How Do Gel Pens Work?

In 1984, many of us were excited about the release of the first Ghostbusters movie, reaching new high scores in Tetris, or stuck in never-ending games of Trivial Pursuit. We weren’t exactly planning for our creative futures—and had no idea what was in store.

Fortunately for us, a creative team of innovators in Osaka, Japan was also busy inventing the very first gel pen. Now, more than 30 years later, gel pens have become one of the most popular writing and coloring tools for colorists, teachers, and crafters of all kinds!

It’s no secret why gel pens are a favorite of artists young and old—they create bold, smooth lines on a wide range of surfaces, and come in an amazing rainbow of colors for every project and design.

This week at GelWriter, we want to celebrate the roots of our popular pen by taking a closer look at the two original features that made the gel pen what it is today: the specialized rollerball tip and the characteristic gel ink. So…how does a gel pen work, anyway?

Rollerball Tip In 3 Sizes

Gel pens have a unique tip specially designed to control the flow of ink from pen to paper. The writing point is actually a tiny metal ball that rolls as you write or draw—hence its name, the rollerball tip. As you apply pressure against the ball and move it across the page, the ball gathers fresh ink from inside the pen and rolls it out onto the paper.

The width of the ball is what determines the thickness of the line produced by the pen. GelWriters are made in three different widths, making them extra versatile for all of your projects.


0.7mm Gel Pens

how do gel pens work














Our finest width tip is standard on all of our Basic colors. Perfect for intricate coloring book patterns or any fine detail work.


0.8mm Gel Pens

how do gel pens work














Our Neon color pens have a very slightly wider tip to ensure a bold, opaque line. Neons add a fun pop of color to accent your designs.


1.0mm Gel Pens

how do gel pens work














Our widest tip is used on all of our Pastel, Metallic, and Glitter colors. The extra width allows the ink to flow smoothly and creates a luxuriously opaque line for any art or writing project.


Pigment Based Ink

The special ink is really where the gel pen magic happens! GelWriters use an ink made of pigments suspended in a non-toxic water-based gel. The gel is highly viscous, so it holds color better than other ink, which is why gel pens can be made in so many different colors. It’s even strong enough to hold glitter particles, which we love!

You can see the gel ink suspended inside a GelWriter pen—it’s pretty solid stuff. But like tapping ketchup out of a bottle, it starts to flow once a little force is applied. When you touch the rollerball tip to paper, it turns the gel into liquid, which is how you get those bold, bright lines. When you stop applying pressure, the gel returns to its solid form. Pretty cool, right?

Gel is more permanent than other inks, bonds with the paper once it dries, and resists fading so your artwork will stand the test of time. This strong bond is also what allows gel pens in pastel colors to show up on dark paper…which pretty much changed everything for all of us artist and crafters!


Thanks for taking a look inside a GelWriter pen with us this week—and thank you to the original inventors of the gel pen, we’d be lost without you!
Is there anything else you’ve always wanted to know about gel pens? Feel free to send us your questions anytime!