An Architect’s Guide to Cool Pens – The Top 50

Let’s face it, you hold a pen more often than you hold your spouse. For those of you still using cheap, disposable pens, I ask you, would you prefer a cheap, disposable spouse, too? …Sorry, I can’t see with all those hands in the air. Put them down. You are all missing the point.

A good pen is one of the simple joys in life. It can be a friend (although not a very good one – unless you don’t like to talk much), a security blanket, or something to fidget with. It can even make marks on paper that can form words and stuff. The point is, it is something that most of us interact with on a daily basis so it ought to feel good in your hand and make you feel good, too. Design matters.

When I design a house, I sculpt the spaces so they evoke emotions. For example, a space intended to cuddle and make you feel warm and safe is not going to have lofty ceilings. It will be small with comfortable furniture, oriented to capture the warm rays of the sun. It will have cute nooks, soft materials and alluring details. It will not echo like a barn.

A well-designed pen evokes emotions, as well. Cheap plastic pens, not so much. Their shape, weight, texture and materials just never seem to coalesce into something that transcends cheap and plastic. The pens below are my favorites. None are fountain pens, as that is an entire topic in itself. If you don’t see one that flips your switch, no worries. There are countless others out there. Just dump the cheap, disposables, already – but keep the spouse!

A few places to look for quality pens

For the zen master (or young grasshopper)

These pens belong to a simpler time, with a humble nod to nature. 

4-7/8″  –  1.6 oz.

It may be fat, but the unusual dart-like shape fits an average-sized hand surprisingly well. This helps place it at the top of the list for style and function. As they say, once you go fat, you never go back

Refill:  Parker

5-7/8″  –  0.2 oz.

Featherlight pen or 2mm lead holder with a unique clamping ring to hold the refill. It is the lightest pen on the list – so light, I suspect it is filled with helium (or black magic is involved).

Refill:  2mm pencil lead or D1 pen refill

5″  –  1.1 oz.

This company has only one pen design, but it’s a great one, with endless material and color variations that just keep coming (even glow in the dark).

Refill:  Parker and Schmidt

5-5/8″  –  1.4 oz.

Gorgeous, tubby pen perfect for a large hand. Simple, elegant design, but not for the small handed. You have been warned.

Refill:  Parker

4″  –  0.85 oz.

This is one of many 5.5mm (or 5.6mm) clutch pencils on the market, primarily used for sketching.  But you can turn any of them into a pen with the D1 adapter found here.

Refill:  D1

Likely to be seen speeding toward an enemy ship

Minimalist aesthetic, deadly precision.

5-3/8″  –  3.2 oz.

Heirloom quality brass or titanium pen. The level of precision is remarkable. See my complete review here.

Refill:  Zebra JF, Pilot Hi-Tec-C, Uniball, G2, Schmidt and many others

5-1/4″  –  1.5 oz.

High-density concrete and stainless steel with contoured, stepped barrel. It will develop character (patina) over time due to the oils on your hands.

Refill:  Schmidt

5-5/8″  –  0.8 oz.

Lightweight aluminum with a twist mechanism to extend the tip. Compatible with many refills.

Refill:  Parker Zebra JF, Pilot Hi-Tec-C, Uniball, G2, Schmidt and many others

5-3/8″  –  1.31 oz.

Stainless steel version of an iconic, classic design.

Refill:  Lamy or Monteverde

5-3/8″  –  1.76 oz.

Precision machined from aluminum, stainless steel, brass or silver with a twist mechanism to extend the tip.

Refill:  Schmidt

Your ticket to hobnob in high society

Sophisticated, classical elegance.  Much like an architectural column, these pens are designed with a base, a shaft, and a capital.

5-1/2″

Perfection of classical design. From its subtle curves to its gracious proportions. It doesn’t get any better than this. Available in numerous materials.

Refill:  Zebra JF, Pilot G2 or Faber Castell

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The capless, daintier version of the Graf Von Faber Castell Classic Anello. 

Refill:  Parker

5″  –  1.13 oz.

Solid, blocky modern pen grown from classical soil. Oak shaft with polished chrome cap.

Refill:  Faber

5-3/4″

Porsche knows design. Check out all of their pens. They have the most innovative mechanisms out there.

Refill:  Parker

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A hint of classical design from its clip is just enough to embellish the pen’s otherwise modern, clean lines and evoke a subtle elegance.  

Refill:  Parker

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Classic Deco styling. Who doesn’t dig Deco? Am I right?

Refill:  Lamy or Monteverde

5-5/8″

Streamlined elegance with an understated diamond pattern.

Refill:  Schmidt

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Unique twisting rods: As the point is extended or retracted, the stems twist and lie straight, then again form a “waist” in the middle as the end position is reached.

Refill:  Parker

Is that a pen in your pocket, or are you just happy to...?

Compact and portable. Always have a pen when you need one: in a pocket, bag or on a keychain. Did I mention these pens are small?

4-1/8″  –  1.1 oz.

Wonderfully heavy pen for its small size, giving it a substantial quality. Machining doesn’t get any better than this. A great bargain, too.

Refill:  D1

3-7/8″ – 0.3 oz

Small size, absence of clip, and light weight make this a solid contender for minimal travel. You will probably lose it. Buy two.

Refill:  D1

4″  –  1.2 oz.

Unique, solid milled stainless steel / brass body with bolt action tip extension. Outstanding workmanship.

Refill:  D1

3-1/4″  –  0.8 oz.

High precision machined stainless steel rod with laser etching. Small enough to hang on a keychain.

Refill:  D1

4-1/4″  –  1.5 oz.

Small in the pocket, but large in the hand. Cap posts on back to lengthen the pen to normal size.

Refill:  Parker and Schmidt

3-3/8”  –  0.36 oz.

Bolt action keychain pen. Hang it from a bag or clip it to your clothes. 

Refill: LAMY M22

4-1/8″

Worried about getting that first scratch on your pen? This one comes pre-scratched so you don’t need to pamper it. Go ahead. Throw it in your bag!

Refill:  D1

For the well-equipped Ninja

Equally at home at a fancy cocktail party or stealthily navigating rooftops in the dead of night (or soon to be dead, anyway).

5-1/2″  –  1.83 oz.

Modern, yet reserved design featuring stealthy, textured, dark matt chrome.

Refill:  Parker

4-3/4″  –  0.85 oz.

Dramatic, tactical (yet refined) shape in matt gunmetal. 

Refill:  Parker

5-3/4″

A modern classic in dark woven stainless steel. 

Refill:  Parker

To Hex and Back

Modern iterations of the timeless hexagonal barrel.

5″  –  1.13 oz.

Cheery. It’s not just for halloween. Available in subtler colors, too. Resin shaft with chrome. Twist action mechanism.

Refill:  Parker

5 1/4″  –  0.95 oz.

Rotring is an icon in the architectural drafting community. Previously limited to mechanical pencils, they now make pens, as well.

Refill:  Parker

5 1/2″  –  1.2 oz.

Comes with sandpaper so you can lightly sand the painted body for a worn look usually achieved only through years of use.

Refill:  Parker

5″  –  1 oz.

Bold, hex-shaped pen in anodized aluminum. Light weight and surprisingly comfortable to hold.

Refill:  Parker

Pens that measure up - literally

When you have a job to do, these won’t let you down. For architects, contractors and makers of all kinds.

5-1/8″  –  4 oz.

Minimalist stainless steel rod within a ruled ‘cap.’ Option for standard ruler or architect’s scale.

Refill:  Zebra JF, Pilot Hi-Tec-C, Uniball, G2, Schmidt and many others

6-1/2″  –  1.3 oz.

A small, metal architect’s drafting scale combined with a pen. The scale rotates mid-way to retract the pen tip.

Refill:  Parker

3-1/2″  –  .63 oz.

A ballpoint, screwdriver, ruler, stylus and a keyring, in a tiny package!

Refill:  Troika Micro

5-7/16″  –  2.12 oz.

A pen / stylus integrated within a ruler / straight edge drawing tool.

Refill:  Schmidt

5-3/8″  –  1.22 oz.

Another pen within a ruler, but shorter.

Refill:  Zebra JF, Pilot G2 and others

 

6″  –  1.34 oz.

A spirit level, a ruler, a screwdriver, a capacitive stylus and a ballpoint pen all in one.

Refill:  D1

May I have some color, please?

A pen for every outfit and every mood.

5″  –  0.8 oz.

The ultimate in comfort. This pen feels so good in your hand, you may forget it’s there. Minimalist, balanced design for long term writing. The stainless steel version is a joy. 

Refill: Parker and Schmidt

5-7/16″  –  1.4 oz.

The feel of a fountain pen with the convenience of a rollerball. Mix and match the body and grip colors.

Refill:  Pilot G2, Parker and others

4-3/4″  –  1 oz.

Converts from a pen to a 0.7 mm pencil by exchanging refills. Operates by twisting the cap.

Refill:  Parker

5″  –  1.1 oz.

More colors, patterns and graphics than any other pen out there, and a beautiful, comfortable shape, too. 

Refill:  Parker and Schmidt

Pens that MacGyver could turn into laser-guided smart bombs

(with only a paper clip and bubble gum)​

5-7/8”  –  1.2 oz.

Solid, milled aluminum with ink or 2mm pencil lead refill. Highly adaptable to fit your favorite refill which is visibly held inside with a vise-like mechanism.  

Refill:  Parker, D1, 2mm pencil lead and many, many others

5-5/8”  –  1.1 oz.

Has a fantastic clip for thick materials like leather journals or jeans. Continuous twist cap deployment of tip – a fidgeter’s dream. My choice for an EDC (every day carry) pen.

Refill:  Zebra JF, Pilot Hi-Tec-C, Uniball, G2, Schmidt and many others

5-3/8″  –  1.5 oz.

Minimalist rod with lightly domed ends crafted from stainless steel , copper, brass or aluminum. The metal’s patina is its only ornamentation.

Refill:  Varies depending on model of pen

6″  –  0.7 oz.

Highly customizable: clip or no clip, round or cylindrical caps, tip extension and various interchangeable finishes. Lightweight. Read my complete review here.

Refill:  Extremely versatile. Compatible with over 60 brands.

For Extreme Conditions

Need to write upside down while scuba diving? Play Sudoku on Mount Everest? Fend off zombies? Are you clumsy and break things or just overly prepared? Look no further. These pens excel in extreme conditions, are compact, durable and travel well. Note: they may melt if used within the sun’s fiery plasma core – I have not tested this.

3-7/8″  –  2.6 oz.

Heavy-duty stainless steel pen with lever action deployment. Unique mechanism provides hours of fidgety fun.

Refill:  Parker or Fischer pressurized Space Pen

4-3/8″  –  1.3 oz.

Solid Stainless steel or brass body with bolt-action deployment. Precision machining.

Refill:  Schmidt Megaline or Fischer pressurized Space Pen

4″  –  1.9 oz.

Heavy pocket pen with a simple, rugged design. Too heavy to write with when posted, but may appeal to those who appreciate a rough, industrial aesthetic.

Refill:  Fischer pressurized Space Pen or D1 (with adapter)

4″  –  1.1 oz.

Rugged, lightweight aluminum. Pull to deploy. Attachment loop for keychain, backpack, etc.

Refill:  Tombow pressurized or D1

4-3/8″  –  1.3 oz.

Titanium strength with a clever shaft that expands to fit almost any ink refill.

Refill:  750+ Various types

5″  –  1.6 oz.

Tumbled aluminum, brass or copper with a virtually unbreakable stainless steel clip.  

Refill:  Parker or Fischer pressurized Space Pen (with adapter)

It's a Pen... It's a Pencil... It's a Multi-pen!

Need black ink for doodling, blue for signatures, colored pencils for highlighting, mechanical pencils for drafting? You can have it all in one writing instrument.

5-1/4″  –  .81 oz.

So skinny you’d never know it held 2 pens and a mechanical pencil. You select the lead size and pen colors/sizes.

Refill:  D1

5-5/8″  –  0.9 oz.

Iconic in the design world. 4 pens concealed within the shaft.

Refill:  D1

5-5/8″  –  0.9 oz.

A pen, mechanical pencil and eraser within a futuristic design.

Refill:  D1

5-1/2″  –  0.3 oz.

4 pens or mechanical pencils in one. You select the lead sizes and pen colors/sizes. It is, sadly, cheap plastic – but it makes up for form with function. The Hi-Tec-C pen inserts are second to none. 

Refill:  Pilot Coleto

5-7/8″  –  0.3 oz.

5 pens or mechanical pencils in one. You select the lead sizes and pen colors/sizes. Another cheap plastic multi-pen – but on the list for its functionality. The selection and quality of the refills is outstanding.

Refill:  Zebra Sarasa

5-1/2″

8 kinds of refills: 2mm colored pencil lead or ballpoint pens, yet surprisingly small barrel. Fantastic for color pencil sketching. See my complete review here.

Refill:  Pentel Multi-8

Final thoughts

A very wealthy man once told me that you’re not really wealthy until you have something money can’t buy – but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy cool stuff, too! So go ahead and buy a cool pen or two. It probably won’t help you attain enlightenment and ultimate happiness, but it may help you track your progress.

Tim Bjella is the architect behind the curtains at Bjella Architects - Specializing in fine home design throughout the United States.
An Architect’s Guide to Cool Pens – The Top 50

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