Ergonomic Pens

April 23, 2012 - Posted by Lucy to Guides

Ergonomic Pens Selection Guide

Pens are often advertised as being ergonomic, but the meaning of the word tends to get lost in a haze of marketing-speak. What makes a pen ergonomic? Are pens advertised as ergonomic genuinely qualified for the job?

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution, since ergonomics vary from person to person depending on the size and shape of their hands, as well as any pre-existing medical conditions (such as carpal tunnel or arthritis). And if you have the wrong posture and technique, no pen -- no matter how ergonomic -- will help. Remember to check out our Selection Guide for quality ergonomic pens, or share your favorite comfy pens in the comments. Otherwise, click below for tips that will make writing fun again!

Review of Posture & Form

One good rule of thumb is to avoid pens that force you to over-grip or to press down heavily. If you develop a pen indentation on your middle finger while writing, it’s a sign that you’re writing with excessive force.

Bad writing posture

Fig 1. This is an example of bad writing posture. The hand has a "death grip" on the pen, and the arm is curled inwards in a way that limits mobility.

Good writing posture

Fig 2. This is an example of good writing posture. The pen rests between the index and middle fingers, and is held in place by the thumb. Notice how the hand is a comfortable distance from the body. The writer can use her arm, rather than her hand, to write.

If your position still feels awkward or uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to modify your environment! Objects can be moved and tweaked to accommodate you. For an example, as you fill a page with notes, you might be inclined to slowly bring your hand down and closer to your body, to follow the paper. Instead, try moving the paper up. A lot of tips like this may seem obvious now, but are difficult to apply against a lifetime of bad habits.

Qualities of Ergonomic Pens

Once good posture has been established, the right pen can go a long way towards relieving any remaining hand fatigue. Here is an overview of some qualities that are conducive to comfortable writing.


Generally, pens that are long, thick, light, and balanced are considered more ergonomic. The pen needs to be long enough for the hand to comfortably grasp, and thick -- especially at the grip section.

The same idea applies to the weight of a pen. Lighter pens are easier to write with because they require less strength to control. Some lightweight materials indicative of ergonomic construction are ebonite and celluloid. However, a pen that’s too light can also be a problem, because your hand has to work harder to press the pen tip down onto the paper. With a heavier pen, the weight of the pen itself naturally pushes the tip down. It’s best to experiment and see what you prefer.

Balanced pens are easier to control, and they tend to do what you expect. Top-heavy pens are problematic because they sway with the writing gestures, and require the hand to over-grip to compensate. If your pen is top-heavy, try it without the cap posted.


A larger grip, or contact point for your fingers, means that you can exert less force on the pen to write. Remember high school physics? Pressure = force / area? Well, you can finally apply the formula here!

Grips lined up against a ruler

Fig 3. The grip section should be large enough that people with big hands don’t have to squeeze their fingers onto it, and can instead grip it naturally.

If you’ve taken a test that involves writing, you also know the importance of having a cushioned grip. Not only is it easier for your fingers to “stick” to, as opposed to slippery metal surfaces, but it’s also gentler on the fingers. Usually, thicker and larger grips are better. Large grips allow writers to subtly change finger position, making small adjustments to relieve fatigue that may build up over time.

There are cylindrical, triangular, and tapered cylindrical grips, all of which have their merits. There is no clearly superior shape.


The end goal of writing is to produce legible, smooth, and attractive letters or characters. Inconsistent ink flow leads to a lot of awkward re-positioning that causes stress. For an example, have you ever written with a fountain pen that had a damaged tip? In trying a variety of different angles, your hand has to exert more downward pressure and your arm is often raised, instead of supported by the writing surface. This causes fatigue over time.

You want to be able to move the tip across paper as smoothly and easily as possible, so smooth and skip-free ink is important. To this end, liquid ink pens, fountain pens, and felt tip markers might be better for the job than your 0.3 mm Hi-Tec-C.

Reviews of Ergonomic Pens

First, we need to establish a set of criteria for evaluation. The qualities that we will test are shape, weight, grip, and ink flow. There should be enough commonality for comparison, since the pens are all 0.7 mm ballpoints. The “test” is filling a notebook page with the famous introductory passage from A Tale of Two Cities without any breaks.

Writing sample

Fig 4. We will be testing these three pens for shape, weight, grip, and ink flow.


Diagram of Uni-ball Jetstream Ballpoint Pen - Alpha Gel   Series

Fig 5. Uni-ball advertises that its Alpha Gel grip is able to cushion an egg from a 5 ft fall, and that it makes other grips seem like “hard rubber.” The Jetstream ink inside is notoriously smooth.

  1. Shape: The pen body is shaped like a two tier cylinder, with the grip tier having a thicker circumference than the other. If you disregard the thick grip section, the pen body is relatively slim. This keeps it from becoming unwieldy, although writers that prefer a chunkier pen might want to surf down the page, towards the Dr. Grip.

  2. Weight: The Jetstream Alpha Gel is made of brushed metal and weighs in at 1.30 ounces -- the heaviest of the three pens. It feels substantial, yet not at all heavy. At first glance, it seems like the pen has an uneven distribution of weight, but it’s actually quite balanced and graceful. The slimness of the pen body makes the pen feel sleek, offsetting the weight, and the brushed metal construction makes it feel wonderfully solid, offsetting the slimness. It’s a combination that could have easily gone wrong, but instead creates a perfect balance.

  3. Grip: The grip is pretty much as promised -- deliciously soft and addictive, squishy yet firm. It feels amazing. It’s like a stress ball that you want to constantly squeeze. The gel grip "dampens" the reaction time of your pen, but the effect is insignificant. Pro tip: Your gel grip will attract lint particles, as silicone rubber tends to do. Use tape to clean it off.

  4. Ink flow: The ink emerges easily and without any coaxing, and didn’t skip at all during the writing test. It’s dark and smooth enough that it almost feels like a liquid ink pen, yet retains the bleed and smudge-free qualities of a ballpoint pen. It’s like a geneticist pulled the best qualities from both lines to create a clearly superior mutant. The word “glide” comes to mind.


Diagram of Pilot Dr. Grip CL Skytime Deco Ballpoint Pen

Fig 5. This Dr. Grip pen has a unique ribbed grip design.

  1. Shape: The Skytime’s body is a little wider than that of the Jetstream Alpha Gel, and is made of plastic rather than brushed metal. It’s a cylinder with a consistent curve, so it looks more conventional than the Jetstream Alpha Gel as well. The wide shape is great for bigger hands, and affords the writer more control. While it doesn’t feel clunky, it isn’t as nimble as the Jetstream Alpha Gel.

  2. Weight: At 0.80 ounces, this pen is lighter and feels like it, too. The body is made of plastic and feels very homogenous throughout, without any unusual features. The balance is perfect.

  3. Grip: Grooves in the grip allow air in, keeping the rubber cool and soft with a cushion of air. The ribbed grip might be useful for extended writing sessions, but I didn’t keep at it long enough to reap the benefits. The grip feels good, but is definitely firmer than the Alpha Gel. It doesn’t have that addictive “squishy” quality, where you want to squeeze the grip and then watch the indent fill back in. However, the firmness is more conducive to control while writing, since the movement is completely predictable, and none of the motion is “lost” in the grip. The Skytime also has a longer grip, length-wise, than the other two pens, so people with larger hands might prefer it. It goes without saying that the Dr. Grip line is known for having especially soft and comfortable grips. No matter how hard you death grip this pen, your fingers will feel just fine.

  4. Ink flow: I had to press a bit harder with the Skytime, since the ink wasn’t as forthcoming. It skipped a couple of times in the beginning, but once I got going, all was well. The ink also isn’t quite as dark, and the tip seems to have a “sweet spot” for writing. It doesn’t dispense ink equally from all angles, like the Jetstream does. Otherwise, ink performance was satisfactory, if not particularly impressive.


Diagram of Zebra nuSpiral CC Ballpoint Pen

Fig 5. The Zebra nuSpiral was developed by Professor Kageyu Noro, an ergonomist from Waseda University in Japan. The contoured barrel is reminiscent of a sculpture, with its unusual curves, and is supposed to maximize the area of contact for your hand so that you have more control.

  1. Shape: Unlike the other two pens, which are completely cylinder-shaped, the nuSpiral has a triangular base structure with a cylindrical grip. It's supposed to maximize hand contact for more control. I actually did feel like I had a bit more control with the pen, and that my hand movement was more regular. However, the difference isn’t as noticeable as you might hope.

  2. Weight: The pen weighs 1.00 ounces, but it feels clumsier than the Dr. Grip, possibly because it's thicker throughout. I also noticed that the push button for extending the pen tip tends to rattle a bit when you shake the pen, which might bother some people.

  3. Grip: The nuSpiral’s grip is firmer than both the Alpha Gel and the Dr. Grip. It’s serviceable and you won’t get that death grip indent on your middle finger, but there’s nothing too special about it, either.

  4. Ink flow: The nuSpiral writes a bit more like a conventional ballpoint pen. The ink is smooth enough, but isn’t as dark or flowing as the Jetstream’s. As you can probably tell, I’ve fallen in love with the Jetstream.


If you write with a Vulcan death grip, go with the Jetstream Alpha Gel and its ridiculously soft grip. The Dr. Grip Skytime is wide, with a large grip, so it’s suitable for people with large hands. And if you value precision above all, you’ll want the Zebra nuSpiral. Since these expert diagnoses probably won’t encompass everyone, my blanket recommendation is the Jetstream Alpha Gel. It feels great in the hand and writes with a fluid grace that belies its unusual shape.

Related Topics:
Ergonomic Pens Selection Guide
Pens to Improve Your Handwriting

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