Best Mechanical Pencils
Absolute Best Mechie Pence: Pentel Smash $9 [Amazon, eBay] – in our reviews, we found this mechanical pencil to be of the utmost quality and style. A quality substitute would be Pentel Kerry but we dislike like the styling.
Substitute Brand: Staedtler 925 25-05 $10 [Amazon] – Feeling slightly stylish than the Graphgear 1000, but you may prefer the 1000 for the retractable tip. It is a close call.
Retractable Substitute: Pentel Graphgear 1000 $9 [Amazon]. Nice with retractable tip (more pocket friendly)
Don’t get – Rotring 600 (would not use for longer sessions because heavier but it is built solidly), Kuru Toga (i.e. Roulette) – more plasticky and hollow even though it has the nice rotating mechanism, Lamy 2000 (retro styling), Pentel Kerry (not bad), Tombow Shaker (not great)
For corroborating reviews see: Reddit guide from a user
Best Fountain and Rollerball Pens
We could recommend rollerball over fountain pens, unless you are a true enthusiast. Fountain pens are annoying to refill!
The Uni-Ball Jetstream for $1.5 per pen [Amazon, 2, 3] is the best “starting” ballpoint pen to bring out the joy of pens from the layman (non-fountain users). Although some may recommend the cap version ([Amazon]) as it is more fashionable and classy than retractable, it is thicker at 1mm. We recommend the thinner retractables (0.38mm), as they are better for fitting lots of writing in a page, and for prolonged writing sessions. More expensive rollerballs are probably not worth it (ie Lamy Safari Rollerball). Slightly better than substitutes below.
Cheaper Substitute – Cheaper and more artsy / utilitarian looking, slightly less smooth
Uni-ball Signo Gel Ink Pen (UM-151, or Signo DX), Black, 0.38mm – $1.30 per pen [Amazon] While the Uni-Ball Jetstream above is smoother, the finer points (0.38mm) might be hard to find, and the Signo may be cheaper. The thicker ink writing is less manageable when writing lots of information on each page (i.e. taking notes), and when writing on smaller notepads. The DX are highly desirable and sell out fast everywhere (imported from Japan)! The needle point 0.38mm (Model UM-151ND) is even smoother, apparently, but harder to find and pricier, i.e. at [Amazon]. UM-151 also has great dark color options – Bordeaux Black, Lavender Black, Blue Black, Green Black, Brown Black. DX is better than the Signo 307 ([Amazon]), and both are better gel pens than the more commonly used Pilot G-2 (because Signo is nicer looking, smoother, easier grip). Still, the Jetstream reigns supreme.
One flashy pen – Caran D’ache (such as Goldbar color) $35 [Amazon] with fine black Goliath refills ($15 per two) [Amazon] If you are good at not losing pens. Note that this not necessarily writes any better than the above, and the refills are pricey (but last much longer).
Don’t get: Pilot Precise V5 RT (scratchy with more skipping, less smooth writing)
Best Value Fountain Writing Pen: $50
Best Value Ever in Fountain Pens: Parker ’51’ – [eBay] This is the most recommended pen online bar-none, albeit you can only buy used and not new. Iconic just like the Sheaffer Snorkel (however the 51 is better looking, Snorkel is better if you like thicker and to look like more of a fountain pen). The best way to go is the Aerometric version (newer tech), as aerometric filling is more practical/efficient and easier to flush even though the Vacumatic holds more ink and is more fun to fill. Both are easy to repair. Would take the 51 over the fatter Sheaffer PFM (even though it is a much higher price level at $160), and better than the cheap yet popular Platinum Plaisir and Pilot Metropolitan. If you’d like to save a little money but still be decent, go with a Lamy Safari Fountain.
Best Mid-level Fountain Pen: 100$
Pilot Custom 74 – [Amazon, eBay] favorite cartridge pen (use the large converter) for $160. Gold nib. Similarly like the Parker 51, it is better than the Sheaffer PFM.
Don’t get: Lamy 2000 (questionable nib quality, get Pilot Vanishing Point “VP” over it), Pilot VP (lower comfort and ink capacity than the Pilot Custom 74), Onoto Aviator (lack of reviews), Visconti (quality control and warranty issues), Montblanc (expensive but not great quality control), Pelikan (low quality control / reliability)
Cheap – Jinhao X750 – $4 [eBay – buy from JEWELRYMATHEMATICS and MENTAG]
Substitute – Hero 616 Jumbo – $2-4 [eBay] Homage to the Parker 51, some say smoother than any Parker 51 or 14k nibs. However, a lot lighter than the Parker and feels flimsy, yet still comfortable. The Jumbo is closer to the Parker 51’s actual size than the Regular (Regular is the same as the Doctor), so get the Jumbo. There may be fakes on ebay so if you want peace of mind, order from American retailers such as Isellpens.com. Way better than the Platinum Preppy. This might even write nicer but the Jinhao (which is slightly less smooth and gives more feedback), but the Jinhao looks classier with the classically shaped nib.
Don’t get: Pilot 78G – OK value, but nothing special (pretty small, converter is quickly worn and leaks, they slowly leak ink in the cap if unused for ~1 week, won’t start right away if they have been traveling in shirt pocket which shouldn’t be happening in a modern pen).
Inks can be permanent (aka “bulletproof”, which means waterproof, forgery-resistant). Possibly unnecessary but nice since they won’t become totally illegible if accidentally splashed with water. Saturated does not mean permanent but is actually an attempt to make the inks feel better/smoother like in the old days. When someone says an ink is wet, it means it’s water (ie Waterman, Parker Quink), and dry means thicker (ie Cross/Pelikan). If you have a dry pen, you want to use wet ink (a dry ink would have hard starts and skip) and if you have a wet pen you can use dry ink (wet ink would drip from the nib).
Note that ink reliability varies from model/color to model/color and not just brand. So read reviews of the specific ink brand/color/model.
Don’t get: Noodlers (dries slowly and may clog pens – very saturated, Baystate Blue – BSB and Qin Shi Huang – QSI are finicky, Noodlers bullet proof inks tend to clog if idle for a few days), Private Reserve (also may clog pens)
Note sure about: Pelikan, Aurora, J. Herbin, Iroshizuku
Best Notebooks / Writing Pads:
The brands to trust are Clairefontaine and Quo Vadis. (Clairefontaine and Rhoda are made from the same manufacturer, have the same purple lines, smooth paper. Clairefontaine are slightly smoother but Rhodia has a great orange cover)
Paper For Letters
Clairefontaine Triomphe pad $8 [Amazon]
Side wire-bound notebook
Clairefontaine C8267 $12 [Amazon] Most of the other ones are taller and thinner, this is true American size.
Secondarily (lower quality paper from same manufacturer) – Rhodia Pad (side wire-bound) [Amazon], Rhodia Pad (top wire-bound) [Amazon]
Other expensive brands: Tomoe River ie EP record (or other Japanese papers such as Midori MD, Kokuyo Cyo-Bo, and L!fe Fine Writing. Way better than Rhodia or Clairefontaine), Leuchtturm
Don’t get: Moleskine is not fountain pen or rollerball friendly, Midori or Pelle or Banditapple are also good but little more expensive thanClairefontaine
Value Brands: okay quality – Black N Red Notebook ($8 for hardcover) [Amazon] but can be found cheaper in Brick and Morter (retail stores), or for cheapest but slightly lower quality Mead Wirebound ($3 in stores or $13 for 2pack on Amazon)