Differences between ballpoint, gel, and rollerball pens

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Differences between ballpoint, gel, and rollerball pens

While ballpoint pens are considered affordable and dependable, rollerball pens are known to offer a more comfortable writing experience. Gel pens, on the other hand, have the most saturation and vividness on paper. Trends around ballpoint pens include multi-function pens and smart pens.


Ballpoint Pens

  • Ballpoint pens tend to use oil-based inks that are thick and stick. This sometimes leads to blobs of ink on a paper or difficulty writing with this type of pen after long breaks between uses.
  • Due to the oil-based ink ballpoint pens use, they are less likely to smudge and last longer than the water-based ink used by rollerball pens.
  • Ballpoint pens do not require a cap as they generally have a click or twist mechanism to show and use the writing tip.
  • A lot of people, especially professionals, find ballpoint pens convenient because they do not need to be capped when not in use.
  • Ballpoint pens have a more controlled action than other pens. These pens are deemed fit for filling out formal documents.
  • These pens are prone to clumping and require more pressure applied to the paper when writing. Thus, they are less comfortable to use for writing.
  • Since ballpoint pens use less ink and require fewer ink refills, they are dependable and inexpensive. These pens are considered best for left-handed people.

Rollerball Pens

  • Rollerball pens use water-based inks that are similar to the inks used for fountain pens.
  • The water-based ink that rollerball pens use tend to flow easily and offer a smoother writing experience than the oil-based ink used by ballpoint pens. However, water-based inks are more prone to drying than oil-based inks.
  • As a result of its water-based ink, a rollerball pen's tip needs to be kept out of air, they typically come with a cap for closing the writing tip. These pens need to be capped when they are not being used in order to prevent their inks from drying out.
  • Rollerball pens tend to have a finer writing line due to the fluid ink they come with. These pens are recommended for detailed drawings or people with small handwriting.
  • Rollerball pens are prone to smudging and might be difficult for left-handed individuals to use, especially if their hands drag over while writing.
  • These pens have richer saturation which make them more attractive on paper. They float across the paper in a smooth way, similar to how fountain pens flow. Thus, these pens offer a more comfortable and graceful writing experience. They can be used when writing for a long period of time.
  • Compared to ballpoint pens, rollerball pens come in a wider range of colors and textures.

Gel Pens

  • Gel pens use a water-based gel ink that isn't as thin as the water-based ink used in rollerball pens, but also isn't as thick as the ink used in ballpoint pens.
  • The gel ink that these pens use dries quickly and is less likely to smudge or blot. These pens flow freely and allow users to write more smoothly than ballpoint pens.
  • Similar to rollerball pens, gel pens create bold, rich lines and allow users to write quite comfortably, however, the "thicker ink also tends to clump occasionally, like ballpoint ink, and doesn’t always coat the ball evenly, leaving skips in the line."
  • Apperance-wise, gel pens are the most vibrant. They create the cleanest and "most precise lines without sacrificing vibrancy." They are mainly used for bold writing and art, such as journal entries.


Ballpoint Pens: Trends

Multi-Function Ballpoint Pens

  • There has been a rise in the demand for 2-in-1 multi-function ballpoint pens in the US and other parts of the world. These pens typically come with a double-twist mechanism featuring both a ballpoint pen and a silicone nib stylus.
  • The stylus is used to glide easily across touchscreen digital devices. The pen is recommended for busy professionals and students.
  • Brands like InkJoy and CultPens are dominating this trend with their wide range of 2-in-1 multi-function ballpoint pens.

Smart Ballpoint Pens

  • Over the past few years, smart technology has been rapidly replacing traditional models. Despite this, pen and paper remain popular. However, they are now smarter.
  • Currently, there is a high emergence of ballpoint pens with USB, Wi-Fi, camera, and/or storage. These pens are also known as smart pens.
  • A lot of smart ballpoint pens transfer notes to the user's computer as they write. These pens also transfer data to their user's devices in real time and charge via USB cables.
  • There are also smart ballpoint pens that come with a ruler, stylus, and screwdrivers. Depending on what they are needed for, ballpoint pens encompass various technological tools and features.
  • Compared to normal ballpoint pens that cost less than $10, these pens cost $100 to over $200. Neolab and Livescribe are some of the companies at the forefront of this trend. These companies offer various smart pens for different uses.

Customized Ballpoint Pens

  • There has been a global rising demand for custom ballpoint pens. They are also known as personalized or promotional ballpoint pens.
  • Custom ballpoint pens are mainly used by businesses and schools for promotional content, including spreading brand awareness and recognition.
  • These pens are also shared as gifts for customers and employees. They come with different types of decoration technology, including laser engraving and full-color wraparound print.
  • More than 50% of Americans already own pens with logos. On Etsy alone, there are over 2,000 results for custom ballpoint pens. Companies like Vista Print are at the forefront of this trend.

Rollerball Pens: Trends

Vintage-Inspired Designs

  • Rollerball pens with vintage-inspired designs have become popular, mainly due to the nostalgia they evoke.
  • Companies like Yookers are embracing this trend. In 2019, the manufacturer released several designs of the Metis Fiber Pen Rollerball Pens.
  • They described them as rollerball pens with "classic, vintage design for timeless style."

Sustainable Pens

  • Nowadays, rollerball pen manufacturers are creating eco-friendly and recyclable pens to help the environment.
  • The Pilot Hi-Tecpoint rollerball pen, for example, is made from over 70% recycled materials, while The Pilot BeGreen Precise V5 is made from almost 90% recycled materials.
  • Another way pen manufacturers are incorporating sustainability is by donating a portion of proceeds to charitable organizations.
  • Montegrappa’s Tulip for Team Fox pen series, for example, recently started offering the chance to support the fight against Parkinson's disease by donating a portion of its proceeds from the pen sales to Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
  • Retro 51 is another pen company doing this. Through its animal-themed Tornado Rescue rollerball pen series, it offers the opportunity to support homeless cats and dogs until they are adopted.

Gel Pens: Trends

Erasable Gel Pens

  • Manufacturers are now releasing gel pens in different colors that erase mistakes.
  • These pens come with an eraser on top and can be used after the ink on the paper or material written on has dried up.
  • According to Google Trends, searches for "erasable gel pen" peaked in July 2019 and January 2020.
  • FriXion is the leading company embracing this trend. It offers a wide range of erasable gel pens.

Magnetic Gel Pens

  • Gel pens with strong magnets, dubbed as MAGNETIPS are becoming a global phenomenon.
  • Mainly used by creatives, these pens "come with two rare-earth neodymium magnets embedded inside, giving them incredible magnetic strength (enough to lift over 10 times their weight)."
  • Not only do they offer a smoother experience, they can be used in a variety of ways — most of which have nothing to do with writing. Some ways these pens can be used include decluttering desks, making fidget pens, and building "complex structures with interconnected limbs that can swivel and pivot."
  • Typica, the company behind MAGNETIPS is the main brand embracing this trend.


In order to gather recent trends around ballpoint, gel, and rollerball pens, we first attempted locating pre-existing list of trends by scouring credible publications like Business Insider. When this proved unsuccessful, we searched for the latest news mentioning these pens and selected the main topics that appeared in at least two news articles. We also looked at leading pen companies like BIC and identified any recent innovations around these pens that they recently incorporated.