There are several popular types of pens, but when it comes to the best pens for note-taking, your best bets are ballpoint, rollerball, or gel pens that distribute ink evenly and don't easily bleed through paper. Contrary to popular belief, ballpoint, rollerball, and gel pens all utilize a tiny ball at the tip of the pen to dispense ink. The ink itself is where they differ:
- Ballpoint pens use oil-based ink, which is quick-drying and waterproof. Since the ink is thicker, the pen requires more pressure to write, but some people prefer the added control.
- Rollerball pens are the best option for people who often experience hand fatigue while writing. Because the liquid ink is water-based, it typically flows more easily than other types — but note that it can bleed through thin paper more easily.
- Gel pens use pigment that's suspended in a water-based gel, which means they're usually easy to write with and come in a wide range of vivid colors. That said, gel pens can take longer to dry than other types, so they're not ideal if you're left-handed or always on the go.
Once you've made your ink selection, take a look at the pen's extra features to make sure it fits your needs: Can you refill it when you've run out of ink? What's the point size? Does it have a clip and a retractable tip for convenience? How's the grip? What colors does it come in? All of these features are a matter of personal preference, but they can help inform your final choice.
As you're shopping for note-taking pens, you may also come across popular felt-tip and fountain options, but these types of pens aren't ideal for note-taking. Felt-tip pens can dry out and will often bleed through paper, and fountain pens often don't come with ink, are much more expensive, and have a free-flowing design that takes a little more of a learning curve.
No matter your budget or the specific features you're looking for, these six pens can get the ball rolling and help you effectively and comfortably take notes.
1. The Overall Best Pens For Note-Taking
Pen type: Rollerball with a 0.5-millimeter tip
The PILOT Precise V5 pen has more than 1,400 Amazon ratings and an overall average of 4.9 stars. Why? Well, for one, this rollerball pen features an extra-fine precision tip that writes smoothly and resists skipping. It also has a sturdy, sleek design, a retractable tip, a rubber grip, and a metal clip. When your ink runs dry, you can reuse the pen with additional ink refills. Last but not least, you can get it in a wide range of colors and pack options.
One reviewer wrote: "The precise V5 Pilot series of pens in my humble opinion one of the best writing pens ever produced. [...] The black pen is so smooth and the line it produces is very clean. I'm an old scientist and keep extensive notebooks, filled with equations, drawings and stuff. Over the years this pen has replaced all others."
2. The Most Budget-Conscious Pick
Pen type: Ballpoint with a 1-millimeter tip
If your pens are always breaking, disappearing, and running out of ink, it's probably best that you don't invest in expensive, refillable ones. Luckily, these Zebra pens break down to about 37 cents per pen, and they still have an overall rating of 4.7 stars. That's because they write smoothly, allow for additional control thanks to their ballpoint design, and have a latex-free rubberized grip for comfort — plus, they're retractable and have a metal pocket clip. These Zebra pens aren't refillable, but if you're looking to stock up, you can snag a 24-pack for about $2 more.
One reviewer wrote: "I'm extremely picky when it comes to pens. I go through them quickly because I'm constantly taking notes. I bought these because the price was great, but in all honesty, I wasn't sure if I'd like them. However, when I first got my hands on them, I loved them! They glide easily when you write with them, they don't skip or anything like that (cheaper pens usually do) and they just have a nice, lightweight grip in your hand. I've found my new go-to pen!"
3. The Best Gel Pens
Type of pen: Gel with a 0.7-millimeter tip
Gel pens offer a bold, smooth writing experience — but since the ink can be a bit messier, some note-takers steer clear of them. Luckily, Sharpie's S-Gel pens, which (despite the thicker, slower-drying gel ink) have a smear-proof, bleed-resistant design. They aren't refillable, but they are retractable and have a contoured rubber grip for comfort and a plastic clip.
One reviewer wrote: "These pens are wonderful! They write smooth and bold, plus the ink does not bleed or smear. They retract like a normal ball point pen and are comfortable to hold. Package came with red, blue, and black pens (four each). My wife loves these also and she is a pen fanatic."
4. A Multicolored Mini Pack Of Ballpoint Pens
Pen type: Ballpoint with a 0.7-millimeter tip
Whether you're color-coding your notes for fun or for practicality, the Mr. Pen assorted color pack is the way to go. These pens are smooth, smear-resistant, skip-proof, and fast-drying. The retractable design ensures that the vivid colors get on the page and not your bag's interior. Though they aren't refillable, they each feature a ribbed grip that makes them "easy to hold," according to reviewers, and a handy clip. Looking for more color selection? Opt for Mr. Pen's 16-pack of pens.
One reviewer wrote: "So I got these specifically to do color notes for school, and because they said fine tip and no bleed... they are amazing pens and have superseded my expectations!!! I love them and in nursing school, you need varied colors for notes."
- Available colors: Assorted colors (featured) and black
5. The Best Left-Handed Pens
Type of pen: Ballpoint with a 0.7-millimeter tip
If you're left-handed, you know all too well that smearing and the inability to see what you're writing are common issues with a standard pen. Fortunately, these Maped Visio pens are specifically made for left-handed writers. They have an ergonomic curved shape that allows you to better see what you're doing and write more comfortably. Each pen also has a ribbed triangular-shaped grip for extra traction, and the ballpoint design and quick-drying ink prevent any smudging. Despite the specialized style, they clock in at just $2.50 per pen. While the pens aren't refillable, this assorted pack includes pens with three different ink colors: black, blue, and red.
One reviewer wrote: "They change the angle of your hand and pen just enough to make it easier to see what you're writing (which as a left-hander has always been a huge issue), to reduce drag (which is way higher when pushing a pen as a left-hander than pulling it as a righty -- try it sometime), and reduce muscle strain. I find my writing much smoother and easier using these pens and I can write for longer because my hand doesn't get as tired."
- Available colors: Assorted colors (featured) and black
6. The Best Pen For Writing Outdoors
Type of pen: Ballpoint with a 1.1-millimeter tip
Finally, if you're taking notes outside, in extreme conditions, or just want a more elevated writing experience, there's the Fisher Space Bullet pen. It's the best option for field notes because it writes in any weather, at any angle, no matter the temperature — all thanks to its pressurized cartridge, which pushes the ink out with nitrogen gas. It's also evenly balanced and ergonomic when you're writing, despite its travel-friendly shape and size. You'll have to spend a bit more to get this all-weather pen — fortunately, though, the Space Pen cartridge refills are significantly cheaper than the pen itself.
One reviewer wrote: "I have yet to use this pen in a zero-G environment or deep in the ocean. The pen does, however, fit neatly into my pocket without me being able to notice it. It's also one of the smoothest writing pens I've ever used. The ink dries quickly; the metal is sturdy and the cartridge seems to last a while. I never leave home without this pen and my Field Notes."
- Available colors: Black (featured)