I’m not a writing instrument nerd by any stretch of the imagination, but when I want something, I do my best to research within reason (and within “reasonable” budget).
My favorite ballpoint ink is the renowned Uni-ball Jetstream, available in 0.5 and 0.7 sizes and many proprietary styles, but only one universal refill style–the D1*. It’s very smooth due to hybrid ink formulation, dries quickly, lays an even line, and matches well with my small handwriting. (*Yes, I’m aware Uni released a Parker-style refill of their Jetstream ink, but it’s available only in Japan and only in black as of this writing, September 2018.) I don’t particularly care for gel or rollerball because they’re too wet and generally don’t try fast enough if I want to flip a notebook and start on the back side of a page, and I work with a lot of paper stuffed in folders for archiving, so ink transfer and smudging are not great.
When I found out that my work requires a lot more ink writing, I decided to look for a Parker-style refill that lasts much longer than the tiny D1, which is designed for multi-pens and mini pens. The Parker-style refill is also known as “international G2” or ISO 12757-2, a common standard now, so there are a ton of choices. But given how subjective ink “feel” is, and ink darkness can only be compared against many other samples under the same conditions, I ended up spending over $40 USD to try a whole bunch of Parker-style refills from Cultpens. I definitely wanted to try out the less common brands, because who knows? One thing I didn’t realize at the time, though, was that a number of refills are merely rebranded: The Hugo Boss and Retro 1951 refills are rebranded “EasyFlow 9000” (originally Schmidt?). There are probably other rebrandings in my sample of which I’m unaware.
METHOD AND MATERIALS
I did two basic tests; the first is the writing and scribble sample for line thickness and color comparison, and that is the page I scanned for the main comparison image in the next section. Because all refills were brand-new except the Jetstream, I did a scribble warm up before the first test.
The second test was a “cold start” test after all refills were stored horizontally overnight in the same bag, where I tried to pay attention to specific variables of refill quality: drag (resistance due to ink viscosity), scratch (similar to drag, but more a function of the hardware mechanics like the ball in the tube, and you can actually hear this), and skip (both cold start skip and writing skip i.e. line breakage, which was super hard to grade at my normal writing size). I didn’t see much globbing in my short testing, so I didn’t add that as a data column, and there wasn’t much stickiness in all refills except one. I didn’t scan this page because, well, many of the results weren’t pretty, and I didn’t care to make my scribbling particularly legible on this scratch paper.
All refills tested were blue ink, and I tried to stick with a “medium”-type size, but every brand has a different idea of what that means. Stabilo, for example, lists 0.5mm as medium, while Visconti is 1.0mm medium. I could only do a general comparison for the second test because it’s difficult to remember the “feel” of a refill when it takes me time to replace it in my testing pen–and I did of course use the same pen for all of these–a Pelikan K100, plastic body, fairly light so writing instrument weight doesn’t factor too much into ink performance. Moreover, some things like “scratch” may depend on pen angle as you write.
Let me tell you: Paper makes a huge difference. The first test was done on Kokuyo Soft Ring notebook paper, which is smooth, fine, and made in Japan. All the refills looked pretty good, honestly. The second test was done on some generic Mead-like scratch paper I had lying around, quite average, with more “tooth” than the Kokuyo paper. The only refill that felt and looked particularly good on both the first and second tests was the Jetstream 0.7.
|Ballpoint refill||Drag||Start Skip||Skip||Scratch||Notes|
|Uni/Uni-ball Jetstream SXR-200-07 (baseline)||Low||None||None||None||This is the D1 refill I want to replace with a Parker-size refill. I would say even the smoothest hybrid ballpoint ink has some drag when comparing to other inks like gel or rollerball, so I decided “low” would be a fair baseline.|
|Hugo Boss Easy Flow 9000, medium||Low||Low (0.5)||Some||None||A hybrid ballpoint ink. Slightly more drag than the Jetstream but still quite smooth. Some skip in the very first letter of the second writing test, but otherwise this refill wouldn’t need a “scribble warm up”|
|Faber-Castell, medium||Avg||Some (3)||Low||None||Average ballpoint drag (i.e. not “hybrid” type ink). Three lost letters in the start skip, but low skipping once flow starts.|
|STABILO Ballpoint, medium 0.5mm||Avg||Some (2)||Low||None||Two lost letters in the start skip, but low skipping once flow starts.|
|Tombow BR-ZLM, medium||Avg||High (6)||Low||None||Six lost letters in the start skip! This refill may need more of a scribble warm up than the others. Quite smooth on the Kokuyo paper, though.|
|Schneider Slider 755, medium||Avg||Low (0.5)||Low||None||Only half a letter lost in the start skip. Hybrid “ViscoGlide” ink, but lighter than the EasyFlow 9000 rebrands.|
|Monami FX-4000, fine 0.7mm||Low||Low (0.5)||Low||Depends||While this Korean refill didn’t have as much start skip like several others, it felt quite scratchy…at first. I ended up choosing this one as my Parker-style refill of choice. Read my explanation below.|
|Monteverde Soft Roll P13, medium||Avg||High (7)||Low||None||Seven lost letters in the start skip, yikes. Slightly higher drag than the other “average” refills, but I’d still consider it in the average range for a ballpoint. I actually got this in blue-black color, not blue.|
|Visconti Smartouch AA38, medium 1.0mm||Low||None||Some||None||Hybrid ink. Maybe this is an EasyFlow 9000 rebrand? It has a similar color darkness, line thickness, and overall performance to the other two in my comparison.|
|Platignum Standard, medium||Avg||Low (1)||Low||None||One lost letter in the start skip. And yes, it’s Platignum with a ‘g’, not the other Platinum writing instrument brand; the former is a UK brand, the latter from Japan. Drag is on the high end of average but still rather normal for a ballpoint.|
|Pelikan Giant 337, medium||Avg||Low (1)||Low||None||One lost letter in the start skip. Decent.|
|Retro 1951 Easy Flow 9000, 0.7mm||Low||None||Some||None||Rebranded EasyFlow 9000 hybrid ink. If you’re into this one, just pick the cheapest.|
|Fisher Space Pen PR1F, fine||Avg||None||Low||None||Performance-wise, this is decent, but the ink isn’t as dark as I like, and honestly the main reason to buy a Fisher refill is for its “extreme” performance (pressurized, waterproof, etc.). Fisher refills work as a Parker-style because they come with a plastic adapter.|
|Parker Golden Touch Ball Pen, medium||High||x||x||x||This refill was notably horrible right at the start of the first test. It’s essentially a collection of the worst ballpoint attributes: highest drag, which would require the most finger pressure to lay a decent line, and a sticky quality whenever lifting the ball from the paper. The blue looks faded. I discarded this freebie even before the second test.|
There are certainly other Parker-style refills available, but I felt this variety was pretty good.
The EasyFlow 9000 rebrands have a great dark blue color, but I find the line is a tad too thick for my annotations; if you have average or larger writing style, or if you’re largely just marking up forms, these would probably work well for you. The Schneider Slider, Platignum, Pelikan Giant, and Fisher Space refills performed decently on both the Kokuyo and cheap paper from a cold start, but my testing was only for a short period and rather limited. If you don’t care about scribble warm-ups, then I’d say all are decent (except the Parker Golden Touch) and down to personal preference for color, line thickness, pricing, and other specialty features like the Fisher Space refills.
The closest to my desired Jetstream 0.7 blue was the Monami FX-4000 (fine 0.7mm) despite a rocky start: My initial impression of this refill was sad disappointment. The color and line width were great, but why was it so dang scratchy? Technically, the Monami 0.7mm is considered fine while the 1.0mm is “medium,” so I should have gotten the 1.0 for the purposes of these tests, but I bet on the fine because I just really wanted something close to the Jetstream and most other ballpoint refills only gave “medium” as the finest option.
Then I found that this refill is sensitive to the angle at which you hold the pen. In the first test (fig. 1), I was actually holding the pen too angled, so you can see the scratchy spots. It might feel super scratchy if you hold your pen closer to the webbing between thumb and forefinger, but a slightly more upright position on the first knuckle essentially eliminated the scratchy feel. I’ve decided to use the Monami FX-4000 as my Parker-style refill of choice–at least until Uni-ball releases a Jetstream Parker-style 0.7 in blue! Fortunately, holding the pen on the first knuckle still feels natural to me because I’m used to short pens. Monami is not a well-known brand around these parts, so I would never have found this if I stuck to what is commonly available stateside. Scratchiness is going to matter a lot more for the finer point sizes, which I might test in the future, but for now, I’m satisfied that I found a Parker-style refill to my liking. (The Jetstream and Monami scribbles look a lot more similar when at normal size.)