The Ultimate Pen

In The Ultimate Notebook, I reviewed a large list of notebooks I bought in my quest for the perfect one for me. (I’m happy to say that I’ve been using the Quo Vadis Habana in Raspberry exclusively for a while). But what about the perfect pen? Ah, pens. As much a personal matter as notebooks are. I’ve tried a variety of pens. Here’s my review of some of them.

Pens

First, what am I looking for? My ideal pen is:

  • Used for note-taking, usually in a business context
  • Felt-tipped so it doesn’t leak on planes
  • Permanent, fade-proof black ink
  • Small
  • Durable so it survives occupational hazards like accidental hard pressure
  • Long-lasting so it doesn’t run out of ink too fast

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of pens I’ve used.

Marvy (Uchida) Le Pen

I was introduced to this Japanese pen by Kate Matsudaira and have used it for years. It comes in a variety of colors and is inexpensive to buy in singles or bulk packs. It’s also resold under various brands, such as in Michael’s stores under the Recollections brand. (If that’s not the same pen under a different brand it is a remarkable imitation.)

Marvy Le Pen

Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Reasonable lifetime
  • Slim form factor
  • Good value and performance overall

Cons:

  • Runs out of ink after a while
  • The tip tends to wear down; depending on the paper, can wear down fast and the pen is useless

Sakura Pigma Micron

Another Japanese pen brand, these high-quality pens are great for writing, sketching, and precise drawing. Sakura makes a variety of styles, colors, and thicknesses of pen. I am fond of about a 0.3mm tip. Here’s a six-pack in 0.20mm Black that’s a good value. You can also get variety packs—a single color in various widths; a single width in a variety of colors; combinations thereof. Here’s a 10-pack in a single color you can choose.

Sakura Pigma Micron

Pros:

  • Quality is top-notch
  • Great for precision drawing and use with instruments such as straight-edges
  • Long-lasting, both in ink quantity and in tip durability
  • Very popular with many artists, engineers, architects, and the like

Cons:

  • Bulkier and thicker
  • More expensive, though not much
  • You’ll be more annoyed when you lose one of these

Sakura also makes tons of other kinds of pens I also think are suitable for note-taking, such as the Microperm. Many of these items will be available at your local office supply or craft supply store. Just don’t go in there with too much time to spare. Who knows what you’ll end up buying.

Staedtler Pigment Liner

These premium liners are made in Germany and I love them. They come in various sets of different widths, with their own plastic case. They are definitely designed for people who are serious about pens for precision work. They’re quite similar in form factor to the Sakuras. I’m not sure which is better quality. I have a set of various widths in black and I don’t think I’ll end up using some of the thicker and thinner widths, so it might be more economical to buy uni-size sets of the Sakura pens next time. If there is a next time—these pens have a reputation for lasting forever.

Staedtler Pigment Liner

Staedtler also makes a related model, the Triplus Fineliner pens, which I haven’t tried yet, but they look really nice.

Pros:

  • Amazing pens that make you feel like more of an artist/engineer just by holding them
  • High quality, highly durable, permanent ink
  • Resist drying out if you forget to cap them

Cons:

  • You’ll be so sad if you forget one in the coffee shop
  • Sets aren’t as flexibly configured, so if you don’t want the full variety of sizes, you might be buying pens you won’t use

Things To Do With Your Pens

Once you’ve picked up a pen like one of the above, you may be overcome with an irrational desire to do something with it, such as:

  • Practice Zentangling (have a kit maybe?)
  • Study Spencerian penmanship
  • Draw something in the style of Art Deco blended with steampunk
  • Keep a diary

Fountain Pens

As I wrote in another post, I rediscovered the joy of writing in cursive, and began using a fountain pen for that. I have owned 4 fountain pens from Pilot at this point, and would buy another. My most recent is the beautiful Pilot MR Retro Pop in purple with a medium nib.

Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen

Results

I still have a lot of the Le Pen pens hanging around, because I bought a few large boxes of them (one for the office, one for home, which my wife has been dipping into as well; there’s another +1 for Le Pen). I think I’ll be using these for a while. I usually have one in my pocket, sometimes two (!!), and several in my bag. They’re not expensive and they write nicely. On the other hand I don’t feel as special writing with them.

I love the Sakura and Staedtler pens.

Really, I love all the pens I’ve written about here.

Great places to buy pens, in addition to the Amazon.com links embedded above, include

Write! Write more! It’s therapeutic. And don’t forget to choose an amazing notebook to write in.


See Also


I'm Baron Schwartz, the founder and CEO of VividCortex. I am the author of High Performance MySQL and lots of open-source software for performance analysis, monitoring, and system administration. I contribute to various database communities such as Oracle, PostgreSQL, Redis and MongoDB. More about me.


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