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.