How to Get a Ballpoint Pen to Start Writing Again

By Daniel Whitehouse

Braxton Blue Ballpoint Pen

How to Get a Ballpoint Pen to Start Writing Again

By Daniel Whitehouse

So, how to get a pen to write again?
Sometimes, you might need a minute to get the ink started in a brand new pen. Or if you have a pen that you haven't used for the while, the problem and solution can be the same.
We have had customers think that perhaps their new pen came without ink in the cartridge, when in fact it was just a matter of getting the pen started.
How to Get a Ballpoint Pen Working Again Infographic

Why does it not just write the moment I first try it?

While most of the time the ink will start on first attempt, sometimes they do not.
The tip's ball can clog, or the ink can congeal or coagulate.
Especially on a brand new pen the cartridge is filled at the factory from end opposite from the tip.
It all has to do with how a ballpoint pen works. The pen will not write until it gets wet. That's why you need to wet the ballpoint with ink to make it work going forward.
Further Reading: How Do Ballpoint Pens Work
So until the ball in the tip wets with ink or until any small air pockets are removed, the pen may not write or may skip.
99.5% of the time the ink cartridge it is not defective, it just needs to be started.
Once the pen starts, there will be no further issues.

Tips on how to get a pen to write again:

  • Dip the tip in a drop of oil. Cooking oil is fine, any oil will do.
  • Water can also work, but we suggest oil.
  • Let it soak for 5-10 seconds, swirling it around in the drop of oil is best.
  • Scribble vigorously on a piece of paper until the oil absorbs and only ink starts to flow.
  • If it does not start, then soak the tip in oil for 20 minutes and try again.

If this did not work, here are additional tips 

  1.  The video below demonstrates a second way to get a pen to start writing.
  2. If none of the above works, then warming the ink just a little can tried. You should remove the refill from the pen before you warm the ink. Warming it can thin the ink or melt a clog, allowing the ink to flow easily.

Here is a video. NOTE: We are NOT responsible for any damage to the pen or refill if you choose this method.


The table below summarizes some issues you might face when using a ballpoint pen and their solutions:

Issue Solution
Pen won't start Shake the pen gently to get the ink flowing
 Dry ballpoint tip Draw small circles on scrap paper to encourage ink flow
Old or dried ink Soak the pen tip in warm water for a few minutes
Air bubble in cartridge Tap the pen gently on a hard surface to release the air bubble


    Daniel Whitehouse is the President and CEO of Dayspring Pens. He uses his expertise with premium writing utensils to create exceptional, intentional products and craft easy-to-understand articles that help both new and experienced users learn more about their writing tools. He lives in Virginia where he and his wife are raising their four children.

    To learn more about him and his insights about custom engraved gift pens, follow Daniel on LinkedIn.


    @BILL Interesting! I am curious to hear if the method works on pens that are of that age. I know after that length of time, some ballpoint inks will dry out in the cartridge even sealed and still “new”.

    Samantha Di Nardo

    The pens I’m trying to get working were brand new and still in the package. They could be 15 years old. The heat the tip method in a flame worked for some ballpoint stick pens, but not for some other ballpoint pens. I did the flame and oil thing. I’m soaking them in warm water now.


    sometimes a pen will write on your skin(!) -a bit oily and textured – when it will not write on paper :( then you need to wash up but works in a pinch


    @Mindy to answer your question yes it depends on the type of ink that is in the PIN it can either leak or not write very well for long periods the ink would have to gravity bleed down like swatting your pin through the air as if you were going to throw a throwing knife but not letting go of the pain but most pens actually have a certain substance in the opposite back side of the pin and even more expensive refills will have plastic stoppers or a lot of times you’ll see a refill with like a plastic plug in the end but there’s always a tiny hole now I’m not sure if that tiny hole is a purposefully made kind of like the hole in pin Caps or if it’s meant to let a certain amount of air flow through I’m pretty certain it’s made to let a certain amount of air flow through cuz if you remove it your PIN will leak a lot and if you put some hot glue on the tip of that hole and cover the hole up your pain won’t work properly so most pins have to have the proper amount of resistance for the airflow to write properly like especially thin water-based inks have to have a good stopper in the back side where is oil based inks are thicker more viscous they don’t flow as easily they don’t leak as much/as often


    The oil method can sometimes mess up a pen and trying to use alcohol can also mess up the pain they can try the ink in the tip or coagulate the ink if it’s water based ink it will dry the tip and then you have crusty hard bits of ink pigments that don’t want to let the rest of the wet ink still in the PIN flow out as far as dipping the tip in oil I’m guessing for ballpoint or oil based inks I’ve tried this method with mineral oil and lubricating three and one oil and both times to no avail but I believe my ink was a little too dry inside the refill as it was an older pen that hadn’t been used in a while that being said if you do use oil the ink will not want to stick to the ballpoint so you have to remove the oil after you’ve used it to roll the ball around in and basically clean the ball tip out..
    If you’re ever trying to heat the tip of your PIN to get it to work with a lighter you risk drying or coagulating the ink inside the tip and the spring mechanism that’s inside the tip behind the ball point can get stuck in the coagulated ink and basically ruins the tip with no easy fix short of taking the pen and tip off of the plastic refill ink barrel, and completely pressure washing the ballpoint tip out and then reassembling it as well as getting the air pocket out of it after that, which you can use a needle and syringe to help pressurize the ink back down towards the tip but anytime you take a tip off of the refill and you basically get an air pocket when you press the tip back on you can gravity bleed that sometimes but not always an easy task.. the warm water method is great for water-based inks but if you have a dried out oil based ink such as a ball point, simply heating the ink won’t do it may work for a little while if there’s not that much coagulated ink in the tip but odds are the ink will start to stiffen overtime and if you have a favorite pen that you like the way it feels in your hand and the way it writes you can always check the refill model number and order cartridge refills from Amazon or Staples.. the one thing that I am still trying to figure out is the chemical formula for Bic ballpoint ink and how to thin out a point oil-based ink adding oil doesn’t work because the oil that you add to the mix does not mix in with the oil-based ink and trying to use an emulsifier like alcohol only dries the ink out more.. I thought about trying mineral spirits but I’ve not got to that process yet, hope some of this info helps I’ll and by the way if you scrape your ballpoint or rollerball which are basically the exact same tip it the difference is water basting versus oil-based ink but if you scrape your paper too much or too often you get paper clogged up in the tip of the ball which is where soaking it warm water can also help or using a little bit of something to clear the tip out there’s also a method of kind of pulling the debris off the tip versus just some wiping the tip that tends to help or if your tip is jamming a certain way you know use a little bit of pressure and and push down and let off push down let off like kind of fast as you roll the pin around because there’s a spring that’s behind your ball in the tip of the pen and when you press down on the pin it gives the ball a little bit of clearance to clear any debris out.. hope this has helped someone


    Leave a comment

    Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.