Gel pens were once for the middle-school note-writing crowd, or for collegiates who liked to take color-coded notes, but they are now happily embraced by adult colorists for their coloring books and other coloring projects.
Gel pens are somewhat unique in the colored writing/coloring tool kit. First, they are colored inks. Second, most are water-based, which means that they are non-toxic and they are not too difficult to wash out of clothing. Third, they are available with a variety of tips ranging from very fine to moderately broad-tipped. However, the tips are generally more durable than the felt tips found on markers and marker brushes because they are ballpoints, much like the ballpoint pens sold for general writing.
Which is the Best Gel Pen for Adult Coloring?
As with all art supplies, the best gel pen for adult coloring somewhat depends on your personal preference. Our pick, for all-around versatility and usability as an artist’s tool is Colorit. Colorit is affordably priced and has an excellent case so you are not worried about the caps coming off your pens, plus they name and number their colors so it is easy to order refills. They are a wet gel pen, great for blending.
For no-smear writing and drawing, our pick is the Pentel Energel RTX. They advertise that their pens dry so quickly that even left-handers, who notoriously must rest their hand over their writing, will not have trouble with smearing. The colors are great, the prices are good, and Pentel has a long-standing reputation for putting out good art supplies.
For an in-between gel pen, especially for users who might want them for color-coded notes or quick sketching, we like Papermate – a well-known name in office supplies. Although they might not last as long as a capped pen, they will travel better. They are sufficiently moist for a minute or so to allow blending but will dry quickly enough that you won’t be stuck at your seat blowing on your notes after the release bell has rung.
Factors that go into selecting the best gel pen for you include point size, capped or retractable, single-use or refillable, availability, and cost. So, with no more ado, let’s dive into some gel pen comparisons.
Capped pens have the advantage that they include a cap over the ballpoint. This will help keep the pens fresh. Like felt-tipped pens, gel pens can dry out quickly if they do not receive good care – or sometimes even if they do.
Transmit is an economical capped pen. A package of 100 Tanmit gel pens will average a little over $20. Users report some difficulty with the caps and some repetition of colors within a set. As has been noted when reviewing marking pens, some repetition of color is not a bad thing since it will sometimes enable completing a project. The colors are not labeled with names or numbers, and the refill colors do not always match the original. With that said, most users report good color coverage and a good flow of ink.
Gelly Roll is the original Japanese gel pen brand. At an average of $25 for 24 or 25 pens, they are quite a bit pricier than Tanmit. Reviewers indicate that they are very fine point and go on very wet. The wet colors tend to be darker than the colors when dry. Purchasers of the metallic colors indicated some disappointment with the dry color results, noting that there is not a lot of difference between the gold and the silver colors and that some of the metallics tend to be uniform in color, rather than varied. With that said, the wet colors are good for blending – don’t drag your hand or your sleeve across these! They do very well for fine work but are tedious for larger areas. Gelly Roll does not have refills.
Colorit gel pens received the “Amazon’s Choice” accolade. On cost, they are only moderately more expensive than Tanmit, averaging between $22 and $25 for a set of 96 pens. A bonus is that they come in a handsome reusable zipper package for easy storage. Users are giving these pens rave reviews, saying that they have a smooth flow, rarely skip, and have great color. More than that, remarks indicate that the pens are not only labeled with color names, but they also have the color numbers engraved, making it easy to refill used or missing colors. BUT…nothing is perfect. Among the hundreds of positive reviews, there are some negative ones. Sometimes the colors skip. There is some inconsistency in quality, but overall, they seem to be a good buy.
As a rule, Castle Art produces mid-range art supplies, with a range of quality/quantity choices within their products. Their gel pens are no exception. Ranging from around $20 for a no-frills package of 100 pens to $25 for a set of 160 pens packaged in a nice case, they are a good buy. The pens are described as going on smooth, with good flow. The case holds the pens securely and folds out so you can see all the colors at once. It even includes a pocket for holding color swatches and coloring pages. You can get refills for this set, but one user noted that it might be cheaper to purchase new pens.
Arteza produces a broad range of student art supplies, so it is no surprise that they have a handle on doing it right. The 160 sets of Arteza gel pens are available for around $26, including a state-of-the-art carrying case, and practice coloring sheets. The pens are labeled with both the name of the color and the number, making it easy to order refills. The case is equipped with individual holders making it easy to sort your pens by hue and to keep them secure so they do not bump against each other when moving them from one place to another.
Learn the best way to store your gel pens!
Retractable pens have the advantage of having one-handed action to protect the tips. They have the disadvantage of not being quite as good at keeping the ink from drying out. With that said, you should always retract your gel pens between uses, and possibly keep them in a resealable container to help prevent drying action.
Thick barreled click pens are frequently used for office work or journaling, but also available in a limited number of colors for coloring pages or color-coded notes. The thicker barrels are more comfortable for some people to use (some of the office-quality barrels have squishy grip guards). Since they are click pens, there is no cap to lose creating a mess in a purse or backpack. Refills are available. Black or blue pens can be ordered in packs for convenience and economy. A package of six colored pens will average between $6 to $12.00, depending on whether you can catch them on sale. Uniball pens flow well, the color is bright, and has good coverage. You can obtain the pens in a range of nib thicknesses if ordering from the Uniball website.
A reliable, sturdy click pen is available in blue, black, or assorted colors. Inkjoy is their colored pen brand. A set of 14 colored pens will run at an average of $20 to $25.00 – not what you would call cheap. Like most Papermate products, however, the Inkjoy pens roll smoothly, go on moderately wet but dry quickly, and the chubby barrels are lightly textured for a comfortable grip. Even the yellow, which is frequently one of the first colors in any set to dry up, seems to have good staying power. Ink levels are visible through a window in the barrel.
The average cost for a set of 14 Tul gel pens will be between $20 to $25.00 per pack. These are distinctive pens with a smoky-clear barrel, chrome bright metal tip sheaths, bottom, and top color bands that match the color of the ink, and rubber grips for writing comfort. The ink level is visible through the barrel. They seem to be a reliable pen with good color, and are, in the words of one gel pen user, “good and juicy.” This means that on some surfaces, they might have some drying problems, and you certainly need to give some air-drying time before putting your work away or closing your journal. It also means that if you are blending colors, you will have a little longer time to work with them. Some users report that the pens seem “scratchy” when compared to similar gel pens.
Pentel has long been a reliable brand for art supplies, especially for students. Their Energel retractable pens are not an exception. A pack of 12 runs between $16.00 and $20.00. This makes them competitively priced with other retractable gel pens. Energel RTX pens are advertised as being unusually quick to dry, so do not expect to do any blending with these. However, if you are tired of accidentally smearing your work, these are the pens for you. Quick-drying inks such as these are perfect for cross-hatching, journaling, or lettering art where blending is not desirable. The colored pens are also available in packs of two, making color replacement easy, but refills are also available.
Gel pens, by their very nature, are a liquid medium. That means that almost all of them will smear. To prevent this problem, you have some options. The first is to start at the upper corner on the opposite side from your dominant hand on all work. This means that you will not be pulling your hand, arm, or sleeve across completed sections of your page.
Unfortunately, that does not work for writing, nor will it work for some types of artwork. For mandalas, portraits, or similar works, start in the middle of the work, and turn the page so that you are not dragging anything over completed sections. Where completing a background is desirable before continuing with the foreground, allow the ink to dry before continuing. Also, if you want to write or draw over a section of ink that you do not want to blend, allow the ink to dry. Drying times will vary by brand and thickness of application.
You can also use a painterly method of holding your pen, i.e. hold it like a paintbrush, to keep your hand or arm completely off your work surface. As always, colorists, happy coloring. May your world be bright and cheerful with a pencil, crayon, paint, or pen.
Frequently Asked Questions
What might be some specific uses of gel pens?
Believe it or not, one good use of a gel pen is to grade papers. It avoids what one teacher called “bleeding all over the page” with red ink because a set of gellies gives you an option to use green for grammar corrections, or perhaps magenta for spelling errors, reserving the dreaded red ink for wrong answers.
Can you color in coloring books with gel pens?
You certainly can. What is more, they tend to have less bleed-through than felt-tip pens. The downside to gel pens is that they are ballpoint pens and tend to look scratchy over large surfaces. Of course, you can make this work for you by using directional coloring or hatching – at which they excel. With that said, they are superb for coloring fine, delicate patterns where even fine-tipped felt pens do not work well.
Do gel pens have an advantage over pencils?
It would be best to say that they have differences. They are certainly brighter than pencils, and they do not require sharpening to retain their points. They will take a little more abuse to the points than felt tip pens, and they are easier to control than a paintbrush. On the flip side of that, they can dry up easily, they can run out of ink, and they are not the least expensive coloring medium possible. Nor are they the most expensive.
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