Are there any pens worth buying at the dollar store?
We wanted to find out. So, we decided to buy every pen at the dollar store and put them to the test to find which ones are worth your money, and which ones are best left on the shelf.
To watch the video version of the article on our YouTube channel, click HERE.
We limited our pen selection to only ballpoint and felt tip pens, two of the more popular pen options for planners. We also limited it to only those pens with black ink, such that it would be a more fair comparison. There were a few "bulk" packs of 8+ simple ballpoint pens which we decided not to include either, namely because we wanted to limit the products to those which appeared to be the more premium products and fineliners at the store.
We also did not feel the need to include seasonal or novelty pens either.
That being said, we ended up with 8 contenders, plus an accidental rollerball pen which somehow slipped into the mix. Rollerball pens are very smooth and have nice dark ink, but they also tend to bleed through the paper very easily and cause feathering effects while writing. This makes them less than ideal for using in your planner or journal. You can ignore the Inc R2 Roller Pen, although it will be included on the score sheet.
The pens that will be tested are:
- Zebra Ballpoint Pen
- Promarx 0.5mm Felt Tip Pen
- Inktech Chrome Grip Ballpoint Pen
- Jot Ballpoint Pen
- XV Special Edition Ballpoint Pen
- Inc Optimus Fine Tip Felt Tip Pen
- Inc R2 Roller Pen
- Inc Just Right Hybrid Ink Ballpoint Pen
- Inc Color Flow Felt Tip Pen
The score sheet consists of several tests. First, the pen will be used for basic writing and swatching to check for the general quality and smoothness of writing. Then, a smear test, which will include a large dark patch of ink as well as standard writing. The ink will attempted to be smeared after 5 seconds. The glossy sticker paper test will check to see how the pen writes on glossy sticker paper. The cap test simply denotes whether or not the cap will fit onto the back of the pen. And finally, the ghosting and bleed test will see how each pen behaves on standard 20lb printer paper.
The final results of the score sheet are shown below, as well as a summary of how each pen performed.
1. Zebra Ballpoint Pen (Score: 2)
Zebra is a well known company with a great reputation. While many of their products are fantastic, these dollar stores pens were quite the opposite. The plastic on this pen feels incredibly cheap, and the barrel itself is thinner than usual, making it slightly uncomfortable to hold. Coupled with the fact that the clicking mechanism is very rough, this pen appears to be the epitome of cheap dollar store pen. The writing was unimpressive as well. The pen needed to be scribbled several times before finally writing. Even after ink began to flow, it easily clumped up and caused jumps in the writing. These clumps mean that the ink was more susceptible to accidental smearing while writing. The pen performed poorly on glossy sticker paper.
2. Promarx 0.5mm Felt Tip Pen (Score: 5)
This pen has a very thin 0.5mm felt tip, which allows for precise writing. The felt tip pen behaves as expected, providing nice clean lines with no smudging. However, the biggest flaw in this pen is that the felt tip is fairly rough, which feels stiff and scratchy when writing. The ink is also not very dark. This is most noticible on the glossy paper test, where it appears to be a very cool, midtone gray color instead of black. In some lighting, the ink even appears to be a very faded blue or green.
3. InkTech Chrome Grip Ballpoint Pen (Score: 4)
The InkTech ballpoint pen boasts a chrome grip, which is a nice detail. However, it spins freely on the barrel, which makes it come across as cheap. The clicking mechanism on the back of the pen also moves freely in and out, which is not necessarily a desirable feature. Overall, the pen feels average quality at best, and is more likened to free pens often handed out at events than something someone would choose to purchase on their own. The pen writes like a standard ballpoint pen, sometimes requiring a little help to get the ink flowing, sometimes jumping, and sometimes clumping. While not nearly as bad as the Zebra pen, there is nothing particularly special about this pen.
4. Jot Ballpoint Pen (Score: 5)
Jot is another well known company with lots of really great products. These dollar store pens feel plastic-y and fairly cheap, and the overall design leaves a lot to be desired. However, writing with this pen was pretty nice. The ink began flowing very easily straight from the package without any scribling, and there were no real issues with clumping or jumping. The pen did smear slightly, but no more than other ballpoint pens. Likewise, it was not the best for writing on glossy paper either.
5. XV Special Edition Ballpoint Pen (Score: 5)
This pen was actually found on an end panel in the gretting card section, not in the pen section like all the others. It also had a metallic foil detail on the packaging, so it was really setting the bar high. The pen itself has a nickel barrel, which although metal, is still very light. The design is simple and comes across as boxy, not sleek. This pen writes very smoothly and seems to have a very nice, easy flowing ink that is different than any of the other ballpoint pens thus far. While it feels great to write with this pen, the ink also smeared noticibly worse than the others. It passed the glossy paper test, as it could write smoothly on it, however it did create an interesting effect where the ink pooled to the sides of the ballpoint, avoiding the actual path of writing. This created a halo or outline effect while writing.
6. Inc Optimus Fine Tip Felt Tip Pen (Score: 8)
Inc appears to be the dominating brand at the dollar store, as they have the most real estate in the pen aisle and also offer many different models of pens and products. The Inc Optimus is the first of four Inc pens to be tested. This felt tip pen feels really nice in hand, and does not come across as cheap at all. The plastic feels dense and high quality, and the cap locks very tightly to the barrel. The graphic design is the only part of the pen which appears to be lacking. The felt on the tip of this pen is nice and smooth, which makes writing with this pen very enjoyable. It behaves very similar to more expensive, premium fineliners. The ink is nice and dark, there was no smearing, and it can write well on glossy sticker paper, if provided adequate drying time. Overall, this pen is very nice.
7. Inc R2 Roller (Score: 4)
See the above notes about rollerball pens. The only reason this pen received a score of 4 was because rollerball pens are not ideal for use in planners.
8. Inc Just Right Hybrid Ink Ballpoint Pen (Score: 7)
Although technically a hybrid ink ballpoint pen, we felt it still should be included in the ballpoint pen category. This pen feels very nice and does not feel cheap at all. The plastic is good quality, the grip is comfortable, and the overall design is appealing. The click is nice and satisfying. The pen writes very smoothly and does not have any issues with smearing, clumping, or jumping. It does smear slightly in the smear test, but less than other ballpoint pens tested. However, the pen fails the glossy paper test, jumping quite a bit and only leaving a light gray trace of ink behind.
9. Inc Color Flow Felt Tip Pen (Score: 7)
Again, this Inc brand pen feels well constructed and not cheap at all. The plastic is good quality and the graphic design is modern and appealing. The pen writes very similarly to the Optimus, however the felt on the tip of this pen is a little more stiff and therefore slightly less smooth while writing. The ink is also very slightly less dark than the Optimus. Overall, it is a very nice felt tip pen.
The results are in, and based on the rationale and scoring above, there are some obvious winners and losers.
In the ballpoint pen category, the clear winner is the Inc Just Right Hybrid Ink Ballpoint Pen. The pen writes very nicely and is clearly higher quality than any of the other ballpoint pens tested.
In the felt tip pen category, the Inc Optimus wins first place, with a close second by the Inc Color Flow. The Optimus scores slightly higher due to the softer felt tip and slightly darker ink. However, if you don't mind a little scratchy-ness while writing, all of the felt tip pens tested were decent.
It is also worth mentioning that although these pens come out to $0.33 - $0.50 per pen, they are not necessarily better value than more premium pens which are usually in the $1 - $2 per pen range (if bought in value packs). These dollar store pens may have less ink than their premium counterparts. This means that one expensive pen may actually last longer than 2 or 3 cheaper pens. While we cannot attest to the amount of ink in these pens, we do believe there are still benefits in cheap pens. These pens lower the barrier of entry to those on tight budgets.
We hope you enjoyed our little experiment!