The art of the (cheap) pen

For many years now, I've tried to find the perfect pen for note taking and every day use. There have always been four requirements:

  1. My handwriting must appear legible when I write well. This means it should also not smear or bleed too easily.
  2. One pen must cost less than $5, so I'm ruling out expensive gift pens and nice fountain pens. (i.e. no watermen here)
  3. I should be able to buy them anywhere in at least two, but optimally three, colors.
  4. It should reliably always produce constant, steady ink for at least 3 months, if not longer.

This shouldn't be very difficult, right?

There are literally hundreds of varieties of pens out there. However, in my search for the ultimate cheap pen, I've tried everything from the Pilot Precise V5/V7 line (and their retractable cousins) to the Pentel Needle Tip, the Uniball Jetstream and Vision, to the old school Zebra F-301.

All of them failed for one reason or another. The Uniballs don't last long enough. The Pilots smear easily (but otherwise they're ok). The Pentel doesn't last very long and bleeds like crazy. The Zebra... well, I love the Zebra, but sometimes they plain don't write and I have to shake the pen repeatedly or scribble on a free area of paper. They also don't write very boldly. There are uses for that, but not when other people might need to read my notes.

I thought, perhaps, my office would stock some good cheap pens, but they're almost always Bic Round Stic's, and I hate Bic pens. They never produce a constant stream of ink, and are worth the 5 cents they usually cost. Plus, every time I see a Bic pen cap, I think about people chewing on them.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered the new hotness, and ate my last paragraph. Enter the Bic Cristal Gel. Holy awesome cheapness, Batman! The ink writes so smoothly, it's like an expensive pen crammed inside of a 10-cent shell. It's fantastic.

Admittedly, the black ink seems to flow a lot better than the blue, which needs a letter or two to start looking good. We don't have any red or green ones here, but I may just head out to Office Depot and pick some up. No decision on how long they'll last, but I'll patiently wait and see.

This ends my pen geeking. For now.

Nov 2nd, 2007