I took fourteen of the most popular micro tip gel pens and tried to figure out which one is the “right one” for you. Some are hybrid ink, liquid ink or other modifications but I’m not a chemist so, from a layperson’s perspective, they are all appealing to the same consumer — someone looking for an extra, smooth, dark/bright pen. Of course, your needs may vary so I am comparing different characteristics: cost, smoothness, ink darkness, water resistance, and overall look-and-feel.
I purchased three core brands: Uni-Ball, Pentel and Pilot as well as a Zebra and a Morning Glory Mach 3 (recently updated to the Pro Mach). There are other micro gel pen options available but I wanted to get this posted and I could add pens endlessly and never finish this review. There is also alternate options for the same pen style (conical tip vs. needletip, capped vs. retractable, refillable/multi-pen, etc.) and I have not included all those variations. (Many of these pens are available in the Jet Pens Micro Gel Pen Sampler Set.)
- Uni-Ball Signo 0.38 (UNM-155) ($2.85 each)
- Uni-Ball Signo 0.38 (Needle Tip) ($3.30 each)
- Uni-Ball Jetstream 0.38 ($2.85 each)
- Pentel Hybrid Technica 0.4 ($2.99 each)
- Pentel Energel-X 0.3 (BLN103) ($1.90 each)
- Pentel Energel RTX Liquid Ink Needle Tip 0.3 ($2.80 each)
- Pentel Slicci 0.25 (AKA Muji) (Box of 12 for $24.44)
- Zebra Sarasa 0.3 ($1.75 each)
- Morning Glory Mach III Liquid Ink 0.38 ($2.15 each as updated to Pro Mach)
- Pilot Acroball 0.5 ($2.85 each)
- Pilot G-2 0.38 ($1.90 each)
- Pilot Juice 0.38 ($3.60 each ($1.80 each)
- Pilot Juice Up 0.3 ($3.60 each)
- Pilot Hi-Tec C 0.3 ($3.30 each)
Of all the pens I tested, only the five pictured above were capped models. All the rest were retractable designs. While I prefer the overall aesthetics of a capped pen, I reach for a retractable pen often because its quick and easy, especially for those daily notes taken between typing on the computer, meetings, list-making etc. where the cap-off time is minimal. When I sit down for a drawing session or a longer journal-writing project, then I’m as likely to choose a capped pen as a retractable. It’s worth factoring this into your gel pen decision.
The photo above shows the variety of tip and grip design differences. The pens I tested were about half conical tip and half needle tip. As long as the pen housing is stable (no wobbles), I prefer the needle tip over the conical but that’s just a personal preference.
- Uni-Ball Jetstream: As predicted by all, the Jetstream is pretty darn waterproof. It’s the pen favored by discerning waitstaff for just this reason. It will also stand up to mixed media journal uses.
- Pilot Acroball: Despite singeing the paper trying to dry my water swatches quickly, the Acroball ink did not move. If you are writing in unpredictable situations or want to mix your gel pens with watercolor, brush pen or other wet media, the Acroball is not going to bleed or feather. Be warned not to let me cook for you, I can burn water!
- Uni-Ball Signo Needle Tip: I found the Signo Needle Tip to be ever-so-slightly more water resistant than the Signo UNM-155. There is a little bit of color bleed with the application of water but it’s minimal and will probably depend on the type of paper you are using and your dry time. I probably woudn’t recommend it for mixed media art work unless its your last layer but for writing, you probably don’t need to worry about getting a little water on your work and losing it all.
- (Tie) Uni-Ball Signo UNM-155 and Zebra Sarasa: The water resistance of the Signo UNM-155 and the Zebra Sarasa were comparable and only slightly less resistant than the Signo Needle Tip.
If you want a good looking pen cup, these three are my top choices for aesthetics in the micro gel pen category:
- Uni-Ball Signo UNM-155: The stealth black-on-black barrel, clip and grip make it streamlined and simple. The silicone grip feels nice in the hand but does attract lint and pet hair like crazy.
- Pilot Juice Up 03: The Juice Up is another black-on-black with just the silver conical barrel and a clear ring at the top below the knock mechanism. The Juice also has a silicone grip section which can get lint-y but not as back as the Signo.
- Muji/Pentel Slicci: I know its unfair to put this one in the list as it is not available online and I’ve been told that Muji is no longer offering this particular model. However, if you can this barrel design, it does accept the Pentel Slicci refills which it uses (as well as some others) and is clearly the winner in the aesthetics game as long as you don’t mind a capped pen. The barrel is a soft-touch material — not quite silicone rubber — that feels nice without attracting lint.
The Pilot G-2 is my least recommended aesthetically. I find the clip bulbous and juvenile looking and the clear ink window shows a weird yellow goo in the refill barrel that makes the pen look heat-damaged and sickly. Many of the other pens feature silicone grip sections which can be fairly streamlined like the Zebra Sarasa or overall bulbous like the Energel. On the subject of the Energel, despite having a large plastic grip section, it is the hardest, least squishy grip section. Sure they added grooves but to what purpose? When compared to the more streamlined capped Uni-Ball Signo Needle which has a small, slender cushion grip, the Energel grip seems relatively pointless.
Both the Zebra Sarasa Clip and Pilot Juice feature large spring-loaded clips. If you are inclined to clip your pen to your notebook, these may be stand-out winners for you.
Best for the Price:
- Pentel Energel-X (BLN103)
- Zebra Sarasa Clip
- Pilot Juice
All three of these pens are under $2 each. The Sarasa is comparable to the Signo UNM-155 for water resistance and features a spring-loaded clip all for under $2. The Pilot Juice has the same style spring-loaded clip and a solid gel ink performance for less than $2 per pen. The Pentel Energel-X has one of the richest black ink in a micro gel. These are all great options at great prices.
My recommended choices:
- Uni-Ball Signo 0.38 (needle tip or UNM-155): Whether you choose the needle tip, conical, retractable or capped versions, a Uni-Ball Signo is a must-have. It is my number 1 recommendation for micro gel pens. The ink is highly water resistant with a smooth, dark black.
- Pilot Acroball 05: I confess I prefer the Acroball 05 over the Jetstream (I know — BLASPHEME!) but its ever-so-slightly smoother while maintaining the same ballpoint/hybrid quality of the Jetstream. It’s equally water proof compared to the Jetstream too (as long as you don’t scorch the paper!)
- Pentel Energel 03: The Energel (X or RTX) are both super smooth with a rich, dense black. The ink is not water resistant but if you want liquid-like ink in a micro gel pen, this is your best bet.
- Pilot Hi-Tec C/Pentel Slicci: These are the two original micro gel pens. While there is a little feedback when they are in use, they are still pens I reach for over and over again. The color ink versions are also appealing. They can be finicky to use sometimes, when they are working, they are beautiful.
My terrible intern:
Finally, I thought I’d share the conditions under which I have to work. Ollie, the shitty intern, continues to “oversee” work which is wholly unhelpful. Darn cute feet though.
DISCLAIMER: Some items in this review were provided free of charge by JetPens for the purpose of review and some include affiliate links. The Well-Appointed Desk is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon. Please see the About page for more details.
16 comments / Add your comment below
Ollie must be trying to become teacher’s pet!
Thank you for the great blog.
Great list! I have about 5 pens from your list within arms reach. I use the Uniball Signos and the Energel liquid gel ink almost every day! Thanks for sharing!
So glad to have included some of your favorites!
Nice Review! I appreciate all the work! I like thin lines but hate scratchy tips. I’ll check some of these out.
Sometimes, just switching up a point size or switching papers will make these micro tip pens feel smoother. If a 0.38 seems to scratchy to you, try a 0.5. Super smooth paper will also make a different. Rhodia or Clairefontaine is particularly smooth.
Nice! I love these pens for writing in very small letters in Field Notes. I was lucky to get a Muji 0.25 in purple and find it quite smooth relative to the thinness of the line.
Awesome score. You can refill the pen with the pentel Slicci refills
I didn’t realize that the energel came in a .3. That is something to purchase because it is a great pen at the other sizes, so to have it in .3 would be a nice option.
What is your finest point pen.
My favorite pen is the Uni-ball gel pen. Since the ink in these gel pens is water-resistant, you won’t have to worry about your writings being smeared if they get wet. These great gel pens can be used on any form of paper. All of the colors are smudge-proof, including the dark ones, rendering note-taking an easy.
I know this is months later – but could you review all these same pens again, and rate their dry time/ smudgeproof-ness? I hate it when I go to label something or write something down, only to handle the paper or label and find that the gel pen ink has smudged/is not set yet 🙁
Dry time and smudginess is dependent on paper type. Smoother papers and coated stocks (like Avery labels, magazines, etc) will have longer dry times. Weather and humidity can also affect dry times. So, while I could retest these pens, YMMV depending on the time of year, temperatures, humidity and your paper selection. I don’t mean to leave it up to you to determine which dries fastest but if you have issues with smudging, you might want to consider the fast dry gel pens available. As a lefty, smudging is a life long struggle for me!
G-2 hot a bad rap in this review. I love it for drawing and writing. The G-2 bold or medium a go to pen for me.
Thank you for writing this post, this is very helpful for me to choose a great gel pen. I think Pilot g2 is a great pen.
Omg this post is just what I was looking for! I love small tip pens and Ive used the uni style fit in 0.28 for years now, but I was looking for a non multipen alternative and one that doesn’t run out fast. I really wanted to know how Signo holds up vs energel and juice up.
Great article, thanks. I’m really looking for a successor to the Uni-Ball Micro 0.5mm rollerballs, which I’ve been using since 1987. I’ve tried a few gel pens – Energels, a Uni-ball one and currently Zebra Sarasa Dry 0.5 but I just haven’t found a pen I love. I appreciate your article, and I wonder if you might give me the benefit of your wisdom? What gel pen would you recommend as a successor to the Uni-Ball Micro for a lefty?
Many thanks in advance,