What's the Best Ink Refill for an Everyday Carry Pen?

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So you've finally upgraded to a machined pen for your everyday carry. It's built like a tank and handles like a dream. Now, the next step to having an awesome writing experience in your day to day is finding the right refill to put in it.

Machined pen makers, especially on Kickstarter, love bragging about how many different refills their pens can accommodate. While the Fisher Space Pen and Pilot G2 refills are the most popular, there are hundreds more to choose from (yes, really).  

Since you can only use one refill at a time, I'll help you find your go-to with this guide by comparing the three types of ink refills and recommending the best ones to pair with your favorite EDC pen.


Ballpoint Ink Refills

If you've picked up any old pen to sign a receipt or check in at the doctor's office, there's a pretty good chance it was a ballpoint. They're the most common type of pen out there, and for good reason.

Inside the cartridge, you'll find a thick, oil-based ink. They're not fussy about paper quality, they're smooth to write with, and they're easy to find.  

Ballpoints are best for those who want a smooth-enough writing experience that works on a variety of papers with little to no bleeding through the page. There are several high-quality ballpoint refills that we like that are smoother, don't leave blobs of ink on the page, and more versatile than the standard throwaway.

Pros:

  • Versatility: The Fisher Space Pen can write anywhere
  • Availability: Many options at big box stores
  • Good for lefties: The Uniball Jetstream dries quickly and doesn't smear

Cons:

  • Ink tends to blob up 
  • Ballpoint inks don't leave the darkest line
  • Written lines may “skip” due to viscosity of the ink

Best ballpoint ink cartridges: Fisher Space Pen, Uniball Jetstream, Schmidt EasyFlow 9000, Parker Quink


Gel Ink Refills

Gel refills provide the slickest, smoothest writing experience of the three in this guide. They leave a dark line of ink behind, and look great on the page. Gel inks come in a variety of colors and tip sizes from several brands, making it really easy to find one that suits your style.

While they work well on copy paper, high quality paper, and in pocket notebooks, they're not the best on receipt paper. If you're carrying a pen just to sign receipts, then avoid a gel refill.

The broader the tip, the more likely it will smear when wet. However, there's no need to worry once the ink is dry, as many have archival qualities (meaning they're acid-free, water- and light-resistant).

Pros:

  • Super smooth writing experience
  • Vibrant ink choices available in many colors
  • Archival quality when dry

Cons:

  • Does not perform well on receipt paper
  • Tendency to smear until dry

Best gel ink cartridges: Pentel Energel Needlepoint, Pilot G2, Zebra Sarasa, Pilot Juice, Uni Signo RT


Rollerball Ink Refills

Rollerballs are the closest writing experience to using a fountain pen. People love them for their smooth, crisp lines.

Rollerballs work like a ballpoint, with a small suspended ball that rolls the ink across the page. Since they use liquid ink, the ball mechanism is lubricated by the ink better, therefore giving a smoother feel when writing.

Rollerballs shine on high quality paper, but the liquid ink tends to go right through the page on cheaper paper. It's hard to read writing on both sides of a single sheet of paper because of the bleeding.

Rollerball refills aren't a direct fit, so make sure you check your pen's compatibility before picking some up.

Pros:

  • Smooth writing experience
  • Less pressure needed to write

Cons:

  • Water-based ink bleeds through low quality paper
  • Refills can be expensive

Best rollerball ink cartridges: Schmidt P8126, Pilot Precise V5RT


What’s the best type of EDC pen refill for most people?

Ultimately, a ballpoint pen is going to be the best for all-purpose, everyday writing. It works well on all types of paper, dries quickly, and it easy to find. We like the Schmidt EasyFlow 9000 refills for their dark lines that go onto the page extra smooth. If you need a pen that can write anywhere (yes, even space), then consider those made by Fisher.

Gel is our  close runner-up, as it's very smooth and there are a ton of colors and line widths to choose from.

Rollerball comes in last, as it would be the least ideal for EDC due to its paper sensitivity, slow dry time, and more expensive refills.

And there you have it! The trusty ballpoint is probably the best for an all-purpose EDC pen. The beauty of a pen that takes several refills is that you're not stuck using any one refill forever. Not feeling the ballpoint? Check out a gel refill that also fits your pen.

So, what's your favorite refill? Let us know in the comments below. Or if you're still looking for that perfect writing experience, reach out and we'd be happy to throw some more recommendations your way!

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Discussion (30 total)

Great article. My preferred choice is always Pilot G2. Thanks.
Here's a thought: get a pill bottle tall enough, and then you can carry a variety of ink refills and spacers that fit your pen (if you're dead set on just one pen).
Or carry a few pens.
I carry a pencil. Works everytime.
Ballpoint pens, while being useful (from a 'jack of all trades' and availability perspective) just NEVER did it for me. The best Ballpoint refills I've ever used (and the only ones I'd buy at this point) are the Rotring BP Refills. They get rid of the usual 'BP drag' feedback.

I was on rollers for years and between hundreds of pens over the years (and even more refills) I love CERAMIC ball rollers the most. I've never had issues with skipping like with some of the other more 'BP-esque' rollers out there (or Gels). The Ohto Ceramic & Schmidt 5888 Ceramic refills are my favorites by far.

tl;dr - These are my favorite refills for each pen type (also for the love of god use good paper)

Ballpoint: Rotring 'Jumbo' Refills (Black / Blue)
Gel: G2 (Still the king, avoid the 1mm though)
Rollerball: Schmidt 5888 Ceramic & Ohto C-Series*

* Seriously, look into Ohto. The EDC community tends to stay out of Japanese writing space for some off reason but they've been innovating in the space for decades.

ALL THAT BEING SAID...I'm a Fountain Pen lady, for sure.

Daily Carry:
Writing 'Work Horse' - Pilot Heritage 92 ('F' Nib)
Signing/Calligraphy - Lamy Al-Star (1.5mm Stub)
Sketching/Drafting - Rotring Rapid Pro Clutch Pencil (2mm)

Paper: Code & Quill 'Monolith' & Rhodia No.16 Pads
My favorite pen is the Fields Notes pen. Standard, govt issue style Bic pen. Love it.
govt issue is skilcraft wtw
I use the Gel G2 for everyday writing and the ballpoint for signatures items as needed.. good article
Nice! Thanks for the kind words!
Thanks for the info. Never thought about the different inks. I'm using my first Space pen refill and like it a lot. Not cheap though. I have a collection of leftover Parker refills, 4 I think, from when I was using a stylus on my camera touch screen. I used the stylus in the winter while wearing gloves. The stylus tip would wear out long before the pen dried up.
I am using a fisher space refill on jotter parker with plastic barell
What is the name of the silver-colored pen??
I use MontBlanc rollerball. It resembles writing with fountainpen and dries quickly.
Ideal for writing in patient files that need to be written in an closed quickly.
For my secondary EDC pens I use Lamy ballpoint cartridges.
what is the name of the pen in the second picture?
Pilot MR (metropolitan) with G2 refill. This pen is built strong
No mention of Monteverde soft roll ballpoint pen refills. Plenty of colors beyond blue and black. Smooth writing on many different papers. They even are able to supply refills for Lamy pens. They get my vote.
Am I the only one that wishes a gel refill would fit into a Zebra F-701? I love the body of the pen but I need more ink output than a fine tip ball point...or even a Fisher Space Pen refill. Any gels that would fit?
I have tried to fit in many different gel refills into a F-701, but without any luck...
I also like the body but don't like the Zebra refills, so I'm using it with a Fisher instead. Would love to have a Pilot G2 or a Pentel Energel in my F-701...
Take a Uni Style Fit or Pilot Hi Tec C Coleto refill and cut them ot size, add a spring and it works perfectly!
And a pencil.i carry both, the fat kind.
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