Do you have a favorite pen? Chances are, it’s probably a gel pen.
We commonly associate the idea of ‘gel pens’ with colorful, glittery art pens by Sakura Gelly Roll or its competitors. What you may not realize is that the majority of the rollerball pens you use employ gel-based ink as well.
Gel pens use ink that is suspended in a water-based gel. Because the ink is thick and opaque, it shows up more clearly on dark or slick surfaces. In contrast to ballpoint pens, whose ink flows slowly, gel-based ink flows freely and quickly from its rollerball tip, leaving a prominent, glossy look on the page.
The speedy and color-rich result we receive when writing with a gel pen is what keeps us coming back to them!
Gel pens aren’t just great for looks, they have a number of benefits:
- The ink is nontoxic and the ink cartridges can be up to 80% water, making them easier than any other ink substance to use.
- The inks do not fade on paper, so black and blue colored inks can retain ‘archival’ status.
- Gel-based ink washes off of skin and fabric, unlike oil-based inks in ballpoint pens.
- The pigments and organic compounds used to create the variety of colors, glitters, and textures possible for gel pens are made from biodegradable substances.
- Despite their high water content, gels are not transparent like conventional inks. They remain opaque when applied to paper.
However, there are a few drawbacks:
- If you’re a lefty, gel ink is the slowest to dry, meaning you’re at risk of smearing if your hand slides across the paper as you write.
- In comparison to ballpoint pens, you can only fill ⅛ the amount of pages with a rollerball pen, due to the shorter longevity of the ink.
- If gel pens are jostled around and not stored properly, the ink may not flow smoothly and consistently without shaking or fiddling.
- At the end of a gel pen’s ink cartridge life cycle, certain pens experience difficulty of flow, meaning you don’t get all of the ink out of the pen before it’s unusable. *This varies by pen brand and is not consistent across all gel pens.
The tried-and-true best gel pens we all know
If you typically associate gel pens with the colorful, artistic lines of single-use utensils, consider some of the heavy-hitters in the daily-use gel pen industry:
We carry a large selection of Pilot pen products in our shop because in our experience, they have the greatest consistency and longevity of any gel pen product. They also have a patented “thermosensitive” ink technology that’s used in their erasable pen series.
How does thermosensitive ink work?
After writing with the erasable pen on any paper surface, vigorously “erase” by rubbing the rubber cement eraser across the ink. This quickly elevates in the ink to 60•C, rendering the ink invisible. If you were to bring the ink below -10•C, for example, by putting it in the freezer, the ink would reappear as normal!
Pentel is known for their art-focused pen supplies, offering a selection of rollerball tip-widths and a variety of pens across the spectrum, including felt tip pens, sign pens, brush tips, and much more.
Uni-ball may be the best-known rollerball pen, as it was the first ever metal-ball rollerball pen, and the first ballpen to use water-based ink. Now, Uni-ball is the top choice for graphic and ink artists around the world. They specialize in rich pigmented archival inks and deliver some of the most opaque-appearing ink on the market.
Why would I want opaque ink?
When we write with a ballpoint pen, and even some gel pens, we see the ink sink into the paper. Either it bleeds, or it becomes dull and somewhat translucent on the page, making it less prominent to the eye. Using an opaque ink gives the written result the appearance of sitting just on top of the page. It is bright, rich, and shows semblance of the paper’s color or texture through the ink.
Especially when writing on colored or black paper, opaque ink stands out and will last the test of time.
In 1921, the Sakura pen company was not making pens at all, but crayons. Over the next 60 years, they’d narrow their focus to ink technology research and development, ultimately aiming to solve the most annoying pen question: Why won’t my pen write?
Many gel pens today use a similar technology to that developed by Sakura to solve this problem, but none have the exact methodology. See, Sakura developed what we now know broadly to be “gel-based ink,” or, pigment ink that is suspended in gel in the ink cartridge of the pen.
Ballpoint and typical rollerball pens are susceptible to the limitations of their solvents. If a pen with water or oil-based ink is left upside down or jostled in weird ways, the pen appears to have plenty of ink by gravity is preventing it from writing.
Gel has a property called thixotropic action: When gel stands still, it solidifies, but when it’s moved, it becomes liquid again. So, when you’ve left your Gelly Roll pens in your pen case for a year and pick them up to write again, chances are, the gel will move and become practically good as new.
Our top 10 best gel pens of 2019
We’ve separated our top 10 best gel pens into two categories: daily use and specialty.
Daily use pens are typically black or blue, and ideal for use in the office, at home, and in your daily life. They’re reliable, they write beautifully, and they’re easy to replace when someone inevitably “borrows” it from you.
I encourage you to give the speciality use pens a chance too, even if you’re not an artist. Maybe you can’t write a note to your boss in a metallic green Gelly Roll, but try spicing up your planner by color-coding your to-do lists, appointments, and doodles.
Best Gel Pens for Daily Use
- Pilot G-Tec Gel Rolling Ball – The classic cap-able (and capable) office pen, undeniably professional and with a clean streak of ink always at the ready.
- Frixion Erasable – Love writing in pen but hate the look of mistakes? The thermosensitive ink technology really does work to erase your message, as long as you don’t put your notebook in the freezer! This pen is especially perfect for the Ink+Volt planner, as the ink will never bleed through the page but will always leave you the freedom to rearrange your schedule.
- Gel Reminisce – Quite possibly the classiest color collection offered in gel-based ink. The blue and red ink are just as prominent and reliable as the blacks, so if you’re grading papers, signing official documents, or writing longhand in your journal, these pens are a delightful experience.
- Pentel EnerGel X – At a 0.5 mm rollerball point, the EnerGel X offers a thin but professional look to any handwriting. The smaller the rollerball, the thinner and more crisp your handwriting will look, and the longer your pen will last. The 0.5 mm is the most commonly appreciated size, and will make writing quick notes at your next meeting a breeze.
- Tactile Turn Glider – If you’re ready to commit to a personal pen that you can’t loan or lose, the Tactile Turn Glider by Pilot is an accessible, reliable, and refillable gel pen you can keep for a lifetime. It’s unique retractable tip is controlled by a minimalistic round-tipped lever near the top of the barrel, and the ink cartridges are the Pilot G2 gel refills.
- Zebra Sarasa Push Clip – How satisfying is it to have a clickable pen top to fiddle with as you brainstorm your next great project? If your heart just fluttered, this gel pen is absolutely for you. While some find it maddening to hear the click of a retractable pen from two desks over, you’ll enjoy the tactile experience as well as the written appearance of Zebra’s rich gel ink.
Best Gel Pens for Specialty Use
- Gelly Roll Moonlight – Even if you don’t still have your blacklight from 2002, these Gelly Roll moonlight pens have a gorgeous bright, neon look to them on any color page. Add these to your planner or create art on a black sheet of cardstock to enjoy the shimmer and shine of these unique pens.
- Uni-ball Signo White – A relatively new gel pen by Uni-ball but this is one of my favorite pens ever. The opaque white ink looks incredible on any color and even on some surfaces like wood and fabric. The thick rollerball tips leaves a prominent handwriting streak as you flow through hand-lettering practice or monochrome sketches.
- Pilot G2 Metallic – The look of metallic inks in a planner brings so much joy and excitement. It might seem strange to get excited to see ink, but just like when you see a rainbow in the sky, filling your white spaces with rich pops of color kills the monotony that sometimes accompanies weekly planning and gives you the creative freedom to express yourself in more ways than one.
- Gelly Roll Stardust – This list couldn’t be complete without a little glitter. Gelly Roll Stardust pens add an additional element to their already colorful, richly pigmented writing experience. A little glitter goes a long way, and the starry shimmer in this color series will surely bring a smile to anyone who sees the special notes you write..
Having a pen that is just for you is a serious elevation of style. What are your best gel pens that you absolutely have to have on hand?