J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball Review: A “Normal” Pen for Fountain Pen Ink

Products Reviews
J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball with Noodler’s Hunter Green Ink

You really should try a fountain pen—they are wonderful, magical things. However, I understand that some of you aren’t ready to take that next step just yet. But maybe, just maybe, you like the idea of writing with colors other than blue and black. Or you like the idea of buying ink bottles instead of disposable ink refills. Well, J. Herbin, an ink company, might have a pen for you.

Meet the J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball Pen. What makes this pen special is its ability to use standard fountain pen ink (and fountain pen ink cartridges). This gives you the wide ink selection of a fountain pen, but with a rolling ball mechanism you already know and (might) like.

After testing the pen, I can say the writing experience is generally solid; the pen doesn’t require significant pressure, and it writes about as well as a Pilot G2 gel. In my test using Noodler’s Hunter Green, the ink flowed smoothly on both standard cheap legal pad paper as well as higher quality papers, and the feedback from the tip was minimal. The line it puts down is slightly lighter than a fountain pen with the same color (as each stroke deposits less ink on the page), so lighter inks may not be as ideal. The pen also emitted a tiny squeaking noise after a bit of writing with the test ink, which I personally found bothersome, but I’m oddly sensitive to pen noise so your mileage may vary.

One notable issue: shimmering (sparkling) ink, or ink with suspended particles, does not perform well. In a test with Herbin’s own Emerald of Chivor (a lovely color that I wish dried faster), the particles in the ink got caught in the rollerball mechanism, causing an annoying scratching noise as I wrote.

There are some other drawbacks too. For one, the pen only comes in a medium point (it’s close to an 0.7mm line). Also, while it also can take fountain pen cartridges in the “short international” style, if you want to use bottled ink, you’ll need to purchase a converter separately.

However, the largest problem is, by far, cleaning. You’ll need to clean a pen when you change inks, and while fountain pens are reasonably easy to clean, rollerballs… not so much. The only way I found to reliably flush all the old ink from the feed (the area that regulates ink flow to the point) was to use a bulb syringe (also referred to as an ear syringe). This allows you to shoot water through the pen to clean the tip and get the old color out. It’s not impossible, but it’s not trivial either. There’s also nothing included with the pen explaining how to do this, and guides on cleaning refillable rollerballs are few and far between (it’s much less common).

Even with all that said, for a $10 pen, I like the idea of Herbin Refillable Rollerball, if perhaps not the pen itself. While it’s not going to replace any of my fountain pens, the freedom to have any ink I want in a “normal” pen is attractive, and the writing experience, while not as good as more expensive rollerballs, is fine if you can get past the squeaking. If you want to write with a wider selection of colors but don’t want to switch to a fountain pen, it’s an acceptable choice.

…But you really should try a fountain pen.

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4 thoughts on “J. Herbin Refillable Rollerball Review: A “Normal” Pen for Fountain Pen Ink

  1. How does this pen do with multi-part forms? The only reason I ever use a ballpoint pen is to fill out these things (which is infrequently), though I usually carry one with me so I don’t have to hand a penless colleague a fountain pen. This seems like an ideal solution to both problems if it can mark through a few sheets of paper.

    1. I unfortunately didn’t test on multi-part forms. The Herbin is a rollerball, not a ballpoint, so it doesn’t require much pressure. It did seem sturdy though, and I don’t think applying a bit more pressure would break it, but, untested, so proceed at your own risk.

      That said, if you are just looking for a pen you can lend out and that also takes fountain pen ink, the Pilot Hi-Tecpoint I reviewed more recently is likely a better choice. It a better pen in pretty much every way, but, given the needle point, I suspect it’s less favorable for multipart forms where you need to press.

  2. Actually, Herbin sells a cleaning solution in cartridge form. So for those of us who like to change inks, pop in a cartridge and roll away until the roller is clean. The solution also works for fountain pens: either scribble on a piece of paper, or put the nib on a kleenex or paper towel and let it soak up the solution by putting the nib to it.

    1. Oh – nifty. I didn’t realize they had their own solution – I’ve always just rinsed pens with either water, or with Goulet Pens’ cleaning solution. If I recall correctly, when testing this pen I only used water for cleaning – it’s good to know their solution makes things easier.

      That said, I’m hesitant to try cleaning cartridges on principle – I suspect that could get expensive fast, and the instructions from the Herbin cartridges still seem to indicate you need to flush the pen with water after using the cleaning cartridge, so I’m not sure how much time is saved compared to simply pulling up cleaning solution through a converter.

      Loading a cleaning solution into a converter and writing with the pen, though, is a really interesting idea. I’ll give that a try next time I need to refill this pen.

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