Brow Beat

All the President’s Pens

Barack Obama’s newly revealed pick for his favorite pen is not fit for a former president, if you ask me. This one is.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks at a drive-in rally as he campaigns for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden in Miami, Florida on November 2, 2020. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
Can he come back from this? CHANDAN KHANNA/Getty Images

Barack Obama, no stranger to controversy, waded into an extraordinarily contentious area of American life on Wednesday when he revealed his pen preferences. The former president told the New York Times that when composing longform writing, including his recent book A Promised Land, he prefers to sketch out his first drafts by hand, rather than on a computer. What’s more, like all true stationery nerds, Obama is “very particular” about his writing tools, preferring the combination of yellow legal pad and black Uni-ball Vision Elite rollerball pen with a micro-point.

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When it comes to paper, Obama could do better. Sure, he was a law professor, and old habits die hard—but your basic legal pad tends to be made from low-quality, highly porous paper, which soaks up ink, potentially blurring the precision of the former president’s aperçus. Pairing that paper with a fine-tipped rollerball should minimize bleed-through and feathering, though, so his favorite writing tool is a solid choice. It’s a liquid-ink pen with good flow, and, according to the Uni-Ball website, its patented technology “protects against water, fading, and fraud,” a matter important to public officials, even retired ones.

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I can imagine an adviser counseling a leading Democrat to avoid associating himself with a writing instrument with the word Elite in its name—but it’s an important distinction that establishes Obama’s stationery cred. There are two main lines in the Uni-Ball Vision series. The Vision is the base model—available in eight colors and two tip sizes, with a manufacturer’s recommended price of $2.75. That pen is merely “fine,” said Brad Dowdy, proprietor of the Pen Addict blog and host of the Pen Addict podcast, which released its 440th episode on the day Obama dropped his rollerball bombshell. The Vision, known as the Uni-Ball Eye in the U.K., is prone to “unmetered gushing.” Unbecoming of a former president.

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Uni-Ball charges 50 cents more for the Vision Elite, but Dowdy told me it’s well worth it—“it writes well without bleeding,” he said, and it’s airplane-safe, which is handy for a guy who spends a lot of time in the air. The Times took care to note that Obama’s favorite has a “micro-tip,” but Dowdy, who favors extra-fine tips, thinks that’s a misnomer. “The .08mm writes like a 1.0, and the 0.5 is like another pen’s 0.7.” In other words, it could be finer.

The Pen Addict rates The Vision Elite as the second-best rollerball option, behind the Pilot Precise V5. As a person concerned with such matters herself, I prefer a retractable pen, so I’d recommend the Uni-ball Signo RT1 UMN-155, which comes in a 0.28 mm tip—fine as hell. Paired with some smoother paper—say, a Rhodia No. 18 notepad, if Obama prefers a top-bound book—it’s a setup fit for a former president.

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