What Is a Gel Pen? Unleashing Your Inner Artist with a Colorful and Versatile Writing Tool

What Is a Gel Pen? Unleashing Your Inner Artist with a Colorful and Versatile Writing Tool

Gel pens have become the go-to pens in this fast-paced, digital world for when we need to jot down a quick note. They offer a wide range of colors and opacity, which makes them popular both among adults and kids.

But what makes gel pens different from rollerballs and ballpoints? The Truphae team of pen experts will answer all your gel pen-related questions, including how they work, when they were created, and why they hold such appeal to many individuals.

What are Gel Pens and How Do They Work?

Gel pens are popular writing instruments that are very similar to rollerball and ballpoint pens in terms of the mechanism they use to distribute the ink across the page. In fact, gel pens use the same mechanism of a metal ball inside the tip of the pen that gets coated with ink and is transferred onto the paper once you start writing. 

The more you move your pen across the paper, the more the ball rolls and gets coated with ink, which allows you to write smooth and consistent lines.

gel pen

However, the main way gel pens differ from rollerballs and ballpoint pens is the ink viscosity and composition, and we know how much ink can make a difference when writing. 

The ink in gel pens is made of water-based gel, consisting of biopolymers like xanthan gum, that’s combined with powdered pigments to give it its distinctive color. It’s a thick ink that flows smoothly across the pages and writes thick, opaque, and vibrant lines. 

Compared to other types of pens, gel pens offer a wide variety of colors and tip sizes, which makes them perfect for highlighting, journaling, coloring, notetaking, and emphasizing text.

The Difference Between Ballpoint, Gel, and Rollerball Pens

As we’ve already mentioned, ballpoint, rollerball, and gel pens all work in the same way, but use different types of ink.

  • Ballpoint pens use oil-based ink that contains dyes, the chemical compounds that give the ink its specific color. This pen ink dries quickly and it’s very thick, making your writing a bit scratchy on occasion.
  • Rollerball pens use water-based ink that also contains dyes. Compared to ballpoint pen ink, rollerball ink dries more slowly because it’s thinner. This results in richer and more vivid lines since the ink penetrates the deeper layers of the paper.
  • Gel pens use gel-based ink that, once it dries, has the water-resistance properties of ballpoint ink while producing radiant colors similar to rollerball ink. This type of ink produces smooth and effortless lines and comes in a wide variety of colors.

Apart from the type of ink, gel pens can also differ from ballpoint and rollerball pens based on the ballpoint tip size that produces different widths of lines.

The Evolution of Gel Pens

Gel pens are one of the newer inventions in the pen market, considering that the first gel pen was invented in the early 1980s, a decade after rollerballs. The Japanese stationery company Sakura is credited with inventing and patenting the first gel pen in 1982, which resulted in the release of the first two gel pens, the Sakura Ballsign and the Sakura Pigma Micron.

These pens launched the gel pen into mainstream use, which became especially popular after the launch of the Gelly Roll pen by Sakura back in 1988. For over 30 years, more and more companies have embraced this trend, which evolved into creating pens with inks in a wide range of colors and effects, such as glitter, fluorescent, metallic, etc. 

If you’d like to give gel pens a try, check out the Monteverde refills for Parker in purple, black, red, and green, and the Monteverde black refill for Montblanc in the Truphae store.  

Can Lefties Use Gel Ink Pens?

Lefties are often forgotten by the creators of writing equipment, and this was also the case with gel ink pens. When gel pens were initially introduced, the ink was very prone to smudging and smearing due to the longer time it took to dry compared to ballpoint ink. Since a leftie’s hand goes over what they’ve written instantly, these pens were unfit for use by lefties. 

This has all changed as a result of the improved formula of the ink that has significantly decreased the drying time, and some brands have even created gel inks that dry almost as fast as ballpoint ink. However, we recommend reading the reviews and testing out a few pens before purchasing to make sure they’re the perfect fit for you as a leftie.

Teachers, Students, and Gel Ink Pens

When gel ink pens were first introduced, they became a fun way for students to include more color in their homework assignments and tests, especially the glittery ones. 

Gel ink pens nowadays come in different colors and sizes. While you can still find vibrant and fun-colored gel inks, today, most inks come in basic black and blue colors, and point sizes that range from extra fine to medium, making them a perfect tool for writing homework or completing a test. 

Therefore, students can opt for the more classical color when it comes to completing more serious assignments, and leave the fun-colored gel pens for arts and crafts.

Similarly, teachers can also benefit from using gel pens since they have smooth-flowing ink with a crisp line that’s perfect for checking homework and grading papers. And it also lowers the chances of students making additional changes to the teacher’s work once it’s graded since gel pens are water-resistant and durable.


What are the advantages of gel pens?

Gel pens have numerous advantages, among which are their water resistance and greater lifespan of the writing, making them more permanent than ballpoint pen-created writing. 

Moreover, they offer a smooth writing experience and the ink comes in various vivid colors and different effects, such as glitter, fluorescent, and metallic, making them perfect for various purposes and individuals.

What are the disadvantages of gel pens?

The main disadvantage is that they need a bit longer to dry, which can cause accidental smudges. Moreover, since they use thicker ink, they’re a bit more prone to skipping compared to rollerball pens, even when applying just very light pressure. 

So, if you’d like vibrant colors, gel pens are your best option, for the smoothest writing experience, opt for a rollerball, and if you want a pen that dries fast, a ballpoint pen is your safest option.

Why are gel pens so popular?

The popularity of gel pens is a result of a few reasons. Firstly, their bright-colored ink that comes in a wide variety of colors. 

Next, the versatile types of ink, ranging from metallic to glittery, which make them a great addition to an artist’s arsenal. And lastly, documents written with gel pens are age-resistant, water-resistant, and durable. 


With all this information, you’re probably wondering if gel pens are the perfect fit for you. As you can see, due to the versatility of the ink, gel pens are a great option for various types of customers, ranging from crafty kids to serious artists and business professionals.

Depending on what your needs are, using a gel pen can enable you to create long-lasting documents and vivid paintings and offer you a great writing tool for your everyday bullet-journal entries. 

With their smooth and vibrant colors, these pens offer the best of both worlds if you can’t really decide between a rollerball and a ballpoint pen, so having one in your arsenal will definitely improve your writing experience; plus they’re a lot of fun to write with.

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