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.
- 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
- Ink tends to blob up
- Ballpoint inks don't leave the darkest line
- Written lines may “skip” due to viscosity of the ink
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).
- Super smooth writing experience
- Vibrant ink choices available in many colors
- Archival quality when dry
- Does not perform well on receipt paper
- Tendency to smear until dry
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.
- Smooth writing experience
- Less pressure needed to write
- Water-based ink bleeds through low quality paper
- Refills can be expensive
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!