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Ballpoint or rollerball pen? What are the main differences and how to choose the one that is right for you?
Penna roller o sfera

Latest articles - Writing

Ballpoint or rollerball pen? What are the main differences and how to choose the one that is right for you?


There is no such thing as the perfect pen in absolute terms. Your choice, though subjective, should always be linked to your lifestyle, writing style and needs. First and foremost, consider the structural characteristics of the pen, but also let yourself be seduced by its general appearance and aesthetics. 

Many of us use ballpoint and rollerball pens on a daily basis, but few people know the differences between these two types of pens. There are undoubtedly many similarities between these writing instruments, and though both are great gift ideas for special occasions, there are some technical peculiarities that differentiate them. 

In order to make an informed decision on your ideal pen, read through the key differences between these two types of writing instruments based on: ink composition, ink transmission technology and the type of stroke it creates.

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Ballpoint pens: the practical choice

The most widely used pens in this recent period of history are definitely ballpoint pens, commonly known as biros, after their inventor László Bíró. History tells us that, in the late 1930s, Bíró observed a ball rolling in a puddle, drawing a wet line on the asphalt. This principle inspired the Hungarian writer to design a revolutionary mechanism for a pen that could replace the complicated filling systems of fountain pens. 

This type of pen is characterised by a ball, usually made of stainless steel or brass with a maximum diameter of 1.6 mm, that transmits the viscous, oily ink from the barrel to the paper through a ring of tiny ridges. Because it is dense, the ink is not very volatile and does not dry easily inside the chamber; moreover, it dries almost immediately on contact with the paper, which should preferably be slightly porous.

It is this simple mechanism that has made the biro pen so popular throughout the world. Adapting well to virtually any type of medium, the biro’s ink can be replaced in a few easy steps with a practical refill. The only risk is that, during over extended periods of use, ink clumps can form around the pen tip, resulting in unwanted stains on the paper. Though highly practical, many pen enthusiasts consider that biros offer a monotonous and uninspiring writing experience.

Rollerball pens: the expressive option

The rollerball pen is nothing more than a variant of the biro. Just as practical, the rollerball is equipped with the same ballpoint mechanism; what distinguishes it from the ballpoint is the ink it uses. The ink in rollerball pens is water- or gel-based, not oil-based, which results in a much smoother, more fluid and continuous stroke. Not only does it generally offer a more pleasant writing experience, but also has a good colour rendering. 

There are some disadvantages to rollerball pens which include the time it takes for the ink to dry on paper (much longer than with biros) and the short lifespan of the cartridge. In addition, the pen must also be hermetically sealed to prevent the ink from drying out and the pen from becoming unusable. 

But there is another reason why rollerball pens are less functional. The ink tends to soak into the paper in greater quantities, thus making writing on thin sheets of paper unadvisable. The ink could seep through the page and become visible on the other side. 

On the other hand, what makes rollerball pens preferable to ballpoint pens is their expressiveness. Thanks to the quality and properties of the ink with which they are filled, these pens are able to convey personal moods and personal handwriting styles in a similar way to fountain pens.


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