When pen addicts and non-pen addicts alike find themselves Google searching for the best pen, they are bound to land on Pen Addict's Top 5 Page. The page is home to lists of top picks for fountain pens, ball point pens, multi-pens, and even pencils. Back when I still thought fountain pens were too messy and not worth the extra work, the list that most interested me was the list of Micro Gel Ink Pens. I had no idea pens finer than the typical 0.5mm or 0.7mm even existed. I immediately purchased the infamous #1 pen- the Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38, and eventually found myself with some of each of the Top 5 list.
Even now, I carry some mix of these five pens with me every single day. I love my fountain pens, but there are just some situations that call for a different tool. In those situations, I'm most likely using one of these. Time to officially put them to the test. Let's start with the basic black pens.
Number 1: Uniball Signo DX 0.38
This pen is as good as advertised. It you want a pen that is going to lay down a dark, clean line every single time you pick it up no questions asked- this one is the one. To me, the biggest distinguishing factor about this pen is the darkness of the lines. Specifically in the black, the lines are ever so slightly noticeably darker than the others I compared it to. The two areas where this pen falls short of others on this list from my perspective are: 1) it is capped and not retractable, and 2) the plastic clip which is not spring-loaded.
Number 2: Pilot Juice 0.38
The Pilot Juice has both of the things that I noted the Signo DX is missing: it is retractable and has a great spring-loaded clip. The spring-loaded nature of the clip makes it more useable and durable- important if you happen to be a pen fidgeter like me. I can't tell you how many cheap plastic clips I've broken off pens in my lifetime. The gains the Juice makes in those details, it loses somewhat in it's smoothness and darkness.
Number 3: Pilot Hi-Tec-C 0.3
This was the last pen I acquired on this list because I wasn't so sure I would like it. It is certainly the outlier on this list. The tip is needle point instead of conical, and the difference is huge. It certainly does not feel as smooth as the others, and I thought that would be a bad thing. Now that I have used it, I would say it doesn't feel worse that the other pens- it just feels different. The Hi-Tec-C lays down the thinnest line BY FAR among this group, and for that fact alone there are many days when this is my favorite pen among these five. Small writing is smaller and cleaner, and the colors are surprisingly dark for how thin the lines are. I am not a huge fan of the body of the Maica version of the pen that I have due to the fact that it is capped, doesn't have a clip, and also has a plastic grip section instead of a rubber grip like the others. (There are many other versions of this pen body. See: Jet Pens Guide to the Hi-Tec-C.) However, slap this refill in one of the many, many Kickstarter barrels made specifically for this pen- and it becomes a revelation. There are a lot of clarifying statements that go along with this pen. If I need a pen to work quickly and immediately, I don't usually reach for it. Sometimes you have to doodle a little to get it going. It's not as waterproof as the other pens listed here. It's skipped on me a handful of times. However, if micro-fine line widths are what we are going for here- this pen wins by a long shot.
Number 4: Zebra Sarasa Clip 0.4
The spring-loaded clip on this pen is even better and more sturdy feeling than the Pilot Juice. The clip alone is good enough to make me want to carry this pen some days. In addition, there are times when I feel like this pen is even smoother than the Signo DX. The lines are not quite as clean in my opinion, and I think this one lays down a little more ink than the others. I don't know what it is, but I keep going back to this one. I am not sure what the objective reason is, but subjectively I find writing with this pen really enjoyable.
Number 5: Uniball Signo RT1
In many, many cases it is very hard to separate the difference between the Signo DX and this pen. It earns major points in my book because it is retractable, and the design is simple and sleek. That plastic clip is decently sturdy, but definitely not spring-loaded. Gentle fidgeting only please. At work where I need to quickly sign-off on things, this is one is my go-to almost every time.
There's not a bad pen in this bunch. In the end, I think it comes down to what is most important to you. Do you need a retractable pen? Do you need waterproof ink? Are reliable dark lines or super fine micro-detailed lines more important? Based on the appearance of the lines after writing, the Uniball Signo DX wins by a very slight margin due to the darkness of the lines. But if you ask me about the experience of actually using the pens, it's a toss-up from day-to-day and case-to-case. If there's anything to learn here, it is this:
If you're looking for the ultimate best pen, start with a use case and work backward.
Time for the colors. (Note: I certainly do not own every color available in each of these pens- most of them come in 20+ different colors. There may be other shades of these colors that perform differently the ones I have tested below. For more information about different colors, and a fantastic guide overall to micro gel pens see Jet Pens Guide to Micro Gel Pens.)
Again, these are all just plain good. Personally, I LOVE the Uniball Signo RT1 version. That very well might be my dessert island micro gel pen.
The blues that I own range greatly in shade. The lighter shade of the Pilot Juice isn't really for me, but I do like the lighter blue of the Signos. My favorite of the bunch here is the Pilot HI-Tec-C.
This isn't even a fair race. It's the Uniball Signo DX in a run-away.
The Pilot Juice light green is not very readable on white paper. I had some trouble with the green Sarasa, but the Signos and Hi-Tec-C are winners.
Surprise, surprise the darkest, truest red is the Signo DX, and the Signo RT1 is barely distinguishable from the DX.
It didn't scan very well, but I LOVE the this Pilot Juice Coral Pink color. I think it's my favorite of my Pilot Juice range of colors. The HI-Tec-C pink is also a winner.
Again, the purples I own range greatly. The Signo DX color, which is called Bordeaux Black, is excellent and unique. The Pilot Hi-Tec-C is also fantastic.
In terms of the colors, the Signo DX are most pigmented and reliable across the range in my opinion. But there are several other stand-outs. Good luck prying my Blue-Black Signo RT1, Coral Pink Juice, Green HI-TEC C, or Blue Zebra Sarasa from my hands.