Pens and Pencils | Reviews and Data

How To Revive A Gel Pen That Has Ink But Isn’t Writing

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Gel pens use water-based ink that writes wonderfully but is prone to drying out. This means a refill that looks full might not write. What a waste, right? Not quite, but these pens can often be restarted.

There are many tips, hints, and tricks online about restarting pens that aren’t working, but most of these guides aren’t concerned with gel pens, so be wary about following general advice because what works for fountain pen ink or an oil-based ballpoint pen, might not work for a gel pen like yours.

How To Restart A Gel Pen

The best way to restart a gel pen is by removing the refill from the pen and putting the lower half in hot water for at least 15 minutes. That’s it! No tools, nothing to buy, no tricks, you just need hot water, a cup, and time.

The water should be under boiling (under 100 degrees C / 212 degrees F) but still very hot.

The vessel that holds the water should be small enough that the refill is not submerged as you don’t want water to enter the back of the refill. It shouldn’t be something you plan to drink out of later since you don’t want to accidentally ingest any ink.

Put the hot water in the cup and the refill (not the whole pen, just the refill inside it) in the hot water, writing tip down. At this point you can just walk away and forget about it, or you can return in about 15 minutes when the water is cool.

Remove the gel refill from the water, wipe it off, and then put it back in your pen and it should write as is used to! If it doesn’t work or only works for a few minutes, repeated the process.

The Hot Water Method Isn’t Working?

What if the method above isn’t working? If you’ve repeated the steps above three times and the gel pen isn’t writing then something is wrong.

One thing that can go wrong is a clump of old ink that has formed on the end of the writing tip. This will normally dissolve or fall off in the water, but if it hasn’t happened then make sure to remove it. If it’s really tough you can use an alcohol pad or wipe to cut through the old ink.

If the pen/refill is really old and it was store upside down, it’s possible for a bubble to form inside the ink reservoir in the refill. This is tougher to fix, but extended hot water baths, as above but with cooler water over longer periods of time. Eventually the bubble should dissipate allowing the ink to flow to the writing tip.


Why do gel pens dry out?

Gel pens dry out because they use a water-based ink that is more prone to evaporation than the oil-based ink found in a ballpoint pen. This ink is less viscous than ballpoint ink and has a considerable shorter shelf life. An open ballpoint ink can last for easily 10 years before drying out where a gel pen usually will last for a year after it’s been started or just 2-3 years if new and unused before it has problems with writing consistently.