The Sharpie S-Gel is a relatively new gel pen that was first released in early 2020. Sharpie, being known for its permanent markers, has produced pens for some time, but those have mostly been fiber-tipped, marker-like pens. These pens, which are essentially just thin Sharpie markers, developed a solid following, they were simply an extension of the Sharpie marker’s popularity.
And then came the S-Gel.
The S-Gel is one of a huge number of retractable gel pens, so why was it able to come along and gain such popularity? The pen is sold in normal ink colors (black, blue, red, green, and purple) and a normal set of tip sizes (0.38 mm, 0.5 mm, 0.7 mm, and 1.0 mm / ultra fine, fine, medium, bold). The S-Gel is priced competitively, but isn’t particularly cheap at about 80 cents a pen, depending on the pack you buy.
The S-Gel ink offers the smooth writing experience you’d expect from a gel pen, but you’d be hard-pressed to call it extraordinary. Yes, it’s a high performance gel pen, but does it really offer an exceptional writing experience when compared to a Zebra Sarasa or Pentel Energel or any of today’s other best gel pens?
Having used the blue and black gel ink colors extensively in both the standard black model, as well as the metal body executive version and the frosted blue barrel, I can say this is a very good gel pen and one I like using, but it’s not anything that we haven’t seen before. The pens are refillable, but refills aren’t currently available online, making this is a moot point for now.
The ink is quick drying, but not as resistant to smear and bleed through as the Energel. The ink is intensely colored, but doesn’t seem remarkable compared to a Uni-ball Signo. The fine tip is smooth, but not particularly smooth relative to a Jetstream.
The pen has the obvious and someone concerning quality of not using permanent ink. Sharpie is a brand build on permanent ink, so not seeing this in their gel pen is odd. Perhaps the permanence would have needed pigmented ink, which would have meant the pen wouldn’t be the smoothest possible gel pen, but it’s still going to be a surprise for many buyers.
The S-Gel has a contoured rubber grip that is similar to the sneaker grip of the Pilot Acroball. It’s comfortable and it holds up well, despite looking like the sort of grip that will break down over time, and get the shiny, oily feel of disintegrating rubber.
Today the S-Gel is a full pen lineup but at launch, in January 2020, it was just two sizes and two colors. At the same time Sharpie launched a rollerball pen — the Roller Pen — that hasn’t seen anywhere near the same success.
So What Happened?
So what caused the S-Gel, with its relatively standard black ink and blue ink in 0.5 mm and 0.7 mm sizes to become the most popular Sharpie pen and perhaps the best selling new gel ink pen in years? Online reviews point to appreciate for the pen as a good writer and a useful office pen, but few highlight it as being one of the most exception products of 2020.
The obvious factor we’ve yet to discuss it the strength of the Sharpie brand. Perhaps simply through brand recognition and reach of its distribution network (via its parent company Newell Brands, owners of Waterman, PaperMate, Rotring, and others) the Sharpie S-Gel was able to brute-force its way into strong place in the market for gel ink pens.
What About The Roller Pen?
So why did the same not happen with the Roller Pen? It’s hard to say, but it’s clear from trends of the past 5+ years that the gel pen has been overtaking the rollerball in the US. Customer preference is a strong thing, and the shift to retractable gel pens from capped rollerballs seems to be undeniable. Perhaps larger market forces made the success of the S-Gel likely and the lack of success of the Roller Pen inevitable?
Playing The Game Well
The Sharpie marketing engine seems to be in full force, with the S-Gel ranking for multiple top spots on Amazon for generic terms like “gel pen” and even winning the top result for “pens.” This is combined with aggressive advertising on Amazon search placements for pen-related terms as well as placement in almost all the big box office stores in the US.
So, yes, the Sharpie S-Gel is a good pen and far be it from us to say it’s not deserving of its success, but seeing one pen explode in popularity while so many other new products remain obscure or see just middling success certainly raised questions with anyone who watches the pen market.