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10 Best Tried and True Japanese Gel Pens in 2022 (Lettering Artist-Reviewed)

10 Best Tried and True Japanese Gel Pens in 2022 (Lettering Artist-Reviewed)

Have you ever been frustrated when writing with a pen running out of ink, bleeding all over your paper, or felt like it wasn't smooth enough? Japanese gel pens glide over paper, produce beautiful, vibrant colors, and are incredibly reliable. These are just some examples of what makes Japanese gel pens attractive! And nowadays, there are plenty of them on the market today. Even the smallest improvement in design and the faintest sparkling of genius can make a difference between them. However, with so many manufacturers like Pentel, Zebra, and Pilot, as well as brands like EnerGel, Sarasa, and Uni-Ball, it can be hard to know which pen is best for you.

In order to figure this out, we ordered the 21 most popular gel pens from Japan’s e-commerce giants (such as Amazon, Rakuten, and kakaku.com) and tested them all.

We tested each pen for the following:

  1. Grip
  2. Feel
  3. Smoothness
  4. Drying speed
  5. Visibility

We then ranked the 10 best Japanese gel pens based on the results of our tests. Keep reading to find out more about the best Japanese gel pens, as well as be sure to check out our buying guide at the end!
Last updated 2023/01/16
Expert
Lettering Artist
Mhelanie

Mhelanie, also known as Lettering by Mhel in social media, is a left-handed lettering artist who loves lettering using everyday pens such as gel pens. She loves teaching people the art of lettering and suggesting the best tools to use based on her experience.

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The experts featured in these contents reviewed the contents of the buying guide.
Products or services listed have been independently ranked by the mybest Editorial Team based on the relevant research as of 11-04-2022. Experts featured in this article did not participate in the selection and ranking process.

How are Gel Pens Different from Regular Ballpoint Pens?

How are Gel Pens Different from Regular Ballpoint Pens?

Gel pens are actually ballpoint pens, but with gel ink, combining the best of water-based and oil-based ballpoint pens; they don't bleed onto paper like oil-based pens, dry quickly, and like water-based ink, can be written with light pressure.


Moreover, if a gel ink uses pigments for its colorants, it has excellent water resistance, making them ideal for writing addresses on letters or postcards. However, one of the drawbacks of gel pens compared to conventional ballpoint pens is that they use more ink, running out relatively quickly.

How to Choose a Japanese Gel Pen

Now that we've told you how we tested and compared all the gel pens, we want to introduce four things you should look out for when picking out a gel pen.

① Consider the Grip and Thickness of the Barrel

What people consider a gel pen that's easy to hold can vary from person to person, and is dependent on variables how much pressure they apply when writing, as well as the size of their hands. 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 thickness of the pen.

Grips With Bumps, Indentations, or Grooves Are Resistant to Slipping

Grips With Bumps, Indentations, or Grooves Are Resistant to Slipping

Pens with grips that have indentations or grooves, or even a bumpy design makes it easier for your fingers to grip the pen, and makes it less likely for the pen to slip while writing. Having a good grip on your pen can help you write neater.


Pens that lack any sort of grip, or the grip section is smooth, the pen will start moving as you hold it, forcing you to readjust your grip frequently. This can break your concentration, as well as be irritating. Additionally, you'll have to hold your pen with a firmer grip, placing additional stress on your fingers. When choosing a gel pen, be sure to check whether or not it has a good grip.


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?

Mhelanie
Lettering Artist
Mhelanie's Comment

Consider how comfortable the pen feels when you're holding it and if it gives you enough support. From my experience, holding a pen with very little support hurt my fingers and caused my hand to cramp.

Choose a Thickness that Best Suits Your Hand

Choose a Thickness that Best Suits Your Hand

While how comfortable a pen's thickness is in relation to the size of your hand is ultimately subjective, we recommend the following as a guide:

  • Those with large hands should choose a thicker pen with a diameter of 12 millimeters or more
  • Those with smaller hands should choose a more narrow pen with a diameter of 10 millimeters or less

Using a pen that doesn't match the size of your hand means that you'll find it more difficult to hold the pen, making it more likely that your hands will cramp up.

Mhelanie
Lettering Artist
Mhelanie's Comment

A good grip will prevent any pain on your hand and fingers. I have also noticed that a comfortable pen improves my penmanship.

② Consider the Shape of the Tip

The type of tip can greatly affect how a pen feels to use. Tips of gel pens can be separated into three types: cone, pipe, and synergy.

Cone Tip: Best for Those Who Apply Lots of Pressure When Writing

Cone Tip: Best for Those Who Apply Lots of Pressure When Writing

Cone tips are best for those who write with a lot of pressure, since they are tips that are durable tips that can withstand lots of pressure and used commonly in ballpoint pens. Moreover, the tip doesn't result in blurry lines when first touching the pen to paper. 


On the other hand, cone tips generate a lot of friction between the tip and paper, making them feel less smooth as other tips.


Major pens that use cone tips:

  • Zebra's Sarasa series
  • Mitsubishi Pencil's Uniball series

Pipe Tip: Smooth Writing and Great for Producing Fine Lines

Pipe Tip: Smooth Writing and Great for Producing Fine Lines

Pipe tips use a pipe with an indentation to support the ball point. Since they produce less friction, pipe tip pens often feel incredibly smooth when writing, making them best for those who prioritize smoothness.


On the other hand, pipe tips aren't as durable cone tips and are prone to bending if too much pressure is applied.


    Major pens that use pipe tips:

  • Pentel's EnerGel series

Synergy Tip: Balances Smoothness and Durability, but Not Many Options

Synergy Tip: Balances Smoothness and Durability, but Not Many Options

Synergy tips are tips developed by Pilot, balancing both durability and smoothness. The base of the tip is conical, similar to cone tips, while the tip itself is narrow like pipe tips. However, these tips are limited to products manufactured by Pilot, and therefore options are limited.


      Major pens that use pipe tips:

  • Pilot's Juice Up (not featured in this article)

③ Choose Whichever Color and Intensity You Like

Choose Whichever Color and Intensity You Like

The vibrancy of the ink in Japanese gel pens depends on the manufacturer and brand. Additionally, gel pens aren't just available in basic colors like black, red, or blue, but many other colors as well. In order to make sure your writing can be read, be sure to check how vibrant the ink is.


After testing all the products, we didn't find any pens with ink that made it difficult to read. We think that it's safe to choose any pen for its ink, so long as you like the color and vibrancy of it!

Mhelanie
Lettering Artist
Mhelanie's Comment

As a lettering artist, I look for gel pens that are crisp and rich in color. A variety of colors are a plus too! The intensity of the ink is also an important factor as it helps you to write in small prints, as well as large prints. You also want to consider how heavy the pen feels on your hand. If a pen is too heavy, it can lead to cramping.

④ Choose a Pen That Excels in Design

Choose 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.

Mhelanie
Lettering Artist
Mhelanie's Comment

The pen design is also an important aspect. Pens that are well-designed provide a wow factor. I often find myself interested in pens that I can use every day and those that also provide an elegant design for special occasions.


You can get quite creative with gel pens which makes it a great tool for lettering. I love exploring a gel pen's variety of colors and thickness.

10 Best Japanese Gel Pens

First off, we'll introduce the 10 best Japanese gel pens available online. They were ranked by how well they did on our tests. Then, based on how they performed on our tests, we graded and ranked the 10 best Japanese gel pens available online.
Products
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Points
1

Pentel

EnerGel BLN75-A

Pentel EnerGel BLN75-A 1枚目

A Pen That Has an Addictively Light Feel and Naturally Fits in the Hand

2

Pentel

EnerGel Infree BLN75TL-A

Pentel EnerGel Infree BLN75TL-A 1枚目

The Smoothest Gel Pen That Writes Easily With Minimal Pressure

3

Pentel

EnerGel-S BLN125-A

Pentel EnerGel-S BLN125-A 1枚目

A Light and Smooth Feel With Great Visibility

4

Pentel

Energizer Cap Type BLN55-A

Pentel Energizer Cap Type BLN55-A 1枚目

Great for Writing and Scribbling! The One You Should Carry with Your Notebook

5

Zebra

SARASA Clip JJ15-BK

Zebra SARASA Clip JJ15-BK 1枚目

Clear Writing With Minimal Pressure Required

6

Mitsubishi Pencil

Uni-ball Signo RT1

Mitsubishi Pencil Uni-ball Signo RT1 1枚目

Smooth Uniform Shape That Fits Comfortably in the Hand

7

Zebra

Sarasa Dry JJS31-BK

Zebra Sarasa Dry JJS31-BK 1枚目

A Great Pen for Business That Is Resistant to Smudging and Dries Fast

8

Muji

Smooth Writing Gel Pen Knock Type 2794118

Muji Smooth Writing Gel Pen Knock Type 2794118 1枚目

Smooth Writing With a Nicely Designed Grip

9

Mitsubishi Pencil

Uni-ball Signo 307UMN-307-05

Mitsubishi Pencil Uni-ball Signo 307UMN-307-05 1枚目

Fell of the Grained Grip is Nice and Easy to Move the Pen

10

Pilot

Juice LJU-10EF

Pilot Juice LJU-10EF 1枚目

Vivid Colors Makes This Pen Great for Illustrations

Product details
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No.1

A Pen That Has an Addictively Light Feel and Naturally Fits in the Hand

Pentel's EnerGel is part of the brand's EnerGel series and is actually the pen that started it all. This product was developed with smoothness in mind, featuring an ink that dries quickly and has a vivid color.

The grip of this pen goes all the way to the tip and is integrated into the body in a way that allows for an ergonomic grip. The barrel is round and smooth, so even those that like to hold pens way down low will have no issues. The wavy, anti-slip finish of the grip is not too firm and has a comfortable feel.

Writing is very smooth, probably due to the piped tip that minimizes friction on paper. It was also great that the nib didn’t shake when pressure was applied.

The ink barely smudged and dried quickly, which also helped it earn high scores. The black color is dark, crisp, and clear, making it an ideal pen for a wide range of situations, from business to everyday use.

No.2

The Smoothest Gel Pen That Writes Easily With Minimal Pressure

Pentel's EnerGel Infree is part of the Energizer series that has a simple design with a clear barrel. 5 new colors were released in February 2021 for a total of 10 colors available.

Although it has a rubber grip, the smooth, thin material has a nice feel. The wavy finish of the grip also supports writing by allowing your fingers to grip the pen well.

The nib has a piped tip that minimizes friction with paper for smooth writing. Even when applying very light pressure when writing, the ink didn't smear. At just 0.45 ounces, the pen is also incredibly lightweight, meaning your hand won't get cramped or tired after writing for extended periods.

Furthermore, the ink dried quickly and rarely smudged. The black is also crisp and vivid on paper, making it easy to use. We recommend this pen to those who want to keep their notebooks and journals neat and tidy.

No.3

A Light and Smooth Feel With Great Visibility

Pentel's EnerGel-S is the basic model of the EnerGel series, which was developed with the concept of creating pens that are easy to use and quick to dry. It still maintains the same features as other advanced models in the series, but at a more affordable price.

The lineup's signature wavy grip fits nicely in the hand and enhances the grip. It is slightly lighter than other pens from their series, making it easy to write. However, we felt that the lighter weight of the body required a little more pressure when writing.

Writing is smooth and the tapered piped tip felt light on paper while transferring plenty of ink to paper without smudging, making it great for fine writing. The ink also dries very quickly, making this pen perfect for quickly jotting down notes or journaling.

No.4

PentelEnergizer Cap Type BLN55-A

$2.92

Great for Writing and Scribbling! The One You Should Carry with Your Notebook

Pentel's EnerGel Cap Type is a pen from the EnerGel series with a cap but still offers the same writing feel and smudge resistance as the other EnerGel series. The nib has a piped tip that works well for fine writing.

The wavy grip easily fits your fingers and prevents slipping. However, the length of the grip is slightly too short, making it difficult to adjust your hand position, losing points in the grip test.


The piped tip reduces friction between the pen and the paper, offering a smooth feel but with a comfortable resistance that helps feel like you're actually writing with a pen. Since the pen has a cap, the nib also felt tight and secure, with minimal shaking when writing.

The lines barely smudged even when we were writing fast, and the ink dried very quickly, making it great for writing in journals or for jotting down quick notes. If you're looking for a gel pen with a cap, this should be a very strong contender.

No.5

Clear Writing With Minimal Pressure Required

Zebra's Sarasa Clip uses water-resistant water-based ink with excellent smudge resistance and crisp, rich color. The product is available in 20 different colors, with limited edition colors regularly released as well.

The rubber used for the grip had a great stickiness to it, working well to prevent slippage. Another plus in terms of the fit was how the thicker barrel allowed the pen to fit naturally in the hand.

This pen felt incredibly smooth, with hardly any friction felt when writing on paper. The pen releases a lot of ink, allowing you to write thick lines with just a small amount of pressure. The color of the ink is also vibrant and sharp, making this pen great for those who want a pen that has a smooth feel and great visibility.

No.6

Smooth Uniform Shape That Fits Comfortably in the Hand

Mitsubishi Pencil's Uni-ball Signo RT1 claims to reduce frictional resistance by minimizing edges on the nib tip. The wide rubber grip of this pen goes all the way to the tip, making it great to hold.

The pen has a straight, uniform shape with no bumps between the grip and body, making the pen fit nicely in your hand. The wide rubber grip is easy to hold and allows you to hold the pen in your preferred position, whether it be near the tip or more towards the middle of the pen.

Writing felt smooth and flowy, but the ink struggled to come out when too much pressure was applied, but as long as you don't apply excessive pressure, this shouldn't be a problem. Finally, while the ink was neither too dark nor too light, we liked how it dries quickly.

No.7

A Great Pen for Business That Is Resistant to Smudging and Dries Fast

Zebra's Sarasa Dry is a product that features ink with a new formula to enhance its quick-drying properties. This product has the same smooth writing experience found in other products in the Sarasa lineup but has faster-drying ink.

The wide rubber grip and sticky feel of the grip material felt secure in the hand. However, while the thickness of the pen made it easy to hold, the pen has a long clip that tended to hit the side of the hand, which some might find annoying.

The pen was light and delicate with little to no friction felt when putting the pen to paper. It transfers ink well and has a vibrant color, making it easy to read even when written by someone who doesn't apply that much pressure when writing. This pen didn't smudge or trail off when jotting down notes quickly, making it a great pen for business use or for students who need to take lots of notes.

No.8

MujiSmooth Writing Gel Pen Knock Type 2794118

$10.57

Smooth Writing With a Nicely Designed Grip

Muji's Smooth Writing Gel Pen Knock Type is a gel pen with a translucent design. The grip of this pen goes all the way to the nib.

While the smooth texture of the entire body was comfortable to hold, we also felt that the smooth grip was slippery and needs some improvement. However, the lightweight body and the slim shape of the barrel is great for carrying around.

Although the pen overall felt smooth to write with, it occasionally felt a little rough. However, even when quickly scribbling down notes, it produced neat lines and was easy to read. The simple design also makes it easy to use in a wide range of situations. The color is vibrant and dries quickly.

No.9

Mitsubishi PencilUni-ball Signo 307UMN-307-05

Fell of the Grained Grip is Nice and Easy to Move the Pen

Mitsubishi Pencil's Uni Ball Signo 307 uses a new material to achieve smooth writing that does not smear even when you write quickly. The manufacturer claims that the viscosity of the ink changes when writing, making it difficult for the ink to bleed out.

The grainy finish of the rubber grip provides an excellent non-slip grip that firmly clings to your fingers. The clip was designed to be in a position where it does not touch the hand when the pen is held, but the unique feel of the grip might not be to everyone's liking.

Writing with the pen felt light and required little pressure. In addition, the thick grip made it easy to control the pen. Although the lines rarely smeared and the color was vivid, we unfortunately felt that the ink transferred unevenly onto paper.

No.10

Vivid Colors Makes This Pen Great for Illustrations

Pilot's Juice pens contain plenty of ingredients that prevent the nib from drying out to maintain smooth writing. It is available in many colors, including pastel, metallic, and fluorescent colors, which can be handy when writing on black paper and photographs.

The wide and sticky rubber grip allows for those with an unconventional grip to be able to hold the pen where it is most comfortable for them. On the other hand, the barrel is a bit narrow, so if you have large hands or write with a lot of pressure you may find it difficult to hold the pen.

Writing feels a little hard and heavy, and we felt a lot of friction. However, the ink transfer is excellent, and there is no smudging on paper. The ink is also vivid and comes in a wide variety of colors, making it a great choice for sketches.

How We Tested the Gel Pens

How We Tested the Gel Pens

Now to introduce the 10 most popular Japanese gel pens that we ordered and the process by which we tested them.


We tested each gel pen for the following:

  1. How the Grip Felt
  2. Feel
  3. Smoothness
  4. Drying speed
  5. Visibility

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 gathered five members from mybest's Japanese editorial team and asked them to evaluate each pen comprehensively on the design of the grip, as well as the thickness and weight of the pen. We then graded the pens on a scale from 1.0 to 5.0.

Test ② Feel

Test ② Feel

Next, we tested how each pen felt to actually write with. 


We asked our Japanese testers to write with the pens to give an overall grade on how each pen felt by checking for how easy it was to handle the pen, how stable it was, and how it felt writing on paper.

Test ③ Smoothness

Test ③ Smoothness

Third, we tested how smooth the pens were.

We evaluated the pens by quickly drawing circles in a 5 x 15 cm area and checked to see if the pens skipped or felt scratchy when writing.

Test ④ Drying Speed

Test ④ Drying Speed

Next, we tested how quickly the ink dried on paper.

We had our testers write on a piece of paper, then after three seconds, had them rub their handwriting to see how well the ink dried.

Test ⑤ Visibility

Test ⑤ Visibility

Finally, we tested how well we could actually read our handwriting, in terms of how well the ink transferred onto the paper.

We had our five Japanese testers write with all the pens we gathered, then had them evaluate each pen for how intense the ink was.

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.
When you purchase products mentioned in the article, part of the sales may be returned to mybest.
The descriptions of each product is referenced from the content available from the manufacturer, e-commerce sites etc.

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