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Rollerball vs. Ballpoint Pens: A comparison

Rollerball vs. Ballpoint Pens: A comparison

Rollerball vs. Ballpoint Pens: A comparison

Ballpoint pens are very similar to rollerballs but there are several key differences.


Ballpoint pens uses a thick oil-based ink, whilst rollerball pens use a water-based ink, more similar to the ink used in fountain pens. These two styles of ink act very differently to one another. We've highlighted the key difference below:

  • Oil-based inks can be thick and sticky, which will sometimes leave blobs of ink on the page or be difficult to start writing after long breaks between uses
  • Water-based ink is more fluid and usually provides a smoother writing experience
  • Oil-based inks are less prone to drying then water-based inks
  • Oil-based inks generally last much longer than water-based inks; even if both pens have been stored properly

Rollerball and ballpoint pen writing


Due to the inks used, ballpoints and rollerballs have different barrel styles. As a ballpoint pen's oil-based ink is less prone to drying, it does not require a cap, so these generally use a twist mechanism or a click mechanism to expose the writing tip. A rollerball pen, with its water-based ink, needs its tip kept out of the air and so will generally have a cap to enclose the writing tip. It's very important to remember to cap your rollerball pen when not in use to avoid the refill from drying out. Many find that ballpoint pens are more convenient as they do not have a cap and can be used with one hand. Occasionally you can find a capless rollerball pen, like the Cross Edge or Lamy Tipo, where you have the best of both worlds.

Two capless rollerball pens; the Cross Edge in red and Lamy Tipo in black purple


The fluidity of ink translates to a rollerball pen generally having a finer writing line, which is good for people with smaller handwriting or for detailed drawings. On the other hand, a ballpoint pen does have a more controlled action and is deemed suitable for completing official forms and documents. A rollerball pen may cause slight bleeding onto the back of the paper depending on the quality of the paper and the pressure at which one writes. We’ve provided scans showing the stroke of each type of pen as well as the bleed onto the back of the paper. The paper which we’ve used is standard 80GSM computer printer paper.

line-comparisonPicture 1: Note that the rollerball pen writes a darker, finer line.

Rollerball vs Ballpoint back bleedPicture 2: Note that the roller pen causes negligible bleed onto the back of the paper while the ballpoint pen causes no bleed.





  • Ink is suitable for use on official documents
  • Ink does not bleed through the paper
  • Body style / mechanism means the pen can be used one handed
  • Ink tends to dry almost instantly avoiding smudges


  • Less pressure needs to be applied when writing.
  • Smoother writing
  • Available with finer tip points


  • The ink can feel thick and sticky
  • If left for a long time it can be difficult to get the pen writing again
  • Big blobs of ink will take a long time to dry and will leave big smudges if you try to wipe away


  • Refill more prone to drying
  • Shorter refill life even when stored properly
  • Ink can smudge fairly easily in the moments after writing



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