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Thick or Thin: Choosing the Right Pen for Your Hand

If you’re like most people, comfort is probably one of the deciding factors when you’re trying to choose the right pen. A pen that writes beautifully and reliably isn’t worth much if it’s so uncomfortable to use that you rarely pick it up.

Pen selection is largely a matter of personal preference. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when picking out a new ink pen.

First is to make sure you know how to hold the pen properly. That might sound silly, but the way you hold your pen can affect both your comfort and the neatness and accuracy of your handwriting.

There are two basic pen postures.

  • Between your index finger and thumb, with your index finger relatively straight along the barrel of the pen. The underside of the pens rests on your middle finger, near the last knuckle. The upper barrel of the pen rests in the “valley” between thumb and forefinger. This puts the pen about a 45 degree angle to the writing surface.
  • Between your index finger and thumb, with the index finger curled and the thumb straight. The underside of the pen rests on your middle finger. The upper barrel rests against the side of your forefinger, midway between the first and second knuckles. This puts the pen closer to a 90 degree angle.

When you write, it should be with a motion of your lower arm, not just your fingers. For more detailed instructions, we highly recommend Dyas Lawson’s excellent article at Paperpenalia.com.

Avoid pinching the tip of the pen tightly between forefinger, middle finger and thumb. If you have an indentation on the inside of your middle finger after writing, you’re not holding the pen correctly.

This is from the Ergonomics Division at the University of California at Los Angeles:

Don’t hold a pen or pencil in a “death grip”. Too much force can cause joint pain, cramps, fatigue and muscle weakness.

Avoid white knuckles, excessive flexion, or hyperextension of the thumb and finger joints.  These postures can cause forearm stain and even elbow tendonitis!

Once you’ve got the grip down, you need to find a pen that will comfortably allow you to maintain that proper hold.

Look for a pen that writes smoothly without requiring a lot of pressure. The pen should glide across the surface of the paper with no stops or skips. Typically, you’ll want a gel pen or rollerball pen.

It’s important in choosing the right pen that you pick a size that comfortably fits your hand. If the pen is too small or too large, your grip will be off and writing for longer periods may be uncomfortable.

As one health care professional wrote in the British Medical Journal (reg. required):

A fat pen with smooth flowing ink is much less likely to cause trouble than a thin and scratchy ballpoint; the latter almost forces itself to be gripped tightly, and resistance from friction (or drag) between pen and paper increases the intensity of contraction of the intrinsic muscles. This provokes pain and results in loss of control.  Thus I recommend a wide bodied fountain pen or rollerball.

In a small-scale study of pen design at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, researchers found that participants preferred larger pens. However, the same study also revealed that smaller pens produced more drawing and writing accuracy, something to keep in mind when making your selection.

Again from UCLA:

Try different sizes before you settle on one that fits. Use tape, tubing or grips to increase the diameter of existing pens.

It’s also important that the pen you choose have a comfortable, textured grip for your fingers and thumbs. A smooth-barreled pen will allow your fingers to slide down toward the tip, into that pinched grip that makes for cramps and poor handwriting.

If you’re concerned about getting maximum comfort out of your pen, you might consider an ergonomic model. We’ll be going into more detail about ergonomic pens in future posts, but for now there are two we can recommend:

Pilot Dr. Grip Gel Ink – It has a soft rubber cushion that makes for a light, easy hold and the gel ink guarantees smooth writing.

Bic XXL – The barrel is even wider than the Dr. Grip and has a thick foam cushion. Does not write as smoothly, though. Sold mainly in the US.

OK, now it’s your turn. We want to hear what you look for when you’re choosing the right ink pen.

One thought on “Thick or Thin: Choosing the Right Pen for Your Hand”

  • Sapphire

    An interesting post.
    I make my living from writing so the final product is always typed but I make substantial notes and drafts and they are handwritten.
    I have small hands so I favour a medium diameter. The Dr Grip is a little on the fat side for me.
    When I went to school we were only allowed fountain pens but I've given them up for all but letters to special friends.
    I'm not a great fan of rollerballs or gel pens. I find them too smooth. I'm always trying to keep them under control.
    Cheap ball points are no use - they need heavy pressure to get a good line but quality ball points seem to me to have just enough friction to keep them under control without having to press too hard.
    Having said that I don't use pens that much - most of my drafts and notes are in 0,5 mm mechanical pencil using 2B leads from Pentel or Pilot.

    Reply
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