Ballpoint, Gel, and Rollerball Pens

What’s the Difference between Ballpoint, Gel, and Rollerball Pens?

November 3, 2019

Ballpoint, Gel, and Rollerball Pens

You probably have seen them every day. And they look the same. But they are not. Ballpoint, gel, and rollerball pens have distinct characteristics that separate one another.

So, what’s the difference between ballpoint, gel, and rollerball pens? The only difference is the ink formulation. Ballpoint pens’ ink is oil-based, gel pen’s ink is water-based, and the rollerball pen uses liquid ink that consists of dyes dissolved in water.

However, the feature that makes them similar is the revolving ball. This thing is installed at the tip and dispenses ink as it revolves.

When writing, the ball turns and touches the ink which in turn coats the ball and the ink flow onto the paper.

The Ballpoint Pens

The common ingredients of ballpoint’s ink are a mixture of alcohol, fatty acids, and dyes. These basic materials have specific functions.

The alcohol, for instance, provides smooth ink flow when writing. The fatty acids, on the other hand, lubricates the tip of the pen that gives extra smoothness.

Because the ink of ballpoint pens is thick, they write on virtually any paper including the low-quality ones. But such great ink feature has a little drawback – it needs more pressure to write.

If you have tried writing notes using a ballpoint pen before, you probably realized that writing with a ballpoint pen can be tiring.

But you might also realize that ballpoint pens are easy to control during long writing sessions. The best characteristic of a ballpoint pen that we love the most is its smudge-resistant, fast-drying, and waterproof ink.

The Gel Pens

As the name suggests, the ink of the gel pens is suspended in a gel. The dense gel locks the ink and prevents it from flowing out of the back. This keeps the gel pens safe in any storing position.

These characteristics make the gel pens vibrant and precise. They provide smooth ink flow and excellent writing performance.

Unlike ballpoint pens, we find that gel pens are easier to write and require less pressure when writing. Gel pens are perfect for long writing sessions.

The only problem we found with these pens is that they skip sometimes. This is something that we don’t normally experience with ballpoint pens and rollerball pens.

The reason behind this is that, unlike ballpoint pens, the ink does not coat the ball as it turns to write. Maybe because the ink of gel pens is thinner.

Gel pens also have problems with the preciseness of the ink. Because the ink is water-based, it takes time to dry making it prone to smudges. If you are a left-handed person, this may not be a good pen for you.

The Rollerball Pens

Rollerball pens have ink similar to fountain pens. The ink flows freely requiring no additional effort on the part of the writer. If you are looking for a smooth and easy to handle pen for long writing sessions, then rollerball pens are for you.

However, the ink of rollerball pens is known to have bled on low-quality papers. This means that when using rollerball pens, choosing thicker and good quality paper to write on is very important.

For safety purposes, we do not recommend using rollerball pens during an exam because these pens might jeopardize the paper. When dealing with important documents, we suggest using ballpoint pens.

When to Use Each Pen?

Obviously, each pen has strengths and weaknesses. If you used one of them before, you might probably realize that each pen type has a specific purpose.

Below are the basic uses of ballpoint, gel, and rollerball pens.

Ballpoint Pens

Because ballpoint pens have viscous ink features, they are perfect to write with slick paper surfaces. The ink works well on virtually all types of paper making the ballpoint pens perfect for everyday use.

This is the main reason why most of the students use ballpoint pens in their classes. These pens provide great comfort during a long session of note-taking.

Although they require a little more effort to write, they ensure high-quality writing performance. If you are a left-handed person, you’ll love ballpoint pens and you’ll know why.

Gel Pens

Gel pens can also be used for note-taking and another important writing task. In fact, many students love gel pens. However, because of their tendency to skip, it could cause you headaches along the way.

The best purpose we found for gel pens is marking. Because gel pens come with a variety of colors, you can use them to make marks on your notes.

This is helpful especially if you want to emphasize something on your notes or implement a color code. With gel pens, you can easily do that.

Rollerball Pens

Rollerball pens can also be used for any writing task. The free and smooth-flowing ink makes rollerball pens perfect for people who avoid hand cramps during writing sessions.

With free-flowing ink, rollerball pens require almost no effort. The ink will continuously flow with a light touch.


Now that you know the difference between ballpoint, gel, and rollerball pens, it is time to choose which best for you.

These three pens are similar. The only thing that differentiates one another is their ink formula.

So, which one is best for you? Well, we cannot tell you exactly what pens the best suit your writing needs. In most cases, people choose pens according to cost, writing experience, and writing performance.


In terms of expenses, ballpoint pens have the lowest cost. This is because of their ink’s viscosity. The ink only flows and writes on paper when the ball touches the ink reservoir. This mechanism minimizes smudges and therefore saves the ink for longer use.

Because ballpoint pens consume less amount of ink when writing, they are more dependable and durable over time.

Writing Experience

People love pens that require little or no effort. This feature is found in rollerball pens. These pens write smoothly as fountain pens. They provide comfort for the writer giving excellent writing experience.

If you want to avoid hand cramps during long writing sessions, then the rollerball pens can be your great choice. If you have hand issues (arthritis), you definitely want to try rollerball pens.

Writing Performance

If you are looking for pens with precise and clean writing performance, then you might want to try the gel pens. These pens are great if you want to add artistic value to your writing.

You can use gel pens to make bold signatures and to your artwork. That’s not all, gel pens are also a great writing tool for journal writing.

But again, we cannot tell you which is best for your writing task. You can choose from the three types of pens.

To figure it out, you can try each one of these pens and see what works best for you.

We hope that this post helps you understand how ballpoint, gel, and rollerball pens differ from each other.

To learn more about pens, click here.