TechnologyPaul McAleer

One Pen to Rule Them All

TechnologyPaul McAleer

Back on episode 8 of Designing Yourself, I revealed to my co-host Whitney that I am a pen geek. Her reaction was great:

So, did I hear you correctly when you said that you are a "pen" geek? P-E-N?


Soon we were chatting about the Fountain Pen hospital, which sounds pretty great. But my own journey to pen geekdom started years ago - as a kid. I loved office supplies and office supply stores. I longed to have an office just so I could buy things like desk organizers and of course, pens.

I've come to accept this over time, and I started to find a corner of pen fandom I hadn't seen before: caring almost too much about it. I learned about Jetpens through John Gruber and, well, then it was all over. And that was 7 years ago.

I was in New York very briefly a couple of years ago, and stopped at the MUJI TO GO kiosk at JFK solely to bask in their pen collection. I picked up a fantastic 0.4mm model there that was my go to pen. Until...

The Audition

I decided to order a select few pens from Jetpens and audition them. YES, FOR REAL. And over the past year and a half, these four pens have been my only pens whenever I've had a choice in the matter. Without further ado, here are the four I tried.

Assumptions going in: black ink (blue is for kids). Gel pen only. 0.4mm maximum, but leaning towards 0.38/0.37. No preference on brand or cap/no-cap.

Pilot G-2 0.38mm: This was, by far, my least favorite. My wife loves the G-2 at a thicker width (something like 0.5mm, which would drive me bananas) so I used this as a starting point. The feel of the pen was just bulky and like it was trying too hard. Felt inky even though 0.38 is pretty reasonable. Satisfying click. Not impressed.


Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4mmGruber's favorite but, there's no accounting for taste. Overwrought design, with an exposed clip (come on). The only great thing about this pen is the click, which is extremely satisfying.


Uni-ball Signo 0.38mmLots to like about this one. Sleek and purposeful: it's a damn pen, and it's not trying to be something it's not (hi, Dunkin' Donuts with your chicken sandwiches.) Super nice flow. Precise. Has a cap, and even though it's well-designed and attractive, it's one more thing to lose.


Uni-ball Signo RT 0.38mm: Pretty much just like the non-RT version, but with a nice clicky clicker. Same sleekness, same precision. However, and this is critical: I was easily able to break off the clip. A pen with a broken clip is dead to me.


So, I faced a dilemma of miniature proportions: I clearly liked both Signo models. But caps on pens are easily lost or misplaced... but clips can be broken. Still, when weighing the two it was clear to me that the Signo RT, without the cap, was the winner. It's pretty much the best pen I've ever used on a regular basis. It's never let me down (except for the damn clip).

And, all this can be yours for the cost of $1.65... versus $2.50 for the capped Signo. (I mean, you have to pay more for a cap? Don't be a fool.) GAME OVER.

PS: You know you need some Field Notes to go with a pen like that, right? Right.