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Pens and Pencils | Reviews and Data

The Best Gel Pens of November 2019

Pentel Energel

There are few writing experiences that are more satisfying than a great gel pen. The right gel pen is buttery smooth, has an ink color that really pops, and is a pleasure to write with on all sorts of different paper. Gel pens are truly one of the best and most versatile ways to write on almost all paper types.

Why Gel Pens?

Gel pens are useful for a number of reasons. As a type of rollerball ink, a gel pen is super smooth and a great writer on most types of paper. Gel ink also has the ability to carry lots of pigment or dye which allows not just for bright colors but special writing, like metallic colors and sparkles. This means gel pen are great not just for writing, but also for drawing and other art uses. You might not be in the market for a sparkle pen but the gel ink type is also quick-drying, great for left-handed people, and comes in most popular pen refill sizes.

Gel pens are not without their downsides though. A popular complaint with gel pens is that they run out quickly. This is because they put a lot of ink down on the page, which means they inevitably won’t last as long as a ballpoint pen. This means gel pens are relatively expensive compared to ballpoints and other pen types (even hybrids). Some gel pens are prone to smearing, especially on coated paper, like a Rhodia, which is why many lefties prefer quick-drying gel inks, like the Zebra Sarasa Dry and Pentel Energel.

Pentel Energel Infree

The Pentel Energel line is consistently a top pick with gel pen fans thanks to the smooth writing and quick drying times. The most popular pen in the line with true fans is the excellent Energel-X, which is cheap and easy to find. While it’s a fine pen, it’s been upgraded in the Energel Infree. The Infree is the same pen — complete with the gel ink and oversized button on the top — but it has a clear body, metal clip, and cool silver grip. The Infree also sold in limited edition colors which really showed off what Pentel can do with their gel technology.

But, don’t worry, if you can’t find the Infree the Energel-X is always available! If you want a metal, executive version of this pen then you want the Philography (aka Energel Style in the US).

Zebra Sarasa SE vs Sarasa Dry
Sarasa Dry and Sarasa SE

Zebra Sarasa Dry

The entire Sarasa line of gel pens is excellent, but the Sarasa Dry gel pen is the best of the bunch. It features a super-quick drying ink that is a great option for lefties, just like the Energel (but possibly better). Zebra claims the ink dries 85% faster than a traditional ink, and while that’s hard to verify there is no denying that this ink is top-notch.

The Sarasa Dry also has a great looking body, which styling that is cooler than the typical office pen. It also has the Sarasa’s spring-loaded clip, which is functional and fun to play with. The Sarasa Dry is sold in both a 0.4 mm and 0.5 mm sizes. There isn’t a huge difference between the two, but if you want quick dry times then you definitely want a smaller writing tip, not a full 0.7 mm or 1.0 mm.

The Sarasa Dry is a Japanese pen, but it’s sold as the Sarasa SE in the United States. The two have the same great ink, so you are covered there. The SE has an incredible sneaker grip which is super comfortable, but the overall styling of the pen isn’t quite as cool as the Dry’s.

Pilot Juice Up

Pilot used to be the king of the gel pens with its G2, but times have moved on and the G2 has stayed the same. Luckily Pilot has made advances as well, with the Juice, and then the Juice Up pens. The Juice Up is the way to go these days thanks to a super cool modern styling and a excellent gel ink. While the Juice is still a very good pen, and is available in more colors and sizes than this, the Juice Up remains the premium version and the better pen.

This pen has one of the better 0.4 mm refills sold today and it’s a needletip, so it’s great for journalling in smaller notebooks. There is a 0.3 mm as well and it’s a pretty good pen, but the 0.4 mm is the sweet spot for great writing with this exceptionally cool gel pen.

Before the Juice-Up Pilot had the Juice gel pen, which is a lower-end model. The Juice is a bit cheaper and has more color options, but we’d still recommend the Juice-Up.

Pilot Hi-Tec-C Gel Pen

No list of gel pens would be complete without this classic. The Hi-Tec-C and the Hi-Tec-C Coleto are absolutely phenomenal gel pens with classic styling and great writing performance from 0.25 mm up to 0.5 mm. These pens are so standard and so loved that they may not seem special any more, but they remain must-owns for anyone interested in writing. The best of the line is the 0.4 mm Hi-Tec-C or the two-color Coleto ($2.79) in the classic clear body.

Best Broad Gel Pens

One of the appeals of gel pens is that they can get very broad (1.0 mm+) and very wet. If what you are looking for is the biggest, boldest coloring without spending a ton on a specialty fountain pen, then a broad gel pen is about as good as it gets. Of course, these pens get messy and you’ll have to choose your paper carefully, but they remain incredibly fun to use.

Here are the picks for the best broad gel pens:

Best Erasable Gel Pen

This one is an absolute no-brainer… The best erasable gel pen is the Pilot FriXion Ball Knock ($13.75). Pilot has engineered an excellent erasable gel ink that looks great, writes smoothly, and is fun to use. The only hesitation with this selection is that this pen might belong in the “Best Gel Pens” list not the “Best Erasable Gel Pens” one, but for the sake of accuracy it’ll remain here.

Energel Pro Permanent

Best Permanent Gel Pen

There aren’t a whole lot of options here, but the smart money is on the Pentel Energel Permanent Pro liquid gel pen. This pen writes like a Energel, has fast dry times, but also has a permanent, waterproof, fraud-proof, pigment based ink.

Hopefully you have some thoughts now about what a gel pen is, why you might want one, and what some of the best ones are. This list is updated regularly so make sure to check back for updates when you are in the market for more pens.

Do Gel Pens Write The Best?

You might not have guessed it, but this is a common question. Gel pens are great — they are smooth, fun to use, and they allow for excellent color tons (much better than rollerball or ballpoint). Gel pens also dry quickly, with pens like the Energel and Sarasa Dry being top performers in this area. On the downside, gels pens are not known for their longevity and skipping on cheaper paper can be a real problem.

But are gel pens the best writers? While many people opt for fountain pens and some people love their rollerballs, gel pens are the favorite here at Unsharpen. Their combination of smoothness, great colors, and personality make gel pens the most writer-friendly type of ink sold today.

What Makes Gel Pens Gel?

The ink in gel pens is actually gelled, using a gelling agent. The base of the ink is almost always water and then a dye or pigment is added for color, but there has to be something to thicken the solution. This is the gelling agent, and it was traditionally xanthan gum. Other substances like tragacanth gum and various thickeners are used by different companies, but the inventor of the gel ink, Sakura, and many companies use xanthan gum.

What Are Gel Pens Good At?

Gel pens excel in a few areas, but the main applications where their ink is second to none are art and quick-drying. Gel pens are great at art because they have a huge variety of colors and those colors can really pop, more so than any ink type except for fountain pen ink. Just look above at the Pentel Hybrid Dual Metallic gel pen. Not only does it have metallic color, it also has glitter in the ink. Gel is the only ink that can do that. This sort of versatility makes gel ink unmatched.

And then if you are left-handed or value quick-dry times, gel ink is always a great choice. Oil-based inks and fountain pen inks can sit for 15 or more seconds because drying, something that’s a major problem if you are worried about smudges and smears. Gel ink dries in a snap, especially if you have an ink that is purpose-designed for this.