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Different Types of Ink

The Different Inks :: Ballpoint - Rollerball - Gel

The following information comes from the thorough research conducted by a kind friend, Paul Bloch - who is an avid pen collector with an expertise and love for all things 'pens'. I'd like to express my appreciation and thanks to Paul for allowing me to post this information to the benefit of those who always had this nagging question in the back of their mind, "what is the difference between all these inks?"

  • Ballpoint Ink
  1. - is viscous, its thickness like molasses; so thick that it doesn't spill out of the reservoir
    - is quick-drying
    - is usually alcohol-based
    - must be slow drying in the reservoir and free of particles
    - on paper, dries rapidly, via penetration and some evaporation
    - can be used on fairly thin sheets and it doesn't “feather” through the surface
    - must be thin enough so that it responds to gravity
    - color is provided by pigments and dyes
    - black is derived from an organic pigment ­ carbon
    - colored pigments are inorganic compounds of chromium (yellow, green, and orange), molybdenum (orange), cadmium (red and yellow), and iron (blue)
    - also contains lubricants, surfactants, thickeners and preservatives
    - refills are generally available in widths running from .5 mm to 1.4 mm

    ♦ Fisher Space Pen ballpoints use thixotropic ink
    ♦ Monteverde offers “soft roll” liquid ballpoint refills ­ not as thick as standard ballpoint ink and not as liquid as rollerball ink. Benefits: easier flow and smoother feel. Like other ballpoints, dries more quickly and is less likely to smear than rollerball ink.
  • Rollerball Ink
  1. - is water-based; usually not permanent, and will run when exposed to water
    - moves more smoothly than a ballpoint
    - flows quickly and easily and rarely skips
    - takes longer to dry and can be prone to smudging
    - can soak through paper ­ more than a ballpoint or gel ink
    - can give you a “feathering” effect
    - needs less pressure to write with and tends to feel fast and smooth
    - is often seen as a cross between a fountain pen and a ballpoint

    ♦ UniBall makes waterproof rollerball ink
    ♦ Schneider® makes non-erasable rollerball ink
  • Gel Ink
  1. - is water based
    - has a viscosity which changes (is thixotropic)
    - when the pen is not being used, the ink typically has a high viscosity
    - when the ball starts to rotate, the ink thins down, similar to rollerball ink
    - is a cross between a printing press transfer (ballpoint) and a moving puddle of ink (rollerball)
    - is opaque, because it uses pigment instead of dye
    - can be slow to dry, so smudging may be a problem
    - tends to write smoothly, but can skip
    - doesn't require much pressure
    - doesn't flow as smoothly as liquid ink
    - widths range from about .3 mm to as wide as 1.6 mm
    - flow remains consistent for the life of pen refill

    ♦ Monteverde also offers a ceramic gel refill. The ceramic tip is harder than stainless or tungsten, and, therefore, more resilient. Harder also means less evaporation; therefore a three year shelf life (vs. two for stainless or tungsten).