• Top 15 Best Japanese Gel Pens in 2020 - Tried and True! (Muji, Pentel, and More) 1
  • Top 15 Best Japanese Gel Pens in 2020 - Tried and True! (Muji, Pentel, and More) 2
  • Top 15 Best Japanese Gel Pens in 2020 - Tried and True! (Muji, Pentel, and More) 3
  • Top 15 Best Japanese Gel Pens in 2020 - Tried and True! (Muji, Pentel, and More) 4
  • Top 15 Best Japanese Gel Pens in 2020 - Tried and True! (Muji, Pentel, and More) 5

Top 15 Best Japanese Gel Pens in 2020 - Tried and True! (Muji, Pentel, and More)

You’d think gel pens would be straightforward. But in Japan, where stationery makers are all vying for the top spot in a heated market, even the smallest improvement in design and the faintest sparkling of genius can make a difference. And wouldn’t you, the stationery buff, like to know what gel pens are currently the most prized in Japan?

So this time around, we ordered the 15 most popular gel pens from Japan’s e-commerce giants (such as Amazon, Rakuten, and kakaku.com) and tested for the following:

1. How the Grip Felt
2. Balance
3. The Color, Feel, and Depth of the Ink
4. How the Nib Felt against Paper
5. Fastness of the Ink
6. Design

This is how we tested and found the most exceptional Japanese gel pens.
  • Last updated: 06-17-2020
  • 11,316 views
Table of Contents

How to Choose a Japanese Gel Pen – Buying Guide

We’ll get into how we tested and compared all the gel pens, but before that, we want to introduce four things you should look out for when picking out a gel pen.

① Get a Pen that Feels Good to Hold

To find a gel pen you can write comfortably with for hours, it’s important you pay attention to the shape and material of the grip and the overall balance of the pen.

When the Grip Fits Your Hand, You Don’t Tire out as Easily

When the Grip Fits Your Hand, You Don’t Tire out as Easily
If the grip’s a good fit for your hand, you’ll be able to write for hours without feeling sore. When choosing a gel pen, you want to ask the following questions: Are there guides for my thumb, pointer, and middle fingers? Are there grooves, bumps, and indents that make the pen easy to hold? Is the material resistant to sweat? Is the grip firm or soft enough?
Then there’s the thickness of the grip. If you put a lot of pressure on your pen when you write, think about getting a thick grip; if you write with a light stroke, then get a thin grip. Take both your preferences and the weight of your strokes into consideration when looking at grip, and you’ll shift a lot of burden off of your hand.

When You Write for Hours on End, Well-Balanced Pens Feel the Best

When You Write for Hours on End, Well-Balanced Pens Feel the Best
A well-balanced pen is responsive to touch; it moves easily in the way you want. Not only will writing become smoother, the pen will become more stable. If you plan to write for hours, then get a well-balanced gel pen–that is, make sure that the center of balance is somewhere between the middle of the barrel and the nib.
But if you only use your pen for short periods of time–to jot down sporadic notes and sign checks–then there’s little need to worry about weight.

② Get a Pen that Writes Well

This sounds simple, but there’s actually a few factors to look out for. With gel pens, you want to look at the color, feel, and depth of the ink, as well as how fast it is (here, we refer not to speed, but to water-resistance and light-fastness.)

When You Try out the Pen, Look at the Color, Feel, and Depth of the Ink

When You Try out the Pen, Look at the Color, Feel, and Depth of the Ink
We say a pen writes well when it can produce clean, crisp letters.
The only thing is you can’t check for this without trying the pen out for yourself. If you do care a lot about the look of the ink, then go to a stationery store that offers testers. Try writing things you write every day, such as your name and numbers, block and cursive letters, and pay attention to the sheen of the ink, how the letters look against the page, and depth of color.

Pigment-Based Ink Holds Fast. Dye-Based Inks Offer a Variety of Colors

Pigment-Based Ink Holds Fast. Dye-Based Inks Offer a Variety of Colors
Gel pens tend to be inky–so the faster they dry and the less they smear, the better and more versatile they become.
In general, ink in gel pens is either pigment- or dye-based. Pigment-based ink tends to fade less over time and be more water-resistant, so it’s best for writing documents. On the other hand, dye-based ink tends to offer a greater range of colors. Think about where your priorities lie, then choose the type of ink that appeals more to you.

③ Get a Pen that Excels in Design

③ Get a Pen that Excels in Design
Gel pens can be beautiful, and as superficial as it may seem, it’s important to choose something with a design that appeals to you. Get a pen so beautiful that you want to use it and carry it around at all times.
It’s true that more expensive pens tend to be better designed, but that doesn’t mean that cheap pens are all lacking in the looks department. Pay attention to the fine details, and soon, even the smallest gel pen will start revealing the intent and character of its designer.

④ Get a Pen with a Nib Size that Fits Your Purposes

④ Get a Pen with a Nib Size that Fits Your Purposes
Have you ever considered the relationship between what you’re writing and the size of your nib?
For letters or anything else that uses narrow-ruled paper, look for a nib 0.4 mm or finer; for the address on envelopes or anything else that requires larger print, try a nib 0.7 mm or thicker; for general use, aim for a nib that is around 0.5 mm.

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them

What Products We Ordered and How We Tested Them
Now to introduce the 15 most popular Japanese gel pens that we ordered and the process by which we tested them.
{The Products We Tested}
1. Pentel Hybrid (ぺんてる ハイブリッド)
2. Pentel Energel X (ぺんてる エナージェル・エックス)
3. Muji Gel Ink Ballpoint Pen (無印良品 ゲルインキボールペン)
4. Muji Smooth Writing Gel Ballpoint Pen Retractable (無印良品 さらさら描けるゲルボールペン ノック式)
5. Zebra SARASA Clip (ゼブラ サラサクリップ)
6. Zebra SARASA Dry (ゼブラ サラサドライ)
7. Zebra SARASA Grand (ゼブラ サラサグランド)
8. Sakura Ballsign Retractable (サクラクレパス ボールサイン ノック)
9. Mitsubishi Pencil uni-ball Signo RT1 (三菱鉛筆 ユニボール シグノ RT1)
10. Mitsubishi Pencil uni-ball Signo 307 (三菱鉛筆 ユニボール シグノ 307)
11. Mitsubishi Pencil uni-ball Signo (三菱鉛筆 ユニボール シグノ)
12. Pilot Hi-Tec-C (パイロット ハイテックC)
13. Pilot Gel Ink Ballpoint Pen Juice (パイロット ゲルインキボールペン ジュース)
14. Pilot Gel Ink Ballpoint Pen Juice Up (パイロット ゲルインキボールペン ジュース アップ)
15. Kokuyo Eraberno (コクヨ エラベルノ)
We then tested for each of the following things:
Test ①: How the Grip Felt
Test ②: Balance
Test ③: The Color, Feel, and Depth of the Ink
Test ④: How the Nib Felt against Paper
Test ⑤: Fastness of the Ink
Test ⑥: Design

Test ①: How the Grip Felt

Test ①: How the Grip Felt
First, we tested the most important factor of how a pen feels in your hand: grip.
We looked to see if there was even a grip to begin with; then we looked at the shape, thickness, and material of the grip, and how much resistance to slide and sweat it offered. We ranked the pens on a scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: A Unanimous Winner! Customize the Kakuyo Eraberno to Craft the Ultimate Pen

The Big Takeaway: A Unanimous Winner! Customize the Kakuyo Eraberno to Craft the Ultimate Pen
All of our testers were enamored with Kokuya’s Eraberno. The grip had a level surface with grooves carved into either side, guiding our fingers into very natural positions.
In Japanese, “eraberu” is to choose; the name of this pen is a play on words. The grip comes in three sizes–thin, medium–and thick–and you can choose one according to your preferences, the size of your hand, and how you hold your pen.
The freedom also acts as a double-edged sword, however. If you choose wrong with this pen–whether that be the size of the grip or the thickness of the nib–then it suddenly loses all its appeal. Make sure you understand your preferences before purchasing.

Test ②: Balance

Test ②: Balance
Next, we tested a great influencer of how easy a pen is to hold and control: balance.
We took the pens up in our hand and looked not only at where the center of balance was, but at overall weight. We then considered the pros and cons of overall weight distribution and graded each pen on a scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: Different Designs and Price Points for Different Walks of Life. But Zebra’s SARASA Grand and SARASA Clip and Pilot’s Juice Up were Our Uncontested Winners

The Big Takeaway: Different Designs and Price Points for Different Walks of Life. But Zebra’s SARASA Grand and SARASA Clip and Pilot’s Juice Up were Our Uncontested Winners
After a long string of pens that we could only only call mediocre, we finally found three products that pulled ahead of the pack. They were Zebra’s SARASA Clip and SARASA Grand and Pilot’s Gel Ink Ballpoint Pen Juice Up.
Zebra’s SARASA Clip is available in Japan for just 100 yen (about a dollar), making it ideal for broke university students. The SARASA Grand is a bit classier, making it a viable option for business. Finally, there’s Pilot’s Juice Up, which has the clip attached at the very tip of the clicker so you can clip the pen into a notebook and not have any of it peek over the top.
All three were well-balanced; no matter which you choose, you’ll be lifting a lot of pressure off your writing hand.

Test ③: The Color, Feel, and Depth of the Ink

Test ③: The Color, Feel, and Depth of the Ink
You can’t write well without good ink. Therefore, our next test focused on the color, feel, and depth of the ink.
For the purposes of this test, we wrote solely with black ink. We then each graded each pen on a scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: Pentel’s Energel X, Nicknamed the Job-Hunting Pen, was the Majority Favorite

The Big Takeaway: Pentel’s Energel X, Nicknamed the Job-Hunting Pen, was the Majority Favorite
This time around, Pentel’s Energel X came out on top. Even though it’s dye-based, the ink was a clear, dark black, and we could see why it’s used so often when job-hunting here in Japan. (Our resumes are typically handwritten so that the company can judge your penmanship.)
The pen was easy to control, as the ink came out as smooth as water and yet wasn’t slippery enough to cause any unwanted swerves. It was light and had none of the slick, slimy texture of certain oil-based inks. There was also, of course, no unwanted friction.
By the way, Sakura’s Ballsign Retractable, Mitsubishi Pencil’s uni-ball Signo 307, and Pilot’s Gel Ink Ballpoint Pen Juice Up also received an A+ rating.

Test ④: How the Nib Felt Against Paper

Test ④: How the Nib Felt Against Paper
Next, we looked at another great influencer of writing experience: how the nib feels against paper.
We paid attention to how it felt when we wrote–whether the pen flowed on the paper or whether we could hear any scratching. We then ranked each pen on a scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: Mitsubishi Pencil’s uni-ball Signo RT 1 Received Top Points from All of Our Testers

The Big Takeaway: Mitsubishi Pencil’s uni-ball Signo RT 1 Received Top Points from All of Our Testers
When it came to feel, Mitsubishi Pencil’s uni-ball Signo RT1 was on a completely different level from all the other pens we tested, being the only product to receive an A+ rating.
There wasn’t a single person who would deny that this pen feels great writing on paper. The secret to that smoothness was its “edgeless tip.” By removing the corner at the very tip of the body of the pen (not the nib), Mitsubishi Pencil ensured there would be less friction between pen and paper; even if you were to hold the pen at a tilted angle, your writing would still flow smoothly.
The ballpoint, too, was well-engineered, designed to not scratch the surface of your paper. The pen itself was very easy to control. Even if you do have poor penmanship, there’s a chance you could tidy up your writing by simply taking this pen for a spin.

Test ⑤: Fastness of the Ink

Test ⑤: Fastness of the Ink
If you need your words to last, then you need to check how fast the ink holds.
We purchased some paper that’s so resistant to water, you could take notes with it underwater. We then wrote on the paper with each of the pens, soaked the written sheet in water for five minutes, and waited for it to dry.
We then took everything into consideration–the ink’s resistance to water, as well how long it took to dry and how much it bled the second it was set on to paper–and gave each pen a grade ranging from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: Muji’s Smooth Writing Gel Ballpoint Pen and Mitsubishi Pencil’s uni-ball Signo RT1 Held Fast and are Thus Perfect for Addressing Packages and Envelopes

The Big Takeaway: Muji’s Smooth Writing Gel Ballpoint Pen and Mitsubishi Pencil’s uni-ball Signo RT1 Held Fast and are Thus Perfect for Addressing Packages and Envelopes
Muji’s Smooth Writing Gel Ballpoint Pen and Mitsubishi Pencil’s uni-ball Signo RT1, both of which utilize pigment-based ink, didn’t blur at all. They’d be good contenders for addressing envelopes or packages.
On the other hand, inky pens like Pentel’s Hybrid and the uni-ball Signo did have some bleed-through and ghosting, depending on the type of paper we used. They’re all pens with water-resistant pigment-based ink, but they may perform differently depending on the pen and paper used.
Also know that while most Japanese gel pens are pigment-based, there’s still many products that are dye-based, which is of course weak to water. It’s something to look out for when you’re shopping.

Test ⑥: Design

Test ⑥: Design
Finally, we looked at design.
Of course, we took superficial things like how cool or classy the pen looked into consideration. We also tested for things like how well thought out the design was and whether there was anything about the design that was impractical or unwieldy. We then graded the pens on a scale from D to A+.

The Big Takeaway: We Couldn’t Believe This Thing was Available for Just over 100 Yen! Mitsubishi Pencil’s Classy uni-ball Signo RT1 was a Cut above the Rest

The Big Takeaway: We Couldn’t Believe This Thing was Available for Just over 100 Yen! Mitsubishi Pencil’s Classy uni-ball Signo RT1 was a Cut above the Rest
It was cloaked in black from head to toe. We loved that Mitsubishi Pencil’s uni-ball Signo RT1 had no undue undulations, earning it an A+ in the design department.
The vast majority gave this pen full points actually, which is amazing, considering that it costs just over 100 yen (about $1). The clip was attached the clicker, as well, which is rarely seen among Japanese stationery–just another reason that this pen is a paragon of design.

Top 15 Best Japanese Gel Pens

Now to introduce the 15 best Japanese gel pens available online. They were ranked by how well they did on our tests and given an overall grade ranging from D to A+.
GripD
BalanceD
Ink ColorD
Feel on PaperD
Ink FastnessA+ (Pigment)
DesignD
Overall ScoreD
GripC
BalanceD
Ink ColorD
Feel on PaperC
Ink FastnessC (Pigment)
DesignD
Overall ScoreD
GripD
BalanceC
Ink ColorC
Feel on PaperD
Ink FastnessB (Dye)
DesignB
Overall ScoreC
GripC
BalanceB
Ink ColorA+
Feel on PaperC
Ink FastnessC (Cellulose Nanofiber)
DesignC
Overall ScoreC
GripC
BalanceC
Ink ColorA+
Feel on PaperB
Ink FastnessD (Dye)
DesignB
Overall ScoreB
GripB
BalanceB
Ink ColorB
Feel on PaperB
Ink FastnessD (Dye)
DesignB
Overall ScoreB
GripC
BalanceD
Ink ColorA
Feel on PaperB
Ink FastnessA+ (Pigment)
DesignB
Overall ScoreB
GripB
BalanceC
Ink ColorB
Feel on PaperB
Ink FastnessA (Pigment)
DesignA
Overall ScoreB

7. Muji Smooth Writing Gel Ballpoint Pen Retractable

$1.50

GripB
BalanceA
Ink ColorB
Feel on PaperB
Ink FastnessA+ (Pigment)
DesignC
Overall ScoreA
GripB
BalanceA
Ink ColorA+
Feel on PaperA
Ink FastnessB (Pigment)
DesignB
Overall ScoreA
GripA
BalanceA+
Ink ColorB
Feel on PaperB
Ink FastnessA (Pigment)
DesignB
Overall ScoreA
GripA+
BalanceA
Ink ColorC
Feel on PaperB
Ink FastnessA (Dye-Based Air Gel)
DesignA+
Overall ScoreA
GripA
BalanceA+
Ink ColorA
Feel on PaperB
Ink FastnessA+ (Pigment)
DesignA
Overall ScoreA+
GripB
BalanceA+
Ink ColorA+
Feel on PaperA
Ink FastnessA+ (Pigment)
DesignA
Overall ScoreA+
GripA
BalanceA
Ink ColorA
Feel on PaperA+
Ink FastnessA+ (Pigment)
DesignA+
Overall ScoreA+

Learn More About the World of Japanese Stationery

Learn More About the World of Japanese Stationery
It is of our humble opinion that you can never own too much stationery. If you were looking to expand your collection or simply want to learn more about Japanese writing instruments, you may find the articles below helpful.

Summary

Summary
We rounded up experts and members of our editing department, purchased the 15 most popular Japanese gel pens, and tested them all. Even though Mitsubishi Pencil’s uni-ball Signo RT1 slid smoothly into first place, all the other pens had great features and are well worth consideration.
To bring out the full potential of a pen, you can also try customizing the grip and other parts. One of our stationery experts attached another grip onto his Signo RT1, adjusting it until the feel of the pen matched up to his own preferences and expectations.
Next time you’re at a stationery store or surfing the web for some good manual writing tools, be sure to keep this buying guide in the back of your mind!
Original by Nao Kondo; Translation by Jasmine Li

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