Gel pens offer a very satisfying writing experience because they write so smoothly across the page, it’s no surprise they’ve been a writer’s favorite for decades. We tested over a dozen sizes and designs to determine the best gel pen for various writing jobs.
Our top pick is the Pentel – EnerGel Pearl in .7 mm size because it was comfortable to grip and offered the smoothest writing experience. We like the Zebra – Sarasa Mark On if you like precise, thin lines that don’t skip on the page. The Zebra – Sarasa Dry is our pick for left-handed writers because it dries fast and hardly smudges. If you don’t like the commitment of ink, but like writing with gel pens, we recommend the Pilot – FriXion Synergy Clicker because it’s comfortable and erases cleanly.
The tip thickness or size of a pen is an essential feature because it affects the user experience, handwriting style, and quick drying time. The gel pens we tested come in various sizes ranging from 0.28 to 1 millimeter thick. Thickness also affects the amount of ink that comes out of the pen. We experienced that the thinner pen sizes produced thinner lines and less ink, which made them dry more quickly. However, the thickness also affected the darkness and vibrancy of the colors.
Comfort / Design
The design of a pen affects how comfortable it is to hold for short or extended periods. Keep in mind that how someone holds their writing utensil also affects their comfort level. With this in mind, comfort level could completely depend on each person, but certain designs help support your fingers and hands during writing.
For example, some pens have silicone or rubber bands to contour to your grip. Pens with rubber or silicone grips were easier to use because they felt more secure in our hands. A well-balanced pen also alleviates muscle cramping, or lighter pens could help with extended periods of writing. Try to find pens with bodies that are appropriate for the size of your hands; if you have bigger hands, it will be difficult to continuously grip a super slim pen and vice versa.
If you’re a lefty or have quirky-styled penmanship that ends up in lots of smudges, having a gel pen that is made for quick-drying will help with any potential ink accidents. Gel pens can be a little tricky with drying time because they’re often more watery; this also depends on the thickness of the tip and the amount of ink that comes out. However, there are now gel pen brands that formulate an ink with faster drying times and they actually work!
Gel pens also have other features to look for, like color options, erasability, or being able to buy refills. Different colors are important for people who like different options (or use color to organize). If the permanence of pens troubles you, there are also erasable gel pens with ink removable with friction and heat. Lastly, if you want to produce less waste, try to find a pen that you can refill in the future.
How we selected
We selected 19 gel pens from smaller and well-known brands, with varying line thicknesses, designs, and other features like erasability and the option to refill the ink. These gel pens are all under $8 per piece, with many pens under $5.
How we tested
We tested each pen over two months on different paper and materials, in varying lengths (like to-do’s, journals, instructions, and letters), and evaluated each pen’s user experience with different writers. During these tests, writers noted each pen’s comfort level, ink smudge tests, and smoothness.
Bleeding, feathering, and smudge tests
For each pen, we performed a smudge test to see how long the ink takes to dry. We used a timeline from 0-30 seconds. Pens ranked between 0-10 depending on their drying time (instantaneous is 10/10 and longer than 30 seconds is 0/10). We also observed if there was any feathering or bleeding on the paper during these tests.
We tested each pen on different writers and noted the comfort level based on their design.
(need photos of different hands holding pens?)
We tested the gel pens on different paper types to see how smooth each pen wrote on each surface. We noted if there was any friction or skipping by both writing words and using lines across the page. Pens that moved effortlessly while writing were ranked 10/10, while some pens like the Muji gel pen had too much friction and some skipping was ranked 2/10.
Pentel - EnerGel Pearl Gel Pen 0.7 mm
The Pentel – EnerGel Pearl was a top pick for us because it glides effortlessly across the page, has a comfortable grip design, and has an effortless retractable clicker. We liked our writing experience with this pen because it writes smoothly with thick dark ink on different paper surfaces.
Compared to other thicker gel pens, the Pentel – EnerGel Pearl ink dries fairly quickly, meaning there is less potential for smudging. There was also no amount of feathering we experienced while writing with this pen, so all of our notations were precise and clear. We also like that you can see how much ink is left through the transparent body and refill this pen when it runs out of ink. We recommend this pen to anyone who wants a comfortable gel pen that writes smoothly and dries fast.
Zebra - Sarasa Mark On Gel Pen 0.4 mm
The Zebra – Sarasa Mark On Gel Pen is our runner-up because its rubber grip makes it comfortable to use for long periods, dries very quickly, and writes smoothly for a thinner tip size. A retractable top button makes this pen easy to use, and a large clip lets you attach this to journals, pockets, or papers.
It’s made with water-resistant ink that is quick to dry and holds up against accidental spills. This pen is great to use if you are a student and have lots of notations and highlighting needed because the pen dries so fast. The Zebra – Sarasa Mark On Gel Pen comes in black, blue, and red colors, is easy to refill, and is very affordable at around $2 per pen.
Zebra - Sarasa Dry Gel Pen 0.5 mm
The Zebra – Sarasa Dry gel pen is our favorite for left-handers or someone who wants clean, precise lines with no room for smudging. One simple detail we like about this pen is the easy retractable clicker that’s also a clip. Even though there’s a slight friction when writing, there was no puddling or feathering. This is a retractable pen with a stiff clip, opaque body, and rubber grip. It’s very comfortable to hold when writing and balanced well. This pen is helpful if you’re lefty because it dries faster than other gel pens.
Pilot - FriXion Ball Clicker Erasable 0.5 mm
If you are anxious about using permanent gel pens, then the Pilot – FriXion Ball Clicker is our favorite erasable gel pen. This pen is made with thermosensitive ink that allows you to remove mistakes cleanly by using its included eraser. The rubber grip also makes it comfortable, and the retractable clip makes it easy to use. We noticed some friction on the pen’s tip while writing, but our writing experience was still fairly smooth.
Compared to other gel pens we tested, the ink from both of the FriXion series came out lighter than permanent inks, so this is something that you should take into account. However, we liked that the ink reserve was much larger than the Pilot – FriXion Ball Slim pen and lasted longer before needing to be replaced.Read more…
One thing to keep in mind when using thermosensitive inks is that they will disappear at temperatures above 140 ℉, so try to keep them away from heat. We didn’t have much issue with this, but the ink should reappear below 14 F in a freezer. Regardless of these potential heat issues, we tend to grab this pen daily due to its clean erasability.
Paper Mate - InkJoy Gel Pen 0.7 mm
The Paper Mate – InkJoy is a staple for many writers because you can find it in many local stores like Staples or Target, it’s affordable, and the writing experience is as expected (smooth and easy). While testing the InkJoy, we found that this gel pen writes smoothly and flows easily across various paper types.
Our main issue was the comfort level of the grip. The body is made with a rubberized material to help grip the pen easier; however, we found that the material felt too hard against our fingers and had the beginnings of calluses after writing with the pen. And while it is affordable, Paper Mate does not offer refills for purchase, so you will need to buy new pens when they run out.
Pilot - FriXion Ball Slim Gel Pen 0.38 mm
We use the Pilot – FriXion Ball Slim gel pen often because you get the confidence of using a pen but the comfort of using an eraser if you make a mistake. The FriXion Ball Slim is a thinner cousin of the FriXion Ball Clicker and works similarly using thermosensitive ink that disappears with the friction of the eraser.
If you’ve got smaller hands or want a lightweight gel pen, the FriXion Ball Slim is a good option because it only weighs .25 oz. However, if you’ve got larger hands, using a super slim pen might be difficult for extended notetaking. Also, remember that it also has a smaller amount of ink; therefore, you will need to refill it more often than larger pens.Read more…
Since the ink is thermosensitive, you shouldn’t leave papers written with the FriXion Ball Slim in the heat because it will disappear. However, if you leave the paper in the freezer for ten minutes, it should reappear. Its ultra-thin tip measures .38 mm, and combined with the thermosensitive ink; you will find it’s lighter than other gel pens. This pen also comes in an array of colors, which makes it so much fun to use.
Pilot - G2 Gel Pen 0.38 mm
The Pilot – G2 .38 mm is the thinnest version of this Pilot series and has the same retractable clicker design with a durable clip, transparent body, and rubber grip. We’ve used Pilot – G2 gel pens for years, but it wasn’t until recently we knew about this thin size because it’s not as readily available as the other sizes (.5, .7, or 1 mm).
What we like about this pen is that it dries fairly quicker than other Pilot – G2 gel pens, so there’s less opportunity for smudging. Unlike the other Pilot – G2 gel pen sizes, this pen doesn’t have any noise while writing, so it’s a more pleasant writing experience. When you’re writing, there is minimal friction from the ball tip on the paper’s surface, so it’s also smoother than other Pilot – G2 pens, and we would recommend this size if you want to use one from this series.
Pilot - G2 Gel Pen 0.5 mm
The Pilot – G2 .5 mm gel pen used to be our staple pen growing up because it was easily accessible, affordable, and had a thin sharp tip. After testing, we found that the G2 .5 mm didn’t hold up to other similarly sized gel pens. The G2 .5 mm didn’t glide as smoothly on paper as other brands like Pentel – EnerGel Pearl, and we noticed some friction during writing. We heard a weird clicking noise on the paper as we were writing. We deduced this was the ball tip moving around and producing ink.
We also didn’t like slight smudging due to the longer drying period with the G2 ink. We wouldn’t recommend this pen for lefties because it might be messier while writing or taking notes. However, we do like that it’s affordable and easy to refill.
Zebra - Sarasa Clip Gel Pen 0.4 mm
The Sarasa Clip gel pen is another great pen from Zebra because it comes in multiple colors and sizes and offers a very smooth writing experience. Not that this pen takes about 30 seconds to completely dry, so it’s not a good pen for left handers.
While it takes longer to dry than other Zebra gel pens we tested, we still like using this pen because the lines are super crisp, and there isn’t any feathering or bleeding. This retractable pen is made with a comfortable rubber grip and transparent body that lets you see when it needs to be replaced. It also has a strong clip that attaches to many surfaces.
Uni-ball - Signo RT1 UMN-155 Gel Pen 0.28 mm
The Uni-ball – Signo RT1 UMN-155 has a minimalist design with a comfortable rubber grip near the tip. We like writing with this pen because of the rounded and edgeless tip; this makes writing more comfortable when you grip the pen. Even though it takes about half a minute to fully dry, there isn’t too much smudging due to the thin tip and less amount of ink produced. This is optimum gel pen if you prefer precise, thin lines for notes or other writing jobs where you need to write smaller.
Uni - Style Fit Single Color Slim Gel Pen 0.28 mm
Uni – Style Fit Single Color Slim Gel Pen 0.28 mmThe Uni – Style Fit Single Color Slim gel pen is great for those who prefer very thin and precise lines and different colors besides your typical black, red, and blue inks. Like the Pilot – FriXion Ball Slim, this pen comes in a very thin and lightweight body. It has a minimal retractable design with a clear top portion of a body to see the ink levels.
Our writing experience with this pen was pleasant. This gel pen is a comfortable option if you’ve got smaller hands. While we like that it’s super compact and small, it may be difficult to continuously write with if you have larger-sized hands because its thinner width may be harder to grip. Even though it’s one of the thinnest tip sizes we tested, it wrote smoothly without skipping. Unfortunately, the ink does take about 30 seconds to dry completely.
Pilot - G2 Gel Pen 0.7 mm
Our experience with the Pilot – G2 .7 mm gel pen was similar to the .5 mm, where there was some friction when writing and a scratching noise as we wrote on the paper. Also similar is the dry time–it took longer than other gel pens and caused smudging if we moved too quickly or highlighted the notes too fast.
Regarding comfort level, it’s similar to the Pilot – G2 .38 mm pen and was comfortable to use and grip while writing. The retractable clicker is durable, and the clip is sturdy enough to attach to a binder without breaking. We also like that you can find these pens in everyday stores like Target or Staples, and whenever you run out of ink, you can buy refills.
Pilot - G2 Gel Pen 1.0 mm
This is the largest size of the Pilot – G2 gel pens at 1 mm thick, and it’s also the smoothest to write with on paper. It’s got the same body as the other sizes–a retractable pen with a clicker on top, curved clip, transparent body, and rubber grip with rounded edges. We all love the Pilot – G2 pens bodies because they’re comfortable to hold.
Due to the thicker tip, the 1 mm gel pen glides effortlessly without friction or skipping. However, we noticed pooling as we stopped on each word and smudging if we wrote too quickly. There was also visible feathering around each of the letters. Due to this messiness, this is our least favorite Pilot – G2 gel pen.
Uni-ball - Signo 207 Gel Pen 0.7 mm (not recommended)
Testing the Uni-ball – Signo 207 Retractable was an average experience using a gel pen because it skipped a few times when we first started writing and eventually smoothed out later on, but it was uncomfortable to use for long periods.
This retractable pen has a transparent body and a rigid rubber grip with small bumps at the top portion of the body. We assume these bumps are supposed to help with better grip; however, it was too hard against our hands. The rubber also felt slightly slippery compared to other brands with rubberized grips like Pentel gel pens. Even though the ink flowed well, we wouldn’t recommend this pen.
Sakura - Gelly Roll Classic Gel Pen 0.6 mm (not recommended)
It’s no wonder that Sakura is a famous brand because they were the ones that created the first gel pen back in the 1980s. We’ve used Sakura – Gelly Roll Classic gel pens since grade school, and the experience is similar to this day. They come in various colors and textures (like solid or glitter colors) and have a simple cap cover with a transparent body.Read more…
The .6 mm tip size glides effortlessly across the paper and shows up easily on colored paper. There is a lot of smudging since the ink takes a while to dry and we wouldn’t recommend it for lefties. While we like the transparent body to see how much ink is left, we don’t like the thin clip attached to the cap because you can’t attach it to more than a few papers. Lastly, holding onto this pen wasn’t entirely comfortable due to the sharp edge on the body. This is a classic gel pen, but we like other gel pens better at the same price point and quality.
Uni-ball - Signo 207 Bold Gel Pen 1.0 mm (not recommended)
We didn’t like using the Uni-ball – Signo 207 RT gel pen because it had an uncomfortable grip and an inconsistent writing experience. Not only did this pen have friction when writing, but it also feathered on the page, making our writing look messy.
Its body is similar to the Uni-ball – Signo 207 with a semi-transparent body, retractable button, and bumpy grip–we didn’t like holding this pen. We wouldn’t recommend this pen because it was uncomfortable, skipped when writing, and smudged.
Sakura - Gelly Roll Classic Gel Pen 1.0 mm (not recommended)
The white Sakura – Gelly Roll Classic gel pen at 1 mm is another popular pen for writing on colored or black paper. This larger-sized pen glides smoothly across any type of paper; however, there was a lot of feathering and smudging due to the long drying time.
Similar to the other Sakura – Gelly Roll Classic pen in black that we tested, this has a non-refillable, transparent body and cap with a thin clip that’s almost useless. The comfort level is also the same due to the sharp edges near the pen’s tip. We wouldn’t recommend this pen because it made a mess while writing.
Muji - Gel Ink Cap Type Ballpoint Pen 0.38mm (not recommended)
Although the Muji – Gel Ink Cap Type Ballpoint Pen has a large following, we found our writing experience with this pen annoying. One of the most significant issues was the design of the tip. The tip and area to grip the pen are full of sharp corners and edges, making it uncomfortable to hold for any period.
During writing, there was a lot of smudging and puddling from an overabundance of ink coming through the pen. While we liked that writing with the pen provided smooth lines, we couldn’t get passed how difficult it was to continue to write due to the sharp edges and potential mess due to puddling.
MISULOVE - White Gel Pen 0.8 mm (not recommended)
We wouldn’t recommend the MISULOVE – White gel pen if you need a white pen for colored paper or highlight art pieces because there it skipped a lot while writing, smudged when the ink would flow, and it was also uncomfortable to hold.
As we wrote over the paper, we also noticed that the pen would spray over the paper causing tiny white dots and a mess. Lastly, we didn’t like the pen’s design because the cap was very difficult to remove and place back on. This could be a dealbreaker for some writers or artists with grip issues. We wouldn’t recommend this gel pen because it made more of a mess when writing.