(Updated 9/25/2017)

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

Pen Chalet Fountain Pen How To

The newest list: Top 5 Most Useful Pens

The newest list: Top 5 Most Useful Pens

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, and has begun showing up on US store shelves. (Buy)
  2. Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4 mm - Super sharp lines, great clip. Needs more love! (Buy)
  3. Uni-ball Signo 307 - That Uni-ball continues to upgrade their core product is impressive. Now that they are available in 0.38 mm they are mine. (Buy)
  4. Pilot Juice 0.38 mm - Please discontinue the G2 and bring the Juice to the mainstream. (Buy)
  5. Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.3 mm - When it’s going well it’s a game changer. (Buy)

(Just missed: The Uni-ball Signo RT1 was shuffled off the list as the 307 jumps up to #2. Yes, the RT1 has more colors, but I like the barrel of the 307 much better. The Pilot FriXion will likely never crack the Top 5, but it is the only choice for erasable ink, and the FriXion Ball Knock is the best of the bunch.)

Top 5 Pens In The Store

  1. Uni-ball Jetstream - Stay away from the 1.0 mm. (Buy)
  2. Uni-ball Signo 307 - "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)

(Just missed: It’s awesome to see some of these pens make other lists on this page as well. Good pens will rule in the end! And if the Uni-ball DX becomes more widespread, they will have four spots on this list.)

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)

(Just missed: I think this group is mostly solved. The new Kaweco Perkeo has a chance to jump in there next update if the reviews stay positive. If you like the feel of the Platinum Preppy, the Platinum Plaisir is an upgraded barrel model that is equally as nice. If you want a more fun Metropolitan then the Pilot Kakuno is your choice.)

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. 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)
  4. Faber-Castell Ambition - The only new entrant to this list, and well worth it. Great style, build, and fantastic nib. (Buy)
  5. Kaweco Liliput - You think the AL Sport is small? The Liliput is about half the diameter, but all of the awesomeness. (Buy)

(Just missed: The Lamy CP1 is a good choice for those who like pens with a skinnier barrel. That’s the only thing holding it back from replacing the Studio in the list. It’s great otherwise.)

Top 5 Fountain Pens $100-$200

  1. Sailor Pro Gear Slim - One of the best nibs on the market and a wide array of barrel colors to choose from. (Buy)
  2. Platinum 3776 - The nib is equal to Sailor, but has a very different feel. A real writers pen. (Buy)
  3. Pilot Vanishing Point - An engineering marvel, the Vanishing Point is as fascinating to use as it is to look at. (Buy)
  4. Lamy 2000 - One of the most beautiful fountain pens ever designed and the perfect entry point into gold nib pens. (Buy)
  5. Pilot Custom 92 - There aren’t many colors available in the US, but with the recent price drop, the Custom 92 is a no-brainer. Piston fill > cartridge/converter every time. (Buy)

(Just missed: The Pelikan M205 is a perennial just missed, only because the price point runs a bit high compared to its peers. The quality and performance are there though. Pilot has several other just missed, including the Falcon, Stargazer, Elite 95S, and 74.

Top 5 Fountain Pens $200-$500

  1. Pilot Custom 823 - This is the best pen I purchased this year, and it has quickly become an all-time favorite. I was late to the party. (Buy)
  2. Sailor Professional Gear - That the Pro Gear comes in so many colors and nib options makes it a great choice for many people. (Buy)
  3. Pilot Custom 912 - This is a workhorse of a pen. And like the Pro Gear, it has a wide variety of nibs available, including the Falcon. (Buy)
  4. Aurora Optima - These last two on the list are this low because they are on the upper end of this wide price range. The Optima is a new pen to me and I have been very impressed so far. (Buy)
  5. Pelikan Souveran 600 - The sweet spot for many in Pelikan’s lineup, the 600 series is just the right size all the way around with wonderful gold nibs. (Buy)

(Just missed: Two side-project Sailor’s, The Black Luster and Imperial Black are personal favorites.)

Top 5 Fountain Pen Ink Brands

  1. Sailor - The perfect mid-range ink. The colors pop and it behaves wonderfully. (Buy)
  2. 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)
  3. Robert Oster - Talk about making an impression. Any color you can imagine is available, with great quality and pricing too. (Buy)
  4. 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)
  5. Montblanc - High quality and great performance for cheaper than you think. (Buy)

(Just missed: It is hard to rank basic ink lines when there is more variety in the premium lines, but stock Pilot and Lamy inks see a lot of use for me.)

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. Copic Multiliner SP - Beautiful and refillable...and expensive. (Buy)
  3. Sakura Pigma Micron - The ubiquitous art pen. Everyone can, and does, use Microns. (Buy)
  4. Staedtler Pigment Liner - I was late to the game on this one but it has proven excellent do far. (Buy)
  5. Sharpie Pen - Readily available and solid choice. (Buy)

(Just missed: The Uni Pin has been on and off this list for ages. Good quality and value.)

Top 5 Paper Brands

  1. Rhodia - The best all around writing paper in nearly every format you can imagine. (Buy)
  2. Apica - This brand keeps moving up the charts and I find myself reaching for it constantly. (Buy)
  3. Maruman - Slightly more expensive than Rhodia and slightly fewer options, but the quality is elite. (Buy)
  4. Leuchtturm1917 - High quality and wide availability make this a popular choice no matter your writing instrument. (Buy)
  5. Midori - The Travelers Notebook has shown people what good paper should feel like. Midori offers many other sizes and formats as well. (Buy)

(Just missed: Life and Kyokuto are two of my favorite Japanese brands. Field Notes and Write Notepads both make amazing pocket notebooks.)

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)

(Just missed: Nothing of note. Anything by Pilot, Uni-ball, or Zebra in this category is a good choice.)

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. Fisher Space Pen - One of the most functional pens on the market, I make sure I have one - or at least the refill - close at all times. (Buy)
  5. Bic Cristal - The classic Bic deserves this spot on merit, not historical significance. It’s a great pen. (Buy)

(Just missed: The Parker Jotter and Pentel Vicuna 0.7 mm were dropped off this list but are still good choices.)

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. Morning Glory Mach 3 - Extremely underrated pen. In fact, I need to stock up on a few more. (Buy)
  3. Uni-ball Vision Elite - A great writer with an impressive feature set. (Buy)
  4. Ohto Graphic Liner - Somewhat of an outlier compared to the rest, but really great. (Buy)
  5. Pilot Precise V5 - This pen should be number one on popularity alone. (Buy)

(Just missed: The remainder of Pilot’s V-Series should be on the list, as they are all tried and true writers and easy to get.)

Top 5 Machined Pens

  1. Ti2 TechLiner - It’s the ugly duckling that turns into the beautiful swan when you actually use it. (Buy)
  2. Schon DSGN 01A - I use this pen all the time when I just want to grab and go. (Buy)
  3. Sunderland mk1 - I really love this pen, especially as one of the few machined pens designed to post properly. (Buy)
  4. BIGiDESIGN Ti Arto - It fits all the refills! (Buy)
  5. Ajoto The Pen - This is such a well-made product it delights every time I use it. Only downside is the price. (Buy)

(Just missed: The Pen Type-B is my personal favorite, and the Tactile Turn Mover is another great build that is Pilot Juice compatible.)

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. Uni Shift-Pipe Lock - Great design and cool functionality to keep the tip of the pencil protected. (Buy)
  5. Zebra Delguard - Zebra made a big move in the market this year with their unbreakable lead technology. (Buy)

(Just missed: The Pentel Sharp is a classic, as is the Pentel Kerry with its capped barrel.

Top 5 Wooden Pencils

  1. Blackwing 602 - The modern pencil that all other modern pencils are measured against. The perfect amount of firmness and darkness. (Buy)
  2. Tombow Mono 100 - This was my gateway pencil from the fountain pen world into Japanese pencils. I was spoiled from the word go. (Buy)
  3. Caran D’Ache Swiss Wood - Pen lovers love to show off their fancy pens. This is the pencil equivalent. Plus, it smells wonderful. (Buy)
  4. Camel Pencil HB - What appears to be a simple pencil is a master class in Japanese design. Perfect form and function. (Buy)
  5. Mitsubishi Office 9850 HB - Don’t let the basic appearance and “Office Use” branding fool you. This isn’t your basic office pencil. Every time I use it, I give it the “Really?’ look. Yes, really. (Buy)

(Just missed: The Mitsubishi Mark Sheet is a new fascination, as is the 2H Tajima Carpenter Pencil. The Caran d’Ache Natura School Pencil is another good one too.)

Top 5 Most Useful Pens

  1. Fisher Space Pen - This is more about the pressurized refill that the pen barrel, although the standard barrel is perfect for how this pen needs to be used. I use the refill in my Schon DSGN pen, which is the pen I carry the most on a daily basis. (Buy)
  2. Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38 - My love for micro-tipped gel ink pen knows no bounds, and the DX is the runaway winner in this category. (Buy)
  3. Sakura Pigma Micron - The Micron is not actually my top pick for best plastic tip pen, but for some reason I find it with me the most because it can take a beating. (Buy)
  4. Uni-ball Jetstream 0.7 mm - Regardless of your opinion on ballpoint pens, there are situations in life where they are the best tool for the job. Make it the Jetstream. (Buy)
  5. Sharpie Permanent Marker - This pen doesn’t fit on any of the other lists, but it belongs in the conversation. When you need it, it is because its the only pen that can do the job. (Buy)