Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Ballpoint and Rollerball

Ballpoint vs Rollerball

What makes the ballpoint and rollerball pens so popular around the world is that they do indeed have ‘balls’. Both figuratively and literally, that is. These pens run on an ingenious mechanism consisting of an internal chamber filled with ink, dispensed through its tip during use by the rolling action of a small metal sphere of brass, steel or tungsten carbide. The instrument has been around for over a century and a half, making writing very convenient. The pens’ components are just about similar save for the ink.

The more economical and available Ballpoint pen uses oil-based ink, while the rollerball variant employs the water-based liquid or gel ink. And this simple dissimilarity causes considerably different outcomes in terms of the writer’s penmanship style and the appearance of the by-product itself. In terms of usage, a ballpoint pen requires a ‘push’ to have its ink dispensed adequately and have it write clearly. It lacks the free-flowing supply of ink (due to its ink’s higher viscosity) which means that the writer needs to apply constant pressure to ensure consistent visibility, making it rather stressful on the supporting wrist and fingers. But the same property makes the ballpoint pen less likely to leak.

Conversely, less pressure is required for a rollerball pen to take its toll. This then gives its user more energy-saving comfort. Quality-wise, a rollerball tend to have a more elegant effect than a ballpoint because of the former’s finer and clearer strokes. Add to that its distinctive writing qualities, such as saturating deeper and wider into the paper as if applied by the more prestigious fountain pen. Liquid-ink rollerballs flow exceptionally consistently and render a very slim chance for intermittent inking or skipping. And even if the gel type poses relatively higher chances of skipping, as it is less viscous than liquid-ink, it is still negligible compared to the skipping frequency of oil-based ink found in a ballpoint pen. A disadvantage, though, of the rollerball ink’s generally low viscosity is its higher tendency to leak or bleed on a writing surface. The bleed-through continuously spreads out as the rollerball tip remains on the paper, creating an inconvenient blotch. The same mess can be easily caught on fabric. (Translation: Never put an uncapped rollerball pen in your shirt/pants pocket.) Being water or gel-based, it also dries more slowly and more likely to smudge than a ballpoint’s oil-based ink. It is, however, for the same reason that it is easier for rollerballs to go wild with ink colors and even texture (think pastels and glitters) as opposed to the ballpoint’s limited color range, which it tries to compensate with its oil-based ink’s conduciveness for scents (thus, scented pens).

Now as far as thriftiness is concerned, a ballpoint lasts longer than a rollerball. Although, the latter needs to be replaced more often, water or gel-based ink refills are now made available to somehow cut costs. But looking at the bigger picture, a ballpoint pen still remains more affordable after all.


1) Both ballpoint and rollerball pens employ the same ball writing mechanism. The difference is the type of ink used. Oil-based ink on ballpoint, water or gel-based on rollerball.

2) Due to the ballpoint ink’s higher viscosity, it requires a ‘push’ for it to write visibly, while the rollerball ink’s lower viscosity allows it to write without much pressure.

3) A rollerball pen renders more distinctive and fluid strokes, has a wider range of ink colors and textures, yet dries out more slowly and is more likely to bleed or smudge. A ballpoint pen is more likely to skip, has a limited selection of ink colors, and yet dries out instantly, making it less susceptible to blotching.

4) A ballpoint pen is generally more affordable than a rollerball.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you very much for this article. It was thorough yet concise, with a touch of humor. I now have a clear understanding of the difference between these two types of pens. Thanks again.

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