Six Must-Have Characteristics Of A Great Pen (And How To Spot A Loser)

Buying a pen? Stay on the lookout for these six features of a great writing instrument. And watch out for the telltale signs that your new pen will never make it past next month’s journal entry.

Stay Fit

Just as in buying clothes, good fit in a pen is a mark of quality and style. Check to make sure that there are no loose or ill-fitting parts on your prospective dream pen. The cap should either snap, twist or pressure fit smoothly and snugly, with no pronounced wiggle or gap. Cap bands and other decorations should be secure, and the pocket clip should remain straight and strong and snap back into place when given a slight tug.

Finish First

These days, there is a variety of pen finishes from which to choose: resins, metals, celluloid, wood and more. But whether your tastes run toward colorful plastics or luxuriously engraved metal—or a combination of both, always check for quality. Patterns should align on the cap and barrel when the pen is closed. Run your fingers along the length of the pen to check for obvious burrs or rough edges. See that the pen has been evenly polished, with a consistent gloss or matte finish. Also, know what you are getting: acrylic and celluloid may look alike to the untrained eye, but the latter is less common and requires specific manufacturing techniques. Rhodium- or platinum-plated base metal looks much like sterling silver.

Find Balance

Place the pen in the crook of your thumb and index finger as if you were ready to write, and hold it lightly. There should be no obvious excess weight toward the back of the pen or toward the front. If the pen has a cap and it is designed to be posted (secured to the back), do so. Then try this balancing act again. Well-made pens, whether they are light or heavy, are comfortable to use, and comfort has a lot to do with overall balance.

Make a Point

Now check the business end of the pen. If it’s a fountain pen, know whether you are buying a gold nib, a steel example or even a titanium point. All can work well, depending upon how it’s been crafted, but a gold nib obviously adds more to the overall price of the pen. Try running the nib of the un-inked pen over a piece of paper. It should feel smooth, with no dragging or scratchiness, and it should have just the right amount of flex. Capless rollerball pens, ballpoint and gel pens should have a smooth mechanism for extending and retracting the writing point, and once extended, the point should stay firmly in place.

A Little Insurance

Better manufacturers offer limited or lifetime guarantees for defects. Also, check with the retail site from which you are purchasing your pen to learn about their policies. Many boutique stores will exchange a fountain pen nib or even take a return on a used pen within a short time after purchase.

Be Dazzled

You think you’ve found the perfect pen according to these guidelines. Perhaps it’s a sterling silver model that is polished to a sheen. The pen is solid as a rock, has beautifully executed appointments, and its body is exquisitely engineered. It is well balanced and writes like a dream—and it’s priced right. But what if you’ve always eschewed metal pens, preferring bold and colorful plastics instead? Keep looking. Buying a pen is kind of like falling in love. If it doesn’t make your heart skip a beat, no amount of practicality will withstand the long haul.

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