Different Types of Pens and Their Uses

Alyssa Mertes

Kyrsten Ledger

Promo Expert

Published: January 4th, 2019

Updated: May 8th, 2019

While some people may choose pens solely based on preference, there are some that work best for different scenarios. Certain pens can write on almost any surface, such as granite, ceramic, black paper, or wood. Whether you need a pen for space travel or wedding invitations, knowing the different types will help you pick the perfect one for any situation.

The seven types of pens include:

  • Fountain
  • Ballpoint
  • Rollerball
  • Gel
  • Felt-tip
  • Stylus
  • Novelty
  •  

Pens have been used for over 5,000 years to write our history and pass along information. From using a quill to a stylus, the history of pens is expansive. Over time, different types of pens have been invented for various uses. It doesn’t matter if you prefer an elegant fountain pen or a silly pickle pen, there is a perfect pen out there for everyone!

What are the different types of pens? How are they used? Let’s explore pen styles and their uses!

Guide to Different Pens

Pens are everywhere! In your office, wedged in between your couch cushions, or at the bottom of your purse. These handy tools are used for everything and equipped to work on almost any surface. Of course, some pens are better suited for certain situations compared to others. These are the types of pens everyone should be familiar with.

Fountain Pen Source: whistlerwritersfest.com

Fountain Pen

Fountain pens have a tip similar to a quill and hold the ink internally rather than having to dip pen into ink to write. They’re used mostly in business settings, but are also great for calligraphy and formal wedding invitations.

Fountain Pen Source: whistlerwritersfest.com
Ballpoint Pen Source: pitara.com

Ballpoint Pen

Laszlo Biro, a Hungarian newspaper editor, grew tired of wasting time filling his fountain pens and cleaning up smudges, therefore he invented a pen that uses thicker ink and only writes when the ballpoint tip is in motion. The ballpoint pen works best for fast or long writing, like note-taking and journaling.

Ballpoint Pen Source: pitara.com
Fun Fact!

Contrary to popular belief, the “space pen” (a ballpoint pen that works in outer space) was actually invented by the Fisher Pen Company and then popularized by NASA.

Rollerball Pen Source: upload.wikimedia.org.com

Rollerball Pen

The rollerball pen was invented in Japan and combines the body style of the ballpoint pen but has liquid-based ink like a fountain pen instead of oil-based ink. People who like the writing style of the fountain pen, but enjoy not having to refill their pen will love rollerball pens.

Rollerball Pen Source: upload.wikimedia.org.com
Gel Pen Source: cdn.shopify.com

Gel Pen

Gel pens are the same as rollerball pens, but with liquid-based gel ink. The colors range from metallics, to glitter, to neon and are great for coloring, writing, or drawing on black surfaces.

Gel Pen Source: cdn.shopify.com
Felt-tip Pen Source: joann.com

Felt-tip Pen

Felt-tip pens are also called marker pens that range from permanent markers to highlighters. These are ideal for DIY projects and writing on almost any surface.

Felt-tip Pen Source: joann.com
Stylus Pen Source: dhresource.com

Stylus Pen

Unlike other pens, a stylus pen doesn’t contain any ink and the material used to make styli varies as well as their uses. Wire or ceramic styli are used for pottery and sculpting, while tech styli are used primarily for digital screens. In some cases, a rubber stylus tip is combined with an ink pen for multipurpose.

Stylus Pen Source: dhresource.com
Fun Fact!

The word “stylus” comes from the Latin word “stilus” meaning “a stake”. The first styli were made of bone, iron, or brass and were used to write on wax tablets and have been around since 1300 B.C.!

Novelty Pen

Novelty pens show a lot of personality with different shapes and textures. Whether they’re paintbrush shaped or have a mesh-top head, these pens are perfect for tradeshow giveaways.

Novelty Pen Source: secure.parksandresorts.wdpromedia.com

Breakdown of Different Pen Types

Do you know the difference between a ballpoint pen and a gel pen? No worries, we’re here to clear up any confusion.

Certain pen types are best for different scenarios. For example, a fountain pen will make you look professional and prepared while signing the papers for your new home whereas a mop topper pen may give the wrong impression.

No matter what you need to use a pen for, chances are there is one out there calling your name. Knowing your primary task at hand is only the beginning of choosing the right pen. You also need to know what surface you intend to write on, such as plastic or metal, as well as paper, mirrors, and fabric.

If you want to learn even more about the different pen types, their primary uses, or surfaces used on, check out this helpful chart!

Fountain

Year Invented: 1880

Primary Uses:
• Journaling
• Business transactions
• Contract signatures
• Calligraphy
• Invitations
• Advertising
• Marketing

Surfaces Used On:
• Paper

Properties:
• Water-based ink
• Flexible nib
• Short ink life
• Ink is refillable
• Can be permanent or non-permanent
• More color options

Ballpoint

Year Invented: 1940

Primary Uses:
• Stockings
• Exams
• School work
• Essay writing
• Business meetings
• Note-taking
• Advertising
• Marketing

Surfaces Used On:
• Paper
• Wood
• Plastic

Properties:
• No maintenance
• Long ink life
• Fixed ball tip
• Affordable
• Oil-based ink
• Less smudging
• Ink is prone to clumping
• Easy to use
• Retractable options

Rollerball

Year Invented: 1980

Primary Uses:
• Journaling
• School work
• Invitations
• Coloring
• Drawing
• Advertising
• Marketing

Surfaces Used On:
• Paper

Properties:
• Water-based ink
• Fixed ball tip
• More color options
• Short ink life
• Smears easily

Gel

Year Invented: 1995

Primary Uses:
• Journaling
• Invitations
• Coloring
• Drawing
• School work
• Advertising
• Marketing

Surfaces Used On:
• Black paper
• Wood
• Ceramic
• Glass
• Paper

Properties:
• Rich ink color
• Short life span
• Dries out easily
• More color options
• Less smudging
• Thick water-based gel ink
• Vibrant

Felt-tip

Year Invented: 1960

Primary Uses:
• School work
• Coloring
• Journaling
• Invitations
• Drawing
• Arts and crafts
• Advertising
• Marketing

Surfaces Used On:
• Glass
• Ceramic
• Plastic
• Mirrors
• Wood
• Fabric
• Paper
• Metal
• Black paper (metallic colors only)

Properties:
• Smooth delivery of ink
• Ink dries quickly
• Rich flow of ink
• Four ink types: pigment, water, oil and alcohol-based
• Can be permanent or non-permanent
• Porous tip
• Transparent ink options
• Variety of tip size and shape options

Stylus

Year Invented: 1300 BC

Primary Uses:
• Arts and crafts
• Scientific instruments
• Smartphones
• Tablets
• Computers

Surfaces Used On:
• Clay
• Tech devices
• Glass

Properties:
• Tactile use for digital devices
• Rubber, fiber, and swede tip options
• Mimics ink pen movements
• Small and slim design options

Novelty

Year Invented: 1960s

Primary Uses:
• Giveaways
• Marketing
• Journaling
• School work
• Note-taking

Surfaces Used On:
• Paper
• Wood
• Plastic

Properties:
• Variety of size and shape options
• Can be textured (i.e. rubbery or fluffy)
• Unique

Pen Year Invented Primary Uses Surfaces Used On Properties
Fountain 1880
  • Journaling
  • Business transactions
  • Contract signatures
  • Calligraphy
  • Invitations
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Paper
  • Water-based ink
  • Flexible nib
  • Short ink life
  • Ink is refillable
  • Can be permanent or non-permanent
  • More color options
Ballpoint 1940
  • Stockings
  • Exams
  • School work
  • Essay writing
  • Business meetings
  • Note-taking
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Paper
  • Wood
  • Plastic
  • No maintenance
  • Long ink life
  • Fixed ball tip
  • Affordable
  • Oil-based ink
  • Less smudging
  • Ink is prone to clumping
  • Easy to use
  • Retractable options
Rollerball 1980
  • Journaling
  • School work
  • Invitations
  • Coloring
  • Drawing
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Paper
  • Water-based ink
  • Fixed ball tip
  • More color options
  • Short ink life
  • Smears easily
Gel 1995
  • Journaling
  • Invitations
  • Coloring
  • Drawing
  • School work
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Black paper
  • Wood
  • Ceramic
  • Glass
  • Paper
  • Rich ink color
  • Short life span
  • Dries out easily
  • More color options
  • Less smudging
  • Thick water-based gel ink
  • Vibrant
Felt-tip 1960
  • School work
  • Coloring
  • Journaling
  • Invitations
  • Drawing
  • Arts and crafts
  • Advertising
  • Marketing
  • Glass
  • Ceramic
  • Plastic
  • Mirrors
  • Wood
  • Fabric
  • Paper
  • Metal
  • Black paper (metallic colors only)
  • Smooth delivery of ink
  • Ink dries quickly
  • Rich flow of ink
  • Four ink types: pigment, water, oil and alcohol-based
  • Can be permanent or non-permanent
  • Porous tip
  • Transparent ink options
  • Variety of tip size and shape options
Stylus 1300 BC
  • Arts and crafts
  • Scientific instruments
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Computers
  • Clay
  • Tech devices
  • Glass
  • Tactile use for digital devices
  • Rubber, fiber, and swede tip options
  • Mimics ink pen movements
  • Small and slim design options
Novelty 1960s
  • Giveaways
  • Marketing
  • Journaling
  • School work
  • Note-taking
  • Paper
  • Wood
  • Plastic
  • Variety of size and shape options
  • Can be textured (i.e. rubbery or fluffy)
  • Unique

What’s the Difference Between Fountain and Ballpoint Pens?

The two most common pen types are fountain and ballpoint. Aside from a few things in common, fountain and ballpoint pens are very different. From looks and ink to their life span and how they work, these pens are like comparing apples to oranges. Check out the similarities and differences between fountain and ballpoint pens.

Fountain Pens

  • Water-based ink
  • Prone to ink leakage
  • Require monthly
  • Eco-friendly
  • Expensive
  • Ink flow is regulated through a feed
  • More likely to bleed through paper

Similarities

  • Designed for convenience
  • Rely on gravity to function
  • Used as promotional products
  • Both were invented outside of the United States
  • Ink is replaceable

Ballpoint Pens

  • Oil-based ink
  • Write on more surfaces other than paper like plastic and wood
  • Best for left-handed people because the ink dries immediately
  • Ink clumps up easier
  • Ink flow is regulated through a ball in the nib
  • Requires more pressure to write

How to Clean a Fountain Pen

Unlike other pens, fountain pens must be cleaned on a monthly basis if used regularly. The main reason fountain pens need to be flushed out is because the ink can dry up quickly inside the ink reservoir, feed and nib, which will eventually clog up the pen. You’ll also need to clean your fountain pen every time you switch inks. This ensures that your pen keeps working in tip-top shape.

Here are the steps on how to clean your fountain pen:

  1. 1. Put cold to room temperature water in two cups. Never use warm or hot water or alcohol as these can damage your pen.
  2. 2. Disassemble your pen by unscrewing the barrel from the nib section.
  3. 3. Using a syringe, flush the nib, feed, and ink reservoir (or converter, depending on the pen) with water. If the ink has dried, you may need to let the nib section sit in water for a couple hours or overnight.
  4. 4. Continue to flush the pen until the water runs clear and the ink reservoir is clear.
  5. 5. Dry your pen with a microfiber towel since paper towels may scratch up the nib.
  1. Step 1
    Step 1

    Put cold to room temperature water in two cups. Never use warm or hot water or alcohol as these can damage your pen.

    Step 1
  2. Step 2
    Step 2

    Disassemble your pen by unscrewing the barrel from the nib section.

    Step 2
  3. Step 3
    Step 3

    Using a syringe, flush the nib, feed, and ink reservoir (or converter, depending on the pen) with water. If the ink has dried, you may need to let the nib section sit in water for a couple hours or overnight.

    Step 3
  4. Step 4
    Step 4

    Continue to flush the pen until the water runs clear and the ink reservoir is clear.

    Step 4
  5. Step 5
    Step 5

    Dry your pen with a microfiber towel since paper towels may scratch up the nib.

    Step 5

While these steps can work for almost any fountain pen, it’s important to note that each pen manufacturer will most likely have their own instructions on how to care for their pens. With that being said, we recommend following their directions to keep your pen in excellent condition.

Need more clarification? Watch this step-by-step video on how to clean a fountain pen!

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Glossary of Pen Terms

Unless you work at a pen company or assemble pens at a factory, chances are you don’t know the difference between a plunger (no, not the one in your bathroom) from a clip. That’s why we’re here to clear up any confusion and break down the common terms used for when talking about pens.

Acrylic Source: cdn.shopify.com

Acrylic:
A type of plastic often used to make the barrels of pens.

Barrel

Barrel:
The body of the pen that holds the ink chamber.

Calligraphy Pen Source: calligraphypen.files.wordpress.com

Calligraphy Pen:
A pen that uses a flex nib or an italic nib to create line variations within calligraphy.

Cap

Cap:
The part of the pen that covers the nib and is removed before use.

Clip

Clip:
A metal or plastic protrusion from the cap or barrel of a pen that allows you to attach the pen to a notebook or pocket.

Deboss Source: precisecontinental.com

Deboss:
A printing method where you stamp a design into the surface of a pen.

Feed Source: 1.bp.blogspot.com

Feed:
An essential part of pens that regulates the flow of ink to the nib.

Imprint

Imprint:
Impress or stamp a design onto the barrel of a pen.

Ink Source: shopwritersbloc.com

Ink:
The liquid substance used for writing or printing.

Ink Reservoir Source: i2.wp.com

Ink Reservoir:
The part of the pen that holds the ink and feeds it to the nib. Also known as the ink chamber or ink refill.

Multi Pen Source: sc01.alicdn.com

Multi Pen:
A pen that counteracts as another device, such as a highlighter, or allows you to switch between more than one color.

Nib Source: nibs.com

Nib:
The point of a pen that distributes the ink onto the writing surface.

Plunger Source: shop.r10s.jp

Plunger:
The rod inside a pen that moves up and down to allow ink flow.

Ratchet Source: shop.r10s.jp

Ratchet:
The mechanism inside retractable pens that allows the nib to be pushed out and pulled back in when clicked.

Screen Printing

Screen Printing:
A printing method in which ink is applied directly to the surface through a screen; more suitable for curved shapes like pens.

Stats for Success

Each person in the United States uses 4.3 pens every year.

The United States makes more than 2 billion pens a year.

A ballpoint pen can draw a line 4000-7500 feet long in its lifetime.

Since 1950, enough pens have been sold to draw a line to the moon and back more than 320,000 times.

The Bottom Line

The second your day starts until you go to bed, chances are you will use a pen! Whether it’s to sign a waiver to go skydiving or write your BFF a note, pens are important to our daily lives. From budget pens to pens with a fluffy poof on top, they can be economical or just for fun!

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten is a Copywriter at Quality Logo Products®. She has a BA in English from Aurora University and has had her work published for Print + Promo. If you need her, you'll find her with her nose stuck in a book, on a quest to learn something new, or planning her next adventure.