This wiki has been updated 23 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 thick inks, they are a great alternative to traditional disposable ballpoint pens, and make great gifts for the burgeoning artists in your life. For your convenience, we've added those available singly and in sets. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
May 18, 2021:
In this update, we removed the Artlicious Ultimate 100 and Artist's Choice Case due to availability concerns.
In order to ensure that we still had an extensive set with various colors on the list, we added the Aen Art Glitter. This 100-pack is the perfect companion to an adult coloring book and the glitter in the ink is sure to appeal to young artists. Note that the colorful caps don't always accurately represent the hue of the pen's ink, so it's worth testing each one on a piece of scrap paper first.
Also new to the list, the Sharpie S-Gel has a sleek metal barrel that should fit in nicely in any professional setting. The smooth ink is available in blue or black and is designed not to smear or bleed through paper.
Whether you're journaling, signing contracts, or working on your masterpiece, note that gel ink does take a moment to dry. Some pens are faster-drying than others, but all of them take at least a little time, so be careful not to smudge your work or let the ink rub off on your hands.
January 28, 2020:
After some consideration, we have decided to remove the Ganssia Colorful Cats at this time; they're cute, but they simply don't offer the versatility and durability of many other options. Coming out on top are names that fans of stationery and office products will recognize, including the Paper Mate InkJoy and TUL Retractable. These write smoothly and are offered in multi-color packs that will please everyone from artists to those jotting in day planners.
We've added the updated Uni-Ball 307, as well, which is not as prone to skipping as the 207. It comes in business-appropriate colors, so consider this option for writing and signing documents, rather than for working in coloring books. Those who are looking for an option for just such an activity might consider the Artlicious Ultimate 100 or Artist's Choice Case. They're both a good value, giving you a wide range of colors for a relatively budget-friendly price. You may find them to be a little less "premium" feeling than options from Pilot, Pentel, and the like, but they're fine for most general, casual purposes. Finally, we've selected the Sakura Gelly Roll Moonlight for writing on black paper. The ink is smooth but can take a while to dry, so you might need to be a little patient while working with them.
Big Idea Design Ti Click EDC The Big Idea Design Ti Click EDC is definitely on the pricey side, but it works with over 100 refills from various manufacturers, so you'll get a lot of bang for your buck. One quick, smooth click makes it ready to write, so there are no awkward caps to deal with, and the titanium construction lets it take some abuse. bigidesign.com
What Exactly Are Gel Pens?
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.
Either way, you should always close the pen when you’re not using it, as gel pens can dry out.
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.
Use the different colors to help you create organizational materials, such as tags and labels, for the home and office.
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.