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.
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.
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.
SHAPEGenerally, 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.
GRIPA 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!
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.
INK FLOWThe 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.
Fig 4. We will be testing these three pens for shape, weight, grip, and ink flow.
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.
Fig 5. This Dr. Grip pen has a unique ribbed grip design.
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.
IN CONCLUSIONIf 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.
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