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Gel, Ballpoint, or Hybrid? Which Ink is Right for You?

3 min read

With so many refill options, you might be a little overwhelmed. There are so many factors to finding the perfect ink cartridge, and you might just find that keeping several options on hand may be the way to go. We’ll try to break down the pros and cons of gel and ballpoint to help you decide.

Ballpoint Refill

(Monteverde Softroll, Uni-Ball Jetstream, PenGems Standard Ballpoint)

Ballpoints have a thick and oil based ink that is considered to be a paste. The ink is carried in an alcohol solvent that dries immediately. When the alcohol evaporates, the ink is stuck to your paper, but not absorbed. Because the ink sits on top of paper, it should not be used when signing and writing important documents, since it can fade or be removed easily.

Ballpoints can create drag when writing because of the force required to (literally) get the ball rolling. If you press hard on the paper when you write, or have large handwriting, you might prefer a ballpoint. They last a lot longer than gel refills, so they are great for heavy writing, like taking notes or journaling. PenGems pens come with ballpoint ink.

Pros

  • Lower cost
  • Long lasting
  • Longest shelf life

Cons

  • Not as smooth as a gel refill
  • Can be difficult to use on some paper
  • No paper absorption 

PenGems, Monteverde Softroll, Uni-Ball Jetstream are all excellent ballpoints. Uni-Ball Jetstream is the smoothest, but Monteverde offers more colors. See them all here.

Gel Refills

(Pilot Hi-Tec-C)

This ink is water-based, and not as thick as a ballpoint paste. Gel ink is less likely to smudge or blot, since it is absorbed into the paper. Because of the absorption, these are difficult to remove without removing the fibers of the paper itself.

It also flows freely, allowing a smoother writing experience. That also means it will run out more quickly than a ballpoint pen, and with the small reservoir, they will run out extremely fast. The larger the point size, the faster it flows out. Most gels inks come with smaller nibs (0.5mm or 0.4mm), and if you have a heavy hand with writing, you can scratch the paper.

Gel refills are also very sensitive to temperature. If you've left your pen in a hot car, you might notice that the ink stopped flowing. Try putting it in the freezer for an hour or so, it might just come back to life!

Pros

  • Smooth writing
  • Vibrant colors
  • Fadeproof

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Small reservoir means less ink; will run out quickly
  • Dries out quickly
  • Temperature sensitive

Note: Zebra no longer manufactures the JSB gel ink cartridge. Currently, the only available brand that makes a gel ink cartridge that fits is Pilot.

If you are still looking for something in between, we recommend the hybrid Uni-Ball Jetstream ink cartridge. It has a ballpoint delivery system, but the ink itself is smooth and highly pigmented. It comes in 0.7mm/Medium or 0.5mm/Fine sizes. It might the perfect compromise for you!

Which ink refill do you think is the right one for you? Is it the ballpoint or the gel ink? Well, the answer basically depends on the type of writing. It also depends on your priorities are when you’re choosing a pen – writing experience, cost and the way it looks on the paper. You might find that a good ballpoint pen is great for class, but prefer a gel for quick scheduling notes in your planner.