Ballpoint vs fountain pen: which should you be writing with?

It's the battle of the writing titans, but which is better; ballpoint or fountain pen?

Ballpoint vs fountain pens
(Image credit: Getty)

It’s a debate as old as time and has had the world’s finest intellectuals at war for years – what is better to write with, fountain pens or ballpoint pens? Okay, maybe it’s not that serious, but if you’re spending a decent amount of money (some fountain pens can cost £400+ if you're buying the best fountain pen out there) then you want to know you’re buying the very best product for your needs – that’s where T3 comes in.

Before we explore which type of pen is better, let’s take a look at the differences:

How do ballpoint and fountain pens work?

Ballpoint pens distribute fast-drying ink without the ink drying in the pen itself. It uses a thick, oil-based ink that is dispersed by a small ball in a socket at the head of the pen. The cartridge uses gravity to force ink down the reservoir.

A fountain pen uses a nib in the place of a ball. The nib sits on top of a collector, which itself is connected to a feed. The feed takes ink from the pen’s reservoir and the collector ensures an even, steady flow. When you apply pressure to the nib, two tines are separated and the ink is dispersed.

Ballpoint vs fountain pens: Ink Quality

As we previously mentioned, the first difference is the ink. Fountain pens use a liquid-based ink which takes a while to dry. This allows the ink to flow smoothly. Ballpoints use a much thicker ink. It lasts longer and is less prone to smudging, but it can be described as ‘scratchy’ when writing. 

The free-flowing fountain pen ink causes less surface tension when writing and you don’t need to put as much pressure on the pen, whereas a ballpoint needs more downward pressure to force the ink out. 

As fountain pens release more ink onto the page they are capable of creating more vivid and expressive lines. It’s worth noting, though, that a ballpoint pen will deliver consistent writing across all paper types, whereas a fountain pen’s ink will bleed on low-quality thin paper.

Ballpoint vs fountain pens: Ink capacity

A fountain pen cartridge will give you around 7 to 15 pages of writing, whereas a ballpoint pen contains enough ink to write a continuous line four to five kilometres long. So this category is really no contest – the ballpoint takes it.

Ballpoint vs fountain pens: Comfort and Ergonomics

This is another win for fountain pens, especially if you’re comparing a reasonably pricey fountain pen to a cheap ballpoint. Obviously, you can also buy expensive ballpoints which are ergonomically designed and more comfortable to hold for extended periods of time, but as fountain pens require less downwards pressure to write you’ll still find these more comfortable in the long run.

The ink flow and a gold nib of a fountain pen will also have an effect on your comfort – travelling much more smoothly over paper than a ballpoint. They’re essentially the Rolls Royce of the pen world.

Ballpoint vs fountain pens: Convenience

There is no arguing that ballpoint pens are more convenient than fountain pens – the ink cartridges last for years, they’re unlikely to leak, and they are capable of writing on more surfaces.

Ballpoint vs fountain pens: verdict

Looking for a TLDR version? If you're looking for convenience then buy a ballpoint pen, but if you're looking for a luxurious and more comfortable writing experience then opt for one of the best fountain pens – they're a joy to write with and a chance to show off your penmanship.

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