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The nine best pens for writing in 2023

Scribe, sign and scrawl in style with our pick of the best pens for writing

“You want to be a writer, but you don’t know how or when? Find a quiet place, use a humble pen.” So go the lyrics of Paul Simon’s Hurricane Eye and, despite the fact that we live in an increasingly digital world, his advice still rings true.

Even if you don’t have ambitions to be a writer, a pen is both an everyday essential and an instrument of power. Yes, we all know there’s an “an app for that”. We all have the tools to tap out lengthy emails on our laptops and create endless lists on our smartphones. Electronic communication is lightning fast and undeniably cheap.

But there remains something deeply intuitive and visceral about the physical act of putting pen to paper, whether it be to write an essay, assemble a shopping list or create a memorable two-line postcard. Writing by hand, with a pen that you love using, remains a simple and hugely underrated pleasure.

What qualities make for a great pen, however, depend largely on personal preference. Some of us take pleasure in creating slim, reedy, lines with ballpoints or gel pens. Others like the generous, full flourishes that you can only get from an elegant fountain pen.

While pens certainly can be used for drawing, our focus in this roundup is very much on those designed for writing. We’re looking for models that offer a near complete absence of smudging, as well as inspiringly smooth scribing.

Best pen for writing: At a glance

How to choose the best pen for you

What do you want it for?

Is it for letter writing? Note taking? List making? Journalling? A pen for letter writing will need to be comfortable and non-fatiguing to use over a period of time, while a vibrant ink colour or smaller nib size might be a higher priority, especially if note-taking or list creation are your priority.

Does it write smoothly and release ink evenly?

Using a pen that doesn’t appear to want to do your bidding can be a little stressful. You shouldn’t have to push hard on a nib or drag a pen aggressively across the page to get it to write. Ink should be released evenly, without you having to exert undue pressure, and shouldn’t bleed through the paper you use.

READ NEXT: The best colouring oencils to buy

How does it feel to hold?

Anyone who had to go through the misery of writing essays in the days before laptops became a classroom staple will absolutely testify that some pens feel more comfortable than others. Of course, “feel” is completely subjective, but pens that feature an ergonomic grip or finger pads tend to make writing that little bit easier. That said, some people value the lightness of a slimline pen over all other considerations.

Do you need a disposable, refillable or cartridge-based type?

While there are countless varieties of disposable pens, there really is something special about owning a pen that requires a degree of effort to maintain, even if relatively minor.

What should you spend?

Pens can cost less than a pound or, at the other end of the scale, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of pounds.

How we test writing pens

At Expert Reviews, we know that hands-on testing gives us the best and most complete information about a product. So we personally test all the writing pens we review. In order to standardise the testing, all of the pens are evaluated by the same person, writing on the same type of paper – in this instance we used high quality, 80gsm, lined paper from a Pukka pad.

We write for about a page, paying close attention to the comfort of the grip and the smoothness of the pen nib on paper, with a specific focus on the consistency of the ink flow. We noted drying times for the ink and any inherent smudge risk.

Finally, we considered specific details, such as the nib design and whether the pen requires cartridges, and, if so, what type.

READ NEXT: The best fountain pens to buy

The best writing pens you can buy in 2023

1. Pilot Hi-Tecpoint Rollerball Pen: Best overall pen for writing

Price: £9 (pack of 6) | Buy now from Amazon

Available with black, red or blue inks, the Hi-Tecpoint has long been a beloved staple of teachers and students who might need different colours for marking or notation.

But it also boasts endurance: it’s beautifully made – something of a design classic – and offers a consistent ink flow, with no danger of smudging, so is therefore the perfect choice for long handwritten letters or tackling exams.

With a precision-engineered 0.5mm tip, the pen creates notably slim 0.3mm wide lines, which help keep your writing both even and tidy.

The best news of all? It’s incredibly affordable. An out and out classic.

Key features – Nib type: Rollerball fountain; Tip width: 0.5mm Refillable: No

2. Lamy Safari Fountain Pen: Best fountain pen

Price: £20 | Buy now from Ryman

Who said fountain pens had to be expensive? Of course, there are some that require a huge investment, but this beautiful example – with a polished steel nib and vivid red casing – is inexpensive but still boasts the quality you’d expect from one of the names in premium pens.

The ergonomically shaped grip makes this model a pleasure to grasp, even before you’ve put nib to paper. Once you get writing the ink flow proves smoothly and evenly (you’ll need to get cartridge refills), requiring only the gentlest of pressure.

The ink flow is consistent, too. You won’t find it leaving random spots on your paper, and you certainly won’t have ink-stained fingertips when you’ve finished writing. Pleasing touches include a transparent window that signals when your ink is running low, plus the ability to fit an optional adapter that allows you to use bottled ink.

Key features – Nib type: Fountain; Refillable: Yes

Buy now from Ryman

3. Manuscript Handwriting Pen: Best writing pen for grip

Price: £3.50 (pack of 3) | Buy now from Hobbycraft

Granted, few people write complete manuscripts with pen and ink any more but if they did, they’d probably use this one. That’s because a triangular-shaped grip above the nib makes holding it supremely comfortable, even over long periods of time.

The 0.5mm tip is fine without being scratchy and the ink distribution is completely uniform: you don’t need to push down hard. The act of writing becomes a physical pleasure with this pen and you can’t help but want to make your sentences a joy to look at, as well as read.

Key features – Nib type: Ballpoint; Refillable: No

Buy now from Hobbycraft

4. Classic Cap Roller Pen Plus: Best-designed pen for writing

Price: £14 | Buy now from Moleskine

Given Moleskine’s track record in creating beautifully designed notebooks and diaries, it should come as no surprise that it’s nailed it with pens, too. Specifically, this is a gel rollerball with a square profile, matte ABS barrel and an ingenious patented clip, designed to attach the pen onto a notebook and stop it rolling off.

Ergonomically, it feels a bit strange at first to grip a square pen but you get used to it after a few seconds. Once you’ve acclimatised to the pen’s unusual shape, the only thing you’ll notice are the beautifully slim lines you’re creating when you write, as well the rich, matte ink you’re laying down.

Available in black, yellow and red finishes, this unique pen has a retractable 0.5mm roller tip and is refillable.

Key features – Nib type: Ballpoint; Refillable: Yes

Buy now from Moleskine

5. Pilot V-Pen: Best single-use fountain pen

Price: £5 | Buy now from Paperchase

If you love writing with fountain pens but are the type of person who loses everything sooner or later, or can never remember when you need cartridges, then this affordable single-use fountain pen is the one for you.

The blue ink flows smoothly and, as you might expect, more freely than from a biro or ballpoint. Despite that, thanks to its quick-drying formulation and a nib designed with precision in mind, there’s no evident smudging or bleeding. A great option if you’re particularly prone to misplacing your pens.

Key features – Nib type: Fountain; Refillable: No

Buy now from Paperchase

6. Stabilo point 88 Colorparade 20 Assorted: Best pens for colour choice

Price: £34 | Buy now from Stabilo

Just the sight of this rainbow-coloured range of pens is enough to lift anyone’s spirits. Even better is the fact that they are a joy to use when you get down to scribbling.

The slim hexagonal barrel affords a good grip while the slim fibre tip lays down a well-defined 0.4mm wide line, perfect for showcasing small, neat handwriting. This is definitely a precision writing instrument, one that’s uncommonly durable, thanks to its metal-encased tip.

That durability is evident in other areas, too. We can confirm, for instance, that the maker’s claim of a long ‘cap-off’ time is true, the pen working faultlessly even after the fibre nib has been exposed to the air for several hours. An ideal choice if precision matters.

Key features – Nib type: Fibre; Refillable: No

Buy now from Stabilo

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