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Gel Pens Uncovered: A Comprehensive Guide for Enthusiasts

From writing to drawing, gel pens offer versatility with their smooth, vibrant ink. But with so many options, how do you choose the right gel pen? Our guide cuts through the clutter to highlight what makes gel pens a preferred choice for many and how to select one that meets your specific needs.

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Sophia Le

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Hand using a FriXion Clicker Erasable Gel Pen to jot down goals and plans in a bullet journal, showcasing the pen's smooth ink and precision.

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Key Takeaways

  • Gel pens use a unique ink formula that combines water-based ink and powdered pigments to provide a smooth and vivid writing experience, unlike the oil-based inks of ballpoint pens.

  • The first gel pen was introduced in 1984; they have since carved a niche for their rich colour saturation, water resistance, and versatility, being preferred in educational, professional, and artistic settings.

  • Gel pens cater to a wide variety of needs and preferences, with specific types designed for artistic work, children, sketching, everyday use, and even sustainable options through refillable pens.

What Are Gel Pens: Unveiling Their Unique Composition

At first glance, a gel ink pen might not seem different from any other pen. Yet, its unique ink composition is where the wonder truly resides. Gel ink is a fusion of water-based ink and powdered pigments, which results in a smooth and vibrant writing experience. This ink formula sets gel pens apart from their counterparts, offering an unrivalled richness of colours that liquid ink pens may not provide.

Ballpoint pens use viscous, oil-based inks, which is in contrast to the water-based inks used in fountain pens. This difference affects the way the ink flows and dries on paper. While ballpoint inks are known for their longevity, the writing experience can be somewhat rigid. Conversely, gel ink glides effortlessly from the pen’s tip, ensuring a delightful writing session akin to using a rollerball pen, with the bonus of a broader spectrum of colours.

A Brief History of Gel Pens

So, when and where were gel pens invented? The first gel pen was introduced by the Sakura Color Products Corporation of Osaka, Japan, in 1984. The American market got its first taste of gel pens in the late 1980s. The success of these pens is due to their vibrant hues, which resonated perfectly with the flamboyant trends of the 1980s..

With time, gel pens have established a substantial niche in the world of writing, adored for their water-resistant ink, rich colour saturation, and durability. They offer the practicality of a ballpoint pen and the smooth writing experience of a fountain pen, making them versatile tools used in schools, offices, and by artists.

Find The Best Gel Pen For Your Needs

The beauty of gel pens lies in their diversity. Whether you’re an artist, a student, or just someone who enjoys writing, there’s a gel pen tailored to your needs.

Let’s explore the different types of gel pens designed for specific purposes.

Gel pens for artists

Close-up of a hand writing 'thanks' in cursive on black paper with a Juice Up Metallic Gel Pen, showcasing the pen's vibrant ink and precision for art.For artists, gel pens are an invaluable resource, offering a spectrum of vibrant colours and a smooth flow that's ideal for crafting stunning art pieces. Among the plethora of options, the PILOT Juice Up series commands attention with its sophisticated palette of metallic and pastel colours. Each pen is equipped with a 0.4mm synergy tip, designed for fine work and ensuring unparalleled precision, making it a preferred choice for creatives aiming to infuse their artwork with delicate details and vivid hues.

In addition to the Juice Up series, PILOT's FriXion gel pens introduce a level of flexibility and innovation that artists cherish. These erasable gel pens are a game-changer, allowing artists to sketch without fear of making irreversible mistakes. The ability to erase and make corrections easily supports a dynamic creative process, enabling adjustments and refinements until the piece reaches perfection. 

Gel pens for sketching and drafting

An array of FriXion Ball Erasable Gel Pens laid across a technical drawing, illustrating their precision and suitability for sketching and drafting tasks.Consistent bold lines are key for sketching and drafting, and that’s where gel pens shine. Their gel ink formula ensures a smooth flow, creating lines that are thick and vivid. The seamless writing experience also results in less smudging, which is why architects, graphic artists, drafters, and engineers often favour gel pens for their precision and ease of use.

FriXion Ball Erasable Gel Pen, known for their flawless accuracy and erasable ink, are an excellent choice for sketching and drafting. The variety of tip sizes caters to different line thicknesses, providing the control artists need for their work. Moreover, FriXion pens are particularly loved by drafters and engineers because they allow for easy marking up of drawings and plans. Mistakes or changes can be effortlessly rubbed away, which is a significant advantage in professional settings where precision is paramount.

Gel pens for kids

Child drawing a sun with PILOT’s FriXion Stick Erasable Gel Pen, surrounded by a colourful array of pens, ideal for kids' creative projectsWhen it comes to kids, gel pens are a fun and safe option. Their bright shades and thin tips make writing and colouring an enjoyable activity. The easy flow of gel ink also minimises the pressure kids need to apply, reducing the risk of hand cramps.

PILOT’s FriXion Stick Erasable Gel Pens are an excellent pick for children because:

The smooth ink flow ensures a seamless experience, even for left-handers.

Gel pens for writing and everyday use 

Hand holding a FriXion Clicker Erasable Gel Pen, writing a to-do list in a notebook, a practical tool for organised and error-free everyday use.For everyday use, you want a pen that provides a comfortable and smooth writing experience. Gel pens, with their easy ink flow and vibrant colours, are a perfect fit. Whether you’re jotting down grocery lists or taking notes at a meeting, a gel pen can make the mundane task of writing an enjoyable one.

For daily tasks, the FriXion Clicker Erasable Gel Pen is a standout. Its retractable design and ergonomic grip make it a practical choice for quick notes and edits. The innovative erasable ink allows for easy do-overs, making it a reliable tool for everyday writing.


FriXion Clicker Erasable Gel Pen separated into four pieces with four boxes of FriXion Erasable Gel Ink Refills for Ball, Pro & Clickers in green, red, black and blue, spread out on a desk.In this era of conscious consumption, sustainability is a key factor in choosing a pen. Fortunately, some gel pens, including PILOT’s FriXion, are refillable, reducing waste and promoting responsible consumption.

These environmentally friendly pens offer the following benefits:

  • Maintain the same smooth ink flow, accuracy, and colour range

  • Guarantee that your writing quality remains uncompromised

  • Contribute positively to the environment

Gel vs. Ballpoint Pen

Comparison between gel pen and ballpoint pen

Despite their similar appearances, gel pens and ballpoint pens provide unique writing experiences because of their different ink compositions. Gel pens, with their water-based gel ink, offer a smoother and more vivid writing experience compared to ballpoint pens. However, this can also mean gel pens struggle on certain surfaces where ballpoint pens excel.

Ballpoint pens use viscous, oil-based ballpoint ink that works well on low-quality papers with minimal bleed-through. They are also well-suited for writing on slick surfaces and with carbonless copy paper due to their viscous ink. On the other hand, gel pens, with their water-based gel ink, provide a smoother writing experience but may not be suitable for all surfaces. When it comes to choosing between ballpoint and gel pens, or even considering rollerball pens, it’s essential to consider the type of surface you’ll be writing on and your personal preferences, as well as the properties of oil-based ink.

In conclusion, although gel pens provide a smoother and brighter writing experience, ballpoint pens outshine in terms of adaptability and reliability. It’s all about the right tool for the right task.

Frequently Asked Questions

Even the most ardent gel pen enthusiasts might have a question or two about their favourite writing instrument. Here, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about gel pens.

How to revive gel pens?

A regular gel pen that has stopped working can often be revived with a little bit of care. The recommended method is to:

  1. Remove the refill

  2. Soak the lower half in hot water (below boiling point) for at least 15 minutes

  3. If there is a clump of old ink on the writing tip that does not dissolve in water, it can be removed with an alcohol pad or wipe.

But, if you're trying to revive a FriXion Gel Pen, they require a slightly different approach due to their thermo-sensitive ink. Here's what you can try:

For a FriXion pen that seems faded or not writing:

Heat exposure: The ink disappears with heat, so the opposite might revive it. Briefly hold the pen tip (not directly on the plastic) with a blow dryer on low heat for a few seconds. Alternatively, you can leave the pen in a warm (not hot) car for a short time. Be careful not to overheat it, as this can permanently damage the ink.

Freezer therapy: If the pen has been exposed to excessive heat, the ink might have become transparent. Placing the pen (refill included) in a freezer for 2 hours can bring the ink back to its visible state. Let it thaw naturally at room temperature for 30 minutes before trying to write with it.

How to preserve ink and save it from drying?

A few simple tips can make preserving gel pen ink a breeze. Keeping gel pens stored horizontally or slightly tilted with the tip pointing downwards can help avoid air bubbles and sustain consistent ink flow. Also, remember to recap your pens immediately after use to prevent the point from drying out.

How to remove gel pen stains?

Gel pen stains on clothing can be tricky but not impossible to remove. You can use solvents like rubbing alcohol, hairspray, or hand sanitiser to pre-treat the stain before laundering. Just remember to check for colourfastness on an inconspicuous area of the garment before proceeding.

For FriXion gel pen stains, the unique thermo-sensitive ink requires a different approach. Gently apply heat to the stained area using a hair dryer on a low setting for a few seconds to make the ink disappear. If the stain persists, a piece of cloth dampened with rubbing alcohol can be used to dab at the stain until it lifts. Always test the fabric for colourfastness before attempting to remove the stain.

How to prevent gel pens from bleeding through paper?

Preventing gel pens from bleeding through paper largely depends on the quality of the paper. Thicker, higher-quality paper tends to reduce bleed-through. However, you can also prevent bleeding by using lighter pressure while writing and allowing the ink to dry before moving your hand or closing your notebook.

What is the best surface to write on with gel pens?

Although gel pens can write on multiple surfaces, they showcase their best performance on regular, absorbent paper where their ink dries quickly. The water-based gel ink adheres easily to paper fibres, resulting in a smooth and vivid writing experience. However, they might struggle on non-absorbent or glossy surfaces, where oil-based inks of ballpoint pens are more suitable.

What is a gel pen used for?

A gel pen is used for a variety of writing tasks, such as daily use, journaling, planning, study notes, and more, due to its smooth ink and availability of colours. It is also suitable for illustration because its thick and opaque ink shows up clearly on slick surfaces.

Are gel pens better for writing?

Yes, gel pens are a great option for precise and neat writing, and their variety of tip sizes makes them beneficial for art and creative tasks. They also require very little pressure to write, making them comfortable to use.


From artists to everyday writers, gel pens have carved out a significant place in the world of writing instruments. With their unique ink formula, vibrant colours, and smooth flow, gel pens offer a writing experience that is both pleasurable and versatile. However, like any tool, knowing when and where to use them can enhance their benefits.

Whether you’re exploring your artistic side, jotting down notes, or teaching your child to write, there’s a gel pen out there for you. So, why not explore the world of gel pens and experience their magic first-hand?

About Author

Sophia Le

Resident Fountain Pen Fanatic at Pilot Pen Australia.
Capless Collector. Staffy Lover. Casual Gamer and Maker.
Currently a Citizen of Super Earth after vacationing in Baldur’s Gate and Hyrule.

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