What is the difference between a Rollerball, and a Ballpoint Pen?

Ballpoint vs Rollerball

The difference between ballpoint and rollerball pens is mainly in the ink each pen uses. Ballpoint and Rollerball are two very popular varieties of pens used all over the world.  However, both make use of a unique writing mechanism that literally contains a ball of metal inside their nibs.

What is a Ballpoint Pen?

A ballpoint pen is a pen that uses a thick oil-based ink which is pushed onto the paper with a ball in the pen nib. Fountain pens were the most popular writing instrument, until ballpoint pens made their entry as a viable alternative. These pens attracted millions of converts, due to their ease of use, and their long-lasting, oil-based ink.

Ballpoint pens were safer than fountain pens. Fountain pens left stains on fabrics whenever the user forgot to replace the cap. Since a ballpoint pen has a thick ink that does not evaporate easily, a cap is not necessary. Usually, to close the nib, the pen is twisted or the cap is pushed so that the nib retracts into the body of the pen.

Difference Between Ballpoint and Rollerball

What is a Rollerball Pen?

A rollerball pen is more related to the fountain pen as it uses a water based ink. Despite all the convenience a ballpoint pen offered, many loyal fountain pen users said that they missed the smooth flow of ink that a fountain pen afforded, and the way it felt, while writing on paper.

A new pen was introduced to fulfill the demands of those loyalists; which was called a Rollerball pen. This pen also used the same kind of nib found on a ballpoint pen, which contained a ball that moved continuously leaving behind ink on paper. Since the water based ink of a rollerball pen evaporates more quickly, a cap is absolutely necessary for this pen to cover the pen nib when not in use.

 Ballpoint vs Rollerball

What is the difference between Ballpoint and Rollerball?

• Ink:

The first and most notable difference between a ballpoint and a rollerball pen is the ink.

• Ballpoint pens make use of a thick, viscous oil based ink.

• Rollerball pens contain free-flowing water based ink.

• Bleeding of Ink:

• Ballpoint ink is less likely to bleed through the paper.

• Rollerball ink spreads on paper widely and goes inside the paper a little deeper than oil-based ink of a ballpoint pen.

• For Whom:

• Those who wish their pens to last longer should choose Ballpoint pens.

• Those who want a smooth writing instrument should choose Rollerball pens.

• Those who love fountain pens gain more satisfaction using a ballpoint pen.

• Cap:

Another difference lies in the mechanism to reveal the nib of Ballpoint pens, versus the cap on the Rollerball.

• Since the oil-based, thick ink of a Ballpoint pen, lasts longer before drying out, the user simply twists the barrel to reveal the nib of the pen, or depresses the cap, to engage the familiar "click" mechanism.

• Rollerball pens dry out more quickly, a trait shared with the fountain pen.  For this reason, Rollerball pens have a  removable cap, just like fountain pens.

• Writing:

• More pressure is required to write with ballpoint pens.

• Rollerball pens write smoothly with the least amount of pressure, making Rollerball pens very popular.

• Smudging:

• The oil-based ink of the Ballpoint pen dries faster, making smudging less of an issue.

• Rollerball pens smudge more easily, since it utilizes a water based ink that takes longer to dry.

• Color of Inks:

• Rollerball pens enjoy a wider selection of colors, since there are more water based dyes available, than the oil-based inks of Ballpoint pens.

• Duration:

• The ink in a Ballpoint pen lasts longer.

• The ink in a Rollerball pen dries out much more quickly.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Parts of a retractable ballpoint pen by Pavel Krok~commonswiki (CC BY-SA 2.5)
  2. Rollerball pen by Memm (CC BY 3.0)