To Put a Fine Point on It
Which pens are best?
Test No. 5: Will it leak on an airplane?
This is a test only for rollerballs, which, because they don't respond well to cabin pressure, will potentially leak big globs of ink all over the place if you uncap them on an airplane. I hadn't known about this problem until I came across two different makes of rollerballs trumpeting the fact that they were "safe for airplane use" (i.e.,guaranteed not to leak).With a sinking feeling, I realized that the other 30-odd rollers in my collection would now have to be branded "not safe for airplane use." I perked up briefly at the idea of expensing a plane ticket to Slate so that I could study the effects of high altitudes on the uncapped rollerball pen, but the desire to be thought of as non-delusional by my editor got the best of me, and I outsourced this part of the testing to someone flying for a reason other than to see what would happen to her pens.
Shaking his head sadly, like a preschool teacher who has to report to a parent about a child's misbehavior, my deputy informed me that the Bic Roller Grip embarrassed itself with a messy accident on both of the flights he took. The Pilot V Ball also leaked, though on only one flight, which shows how unpredictable the problem can be. Neither the Zebra Roller 2000 nor the Uniball Vision leaked, but the former wrote more thickly and the latter with a much more wan line than at ground level.
Of the two rollerballs that are specially designed for airplane use (neither of which leaked on the test flights), the Uniball Vision Elite (not to be confused with the plain old Vision) is by far the preferable pen. The other, the Pilot Precise Zing,whose unfortunate barrel design looks like ink has been smudged all over it, writes so unpleasantly—noisily and scratchily and jumpily—on the ground that I'd rather run the risk that my pen would leak on an airplane than have to use this pen at all.
Test No. 6: How versatile is it?
In other words, what can it do for you when you're not actually writing? Does it twiddle well when you're gazing at a blank page? Does it tuck comfortably behind your ear when you want to keep it handy? Does it do the trick when you need to keep your hair out of your face and can't find a rubber band? Is it good to chew on?N.B.: I did not take into account a pen's usefulness in removing ear wax (thanks, though, to the friend who proposed this area of inquiry and whose pens I will try to remember not to borrow) or follow through on my mother's repeated suggestions that I test how well different pens would serve as weapons (thanks, though, Mom).
The Pentel RSVP ballpoint was too heavy and long to sit comfortably in my hand while I was writing, let alone put behind my ear or twiddle. The Zeb Roller 2000,a stocky brown pen with a black band around its cap, looks like a potato wearing headphones,and the yellow and black Staedtler Liquid Point,which looks like the costumes once favored by Stryper,is ugly enough that I would recommend against wearing it on your person.
Capped models make better hair clips (the discreet all-blackSanford Uniballgoes with any outfit)because you don't have to worry about pushing down the pen point and marking up your scalp. The Bic Round Stic cap, meanwhile, tastes the best to me, which is to say the least conspicuously like treated plastic. But, as we all know, you really shouldn't chew your pens.
Recap (as it were)
Standout ballpoints: Pilot Easy Touch, Papermate Widemate(for general writing and writing on a vertical surface),Itoya Xenon (for general writing), Bic Round Stic(for general writing, staying put, chewing).
Standout rollerballs: Pilot Precise V5 (for general writing),Staedtler Liquid Point (for general writing and staying put),Sanford Uniball Micro (for general writing and hair accessorizing),Uniball Vision Elite(for airplane use).
YiLing Chen-Josephson is a writer living in New York.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Photograph on Slate's home page by Corbis.