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FAQs about Rollerball Pens

by G. Keith Evans

Rollerball pen

Many writers prefer rollerball pens for their durability, consistency and smooth ink flow. Because of the popularity of these pens, manufacturers offer them in myriad designs and at prices suitable for any imaginable budget. With a little information on how rollerball pens work and some caveats regarding their use, shoppers can select a suitable rollerball for almost any writer.

Questions about Rollerball Pens:

  1. How does a rollerball pen work?
    Rollerball pens derive their name from the tiny metal ball at the pen's tip. Pressurized ink constantly presses against the inside portion of the ball, and the rolling motion of the ball transfers the ink to paper.

  2. Does a rollerball pen require a cap?
    An uncapped pen can cause ink to dry on the rollerball mechanism, which can cause performance problems. Manufacturers recommend that the pen always be capped when not in use. A few rollerball pens offer an option to retract the tip into the pen using a twisting motion, but pen experts consider those writing instruments to be hybrid pens rather than true rollerball pens.

  3. Do rollerball pens skip?
    Due to their reliance on ink flow, rollerball pens can skip under certain circumstances. If the pen is left uncapped and the ink dries out, the pen may skip until proper ink flow is established. Also, if the writing surface does not properly turn the rollerball, the pen may fail to apply a smooth, consistent flow of ink; that occurrence is common on waxy and glossy papers with which the smooth, slick surface fails to properly engage the pen's ball.

  4. Do rollerball pens use special ink?
    Rollerball pens must use smooth-flowing, non-viscous ink that can easily flow across the ball. The ink typically takes a moment to dry after being applied but leaves a dark, professional mark on the writing surface. Rollerball ink is usually available in the same price range as other types of pen refills and comes packaged as convenient refill cartridges rather than as bottles of ink.

  5. Are rollerball pens expensive?
    Manufacturers offer rollerball pens in a wide variety of styles and qualities. The rollerball selection ranges from inexpensive disposable pens to high-quality writing instruments that can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

  6. Can rollerball pens work with gel?
    Yes, rollerball gel pens are available. Gel pens use thicker, heavier ink that remains in a dense, gel-like state until the writer applies the pen to a writing surface. When the writer presses the pen against paper, the rollerball compacts a small amount of gel, turns it into liquid and transfers it to the writing surface. Gel is typically formulated to flow smoothly and leave a bright, easily visible mark on the paper. Manufacturers use gel in both rollerball and ballpoint pens, although it is less often found in fountain pens because those instruments employ a different method of transferring ink.

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