I haven’t properly been in the blogosphere for a while. One of the interesting things which happened during my time away was how the stationery/ studyblr community collectively moved away from the Muji gel pens as a ‘must-have’ stationery item. The funny thing is that my personal opinion on the Muji pens hasn’t changed all that much. So today I want to do a gel pen comparison with a few other brands to see just how good the Muji gel pens are.
Are Muji Pens Overrated? A Gel Pen Comparison
The Problem With Muji Gel Pens
I’ve mentioned the Muji pens a few times in the past and I’ve always felt like I needed to mention that I didn’t find them the most comfortable pen to hold. I’ve been dealing with some RSI issues (calligrapher problems!) but a cheap pen grip fixed most of those issues for me.
But I think we also need to look at the general consensus of the Muji pen to understand why some have come to label them as “overrated”. One of the main criticisms of the Muji gel pen is that the ink takes a long time to dry and that it smudges. I’ve never had any issues with ink not drying fast enough. But I agree that the ink will smudge if you go over it with a highlighter. I’ve only really used the Mildliner branded highlighters with the Muji gel pens but it is an issue.
I use this combination a lot in my bullet journal, especially for daily headers and got into a habit of putting down the highlighter before the gel pen to solve this problem. But if you want to highlight something you’ve written then yes, the Muji ink is probably going to smudge.
One of the other big criticisms of the Muji pens is that they aren’t comfortable to hold. This is one I agree with, and I’m pretty sure I have mentioned this exact problem in previous posts. However, this problem is not unique to the Muji pen and actually comes from the design of the pen. The barrel is made out of very smooth plastic so you have to grip the pen more to keep it stable. Over time this causes hand strain making it more difficult to write. The Apple Pencil has the same problem and I find it extremely uncomfortable to use.
I’ve been dealing with RSI issues for a while and it was suggested that I try using a grip on my pen. I’ve been doing so ever since and it pretty much solved all the issues I have with the Muji gel pen being uncomfortable to use. However, I understand that in most cases choosing a different pen is preferable to buying extra stuff to make a pen comfortable to write with.
So now, knowing all this, I thought it would be interesting to do a gel pen comparison. I’m going to use specific parameters based on pen performance and comfort levels to see how other gel pens compare to the Muji pens.
The Gel Pen Showdown
I think I should begin by mentioning that all these findings are based on my personal opinions. I agree that the issues with the Muji pens are annoying, but they aren’t annoying enough that I feel the need to go out and buy new pens. Because of this, I don’t want to go out and buy pens specifically for this blog post. So I’m going to be doing a gel pen comparison with the pens I currently own. Some of these I bought and some I was sent in subscription boxes.
So the pens I will be comparing are the Pilot Frixion ball in 0.5, the uni-ball erasable gel in 0.7. Both of these pens (as you might have guessed from the names) have erasable ink. And then I have the Zebra Sarasa mark-on pen, this is one I got in a Japanese stationery subscription box. And finally the Pentel KL105 in 0.5. This Pentel pen was my go-to pen before discovering Muji.
One of the main selling points of the Muji pen is the ink. This is also one of the areas where people have criticised it. I did an extremely unscientific test to see how much the ink smudged immediately after writing. Though they all smudged to some extent, the Zebra Sarasa pen was the one with the least amount of smudging.
Its also quite interesting to compare the colour of the inks. The Pilot and uni-ball pens have more grey ink compared to the other blacks. This would be a deal-breaker for me because I like true black ink. but I also assume this colour has something to do with the erasable qualities of these pens. I would also say the Muji pen isn’t quite as black compared to the Pentel, however, this is a very slight difference.
When it comes to going over the ink with a highlighter, the Muji pen predictably smudged quite a bit. However, most of the other pens had some significant smudging as well. The Zebra Sarasa was again the pen that coped with this test the best. I assume if given slightly more time to dry this ink wouldn’t have smudged.
In the interest of science, I also tried some other brands of highlighters so no one would think I was favouring the Mildliners. The specific highlighters I used were the Staedtler Textsurfer and the Bic highlighter. The pens coped better with these highlighters compared to the Mildliner, but the Zebra Sarasa was the only pen with no smudging at all. And this was with a 5-second wait between writing and highlighting.
I wrote a short passage with each pen to check how comfortable they were to write with. Note that this probably isn’t the best test because the pens I use last could potentially come across as being less comfortable simply from strain building in my hand as I write. Also, for the sake of fairness I took the pen grip off my Muji pen.
Overall I would agree that the Muji pen wasn’t particularly comfortable to write with but this isn’t all that surprising. There’s a reason why I use that pen grip. The Pilot Frixion pen was surprisingly nice to write with but I think this is because the barrel of the pen is slightly thicker compared to the others tested which made it slightly easier to hold.
The uni-ball pen also doesn’t have a grip and so suffers from a similar problem as the Muji. The Pentel and Zebra pens were decent to write with. I think I prefer the Pentel slightly over the Zebra but neither were groundbreaking.
I guess the price is the real sticking point here. The Muji website sells gel pens for £1.50 a pen with a refill costing £0.95. I tend to buy the refills rather than a whole new pen. The Pilot Frixion pens and uni-ball erasable both work out at a similar price. The Pentel and Zebra Sarasa pens both work out to be slightly cheaper. Though for the most part, all of the pens are around the same price.
Okay, so here’s the thing. The Muji gel pen has some legitimate problems. But a £1.50 pen grip solved those problems for me. The Zebra Sarasa and Pentel pens are great alternatives. So are the uni-ball and Pilot pens if you’re looking for an erasable pen. But the issues I have with the Muji pen are not annoying enough that it makes me want to go find a new pen. Even though I use a bullet journal, I don’t go through pens all that fast. I’d rather go through the Muji pens I have left before looking for
You’re probably reading this gel pen comparison trying to decide which pen is best. So yes, the Muji pens are probably a bit overrated. I worry that I have, to an extent perpetuated this because I feature them on my blog so much. If you’re set on buying a Muji pen they do sell a version with a finger grip. But the Pentel and Zebra pens are also great options. It’s one of these things where you have to figure out which is best for you. Despite all these tests, I don’t think there has been one pen that really stood out to me.