(Updated 11/4/2018)

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

A few ink swabs…

A few ink swabs…

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)

(Notes: If you like the Pilot Hi-Tec-C and need extra refills, buy the Pilot Hi-Tec-C Maica. It costs the same as just the standard refill, and comes in a wider array of colors. Also, the Pilot FriXion is the best erasable gel ink pen, and there is no number two.

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 Signo DX 0.38 mm - They are here, and they are fabulous. Would be number one if they were more widely available. (Buy)
  4. Pentel EnerGel - People swear by their EnerGels, and for good reason. Maybe the darkest and smoothest of the bunch. (Buy)
  5. Sharpie Pen - Would be #1 if it was more durable. (Buy)

(Notes: If you want to argue that the Pilot Precise is better than any pen on this list I won’t disagree. I’ll just say that it is difficult to recommend any liquid ink pen ahead of these in the current market we are in.)

Top 5 Fountain Pens Under $50

  1. TWSBI ECO - An entry level piston-filler for the price of an entry level cartridge/converter pen. (Buy)
  2. Pilot Metropolitan - The battle for the best fountain pen for beginners is over and the Pilot Metropolitan has won. (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)

(Notes: If this were the Top Fountain Pens For Beginners list, the Pilot Metropolitan would have held the top spot. The ECO is a better pen. Give me another year with the TWSBI GO and it may crack the list too. For fun times or your child’s first fountain pen, don’t sleep on the Pilot Kakuno.

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 - I’m glad to see Faber-Castell making waves in a somewhat desolate category. Great style, build, and fantastic nib. (Buy)
  5. Lamy Aion - The latest from Lamy, and not without its detractors. I think it is a solid workhorse of a pen, and fun to use. (Buy)

(Notes: If I had my druthers this category wouldn’t exist. The only pen even remotely interesting to me is the Kaweco AL Sport. I’d be fine spending down or spending up and skipping this range completely.)

Top 5 Fountain Pens $100-$200

  1. Platinum 3776 - It’s been years in the making, and the 3776 is finally on top. The nibs are the best, and the styles have caught up to the rest of the market. (Buy)
  2. Sailor 1911 Standard - I’m calling an audible here: The 1911 Standard is better than the Pro Gear Slim. (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. Pelikan M205 - Steel nib or not, this pen deserves a spot on this list. The quality of this pen, and the writing experience overall, justifies its placement. (Buy)

(Notes: If and when you get into fountain pens, this category gives you everything you need. Quality, performance, style, options - everything. I’d skip the $50-$100 range in all honesty. This is also where you can branch out into more custom brands like Franklin-Christoph and Edison.)

Top 5 Fountain Pens $200-$500

  1. Pilot Custom 823 - It’s expensive, and the barrel colors are limited, but I have a hard time not saying this is the best pen in this price range. The quality is superior. (Buy)
  2. Sailor Professional Gear - This is where I like the Pro Gear over the 1911 style. So much fun, so much quality. (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)

(Notes: Personal taste comes into play here more than anywhere else. You are spending a lot of money on a pen in this category, so be sure to get everything you want here, including style.)

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)

(Notes: 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. For something off the board, I’m a big fan of KWZ.

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 so far. (Buy)
  5. Sharpie Pen - Readily available and solid choice. (Buy)

(Notes: 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. Midori - The Travelers Notebook has shown people what good paper should feel like, and the growth of the MD lineup pushes them up the list. (Buy)
  4. Maruman - Slightly more expensive than Rhodia and slightly fewer options, but the quality is elite. (Buy)
  5. Leuchtturm1917 - High quality and wide availability make this a popular choice no matter your writing instrument. (Buy)

(Notes: 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)

(Notes: 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)

(Notes: The Parker Jotter is an all-time classic that is a decent option. It will never crack the Top 5, but it is fun to use.)

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

(Notes: 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)

(Notes: 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)

(Notes: 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)

(Notes: 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 it’s the only pen that can do the job. (Buy)

Top 5 Blue Black Fountain Pen Inks

  1. Sailor Blue Black - The dictionary definition of blue black, at least in my dictionary. It hits all of the right notes.
  2. Pilot Iroshizuku Shin-Kai - Lighter in color overall than Sailor BB, and with more colors popping through in the shading.
  3. Pilot Blue Black - A smart man once told me that this is the only ink he trusts explicitly in all of his pens.
  4. Rohrer & Klinger Salix - Maybe the best iron gall ink I have ever used.
  5. Akkerman #8 Diep-Duinwaterblauw - There is a brightness that peeks out from under the covers that many other blue blacks don’t possess.

Top 5 Orange Fountain Pen Inks

  1. Sailor Apricot - The first orange ink I ever latched on to, and the one I measure all others by. A perfect light shade with great character. (Buy)
  2. Papier Plume Sazerac - I didn’t realize what I was in for when I was handed a sample of Sazerac a couple of years ago in San Francisco. The most unique orange I use on a regular basis. (Buy)
  3. Akkerman #16 Oranje Boven - My idea of a pure orange. Few, if any, undertones of yellow, red, or brown, which are common. Not here. It’s just orange. (Buy)
  4. Pilot Iroshizuku Yu-Yake - It’s darker than Apricot, but has similar shading characteristics. (Buy)
  5. Montblanc Lucky Orange - I hesitate to put special editions on any list, but this one has been around a while, and doesn’t look like it is going anywhere any time soon. (Buy)