Being stationery experts, we get all sorts of questions at Milligram – including quite a few enquiries like “what is the difference between ballpoint and rollerball pens?” So when it comes to ballpoint vs rollerball, what does it come down to? Do they suit different purposes? Do they write differently?

There are a few key differences which change the pen performance and to what situations it is best for. So if you’re keen to learn more, onwards!

The pens featured in this post are:

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Summary of the differences between ballpoint and rollerball pens

The way they write

A rollerball pen writes with a thick, vivid line. The line may smudge if you quickly run your hand over it (as it uses liquid ink) but it is a smoother pen. They tend to glide over the paper.

A ballpoint pen usually delivers a thinner, less vivid line. This line, however, does dry instantly on paper. They can sometimes feel a little ‘scratchier’ as you write.

If you’re not sure what kind of pen you write with is, it’s probably a ballpoint as most pens are. If you’re not sure, you can run a quick test keeping the above points in mind.

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The ink inside

Both pens operate using the same basic mechanism. A rolling ball at the tip of the pen is ‘inked’ by a reservoir above it. As you write over a page, the inked ball rolls over the paper, leaving its mark.

The main difference is the ink inside that reservoir.

The ballpoint uses a thicker, more viscous ink, rather than straight liquid. This has both good and bad features. Because of the ink formula, it dries instantly on paper and you avoid smudging. It’s really the main reason that ballpoints are so popular.That and the fact they’re usually more economical to purchase.

Rollerballs, however, do use a liquid ink. Or they can use a gel ink.

A liquid ink rollerball basically puts more ink onto the paper than a ballpoint. In fact, it’s about three times the amount which is why your rollerball line is so vivid. It’s also why some rollerballs can smudge.

Rollerballs are much more smooth. So this actually makes writing easier than it is on a ballpoint pen. We also think it makes your writing look more alive.

Rollerballs can cause a couple of problems if you are using poor quality paper. As it is a liquid ink, it can ‘bleed’ or ‘feather’ if you are using poor paper. Just grab some Rhodia and you’ll be fine!

Gel ink rollerballs are the same – but they pop even more! The nature of gel as a medium allows deeper pigmentation of the ink, giving a greater range of possible colours.

Compared to pencil or fountain pens

The other main options for your writing instruments are pencils or fountain pens.

We’ve included the Palomino Blackwing below – our most popular pencil – and a LAMY fountain pen. You’ll see both also deliver thicker writing lines. The Blackwing doesn’t smudge, whereas you do need to allow your fountain pen ink to dry. It does, however, deliver a more striking line.

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Exceptions to the rule

There are, of course, exceptions to these guidelines. Fisher Space Pen ballpoint pens, due to their refill, experience none of the heartaches advised above for ballpoint pens generally. Likewise, any rollerball, such as a Diplomat, which uses the Schmidt Easy Flow 9000 refill will dry instantly and doesn’t smudge!

Don’t forget the paper

Pens aside, writing really is a marriage of paper and ink and so your paper is really important. No matter your pen, if you’re using poor quality paper you will run into problems. The most versatile papers include Rhodia, Clairefontaine, Delfonics, Life StationeryLeuchtturm1917 or some more boutique brand like Tomoe River.

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Shop ballpoint pens at Milligram.

Shop rollerball pens at Milligram.