)
  4. Pentel Sharp Kerry - Before the Kuru Toga, the Sharp Kerry was the cool kid on the block. Now it’s the cool old guy with the sweet whiskey collection. (Buy)
  5. Pentel Sharp Drafting Pencil - Speaking of classic, this one goes way back. Pentel has mixed in a few modern paint jobs in the last few years so keep your eyes open for them. (Buy)

(Brad’s Notes: A good mechanical pencil can last you for years, if not decades. The Rotring is my personal favorite, but all of these see time on my desk.)

Top 5 Wooden Pencils

  1. Blackwing 602 - A revelation, and I believe the reason why wooden pencils are seeing a resurgence. (Buy)
  2. Tombow Mono 100 - Really awesome point retention with the mid-grade cores, and as beautiful to look at as it is to hold. (Buy)
  3. Tombow 2558 HB - For a basic everyday pencil the 2558 fit the bill. Tradinional paint job with the best eraser of the bunch. (Buy)
  4. Staedtler Mars Lumograph - My grandfather used these pencils, and they are as popular today as they were decades ago. (Buy)
  5. Uni-ball 9000 - One of the main line Uni pencils with great performance and a great paint job. (Buy)

(Brad’s Notes: It took me a while to commit to this list because I wanted to make sure I tried as many pencils as I could to form a good baseline. Outside of the top two, I can see this list shaking up as I continue to test more wooden pencils.)