5 of the best inexpensive pens money can buy

Communication is a powerful weapon. Wield it properly with these pens for writing.

Best Overall

BIC Quick-Dry Gel Pens

BIC Quick-Dry Gel Pens

Best Value

PILOT G2 Premium Ball Pens

PILOT G2 Premium Ball Pens

Honorable Mention

Obacle Ballpoint Pens

Obacle Ballpoint Pens

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It’s no secret that a proper writing utensil is critical to the success of any op, no matter how small. Now, while penning a letter home may not carry the same weight as a messenger dashing through the battlefield to relay a note, having a quality pen for writing is still essential. The truth is that you never know when you’ll need to relay a message. From covert intelligence to remembering to buy milk on your next run to the market, a pen is a versatile instrument with endless uses (without even calling on your inner MacGyver). But, to get this value, the pen has to work properly, which means the ink can’t freeze behind the ball but it also shouldn’t flow onto the page in a fountain of ink. You’d be surprised how often a shoddy pen can hinder an op, and it’s easier to plan ahead than be caught off guard by a sudden mess.

Finding the best pens for writing takes a surprising amount of research; so, to cut through the noise, we tracked down the top options. This way, next time you need to relay a message, finding a pen won’t be an issue.

BIC Quick-Dry Gel Pens 

Versatile by nature, the BIC Quick-Dry Gel Pens enable you to write quickly without the risk of smudging the ink. If you are leaving a note in a hurry, penmanship often goes by the wayside, meaning you need a pen that can keep up. Bic, a well-reputed brand in the world of writing instruments, has pens designed to resist damage and perform in high-stakes situations. These particular gel pens feature a spring-controlled retractable tip that rings in at 0.7 millimeters. Each of the pens has a clip at the back, letting you easily attach it to whatever you need. The pens feature a relatively wide shaft for a comfortable grip, and they’re also ridged to maximize your control regardless of the angle from which you’re writing. Easy-flow blue ink lets you leave your mark prominently, whether you’re writing a shopping list or coordinates. [Buy

PILOT G2 Premium Refillable Pens

Want a pen that can keep up with you over the long term? Check out the PILOT G2 Premium Refillable Pens for their strong design and quality performance. The set comes with five pens, each featuring black ink. Refillable for added longevity, these gel pens let ink flow smoothly over the page. This set features a medium tip, helping to avoid the risk of tearing through the page when writing in a hurry, and with an ergonomic design, the rubber grip makes handling them a breeze. Preventing strain in your hand and arms, these pens can keep up during long writing projects without catches in the ink flow. The retractable mechanism uses a spring control system, preserving the function of the tip by encasing it in the body of the pen when it isn’t in use. Durable and effective, these pens are an affordable, functional choice. [Buy]

Obacle Ballpoint Pens 

If you want a pen that you can use for everything from calligraphy to jotting down a message, Obacle Ballpoint Pens are worth a look. The set comes with two refillable pens and includes two refills for each unit. The pens themselves are reasonably sleek with the design focused on ergonomic comfort. Though there is no grip near to the tip, the angle of the body works to mitigate cramping when taking notes. The black ink dries quickly, preventing issues with smudging when you’re in a hurry. Flowing smoothly, the one-millimetre point of the pen won’t tear through thinner paper. Lightweight and retractable, when you’re finished with a task, you can simply twist the back of the pen to return the tip to inside the body. Compact and relatively thin, these pens fit easily in a pocket so you always have a writing tool on your person. [Buy]

Tanmit Black Ink Gel Pens 

Best efforts aside, pens just get lost sometimes. If you struggle with finding a pen when you need one, buying in bulk might be a good way to go. The set of Tanmit Black Ink Gel Pens comes in a set of 18, giving you enough of a supply to last quite some time. The pens themselves function well, writing smoothly with a relatively broad tip. With black ink that is meant to flow well yet dry quickly, the pens don’t result in smearing. Near to the tip is a rubber grip, making it easy to write clearly even if you’re dealing with unstable surroundings. Retracting with a spring, the plastic casing is reasonably tough, protecting the ink inside from temperature and impact. Ideal for those who are always losing a pen, this bulk set of writing instruments is a good way to go. [Buy]

Zebra Pens Retractable Pen Set

Different situations call for different ink colors. The 24-pack of Zebra Pens Retractable Pens is a solid choice for those who want to be prepared for anything. Each of these pens features a tough body of medium width. The rubber at the tip makes for an easy grip while the retractable feature protects the ball of the pen from damage. In terms of ink, high-viscosity fluid prevents air bubbles and ensures a smooth, uninterrupted flow of your words onto the paper. A key benefit is that the pens don’t require any scribbling to get the ink going, making this set both practical and user-friendly. [Buy]

Types of pens for writing

  • Ballpoint pen: Originally created to eliminate issues with smudging, ballpoint pens feature the namesake ball at the tip of the pen. It catches the ink and rolls it onto the page. As a result, the writing comes out smoothly and with fewer interruptions. This type of pen relies on oil-based ink to function. Requiring little maintenance, the only downside of these pens is that the ink may clump from time to time.  
  • Fountain pen: While the novelty of fountain pens is noteworthy, there is a reason that they are less prevalent in modern times. These pens have an ink cartridge that flows directly to the tip, providing a constant source of ink. Benefits include the ability to write smoothly over long periods and the ability to do calligraphy and personalize your notes. However, the drawbacks of smudging and frequently running out of ink often outweigh the positive aspects of this pen type. 
  • Gel pen: This type of pen for writing relies on water-based ink, growing in popularity due to the smooth writing they enable. Often, you can find gel pens that use ballpoint technology to control the flow of the ink onto the page. Typically, gel pen ink is fairly thick and can be found in a whole host of colors. The only downfall of this pen type is that, if left uncapped (or not retracted) the ink is liable to run dry fairly quickly. 

Key features

  • Ink: For the pen to actually write, it relies entirely on an ink supply. Depending on the type of pen you’re using, the ink will be encased differently. Naturally, the most common ink colors include black, blue, and red. The ink itself will either be oil or water-based and will vary in viscosity. Quick-drying ink is essential to functionality since it prevents smudges. The ink needs to be chemically-engineered to avoid clumps and prevent the build-up of air bubbles inside the cartridge. 
  • Tip: The tip (or the point) of the pen is the part that actually makes contact with the page, with the most common mechanism being a ballpoint. The width of the tip, measured in millimeters, will have a large impact on both the flow of the ink and the type of paper you can work with. Thicker tips flow more quickly and often require longer drying times. However, thinner tips are more prone to tearing paper and can make it harder to get the ink flowing. 
  • Casing: The body of the pen is the part that you hold when writing. It should be thick enough to make writing comfortable without getting too bulky. Often, the casing will feature a rubber grip close to the tip to improve your control. This feature can also help to prevent muscle soreness when writing for long periods. Refillable pens have casings that open to allow you to refill the cartridge, though most other pens also open to let you troubleshoot issues with the springs. 
  • Retraction: Not only is this feature necessary to stop you from staining your uniform with ink, but it is also there to help prevent the ink from drying out. There are two main mechanisms used: twist and spring retraction. The spring method uses a clicker at the base of the pen to let you control the tip’s placement. A twist mechanism has you swivel the base of the pen to return the tip of the pen to within the casing. 

Benefits of pens for writing

The key advantage of pens for writing is the ability to communicate your intentions. Pens are versatile tools that you can use to do everything from sending a letter home to making a to-do list to relaying the coordinates of a muster point. Especially during stressful situations, it can be easy to forget a passing thought — no matter how important it is. Instead of risking losing essential data, jotting it down with a pen and paper is a good way to preserve the moment without compromising your focus. 

Beyond outright utility, pens also have benefits for both privacy and mental health. For privacy, the written word has long been used to relay encrypted information within a military context. Despite the popularity of email, writing with pen and paper offers a different type of privacy. You control the message; and, once the paper is destroyed, the message goes with it (unlike retrievable data managed digitally). For mental health, journalling is a popular method of introspection: With an estimated 11-20 percent of veterans from OIF and OEF experiencing PTSD, writing with pen and paper has the potential to offer a lot of advantages in terms of wellbeing. 

Pen pricing

The vast majority of solid and reliable pens for writing fall under $10. You can find pens of all types, in a range of quantities for this price point. If you are buying pens in bulk (over 20), you can expect to pay upwards of $10. That said, the set can equip you for some time, so it’s still worth the investment.


Corrina Murdoch is a contributor to Task & Purpose and a dedicated freelance writer and editor. Her work has been featured on platforms such as Narcity Media, Loans Canada, and The Drive, and she uses her passion for the written word to inform readers on a wide range of topics