This wiki has been updated 19 times since it was first published in October of 2016. Ideal for writing, drawing, and coloring, these gel ink pens come in a variety of colors to suit the needs of youngsters, students, and adults alike. Boasting acid-free inks, they are fast replacing traditional disposable ballpoint pens in every home and office, and make great gifts for the burgeoning artist in your life. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best gel ink pen on Amazon.
What Exactly Are Gel Pens?
They’re versatile, and they’ve even become part of our cultural zeitgeist.
For that, you can thank inconsistencies in ink density as well as clumping, which usually occur during storage and handling.
In 1984, the innovators at the Sakura Color Products Corporation in Osaka, Japan, introduced the world to a new kind of pen — the gel pen. As with other types of ink pens, this new model used a coloring agent (in this case, a pigment) suspended in a solvent. Unlike the alcohol- or oil-based solvents of markers and ballpoint pens, however, this gel used water as a solvent and took advantage of a property of gels called thixotropic action. This might sound intimidating, but all it really means is that the gel begins to solidify when it is still, then becomes more liquid when it’s subject to motion and agitation.
By using a gel with this thixotropic action, Sakura was able to create a pen with an ink that remains high-quality for longer. If you’ve ever used a pen, you’ve probably experienced the frustration that occurs when the ink comes out in splotches or is lumpy or doesn’t come out at all, even though you can see more ink in the barrel. For that, you can thank inconsistencies in ink density as well as clumping, which usually occur during storage and handling. Gel ink, on the other hand, doesn’t clump as often and isn’t as prone to inconsistencies, so it gives you a smooth writing experience for the life of the pen.
A smooth feel is perhaps the biggest reason that many people love gel pens, in fact. The ink seems to flow right onto the paper, and because this ink usually has a higher proportion of pigments, the colors are bold and strong. You’ll find that this ink dries more quickly than that of another type of pen with similar ink, the rollerball. Rollerballs use a water-based ink that’s thinner, and while these pens also give a smooth writing experience, they are more prone to bleeding through the paper and tend not to last as long.
Gel pens, then, have many benefits to offer, including an even, silky writing experience, great colors, and long-lasting use, which has made them perennially popular since their introduction. They’re versatile, and they’ve even become part of our cultural zeitgeist. If you’re a 90s kid, you might remember giving your friends “tattoos” with gel pens.
Differences Among Gel Pens
All gel pens are not created equal, even though they share the same general qualities. You could think of gel pens as a genus and each individual brand and type of gel pen as the species. The species you need will depend on several factors, including where and how you’ll be using the pen, as well as what type of experience you look for in writing.
Of course, black is available too, for when you want the smoothness of gel but the style appropriate to business documents or homework assignments.
First, you might consider whether you’d like retractable or capped pens. The former are excellent for those who are forgetful or tend to lose things; if you leave the cap off, you’re more likely to accidentally write on your clothes or hands, so all you have to do is retract the point to avoid this mess. Either way, you should always close the pen when you’re not using it, as gel pens can dry out. While there are methods for bringing them back to life, you can avoid a lot of aggravation by simply closing the pen after each use.
Second, take a look at the line size the pen will produce. Typically, gel pens come in four point sizes: ultra fine, 0.38 mm; extra fine, 0.5 mm; fine, 0.7 mm; and bold, 1.0 mm. These size names vary from company to company, however, so it’s generally better to become accustomed to the measurement in millimeters. Usually, 0.7 mm is considered medium or “normal.”
Next, think about color. Gel pens come in just about any color you can think of, including metallics like silver and gold, white for writing on dark paper, and everything in from lemony yellow to blushing purple. Of course, black is available too, for when you want the smoothness of gel but the style appropriate to business documents or homework assignments.
Last, but certainly not least, think about the grip. Many gel pens provide a squishy comfort grip over the barrel, which could help if your hand gets tired quickly. Some people, however, find these to be annoying, since they add bulk. And if you’ll only be using your pens for short periods at any one time, then comfort may not be a real concern.
Ideas For Using Gel Pens
Once you’ve found the perfect gel pens for you, the ones that give you the style you like and the comfort you need, you might start looking around for more ways to use them. Here are a few ideas for having fun and creating with these excellent writing instruments. You won’t even need a fine arts degree for stunning results.
You can use gel pens to make fun and personalized cards for holidays, birthdays, gifts, and more.
Gel pens make a wonderful addition to scrapbooking supplies. You can make fancy colorful borders, add unique lettering, write down your memories, or put hand-drawn frames around your photos. Because scrapbooks should be long-lasting, make sure you use gel pens that are acid-free for this type of project. Most are, but it’s usually wise to check.
You can use gel pens to make fun and personalized cards for holidays, birthdays, gifts, and more. Not only will this give you an opportunity to use your creative side, but it will help you save money on store-bought cards, as well. For extra visual interest, grab some black paper and create designs with an entirely new dimension.
Get organized with your gel pens. Use the different colors to help you create organizational materials, such as tags and labels, for the home and office. Bold colors and glitter gels might even inspire your kids to help you get organized, too.
Drawing becomes both a creative and a cathartic experience with gel pens. Forget about messy paints and charcoals that are hard to use effectively — grab a pack of gel pens and you’ll be creating in no time. These pens work well for zentangles, a type of doodling that’s meant to be Zen, and artist trading cards, artwork that is designed for sharing.
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