What is ballpoint pen ink made of?

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What is ballpoint pen ink made of?
The ink composition of a ballpoint pen ensures a smooth writing style. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

A ballpoint pen is a pen that has a small metal ball as the point of transfer of ink to paper. The style of a ballpoint pen varies from utilitarian to a fashion or style statement with an accompanying large variation in price according to the University of Reading Centre for Advanced Microscopy (CFAM). The ink composition of the pen is important in obtaining a smooth writing style.


There have been many versions of the ballpoint pen. In 1888, the first patent was issued to John J. Loud, a leather tanner, who was attempting to make a writing instrument that would be able to write on his leather products. With no commercial viability as this design was too coarse for letter writing, the patent eventually lapsed.


Frustrated by the amount of time he wasted filling up fountain pens and cleaning up smudges, Laszlo Biro, a Hungarian newspaper editor decided to create a pen using the same type of ink. With the help of his brother Gyorgy, a chemist, Laszlo created a pen with a ball-socket mechanism that prevented the ink from drying inside the reservoir while allowing a controlled flow in 1938. The biro was born.

Ink properties

Ballpoint ink is thick and fast drying. It is thick so that it does not spill out of the reservoir, but thin enough that it responds to gravity, that is why a ballpoint pen cannot write upside-down; it needs gravity to pull the ink into the ball. The ink consists of a pigment, which is made up of tiny coloured particles, dissolved or suspended in a solvent typically ethylene glycol or propylene glycol.

Ink dye

Ballpoint pens are made up of about 50 percent dye. They come in a variety of colours with the most popular being black, red and blue. Black ink gets its colour from a fine powder made from soot. Red ink is made from eosin that is a bromine derivative of flourescein. Several dyes are used to make blue ink including triphenylmethane dyes, copper phthalocyanine blue and crystal violet.


Black and blue inks may also contain iron sulphate and gallic and tannic acids. These allow the ink to be more permanent. Synthetic polymers, often nitrocellulose-based, are added to help the dye disperse through the ink and adjust the viscosity and surface tension. Additives such as resins, preservatives and wetting agents are commonly added to adjust the final properties of the ink to ensure a smooth writing experience.

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