The Top 7 Gel Pens We Love

Updated December 2, 2019 by Eric Schram

Gel pens may not be your everyday pen, but they sure are fun.

Ready to meet your journaling, doodling, art, and note taking needs - despite their idiosyncrasies - everyone should have a good gel pen or two in their life.

That’s because they’re a very versatile writing tool. Plus, they come in a beautiful array of colors and sparkly, opalescent, metallic, and glitter options (woo!) that are sure to brighten your day and writing.

Gel pens are perfect for breaking up the monotony of writing when you get tired of working with the usual black, blue, or red pen colors.

(Gel pens still come in the basic color selections too, to meet your everyday writing needs, but we love gel pens for adding a dash of color to the day.)

The ink that makes a gel pen a gel pen is the nearly the same ink that is used in a rollerball or ballpoint pen. But with gel pens, the ink is suspended in a water-based gel; it is thick and opaque, and shows up more clearly on dark or slick surfaces. The pigments used to make gel ink are also thicker than other inks, resulting in the stronger colors. Which is why you have so many colors and options to choose from!

We can thank the Sakura Color Products Corporation (a Japanese company) for first rolling out the gel pen in 1984, which was introduced to America in the late 80’s with the debut of the Gelly Roll pen.

Today, Gelly Roll pens come in classic, moonlight (brilliant/bright colors), stardust (glittery), metallic, gold shadow and silver shadow.

If you don’t use gel pens consistently or are skeptical about investing in a pack, we strongly recommend using gel pens versus another type of pen, when you really want to do any of these things:

  • Write with bold lines
  • Write using strong colors
  • Write on dark paper or surfaces
  • Write on a smooth, non-absorbent material
  • Achieve a similar writing effect to paint markers, but desire something that can draw finer lines, is smaller to hold, and/or doesn’t require shaking (unless they get jostled and need to get started again)
  • Write with heavy in but with fewer chances of bleed through, compared to a fountain pen
  • Use a pen without a strong smell
  • Mix up your day with a fun pen and fun colors!

Gel pen ink is archival, fade resistant, waterproof, and chemical proof/non-toxic, and washes off clothes and skin more easily than non-gel, oil based inks. All of which are highly desirable qualities.

Unfortunately, some of what makes gel pens so awesome and versatile can also make them annoying to use, being one of the more finicky pens.

  • The ink doesn’t dry as quickly as other inks, causing it to smear if you’re not careful and don’t give it enough time to dry. This makes it a more challenging pen for left handed writers to write with.
  • The ink can skip (not all the time though) because the ink may not distribute evenly on the ball as it comes out of the tip. This is less likely to happen if you’ve kept the pen in a straight up-down position.
  • The pens don’t last as long as your rollerball or ballpoint because they use more ink when being used (but you do get that strong, bold line as a tradeoff!).

Despite the drawbacks, if you know what to watch out for, you can more happily use these types of pens with ease.
Our favorite gel pens

Because you have a big selection of gel pens to choose from, we’ve pared the list below down to our favorites. We’re recommending specific gel pen brands below and the best situations to use them in.

This list is a great guide to start from, but of course, it’s best to test out as many gel pens as you can to find the one (or many ones) that work best for you.

  1. Uni-ball Signo DX UM-151 Gel Ink Pen - 0.38 mm comes highly recommended because it has a fine tip and is very durable. Yes, it comes in basic black, but also green black, lavender black, brown black, and bordeaux black (among many other color selections!). A great option for everyday writing, but with the color selection available, you can also use this pen for journaling, writing in your planner, and any art or doodling projects.
  2. Zebra Sarasa Push Clip Gel Pen is perfect for those of you who like a retractable gel pen. Satisfyingly clickable, it also has a rubber grip, making it comfortable and practical to carry around, write with, and use daily. Pilot also makes a retractable, fine tip gel pen: Pilot G2 Retractable Premium Gel Ink Roller Ball Pens.
  3. Pilot FriXion Erasable Gel Pens – 3-Pack. Need an erasable gel pen? Ideal for using in your Ink+Volt planner or taking notes, this erasable gel pen will be a life saver (no more messy strikethroughs). The eraser works by using heat, so the faster you erase and create friction, the faster your unwanted work erases away. This isn’t the best ink to write with if you leave your writing out in the sun or in a hot car because the words may disappear, but it can be fixed by putting the paper in the freezer. With that one caveat in mind, once you try this gel pen, you’ll wonder how you went through life without the ability to write and erase so easily.
  4. Gel Reminiscence Classic Colors Set has fast-drying water-based gel ink, that makes the writing experience even smoother. With a cap and rubber grip, this classic color set is very practical.
  5. For a metallic gel pen writing experience, we love the Pilot G2 Metallic Pens – Assorted Color 8-pack and Gelly Roll Metallic 10-Pack. The Pilot combines the practicality of being retractable and having a rubber grip, with a subtle metallic ink (ideal if you want to mix it up, but not too much). The Pilot has a 0.7mm tip compared to the Gelly Roll’s 0.4mm tip. Though not retractable, the Gelly Roll has a cap and bold metallic colored ink that we love to use.
  6. Uni-ball Signo Broad UM-153 Gel Pen - White Ink. Writing on black or dark paper? Nothing will look cleaner than a beautiful white ink. Your writing and lettering will pop with this silky white ink, perfect for journaling, scrapbooking, or sending letters.
  7. If you’re someone who can never have too many gel pens, or you want the convenience of having an endless array of colors to choose from at any moment, the LolliZ 70 Gel Pens Tray Set and the Gelly Roll 74-Piece Gift Set are for you. The Gelly Roll set includes favorites like the gold/silver shadow, stardust, moonlight, metallic, and classic, while the LolliZ also has colors like neon and pastel to choose from. Draw and write to your heart’s content with these gel pen sets!

To make your gel pens last, store in any position (up or down) and always put the cap back on. That’s it! You’re ready to write, doodle, journal, and draw to your day away. Enjoy!

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