Paper World

Cheap Gel Pens


Fountain pen alternatives

For connoisseurs of handwriting, nothing can beat a fountain pen. Ballpoint pens, while dependable and ultra-cheap, have never been able to match the fluid, graceful beauty of writing with a fountain pen. Regular roller ball tips allow more ink to flow, while better, are still inferior to the easy line that a good fountain or technical pen can lay down. Recently however, cheap gel pens have achieved the dense inking of a fountain pen. In ignorance I had equated gel pens with school girls, ink the color of nail polish, and handwriting marked by i’s dotted with little hearts. True enough, but serious gel pens are now available. Tipped off by Phil Agre’s research page on “cheap pens” (see below) I began to try out cheap gel pens and have been amazed at how fine they are.

My favorite gel, one that feels like a fountain pen to me, is the horribly named Pilot Dr. Grip Gel. It’s a fat pen, with rubbery contoured collar at the writing end, and retractable tip. The ink flows out densely and evenly, with little pressure, exactly when you want it to. There’s no leakage or muss or fuss of fountain pen maintenance. The pen glides over the page, leaving a fine line. And its cheap, about $6. I use it all the time now.

My other favorite gel pen replaces a pen-type that most architectural and graphics artist came to adore: the Rotring Rapidograph. This is a technical pen that produces a consistent very fine black line — perfect for detail and precision drawing. I now use a Pilot P-500 (Extra Fine) G2 Gel, with a needlepoint tip. Unlike the old Rapidigraph, it won’t clog, doesn’t need periodic cleaning, can’t dry up, can be retracted to fit in your pocket (Q-7 version), and is cheap — $2. It inks as well or better as the Rapidigraph — but it is not waterproof, which may make a difference for some artists. (I have not used newer Rapidograph models, which claim to be clog-free, but are still expensive.) The retractable version, Pilot Q-7 Needlepoint Gel, also sports a fat fatigue-free grip.

Pilot Q-7 Retractable Gel Needle Point

Devout fountain pen lovers will still find fault in the gel pens, but most of us will find their convenience and bargain price makes them the pen to use. If you know of better cheap great gel pens, let me know.

-- KK 11/17/03

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