Ballpoint vs. Rollerball Pens: What's the Difference?

Posted by The Xezo Team on

Writing instrument fans often ask us what the differences between ballpoint pens and rollerball pens are. It makes sense—the names are similar because both pens use a rolling ball to place ink on a page. However, there are a few substantial differences between ballpoint pens and rollerball pens that need to be understood so you can pick the right kind of writing tool for you!


1. The Ink

Ink splashing in water. Stock image by Nicole De Khors via Burst

The main difference between rollerball and ballpoint pens is that they use different types of ink. Rollerball pens, like fountain pens, use a fluid, water-based ink that flows onto the writing point. Ballpoint pens typically use a thicker and more paste-like oil-based ink that is rolled onto the point as you write.
Both rollerball and ballpoint ink refill cartridges are disposable and can be replaced once the ink is used up. Some brands of pens limit your options and only accept proprietary refills. All Xezo pens accept true standard-sized ink refill cartridges, regardless of manufacturer.
Not all ink formulations and cartridges are the same. Color, pressurization, flow, and base line width can all vary depending on the maker. Because of the similarities, some users even “frankenpen” rollerball ink cartridges and modify them to accept ink meant for fountain pens.


2. The Line

A writing comparison between the Xezo Speedmaster 6126 Rollerball ink refill (top) and the Xezo Speedmaster 9000-1 Ballpoint ink refill (bottom)

Rollerballs don’t need much pressure at all to write with. Since the liquidy ink used in them flows freely from the reservoir down through the writing tip. This is good for darker lines and easier writing. However, the line may feather or bleed through as the ink soaks into the paper’s fibers. The ink may also smear or take more time to dry if the paper does not absorb it well. This depends on what kind of paper you use to write with; higher-quality paper tends to feather more than lower-quality paper does.
Ballpoint pens use comparatively more pressure in order to get your desired line on the page. The viscosity of the ink causes it to sit on top of the paper instead of soaking deeply into it, meaning you probably won’t risk your ink bleeding through even low-quality paper. The downside to this is that a clearer line requires heavier writing and vice versa; if you write for long periods of time, your hand might get cramped more easily from the pressure.
We wanted to mention that our brand-new Xezo Speedmaster SSC-M ballpoint refill was designed to lay down a smooth and clear line, even at very light writing pressures where other refills might skip.


3. The Body and Mechanism

A comparison between the bodies of the Xezo Incognito Blue series: the rollerball version is on top, and the ballpoint version is on the bottom.

As with fountain pens, rollerball pens typically have a separable cap and a body. To reveal the writing point, you remove the cap, and when you’re done you simply re-cap the pen. This is because of the free-flowing nature of liquid rollerball ink—if the tip is accidentally left to rest on a porous material like cloth, a lot of it can be pulled out onto the material and cause a sizable stain.
Ballpoint pen ink can still stain, but because it is a viscous paste, leaving the tip out is less of a concern. Ballpoint pens typically cannot write when the pieces are separated, as the “cap” (or upper barrel) is usually designed as part of the writing point extension mechanism. Xezo ballpoint pens use a twist-action mechanism: the user twists the upper barrel to extend the tip, and untwists it to hide the tip.


So, should I pick a ballpoint or rollerball pen?

That depends! Each writer is unique and has their own preferences. While we couldn’t guess exactly what each person would pick, we can offer a comparison guide to help you decide what might be better for you as an individual.

In general:

Ballpoint Rollerball
Ink Oil-based Water-based
Flow Thick Liquidy
Required Pressure More Less
Bleed-Through & Smudging Lower chance Higher chance
Line Variation Control More Less
Drying Time Faster Slower
Some of Our Bestsellers & Top Picks


We hope this guide was able to help you understand the differences between ballpoint pens and rollerball pens a bit more. If you have more questions or need help deciding, Xezo’s customer service agents can talk with you and help find the perfect pen for you.

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