Reynolds 045 Red Ballpoint Pen Test

We test out the classic Reynolds 045 Red Ballpoint Pen. Named after its founder Milton Reynolds, the pen made its grand debut in 1945 and continues to be one of the most well-known ballpoint pen brands. Every student’s nemesis, this nostalgic pen is highly versatile and lives up to its iconic status.

Reviewing the Reynolds 045 Red Ballpoint Pen

Samir: Welcome to Stationary Test Drive with Inky Memo. I’m Samir

Vishal: I’m Vishal.

Minjal: This is Minjal.

Samir: And today we are going to be talking about the Reynolds 045, very classic, ballpoint pen. But before we get to that, Minjal, what have you been up to?

Minjal: So I’ve been updating my calligraphy website, which you can check on And also do check my Twitter and Instagram pages, which are @MinjalKadakia

Samir: Vishal?

Vishal: You can find me online most places at @AllVishal. A-L-L-V-I-S-H-A-L … and at I’m mostly an illustrator and lately I’ve been spending … actually over the past couple of years
I’ve spent the time learning how to use a digital painting tablet for the first time in my life seriously, and it’s taken me a while. But I’m at 80 out of a 100 portraits. You can find those on my social media. And other things as well.

Samir: And I have been experimenting with 3D graphics in Blender and I’ve been doing a series of
photographs with composited 3D letters on it, which I started in some previous year for 36 days of Type. So that’s what I’ve been up to.

Today we are going to be talking about the Reynolds 045 ballpoint pen.

Our idea with this series is to experiment with a particular tool and see how each of us uses it in our own unique way. Because we each have our own specialties and fields of art.

Vishal: That’s right, as I said I’m an illustrator. Minjal does calligraphy as a profession, and Samir has proficiency in all sorts of things, including paper art and drawing of course, and illustration. But
today since we’re working with pens, I think we’ll be doing a lot, showing a lot of stuff on flat paper.

So let’s start with the actual pen, which I think most of us know intimately well for the wrong reasons,
especially if you went to a school, I think pretty much anywhere in the world. The dreaded red pen was something that most kids never had in their own hands in fact it almost seemed like it was something specifically and only given out to teachers, and that too the worst ones, who would use them …

Samir: Liberally.

Vishal: Liberally, on your (papers) … to mark up things and I’ve seen many Reynolds Xs on my exam and other sheets in my time, but who knew you can just go out and buy them yourself. So kids, I’m not, you know, suggesting you do this, but you can go out and just get this, and you know … take matters into your own hands is what I’m saying, as we’re doing today.

But speaking of taking matters into our own hands, let’s talk about some of the test drives that we did, because that is the name of the show and that is what we do on this show. So Samir, why don’t you show us first how you used the Reynolds red ballpoint pen.

Figure sketching test with the Reynolds Red 045 Ballpoint Pen

ballpoint pen figure sketching 01

Samir: So this is what I did. This is a regular piece of copy paper, A4, and I’ve always found ballpoint pens to be surprisingly good at doing shaded material. So this was kind of the natural thing that I wanted to do, and it was just fascinating to do it in red pen.

Vishal: And your … You have done portraiture and figure drawing with ballpoint pens before.

Samir: Yes, I have. But I’ve used usually blue or black, and also these ballpoint pens in particular seem to have been refined a lot over the years.

Vishal: Right.

Samir: So in the old days, and even about 10 years ago, when I was doing most of those portraits, you would have a lot of staining and smudging in the inks but this was quite different.

ballpoint pen figure sketching 02

Vishal: You can see some of it here in the … I don’t know if the camera is picking it up, but you can see some of it … There’s some of that build up that eventually comes off, and I think it adds character, but yes when you’re working it, it does make it feel less … It’s less comfortable to use. You never … it’s not as controllable as you’d like. But you seem to have got quite a range of, … these aren’t just your standard x’s on paper that your school teacher used to use … There’s quite a range of value from really dark to very subtle.

Samir: And and with all of these, especially mediums like this, which you can really layer a lot, I think I was also limited by the fact that I was using very thin paper. If I was using something thicker, in the 200-300gsm range, then I could also probably push it a lot more. But this was still a great range to have on plain copy paper.

Vishal: So we have actually … The three of us have inadvertently gone through three different paper types and paper weights in this one. You have clearly gone for the thinnest one, which is I guess 60 to 70, maybe even 80gsm.

Zentangle art test with the Reynolds Red 045 Ballpoint Pen

reynolds ballpen zentangle art 01

Vishal: Minjal, why don’t you show us your work. Which you’ve done on a notebook, right?

Minjal: So, what I’ve used again is, maybe an 80 gsm. I’ve actually been wanting to try out doodle art for some time. And while purists will find it blasphemous to use, say, a red ball pen to doodle, I had a lot of fun doing this, because really the the ink doesn’t smudge at all. I went over it with an eraser and there was, you know, it was just so much better than a lot of gel pens that
I have used. So this was a fun experiment.

Vishal: Okay so you leaned into the dot pattern of these, I find. Were these exercises that you found somewhere, or did you make up some of them?

Minjal: No, I have to say that Pinterest really is a treasure trove of references.

Vishal: Okay.

Minjal: And I obviously took inspiration from a lot of doodle artists and tried to add some of my own spins here and there, but yes, inspired.

Vishal: So you’re usually a calligraphist and I’ve seen your work. It’s very controlled, it’s very clean-lined. How did this compare to something like that? In terms of letting go.

reynolds ballpen zentangle art 02

Minjal: Yes, I was just coming to that. That was the toughest part. Because even if you see these … you know, they’re just random oval shaped blobs and that actually took me really long, because I was trying to put them in a nice structured manner.

Vishal: I have to say, as an illustrator who spends a lot of time hatching things, this is excellent line control. I wish I could control my spacing as good as this.

Samir: Yeah, same with this. Especially the places where they converge. That’s very well done.

Character doodle art test with the Reynolds Red 045 Ballpoint Pen

red ballpoint character doodle art 01

Vishal: And very different from Samir’s work, which is … it’s always chaotic. And I think mine ends up somewhere in the middle so let me just show you mine, which is a little doodle of a character I did.

This one, I used around … I’d say it’s 150 to 200gsm art paper. It’s a bit ivory. It’s quite rough. It took surprisingly well to the pen. I did not end up putting down as much ink as his, so I didn’t get as much of a value range as Samir. But I enjoyed doing a lot of the texture work here.

It goes down very light on this paper, which I was surprised. Usually, like I said, I’m used to using ballpoint pens … you need to put in a lot of pressure to get even the lightest line. But this one really goes down very well which allowed me to sort of lean back from my usual very heavy hand.

red ballpoint character doodle art 02

And yeah, it’s a good way to just … this is, by the way … this is entirely … I didn’t do a pre-drawing, I didn’t do any pencil under drawing. I would do that usually, but with a very light touch the Reynolds does go down extremely light. Let me just add a random line here.

Now the problem is, when it needs to get started it takes a bit of doing. You will have to gouge out a little but then you end up with a very decent mark pretty easily after that.

Samir: And I think the starting issue is more to do with the texture of this paper, which is not the smoothest. Whereas I think it starts fairly easily on something that’s smooth like these.

School Red Pen Memories

Vishal: So what is the worst thing you ever got a teacher’s red Reynolds pen X on?

Samir: Hmm … worst thing … I think I’m going to be revealing too much about myself if I say the worst thing a teacher ever wrote on my paper was ‘Please give me this paper so that I can put it up on the board’.

Vishal: [Laughs] Now I don’t know if we need to spoil it … whether that was for good or bad reasons … as a good example or not.

Samir: I think the problem is it didn’t matter to me. It going up on the board was bad enough.

Vishal: I think mine was … there were lots of Xs … so it’s kind of … in some ways it became a competition to just see how many I could get on some papers because I knew I was going to get some.

Minjal: Yeah, I mean, I was a top ranker. So no red pens for me at all.

Vishal: Ah.

Samir: Clearly we’re making these videos with the wrong person.
Vishal: Yeah.

History of the Reynolds 045 Ballpoint Pen

Vishal: So school aside, are these worth getting?

Samir: Absolutely. First of all, these things are literally a classic piece of history. The Reynolds zero four five is actually called 045 because the Reynolds ball pen first came out in 1945. And that’s what these are named after.

Vishal: So it’s it’s almost like the Kalashnikov, AK-47, which is the 47th iteration. At least that’s the lore.

Samir: Yeah. In some ways this is kind of a refinement over several decades. The first pen that they did bring out was actually rushed out. It was a metal pen. It was called the Reynolds International. It was made of aeronautics aluminium after World War II.

It was … believe it or not, it was kind of the iPhone of its time. In October 1945, when they released that first pen, there was a line around the block to pick it up. 5 000 people showed up the the first day
it was released.

Minjal: But it was also priced at $12, which was fairly steep.

Vishal: Yes by inflation today that’ll be hundreds of dollars.

Samir: 160-170 dollars in today’s money.

Vishal: Not quite an iPhone. You can still get 10 Reynolds pens for an iPhone, I think.

Samir: You can get 10 other phones for an iPhone, but that’s a different story.

Vishal: Yes.

Writing with the Reynolds 045 Ballpoint Pen

Vishal: Now, we’ve made art with this. Is it any good for writing? Did anyone try writing?

Samir: I didn’t actually.

Vishal: Yeah. Usually, the only thing I end up writing on a page nowadays is my signature or maybe sometimes a title.

Minjal: I did try it out. I surprisingly think it works better when you’re using it to sketch maybe because it glides a little too fast on the paper, or maybe that has to do with the paper quality but I would prefer some of the newer gel pens, or you know the Uni-Balls, for instance, that you have more grip …

Vishal: Which we’ll be covering in a future episode so we should remember to do some writing on that as well.

Minjal: … so that was the only observation.

Samir: So strangely, because I know that these pens have changed over the years, while they’ve kept the the classic shape and the same cap with the hole in it and all of these things. I think the internal … the ink delivery and things have changed … including probably the way the … the viscosity of the ink. I know that in the old days it used to be easier to write with, but it also produced more of those blobs and those kind of things.

Vishal: Because ballpoint pen ink is extremely tacky very gel-like. It’s more gel like than a gel pen.

Basic primer on different types of inks, watercolors and acrylic paints

Samir: Yeah, I mean … of course ballpoint pens now come in hundreds of varieties, as far as what goes into the ink, but the interesting thing, when ballpoint pens started, is that they had an ink that was oil-based, but dye-based, which is kind of the exact opposite of oil paint, where it’s pigment rather than dye.

Vishal: So let’s go over a basic primer of inks here. So your watercolors or your acrylics are sort of like oils but with, let’s say, a plastic medium in there … hence the acrylic thing. But inks are a very different thing. There are dye-based. There are pigment based.

Samir: Most inks and even paints … I guess as technology improves, the difference between a paint and an ink is kind of starting to blur a little, but everything … whatever you use, whether it’s an ink or a paint, has a coloring agent and a binding medium. Those are the two essential parts. For example, oil paint is a natural pigment and some sort of oil as a base, as a binder.

Vishal: And back in the day egg tempera was a pigment and egg.

Samir: Yeah egg whites, I believe?

Vishal: Egg yolks, I think.

Samir: Oh, egg yolks, okay …. as a binder. I guess the fattiness of the yolk acted as the thickening agent
watercolors, traditionally, are pigments that are in a water medium. Acrylics are again pigments in an acrylic water-soluble acrylic medium. Inks have almost always … before modern times and when we were dealing only with fountain pens … inks have always been dye-based, because pigments have a bit of grit to them.

Rollerball technology for Ballpoint Pens

Vishal: Right, so they won’t flow as well through … as modern technology started coming in … as you got … as it says hear ‘New laser tip’. I don’t know if anyone can even read that, and that fine.

But this tip is fine and the rollerball, that was the technology that Reynolds … if not invented, but then at least was one of the first to pioneer and bring to market.

And that there is a tiny ball bearing type ball. And the ink flows around that from the cartridge. So it’s like
literally a ball rolling along the surface, and the ink that’s caught up with that.

Samir: In fact while the the idea of a ball to spread ink is several decades older than Reynolds, but Reynolds actually made his first pen with military-surplus ball bearings that were an mm thick, I think.

Vishal: So the technology had caught up, finally, to have … I mean in some ways it is … still space age. We take this for granted but the fact that you could … can just have this … and it’s, you know, even the the actual mechanisms of it are that small. They’re not even, you know, as big as all that. But it is … I still
think it’s very modern. I still think it’s an interesting thing.

So before, I’m guessing the ball bearing would be too big and you’d have to have a one inch long … one inch wide line?

Samir: The first patent for something that’s a marking instrument with a ball is … was in fact large ball bearings. So it was a leather worker who invented it, because he would use … He invented the mechanism to mark leather with. So it would have been a much larger ball bearing.

Vishal: Okay. Yes, because leather will require a certain tackiness and adherence quality to the ink that maybe paper does not. That’s interesting.

Ballpoint pens for brush lettering and modern calligraphy

Samir: So Vishal and me have been using ball pens and these sort of things for our work and art experimenting with it for quite some time, but I guess for Minjal this is quite a departure from her usual thick nib, gothic calligraphy kind of work, so what was your impression of using something that’s this fine?

Minjal: So a lot of calligraphy artists are also doing pointed pen calligraphy, or pointed nib calligraphy. I think this pen works well for maybe things like brush lettering or modern calligraphy because the tip is really fine. So it has been interesting to try out.

Vishal: … Well I think that’s …

Samir: What was your impression of using a nib where you can’t vary the line weight at all? How is that different for work like yours?

Minjal: Like I said, I’ve also been trying to learn brush lettering and pointed pen calligraphy, so instead of actually using, you know, a dip pen, this is a good place to practice.

Samir: So I guess the Reynolds ball pen, like all ball pens, remains a very, very convenient instrument.

Vishal: Yes, you get this in other colors. We’re usually used to blue and black. But we thought it would be fun to try our childhood nemesis and give it some redemption. So I think we’ve done that.

Reynolds Ballpoint Pen recent updates

Vishal: And I think we’ve also learned a lot more about the history of Reynolds pens. But you guys
have even more in-depth history about this.

Samir: Yes. We’ve actually sent out a newsletter … I think sometime last year, if I’m not
mistaken, about the basic story of Milton Reynolds and him bringing out his first pen. And those are the kind of stories we generally explore on Inky Memo, and I’m sure we’ll be getting back into the
Reynolds story at some point, because since the 1940s, when it was an American company, Reynolds is now manufactured in India.

Vishal: Where we are.

Samir: And exclusively in India. The brand doesn’t really exist elsewhere right now.

Vishal: And it is … a Reynolds pen is still … still has, at least for my generation, still has that cachet and pedigree as the best. In the sense that it’s the one that you would aspire to get, even though it’s a fairly affordable and simple thing there are other … I mean it’s a … it’s almost a generic name, like a Xerox or something right? A Reynolds. In other parts of the world we know … and please comment about what it is in your part of the World. I know people genericize a term, like the Bic or …

Samir: The Biro.

Vishal: … the Biro. Yeah those are all names for basically the same thing but they’re from different people and I think you guys will explore those stories as well on Inky Memo at a future point. And if you would like us to make some kind of showdown between Reynolds and Bic and Biro, I think we can find some of them somewhere. We can do that. So please comment away and tell us how you like this video, and more. And I think that’s it. We should …

Samir: I think we are ready to sign off.

Minjal: Yeah.

Vishal: Yeah so just before we go, Samir, just tell us where you can find more about pens and Inky Memo and just, of course, your social media.

Samir: Inky Memo is at, where you can sign up for our newsletter which we try to send off once a month, but hopefully we should be doing that more often than we can.

Vishal: It’s a nice deep dive.

Samir: It’s great if you’re interested in the stories and the personalities and the histories behind a lot of these very common things that we use. And we love geeking out on that stuff.

Also please follow our YouTube channel, like this video, and turn on the notifications so that you can see the new ones when they come out. We’re going to try to put one out every week or so.

Vishal: Minjal?

Minjal: So that’s about it. Thank you so much for watching the video. Any parting words?

Vishal: Use those pens and stay away from those X marks.

Get the Reynolds 045 Pen links

1. Reynolds 045 Ball Pen – Red, Pack of 10
2. Reynolds 045 Ball Pen – Black, Pack of 10 –

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