Ever since I was young I’ve had an interest in pens. Maybe it comes from having a mother who was a typesetter and graphic artist. In any case, I have recently become frustrated with the pens I’ve been using, and so I set out on a quest to find better ones. I do these quests from time to time; it’s my outlet for my obsessive/compulsive tendencies. In any case, since my major use for pens is to mark up documents, I wanted to get pens in a variety of colors that would stand out relative to black text. I also have to deal with the fact that we use somewhat cheaper than average paper at work, so a pen that’s excellent on better paper can bleed badly where I actually use it most. I ended up getting four packs of rollerball-type pens, from four different manufacturers, and brought them back to work (which is on my way home anyway) to test on some old specs. Here are the results, from most expensive to cheapest:

Pilot P-700 ($1.40 per pen)
The smoothest writing feel of all the pens I tried, but with noticeably uneven ink flow and color.
Bic Z4 ($1.00 per pen)
Writing feel is on the rough side of my ideal range, which means it’s good. A nice fine line, with the most even ink flow and color of the group. The only real downside is that the colors are relatively muted; the red and the green are fine for editing, but the blue is questionable next to black type.
Pentel Sunburst ($0.92 per pen)
Very scratchy, very uneven flow/color. These pens were also afflicted with what I’ve come to think of as the “Pentel problem” – a line with more ink at the edges than in the center, resulting almost in two parallel lines. Ick. At this point I don’t think I’ll ever buy a Pentel again.
Uniball Signo ($0.60 per pen)
The different colors of this pen performed very differently. The green and purple had a writing feel on the smooth side of my ideal range (smoother than the Bic, less so than the Pilot) and the color was quite even (almost as good as the Bic). The purple was very dark, even worse than the Bic blue against black type. The blue had a nice vibrant but slightly less even color. The pink and orange were even more uneven, plus they had an almost Pentel-like scratchiness. Another thing that set these pens apart was the bright colors and candy-like plastic appearance, compared to the more subdued colors and appearance of the others.

The green and purple Uniballs, at 60 cents apiece, seem like an excellent value compared to the other pens I tried. Even they weren’t quite as good as the Bics, though, and the Bics performed more consistently. Therefore, I’m keeping the Bics at work and using the Uniballs at home (where they don’t get used for much beyond grocery lists and the “sillier” color/appearance are even less of a factor). The Pilots and the Pentels I’ll just give away.