Different Types of Pen and What They Are Used For

by | May 17, 2019 | Pens

Everyone in the world uses pens but not many of us really think about the different types of pen. I’m writing this post partly so I can better understand all the pens in my pencil case but in the hope that it might help you choose your perfect pen.

I’ve kept this guide close to the pens that I use the most. In the future I’ll look at things like dip calligraphy pens in more detail. For now lets start with the basic types of pen that you may come across on my blog.

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Ballpoint and Rollerball Pens

The ballpoint pen that I’m sure you know of is the iconic Bic biro. Probably the most popular and basic pen, despiten now having a tendency towards more sophisticated types of pen I still have a lot of love for the humble biro.

You might think of ballpoint pens as super basic but they are still a great staple pen to have in your pencil case.

Rollerball pens on the other hand despite being very similar have a few key differences. Like me you might be wondering what the hell the difference is between a ballpoint and rollerball.

The biggest difference is in the ink. The ballpoint pen ink is oil based and a lot thicker and stickier whereas the rollerball ink is thinner as it’s water based and more ink ends up on the page meaning you get a more vivd line. Because of the type of ink the ballpoint pen doesn’t actually need a cap because the ink won’t dry out but rollerballs can be prone to drying so they need caps.

Fountain Pens

Rollerball ink is actually very similar to fountain pen ink. Fountain pens can easily be recognised by their nib. The basic way that they work is that when you write the nib which has two halves opens slightly and draws ink through from the feed inside the pen barrel. As a novice to the fountain world I’ve found so many great articles which can explain the inner working of the fountain pen better so check this article for a break down of how fountain pens work.

Want to know more about the inner workings of pens? Check out my blog post for more information on every type of pen!

I’ve already written a blog post on my top 3 fountain pens for complete beginners so take a look if you’re interested in getting started in the fountain pen world.

Gel Ink

Let’s move on to gel pens which are actually very similar to ballpoint pens but the ‘ink’ is a water based gel. The gel ink is a lot more pigmented and uniform however they are prone to smudging. Generally they are more prone to dry out than a basic ballpoint but a lot of pens now are click pens that don’t need capping just like the Papermate inkjoy.

Gel pens are one of my favourite pen types to use particularly in my bullet journal. To find out more about them check out this blog post.

Sakura was the first company to pioneer the gel pen process and their Gelly Roll pens are still incredible popular! Gel pens are a great choice for thinks like journals because they produce such a pigmented line but you definitely have to be careful with smudging! Some gel pen manufacturers now are starting to make inks that are less prone to smudging but you’re still not going to escape any smudge.


Fineliners are actually a class of marker pen which are pens which have fibres pressed together like a felt tip pen. They are obviously very fine if they want to be and you can get them in a range of thicknesses. A standard size for a generic fineliner is about 0.4 which is what both Stabilo Point 88 and Staedtler Triplus come in.

Fineliners are a type of marker pen that are used not only for drawing and art but also for writing.

Fineliners are often used for art purposes with sketching and graphic drawing but they’re also really popular for handwriting and particularly popular with bullet journalists both to draw spreads and to use for writing. You can start out with relatively inexpensive fineliners that come in a wide range of colours or invest in more expensive quality black fineliners to draw spreads.

Pigment liners are a quality artist grade fineliner that can be used for drawing and designing.

Brush Pens

Brush pens are another type of marker but the tip on a brush pen is what sets it apart. I believe they were originally used mainly for asian calligraphy but now they’ve become incredible popular with bullet journalists and hand letterers to create beautiful brush calligraphy.

Tombow brush pens are a type of pen used for brush lettering but there are other types of brush pens suited to beginners.

You can get varying brush sizes and stiffnesses. The more flexible the tip the harder it will be to control. Tombow Dual Brush Pens are a fairly flexible tip so can take quite a bit of practice to master that brush lettering technique. To start out a smaller harder tip is a lot easier to get to grips with like the Pentel Touch or the Tombow Fudenosuke.

What’s your favourite type of pen to use?

Want to understand more about all the types of pen in your pencil case? This post looks at lots of common types of pen and what they're used for.

1 Comment

  1. Nunomelo

    Space pen is a special type of ballpoint pen that has pressurized reservoir for ink and is hermetically closed. This allows it to write under any angle, when no gravity is present and under water. It was invented in 1966 and was used by NASA in its space flights.


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