Ballpoint Vs. Gel Pens – What’s The Difference?

Ballpoint and gel pens are very popular writing utensils, and chances are you’ve probably heard of them before. But if you’re looking at this article, you probably don’t know much about them and want to learn about the differences that they have.

Gel and ballpoint pens can be pretty similar, but they do have some key differences to note, the main one being that gel pens use water-based ink whereas ballpoints use oil-based. Gel pens also tend to write a lot smoother than ballpoint pens, but ballpoints will dry faster and write on a bigger variety of surfaces.

The rest of this article is going to tell you all about ballpoint and gel pens, from how they differ structurally to how they compare when put to use. Let’s get into it!

Table of Contents

What Is The Difference Between Ballpoint And Gel Pens?

Pilot the Better ballpoint pen nib
Holding a Pilot the Better Ballpoint Pen

The most obvious difference between ballpoint and gel pens is the ink that they use.

Ballpoint pens use an oil-based ink that is pretty thick, whereas gel pens use a water-based ink that is a lot more thin and liquidy. Ballpoint ink tends to easily write on a lot of surfaces such as plastic bags, wood, and photographs, and gel pen ink can only really write on paper.

However, when writing on the proper surface gel pen ink will be a lot more smooth than ballpoint ink. It also creates more vibrant colors when you are writing on paper because it’s so much more pigmented than ballpoint ink.

Since gel pens use more ink than ballpoint pens, they also tend to be a bit wider. Though you can find both gel and ballpoint pens in a variety of sizes, you will more often than not find that the gel pens are bigger in your hand.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Ballpoint Pens?

Holding a stainless Steel ballpoint pen
Holding a Zebra F-701 Ballpoint Pen


Since ballpoint pens have oil-based ink and don’t let out much ink at a time, they will dry very quickly on the page. This means that you don’t have to worry about smudging since the ink is pretty much dry the instant you write with it.

Ballpoint pens can also write on many different surfaces, not just paper. They work on things such as wood, magazine covers, plastic bags, and the backs of photos. This makes it easy to mark things if you don’t want to take the extra time to get a sticky note or paper and tape.

Lastly, ballpoint pens take a pretty long time to run out of ink, so you rarely have to worry about refills. This is great if you don’t want to go through the hassle of refilling, which can happen a lot more if you use gel pens.


One of the biggest cons is that ballpoint pens require more force to get the ink out. This means that you are pressing harder on the page, which can easily tire out your hand. So if you are planning on writing for long periods of time, a ballpoint pen might not be the best choice.

Ballpoint pens also don’t come in nearly as many colors as gel pens do. If you want a colored ballpoint pen that isn’t your typical blue, red, or black, you’ll probably have to look pretty hard to find it. Some people don’t mind this, but it can definitely be a downside if you enjoy using different colors.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Gel Pens?

Holding a Zebra G-750 Gel Pen


Gel pens are very easy to write with and come off smooth on the page. This means that you don’t have to put in as much effort to get the ink out, and your hand will take longer to tire as a result. So if you are going to be writing for long periods of time, gel pens could be a good option for you.

Compared to ballpoint pens, gel pens are very vibrant on the page. Many people really like this aspect because it looks more aesthetically pleasing and it can be easier to read.


Because of their water-based ink, gel pens feel more watery and therefore take a longer time to dry than ballpoint pens. This can cause them to smudge a lot easier, and you have to be careful not to touch the ink until it’s dry. This can be especially annoying if you are left-handed because your hand has to brush over what you just wrote to continue writing.

Gel pens also run out of ink quicker than ballpoint pens because of how fast their ink comes out and how much has to be used when you write. This can be a problem if you are going to be using your gel pens a lot and don’t want to deal with constant refills. 

Which Is Better: Ballpoint Or Gel?

rOtring 600 Pen Design
One of my favorite pens – the rOtring 600 ballpoint

As with most things, deciding which pen is better really does come down to personal preference. It can also help to figure out what situation you are in. Are you going to write with your pen often? Are you looking for a pen that will write in a variety of colors or are you fine with the standard black, blue, or red?

It may help to think about the situations someone would use each pen. 

If you are looking for a trustworthy pen that will last a long time and dry quickly, you might discover that the ballpoint is a better fit. But if you think that you are going to be doing a lot of writing and don’t want to encounter a tired hand, you may be more inclined to go for a different pen.

Gel pens are great if you don’t mind the time that they take to dry. They won’t tire your hand as easily, and they will write super smooth and vibrantly on the page. 

As you have seen, both types of pens have their pros and cons, so it’s not really easy to just say that one is better than the other. It always comes down to the situation you are in and what you are looking for to get the job done.

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