What is a Rollerball Pen? - The Ultimate Guide

This article has been updated on 17/03/2023

What is a rollerball pen?

The rollerball is the quintessential pen for the smoothest writing experience because of its consistent, pressure-less, liquid ink that provides a smooth handwriting flow. Popularised in the 1970s, a classic rollerball pen is designed for graciousness, precision and convenience with its firm, comfortable grip and instantaneous ink flow. Just like ballpoints, rollerball pens get their name from a small rotating ball at its top that dispenses ink, however, rather than oil-based ink, rollerballs use thin water or gel-based ink.

The rollerball’s water/gel-based ink provides a sweet, silky feel on paper, producing evocative lines that are thicker and bolder than most ballpoints. Perfect for handwritten notes, thicker paper and cards.

In our ultimate guide, we will explore everything you need to know about rollerball pens, from their history and mechanics to the different types of ink, and finally how to choose the right pen for your needs. We hope this article will provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision and enhance your writing experience whether you're a beginner or long time rollerball convert.

Rollerball on Paper

The History of Rollerball Pens

Rollerball pens are very closely related to ballpoint pens and so most of their history can be derived from the history of a ballpoint pen.  We have written an in depth history of the ballpoint pen you can read here.

Rollerball pens themselves have a relatively short history, compared with other pen types. The term has come to cover a wide range of pens: the gel pen, the felt pen and the classic rollerball pens as examples.  The first rollerball pen was created in Japan in the 1960s by a company called Ohto Pens.  Originally an ink company, Ohto manufactured the worlds first ballpoint pen to have a chrome ball in 1949.  They went on to design the first water-based ink ballpoint pen in the 60s helped by their intimate knowledge of ink manufacture.

The pen, sometimes referred to as the "Fountainpen Rollerball," used a tiny ball bearing to dispense ink onto paper, which made writing smoother and more effortless.  It was very similar to the design of a ballpoint pen but modified to use water-based liquid ink rather than the more viscous oil based ink of a ballpoint pen, creating a writing experience more closely related to that of a fountain pen.

Rollerball Tip

Notably, in 1977, the Pilot Pen Corporation in Japan introduced the Hi-Tecpoint, which was the first rollerball pen to use a needle tip instead of a ball bearing, making it even more precise and durable.  Almost everybody at some point will have used a Hi-Tecpoint, whether they knew it or not, and they are still very popular today.

Pilot Hi-tecpoint Rollerball

Since then the rollerball category has evolved into a kind of catch all as many brands and manufacturers have developed their own styles of rollerball pen, to cater for the growing demand for a smoother ballpoint experience, and created offshoots of the rollerball genre like the gel pen.  If you'd like to know more about gel pens, check out our gel pen guide here.

There is sometimes a bit of confusion of how to categorise rollerball pens. From the example above, the Hi-tecpoint pilot pen is classified as a rollerball but it is actually a needletip felt which uses capilliary action to convey the ink to the end of the tip.  We sometimes see felt pens and gel pens classified as rollerball pens aswell.  Over time the word rollerball has become more of an all encompassing word to cover every pen that lies between the Fountain pen and the ballpoint pen.

What makes a rollerball pen unique?

The advantages of a rollerball will always outweight the negatives.  Unlike traditional ballpoint pens which use oil-based ink, rollerball pens are built to suit liquid/gel-based ink which have a thinner viscosity, flowing faster and therefore provide a smoother, vivid writing experience. As a result, rollerball pens require little-to-no pressure when pressed on paper. The tip of a rollerball pen is a small ball that rolls as you write, immediately spreading the ink as soon as it touches paper. Considering the quicker inflow of ink, writing with a rollerball pen is completely seamless and soft.

Because the ink flows fast due to its liquidity, more ink is deposited on the page.  This makes it easier to write with less pressure on the page.  As a result, you get a more comfortable writing style with less hand fatigue, allowing longer writing periods and a happier wrist.

Disadvantages of rollerball pens

Rollerballs require frequent refilling

While rollerball pens are precise and convenient - great for faster and more comfortable handwriting, they do have a few limitations. Unlike ballpoint refills which are designed with a longer life span, rollerball refills have a shorter life cycle and require more periodic refills - you may need to carry spare refills to ensure you have enough ink for your writing.

Rollerballs do smudge

​In addition, unlike ballpoint pens which use oil-based ink that drys on paper instantaneously, rollerball pens use water/gel-based ink that can smudge fairly easily in the moments after writing. This can be especially difficult for left-handed writers when their hand may slightly pass over, smudging the ink. You may have to wait for the ink to dry before you can resume. 

Ink bleed can be an issue with rollerballs

​Moreover, considering that rollerball pens produce more vivid and bold lines, if pressed down with an excessive amount of pressure, the ink may bleed through the pages, disturbing your writing.

Difference between a rollerball, ballpoint and fountain pen

Fountain pens are known for their sleekness and unique ink type. Ballpoint pens are known for their precision and convenience. Rollerball pens are seen as the perfect hybrid between the two - sleek and convenient utilising a water/gel-based ink.  We will dive into the differences between these 3 pen types in more detail in our Comparison blog here.

Types of rollerball pens

We provide many sleek, reliable rollerball pens from premium designer brands such as ParkerCross and Waterman, each providing a smooth, fluid writing experience. If you’re looking for a modern style rollerball at an affordable price, we recommend the the Lamy Rollerball collection - some of them such as the Al-Star range can be personalised with a meaningful engraving like a name or small heartfelt message. 

    ​Many more extensive rollerball collections are available from our store, including the Sheaffer VFM range which is a pocket friendly, sleek and stylish, yet inexpensive rollerball pen. One of the best luxury rollerball pens is the Cross Townsend 23ct Gold Plated rollerball, which has been used by US presidents to sign legislation including Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Cross rollerball pens are brilliant executive pens because of their weighted luxury feel, high functionality and exceptional writing style.

    Parker IM Rollerball Pen

    How do I choose the right rollerball pen?

    I'm sold on a rollerball, which one should I choose?

    If you're looking to try a rollerball and find out what all the fuss is about, there are a few ways to go about it.  You can choose a disposable rollerball, a refillable rollerball,  or you could splash out and go for a luxury rollerball pen.

    Disposable Rollerballs: These are similar to the Bics in the ballpoint world.  They are cheap, easy to find and you can buy them in bulk.  Companies like Pilot, Uniball and Schneider have good options.


    Disposable Rollerballs

    Refillable rollerballs and the luxury options: These are where we come in.  There are so many brands who sell rollerball pens.  Parker, Waterman, Cross and Sheaffer, Montblanc, they all have their own options and provide fine, medium and broad nibs.  It comes down to price and taste.  Do you want a fairly inexpensive pen that will last, a Parker Rollerball is your best bet, followed closely by Cross.  Their refills are easy to find, and Parker are well known for the quality of their rollerball refill tips.  Provided you go for a medium or broad, they write effortlessly smooth and are built to last.

    Waterman Rollerball Pens

    Then comes the fun option.  Why not treat yourself to something a bit more extravagant and exotic?  There are many options in the luxury rollerball pen market, Montegrappa, Visconti and Montblanc have some amazing ranges, it all comes down to what you're wiling to pay.  Rest assured, what ever rollerball you go for, it will give you a luxury writing experience, whilst retaining the convenience of a ballpoint.

    Visconti Blue Lagoon Rollerball Pen

    Among our ample range of quality, premium rollerball pens to choose between, there are many factors to consider to suit your specific needs, whether that be size, weight, colour, material, barrel, comfort, ink etc. Finding the right rollerball is a completely personal experience; below is a collection of rollerball pens that are top sellers on our website.

    Image by Isaac Smith

    Parker IM

    Highly professional and polished, the Parker IM rollerball is an ideal partner, utilised with a smooth writing tip and a Parker Quink ink. The Parker IM has a tapered silhouette for ergonomic writing, finished with classic brushed metal and gleaming gold trims. The rollerball is complete with a luxury, redesigned Parker gift box and writes in black ink.

    Parker Brushed Metal Rollerball

    Parker Jotter Originals

    Iconic and brightly coloured since 1954, the Parker Jotter Original is a staple range that has built up a profound reputation among both writers and doodlers alike. Although the Jotter is mostly known for the iconic ballpoint, the recent addition of Parker Jotter rollerball is a welcome surprise. It features a stainless steel cap that is paired with a glossy, colourful barrel. The revamped Parker Jotter is perfect for using every day or for giving as a gift on those special moments and occasions. Perfectly pocket-sized, this pen can also be engraved for a truly personalised gift. The rollerball takes Quink Parker refills and writes in black ink.

    Parekr Jotter Originals Rollerball

    Cross Bailey Medalist

    The perfect mix of tradition and progression, the Cross Bailey Medalist rollerball is a new take on the iconic Cross Classic collection, featuring a broader profile and a bold, modern look. Each Cross rollerball pen has been crafted to the highest standard, finished in a high sheen chrome with delicately lined detailing and lavish gold-plated appointments. An engraved Cross Bailey Medallist can make a wonderful gift, ideal for adding your own personal touch.

    Cross Century Medallist Rollerball

    Waterman Allure

    Cultivated through a new collection inspired by current trends of pastel and camouflage tones, the Waterman Allure stands out from the crowd. From its barrel to its cap, the pen has a brass coating with lacquer and matte varnish. Its bold and stylish finishes elevate your style and everyday writing experience. This premium everyday pen is your first step into fine writing. Packaged in a Waterman Gift Box, the rollerball writes in black ink.

    Waterman Allure Rollerball

    Sheaffer VFM

    The beloved Sheaffer Vibrant, Fun, and Modern has experienced a modern-day makeover with a new polished chrome finish and a stylish tapered silhouette. Each VFM features the iconic Sheaffer white dot, a symbol synonymous with writing excellence since the brand’s conception in the early 1900s. The pen writes with flawless, smooth black ink.

    Sheaffer VFM Rollerball

    Cross Edge

    Designed with innovation and versatility with a modern twist, the Edge range from Cross is ready to write whenever you are. This Capless rollerball slides into action with a new slide and click function brought by Cross.  Using ink that doesn't dry like normal rollerball pens, it allows the pen to use a capless design like a ballpoint, whilst retaining the smooth writing style of the rollerball.  The Edge is highly polished with chrome accents, combining a matte resin for a classically styled pen. The rollerball is presented in an attractive presentation box and writes in black.

    Cross Edge Rollerball

    How do I refill my rollerball pen?

    Considering rollerball pens have a shorter life span than ballpoint pens, you will be refilling your rollerball frequently. To do so, hold the rollerball pen horizontally, unscrew the body from the holding section, remove the plastic cap from the refill. Insert the refill into the holding section and push through so you can see the tip. Screw the body back to the holding section. 

    That's about it for out rollerball guide.  If you found it interesting and would like to find out more, feel free to ask us a question or email us.  We're more than happy to help.

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