Pens come in a variety of styles from the ubiquitous ballpoint to the elevated fountain. The latter being an “elevated” purchase for its craftsmanship and precision, and with that a heftier price tag. The humble ballpoint pen, however, is so cheap that a pack of 144 Bic ballpoint pens costs $12, working out to 8 cents a pen. So why would anyone ever choose to pay $50 for something that, on paper, does the same thing as an 8-cent pen?
While the Bic Round Stic Xtra Life is a fine writing utensil, the ink cartridge cannot be replaced. To find out what’s really different between a cheap pen and an expensive pen, we compared the (roughly) $1 Skilcraft ballpoint pen to the $50 Fisher AG7 Space Pen, both of which are refillable. Here’s what you need to know.
The Skilcraft pen is made from a plastic barrel with metal accents like the circular bands, clicker and pocket clip. The brass ink cartridge (refills cost 25 cents) has remained the same throughout the years, and the ballpoint is made of 94 percent tungsten carbide and 6 percent cobalt.
Fisher’s AG7 has an all-metal construction made from brass and steel parts. The body of the pen is solid brass, and the original model is chrome-plated, while the brand offers a variety of finishes at varying prices. The ink cartridge is the highlight of the Space Pen, and refills cost $7.
Ballpoint pens are the most common type of pen thanks to reliability and revolutionary design. As you write, the turning metal ball rotates and dispenses oil-based ink from the cartridge onto the writing surface. The design reduced how much ink was exposed to air so that it wouldn’t dry out as quickly, and the type of ink prevents smudging. Both the Skilcraft and Fisher pens go beyond the original function of the ballpoint pen as they were designed to endure tough environments.
The Skilcraft, per government specifications, can write continuously for a mile without fail between a temperature range of -40°F and 160°F. The Fisher AG7 ups the ante with the ability to write in nearly any condition, which it attributes to the pressurized ink cartridge that uses nitrogen so the pen can work upside down and in zero gravity. The ink works in extreme temperatures, between -30°F and 250°F, and can also write underwater.
Skilcraft-branded pens can be found scattered in government buildings across the country and in the pockets military employees. For over 50 years, Skilcraft, which is the business arm of the National Industries for the Blind, has been making the same pen in accordance to a 16-page specification guideline from the General Services Administration. A majority of Skilcraft’s employees are visually impaired or have a disability, so each purchase supports a worthy cause.
With Skilcraft holding it down on earth, Fisher designed its pens to go to space. Founded by Paul C. Fisher, Fisher Pen Co. has supplied NASA with its pens, which use a pressurized ink cartridge, for every manned space flight since Apollo 7 in 1968. Since every Fisher AG7 pen purchased today is a direct replica of the first pen taken to the moon, it’s a cheaper alternative to buying Omega’s Moonwatch.
A $50 ballpoint pen isn’t on the extreme end of the price range for a writing utensil. Montblanc’s Meisterstueck ballpoints can cost upwards of $1,640. But at that price you’re paying for luxury details like precious metal accents. Spending that much money on a pen becomes less about the writing quality and more about the brand name and prestige, which may very well be worth it if you’ve got the extra cash. While the Fisher AG7 has a few more benefits over the Skilcraft, the former’s reputation as the Space Pen also adds to its value. However, there may be very few instances where a casual pen user will have to write in a zero-gravity situation or in 200°F temperature.
Both the Fisher AG7 and Skilcraft pens are worthy additions to your stationery rotation. With Skilcraft, you get a dispensable 12-pack of pens that you won’t mind lending out and never getting back. One may be more reluctant to lend out the Fisher AG7, but it is the pen that went to the moon. Regardless of which pen you choose, physical writing tools will never go away.
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