What Material Is Used for Pen Ink?

The pens you use in daily life, such as ballpoint or ink pen, are simple and trivial. It took 100 years of hard work and research. It was done by individuals such as chemists, and business owners. It took decades to refine the ink inside the tube of the pen. It was more complex than something you would expect a small thing to have complexities.

The pen and ink have been in use since 2500 BC. Chinese and Egyptian societies developed the writing ink. The pen ink in this period is produced using a similar formula as it was used in ancient societies. A color-rich substance is suspended with stabilizers in a liquid that a pen can push over the paper while writing. The chemical composition of the pen ink or ballpoint ink is having a variety than before. 

Ballpoint Origins

Ballpoint Origins

The first ballpoint pen was invented by an American Leather Tanner named John Loud in 1888. It took almost 60 years for the pens to catch on and become popular. The structure and the basic functions of ballpoint pens have remained the same over the years. If the pen is not having a correct ink composition, it would clog, fade, smear or leak. It took decades to formulate the ink of ballpoints and make them more efficient than fountain pens. 

What Are the Ink Components of a Ballpoint?

What Are the Ink Components of a Ballpoint

The average ink of a ballpoint pen is composed of dye or pigment particles. The pigments are carbon black for a black pen, a suspected cocktail of Prussian blue or eosin for a red pen, crystal violet, and phthalocyanine blue for the blue pen. These pigments are suspended in a solvent of water or oil. The most common type of oils used in the composition of ballpoint ink is benzyl alcohol or phenoxyethanol. 

The oils mix the dyes or pigments to create a smooth vibrant ink. It makes it dry quickly. Other than these two primary components, there is more added to the ink. Pigment and solvent work fine for a pen but there could be more improvements. 

Innovations in Ink

Fountain pens preceded ballpoints because of thin, water-based ink. They depended on gravity to feed the ink down to the tip of the pen. They had to be used at specific angles with care. If not handled with care, the mechanisms of the pen would break and the ink would stain. The development of rough ball in the 1940s by Hungarian brothers named Lasdislas and George Biro solved the gravity problem in fountain pens. 

They were then paired with a thick and oil-based newspaper ink to solve the problem. Until 1949, Fran Seech developed the formula of modern pen ink. Paper Mate pens were made of this modern ink that went popular wildly. It was more than pigments and solvents in the pen ink. 

Additive Assistants

Additive Assistants

The specifics added in the ink composition of ballpoint or ink pen are kept secret. Several chemical additives are mixed with the ballpoint ink formulas to improve the quality and use of pens. The ballpoints are kept lubricated to avoid clogs using fatty acids such as oleic acid. To make sure that the ink is absorbed into the paper before it dries, pen ink manufacturing companies use surfactants such as alkyl alkanolamine. 

The additives or materials used in ink composition are changed every year when chemists develop new and effective formulas.

Dyes and Pigments Used in Fountain Pen Ink

Dyes and Pigments Used in Fountain Pen Ink

The color of the ink comes from the dye or pigment with a solvent such as oil or water. Eosin dye gives a red color to the ink. It is made by adding the element bromine to a fluorescent compound. The ink used in fountain pens that employ pigments consists of white ink composed of titanium oxide and metallic gold ink composed of copper-zing alloy. 

How the Polymers Are Stabilized in Ink?

How the Polymers Are Stabilized in Ink

Ink clot when their pigments and dye particles are clumped together. Stabilizers are used in ink to prevent clotting. Polymers composed of large molecules are made from chains of repeating units that act as a great stabilizer. In the past, egg albumin and plant resin were the main sources of stabilizing polymers. In the 20th century, polyvinyl acetate and polyvinyl chloride served the purpose of stabilization in pen ink. 

There are many grades of carbon black, out of which only a few are suitable for the composition of pen ink. The polymers used in the ink determine the particle size, flow properties of ink, optical properties such as gloss, etc. It impacts the color sharpness and separation of ink. 

Liquid Solvents in Fountain Pen Ink 

Early stabilizers used in ink held the fuel residue in the world’s most abundant liquid solvent that is water. Later on, the chemicals were used as solvents. Petrochemicals built from hydrogen and carbon used in ballpoint pen inks. The tipped pens composed of ink made with alcohol as a solvent. The restriction of carbon-based compounds in the pen ink industry has made the manufacturers make water-based inks. 

Additives in Tipped Pens

The quality of the ink can be increased using other additives such as glycerides. Glycerides contain alcohol glycerol and fatty acids. It can be obtained from the plants. It makes the writing of the pen smooth over the paper. Chemicals that control the pH of the ink such as triethanolamine keeps the ink from becoming acidic. It also helps to protect the pen from caustic causing damage to the pen. The addition of clay that contains silicates acts as a filler in ingredients of the pen ink. 

Modern Ink and Its Types

Modern Ink and Its Types

Modern ink is classified into two types; printing and writing inks. Modern ink is synthetic and it is usually used to fill pens or to write books and newspapers. Modern ink is being used in currency, cereal boxes we see in stores, advertisements printed on standees, etc. 

How to Make Your Pen Ink at Home?

How to Make Your Pen Ink at Home

Black permanent ink

You can make black permanent ink easily but make sure that you do not spill it on your couch or anywhere. It will cause a stain that will never go away on washing. 

You need:

  • Lamp Black; ½ teaspoon 
  • Egg yolk; 1 
  • Gum Arabic; 1 teaspoon 
  • Honey; half cup

You need to mix the egg yolk with gum Arabic and honey. Later on, add and stir the lamp black. The thick paste out of these ingredients can be stored in a sealed container. When you need to fill the pen, you can mix the paste with the water to get the correct consistency of the ink. 

Blue Ink

You need only two ingredients to make blue ink:

  • Laundry bluing or Prussian Blue Pigment 
  • Water

Simply mix the pigment into the water to make a thick blue ink. You can add more water to fill the paste in the pen or you can simply use it with a paintbrush for painting

Heat Activated Invisible Ink

It is a popular invisible ink that comes visible when placed on a radiator or held up against the light bulb.

You need:

  • Lemon; half 
  • Water 
  • Cotton buds 

Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl before adding few drops of water. Mix the two using a spoon. Now dip the cotton bud in the mixture and start writing on the paper. Once the ink has dried properly, hold it against a light bulb and you can see a secret message!


Pen ink manufacturers do not disclose the chemical composition of the ink they use in ballpoint or tipped fountain pen. There is a historical composition of ink we all know that is discussed in this article. You can make your ink at home using simple ingredients!