Review by Tina Koyama
After fountain pens, my favorite pen type for writing is gel. I love the wide range of vibrant ink colors they are available in, and they require no maintenance.
As a lefty, however, many gel inks remain wet just long enough that they smear under typical writing conditions. I’ve occasionally tried “fast drying” or “dry” gel pens with varying degrees of satisfaction, but it had been a long time since I explored this characteristic, so I went out to JetPens to look around. As you know, JetPens stocks a staggering number of gel pens, including 200 containing “quick drying” inks. To narrow my choices, I checked the “retractable” option (my preferred pen body style) and still came up with 164 choices. (Whew – shopping at JetPens can be exhausting!) The three quick-drying, retractable gel pens I chose to compare are:
- Zebra Sarasa Dry Gel Pen (0.5mm), $2.95
- Ohto Rays Flash Dry Gel Pen (0.5mm), $3.90
- Pentel EnerGel Alloy Gel Pen (0.7mm), $8
(In retrospect, I realized I should have compared three pens of the same tip size, since broader tips put out more ink and presumably take longer to dry. Thankfully, the Desk didn’t hire me for my scientific methods.)
Initially my thought was to make lines on a sheet and rub my finger through them at regular intervals to see how long I’d have to wait for them to dry completely. Then I realized that the only meaningful test is a real-world one. So I pulled out my daily-use Leuchtturm 1917 journal and a collection of short stories on my bookshelf. Using each pen, I copied several sentences at my normal writing speed and without trying to be neat. In other words, exactly the way I typically write in my journal. I then examined the page and circled all the spots where I saw that the ink had smeared. (It was somewhat hair-raising to see all those red marks. . . it recalled papers I got back from elementary school teachers.) Finally, I photographed the side of my hand, which often tells a more complete story than the page. (I washed my hand thoroughly after each test so that I always began a new test with a clean hand. I do make some effort at credibility.)
Here are the results.
The Sarasa Dry
The Sarasa Dry is the fast-drying gel pen I’ve had the longest, and I’ve never been crazy about it. Although it isn’t apparent in my test sample, the ink tends to blob. Among Zebras, I prefer the Zebra Sarasa Push Clip Gel Pen, whose ink doesn’t seem to take any longer to dry but flows more smoothly without blobbing. My hand shows an average amount of telltale ink – about the same as what most gel pens leave behind.
The Ohto Rays
Although the Ohto Rays supposedly has the same point size (0.5mm) as the Sarasa Dry, it looks much finer on the page and simply feels finer in a non-flattering way – a bit scratchy. It also rattles unpleasantly. Despite the finer line, it still left behind numerous smeary spots where my hand dragged across it. Looking at my hand, however, I had to conclude that the Ohto Rays ink was dry enough not to transfer to my skin. So although I enjoyed using this pen the least of the three contenders, I must acknowledge that my hand looks cleaner than usual.
The Pentel EnerGel
I had high hopes for the Pentel EnerGel because the pen body itself is the most attractive of the three. In fact, I already owned several before putting it through this test because I enjoy using it so much. The ink flows smoothly and evenly and never blobs. As you can see from the writing test, though, it did smear often, and I was chagrined to see the wide trail of ink it left behind on my hand.
Disappointingly, none of the three pens did much better than the others on page tests, but the Ohto Rays clearly left the least amount of ink on my hand. Its retro Parker-esque body might appeal to some, but I found it too slender for my comfort. JetPens indicates that the Ohto Rays Flash ink refill is compatible with several other pens, so I could find another pen body that would make me happier. Another solution might be to stick with finer tips of any kind of gel ink, “dry” or not, since the broader 0.7mm EnerGel left more ink on my hand. Easier still would be to use whatever pen I like and not worry about smudges and inky hand (in other words, be my usual self).