How often do you write with a pen? If your answer is less than “at least once a year,” this maybe isn’t the piece for you. Otherwise, throat clear, I present to you this fact: The Bic Cristal is the best pen on planet Earth.
I argue this as a person who writes (by hand) for hours a day; I say this having tried hundreds of pens costing from very little — the Bic Cristal can be gotten for just 27 cents each on Amazon — to a lot of money. I say this as a true lover of hotel pens and gel pens and rollerballs and fine-pointed markers and Sharpies and Varsity disposable fountain pens. The Bic Cristal is my desert island pen. And I have my reasons.
What is it?
The Bic Cristal is a cheap (you can say “affordable” or “inexpensive” if you want to sound classy, but really, it’s just cheap) plastic pen. Produced since the 1950s by the French company Société Bic, these mass-produced pens in their clear plastic cases are marvels of modern industrial design. Two of Bic’s products — a disposable lighter and the humble Cristal — are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. They are beautiful, they are cheap, and they are iconic.
Why is it the Gold Standard?
The Bic Cristal is the best of its class because it is perfect at doing what it does: It writes really, really well. I could, being a weird pen person, tell you that the way the ink smells on the paper is both distinct and nostalgic, because it is. I can tell you how the cap — which is really handsome and basically ornamental because these things will not ever dry out — feels very nice to hold in your mouth between your teeth, something many middle school teachers admonished me (and others) for years ago. But that’s less important than the fact that the Cristal is really, really good at simply being a pen. Little pressure is needed, the ink always flows freely and smoothly, and the barrel of the pen, which is hexagonal, feels nice between your fingers. Oh, it will leave a huge crater on your middle finger if you hold it tightly enough, but those of us who write a lot are accustomed to such things.
The Cristal lasts forever, and when it finally does run out of ink, it almost always dies with dignity. No fits and starts: just a pen that works one moment and does not the next. Into the recycling and onto the next. Though they come in a wide range of colors, I would suggest that only blue or black is truly acceptable for an adult unless you’re editing something. The full Cristal experience, I would further suggest, can only be had when using the blue one, but I’ll leave that to you. This pen is a joy to use, and it never changes. They come in bags of 10 for less than five bucks. That is, depending on your usage, a one- or two-year supply. Sure, you might, like me, crave variety, you might be an unfaithful lover of the Cristal, you might use other pens. That’s fine. But you don’t have to. You can simply use this one and you would be perfectly happy forever.
There are cases to be made for other pens. I’ve heard people try to argue on behalf of Pilots and Le Pens and even (I’m gasping for air here) Uni-balls. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life. I’m not advocating for this pen. I’m just telling you: It’s the best one that there is, and it will be tomorrow, and even if you’re very rich one day, this pen that costs less than a dollar will be, almost certainly, the best pen available to you. I say this confidently, as an avid user of pens for many decades running. You can keep searching for a better one, and I encourage you to try. I respect the hunt. But you can and probably will remember to always come back to the Bic. It will never let you down.