Multifunction Pen Buying Guide

Introduction

Maybe you've never thought about how useful a pen with multiple functions could be, or maybe you have, but it seemed like a complicated decision. There are a lot of choices to make when buying one of these useful pens, but this guide should help make it a bit easier.

Why would you want a multifunction pen in the first place? Well, they offer a few advantages:

  • If you usually have to carry, say, black and red ballpoints, and maybe a pencil, you could do all this with one pen.
  • Maybe you only carry a black or blue ballpoint, but occasionally find yourself having to hunt around for a red pen or a pencil - with a multifunction pen, you could have them all there with you.
  • You might have an iPad or other touch-screen tablet or phone, and just occasionally you'd find a stylus useful, but not enough to want to carry one around all the time.
  • You could have a more specialist requirement, like usually writing in simple medium ballpoint, but occasionally needing a really fine tip.
  • Perhaps you generally like writing in gel ink, but just occasionally you need a ballpoint for shiny paper or card.
  • Maybe you just really want to write in a variety of colours, like Rose Pink, Brown Black and Mandarin Orange.

There are multifunction pens to suit all of these cases, and this guide should help you to find the one to suit you.

Ways to Decide

If the decision is proving tricky, there are a few different ways you can approach things.

By the Tips you Need

Think about what types of tips you might use, and what types you never would.

  • If you never use a pencil, there's little point in having one. Ruling one out entirely will limit your choices somewhat, but there are multifunction pens that don't have to have a pencil.
  • If you much prefer gel ink, a pen like the Uni-ball Style Fit will give you decent sized gel refills. The more common standard D1 refills are available with gel ink, but options are limited, and they won't last long because they're so small.
  • If you need unusual ink colours, the Style Fit would be good again, but there are quite a few choices out there for D1 refills too. (D1? We'll talk a bit more about them later.)
  • For a lot of people, a simple ballpoint pen is what they need most often, but having another colour and a pencil handy too can be useful. This is probably the most common type of multifunction pen.
  • For most pens of the above type, the ballpoint refills can be swapped out for other options.
  • If you like the idea of having a stylus available, there are quite a few good multifunction pens with stylus tips, usually at the top of the pen. We find the Platinum Sensy stylus to be good, and it's also available as a little 'adapter', like a tiny sock, that pulls over a pen or pencil to turn it into a stylus.

By Price

Multifunction pens start at under £10, and can cost hundreds of pounds. If you don't mind spending more for something solid, or something that looks a bit more professional and smart, there are plenty of choices. If you'd rather stick with cheap and cheerful, though, there are still some really nice quality multifunction pens available from under £10.

By Look

You can get some really nice-looking multifunction pens that will look good in meetings, without looking too geeky or plastic. Lamy make some nice metal multi pens, as do Cross, Platinum and Zebra.

If cheerful plastic is more your style, The Uni-ball Style Fit is a good starting point, but there are also nice quality 4-colour pens from Tombow, Pilot and Paper Mate; and Platinum have the translucent Double R3 Action with standard D1 refills.

If you like the more geeky and technical look, like classic multifunction pens of old, there are options there, too, from brands like rotring and OHTO.

Things to Know

Pencils

Most multifunction pens have one pencil tip, and it usually can't be changed for anything else. For most people, it's quite handy - a pencil comes in useful for most of us, at least from time to time. In most multifunction pens, the pencil is either 0.5mm or 0.7mm - the most popular sizes. If you really don't want a pencil, your choices will be a bit more limited, but the 4-colour ballpoint is a reasonably well-supplied category in itself, and the Style Fit only has a pencil if you want it to.

Refill Types

Many multifunction pens use a standard type of refill, known as 'D1'. These are metal, slim, straight-sided and 67mm long. They most commonly fit by pushing onto a metal tube slightly wider than the refill. In a multifunction pen that uses D1 refills, you can swap any D1 refill for any other, so if it arrives with black and red ballpoints, you can swap the black for blue, if that's what you use.

D1 gel refills are available, but fairly rare (yes, of course we have them!), partly because such small gel refills don't last very long. There are even highlighter refills, which are like very broad ballpoints that write in a bright, slightly translucent ink. You have to scribble a bit to highlight with them, or just use them for a bright, vivid underlining.

Using D1 refills means you're never limited to one brand, and you'll have a good chance of getting hold of a refill if you need one unexpectedly - being so tiny, though, it's easy to keep a spare with you too!

Tool Pens

We have Tool Pens from a couple of brands now, Monteverde and Troika. They're styled to fit into the toolbox more than the pencil case, but you might like now they stand out among your pens! The included features vary, but many of them include screwdriver tips, and even a spirit level, alongside ruler scales, while they remain quite comfortable to write with. While a ballpoint or pencil may be most practical in the toolbox, there's something pleasingly strange about a tool fountain pen; or the Stylus InkBall that includes capacitive stylus, spirit level, screwdriver, and a rollerball tip that uses standard fountain pen ink cartridges!

Something of a classic, the Cleo Messograf is one of our favourites - a pen that’s also a calliper gauge with vernier scale, so it can measure up to 90mm, to within 1/10th of a millimetre. Also has a thread scale and tyre tread gauge.

Stylus Tips

Any modern multifunction pen sold with a stylus tip should have a capacitive stylus - the type needed for most modern devices, including iPhones, iPads, and Android phones and tablets. Older multifunction pens sometimes had a tiny plastic stylus tip, which worked on old pressure-sensitive screens, but these are no good on most devices now.

The usual format for modern stylus tips is a rubber tip, only a little smaller than the end of a finger. The main uses for them tend to be if you're wearing gloves, or for using drawing or sketching apps where a pen just feels more natural to use. Some manufacturers supply spare tips, which is worth looking for if you're likely to use the stylus a lot - they can wear out with heavy use, so it's good to know you can replace it.

Platinum deserve a special mention here - they use a different kind of stylus tip, made from a conductive cloth, which works really well in our experience. It's a much lower-friction feel on the screen, and works with a slightly smaller tip size, for better precision. They also make the same material into a kind of tiny 'sock' you can put over the end of another pen or pencil, converting it into a stylus. These are very light, and can be a really handy alternative, especially if you're not sure you'll use a stylus very often.

Examples

  • Uni-ball Style Fit. In looks, it's a fairly simple range of plastic multifunction pens, with the refills operated by push-down fins - very similar to the classic 4-colour pens we all know and (many of us) love. The difference with the Style Fit is in the refills, and how it's all sold. You buy a pen body, empty, and the selection of refills you want separately. You don't end up with anything you don't need. Various sizes of gel-ink refills are available, in lots of colours, and a more limited selection of Uni's wonderfully smooth Jetstream hybrid refills are available too. Add the option of mechanical pencil refills, so any of its tips can become a pencil, and you have quite a versatile multifunction pen system.
  • Lamy 2000 4-Colour. If you don't need or want a pencil, but you do want something that looks good, the Lamy 2000 is very nice. It's the same modern Bauhaus-inspired look as the rest of the 2000 range, designed by Gerd A Müller, so at a glance, it's just a beautifully understated designer ballpoint pen. Depending on which way you hold it as you press the button, though, the tip will be black, red, blue or green.
  • Tombow Reporter and Reporter Compact. The same functionality as the Lamy, but much cheaper! Both are simple plastic pens, with practical clips. The full-sized version has a comfortable rubber grip, and the Compact is a handy size to have around, while still being big enough to write with easily.
  • Cross Tech 3+. A collection of very smart-looking multifunction pens, with replaceable stylus tips at the top, and two ballpoints and a pencil at the tip. The classy looks you’d expect from Cross, with a choice of finishes to fit in anywhere.
  • Platinum Double Action C3 Sensy. Three ballpoint tips (supplied with black, blue and red refills), and a stylus on the end for capacitive touch screens. It's the Sensy stylus that makes this Platinum different from most, though - it's made from conductive cloth, which makes it smoother in use, and makes sure it doesn't leave marks on the screen. In our experience, these are very good stylus tips, and can work with a finer point than most, for a more precise feeling.
  • Platinum Double R3 Action Multipen Transparent. While D1 refills are standard with most of the more expensive multifunction pens, the majority of cheaper pens use other types. If you want to use these standard refills, but don't want to pay much for the pen, this is a great option - it has two D1 refills and a 0.5mm pencil, in a simply designed barrel. Some colours look quite smart and subtle, while some of the brighter options look a little less restrained - especially the startlingly vivid yellow!
  • Zebra Sharbo-X. A range of top quality multifunction pens from Zebra that let you choose everything. Using standard D1 refills, they have the option of gel ink as well as ballpoints, and each has space for one pencil mechanism too, in your choice of 0.3mm, 0.5mm or 0.7mm. As with the Uni Style Fit system above, you don't get refills supplied, so you put together exactly what you want.

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