What Is Ballpoint Pen Ink Made Of

By Samantha Di Nardo

Ballpoint Ink spilled out with pens and refills around it

What Is Ballpoint Pen Ink Made Of

By Samantha Di Nardo

Without ballpoint pens and the ballpoint refills that keep them running, life would look quite a bit different.

I have discussed how ballpoint pens work and how ballpoint pens are made, but now I want to delve into the process of how ballpoint pens get the oil based ink that revolutionized the history of the ballpoint pen.

I will be talking about:

Let’s jump right in.

What is Ballpoint Ink Made of?

Ballpoint pen ink is composed of different substances which give it distinct characteristics. These include dyes, pigments, solvents, resins, and other additives.

Different Engraving Styles on Ballpoint Pens


What Are the Main Components of Ballpoint Ink?

There are three main components to ballpoint ink:

  1. Dyes or Pigments - a color
  2. Solvents - a liquid vehicle for the color
  3. Resin - a binder to make the color stick to paper

These three substances make up most of the ink with additional additives that tailor ink to a proprietary company or add desired features to the ink.

I’ll go more into additives later, but for now let’s start with what makes up most ballpoint pen ink.

Dyes and Pigments

There are two different methods of achieving ink color in ballpoint pens: dyes and pigments.

Dye Based BIC Cristal Ink and Archival Pigment Jetstream Ink

Dyes are substances that dissolve in the solvent, which is a liquid, to provide color to ink. This means the dye actually binds with the liquid vehicle.

Ink that uses dye soaks into the fibers of paper and provides a uniform appearance.

Manufacturers use dyes where they need the inks to be bright and clear.

Pigments are made up of bits of colored minerals, stones, or metals that are insoluble (they cannot be absorbed into the liquid solvent). They are suspended in the ink rather than being dissolved.

Pigments cannot soak into the fiber of paper since they are not a liquid so they sit on the surface of the paper instead of being absorbed.

Pigments result in more solid, intense ink color and are often a component of black ballpoint pen ink that needs to be bold and permanent.

Dyes vs Pigments Infographic

Dyes offer a wider range of hues as compared to pigments, making them suitable for making ink color vivid.

But pigments tend to be lightfast unlike dyes. They resist fading when exposed to light. For applications such as archival documents, this property of pigments comes in handy.


Solvents are the medium in which the dyes are dissolved or pigments suspended. Manufacturers use either:

  • Plant-based substances like rosin, linseed, or rosewood oils (dry by absorption and oxidation)
  • Solvent-based ingredients like kerosene (dry by evaporation)

These solvents are faint blue-black liquids that don’t affect the color of dyes and pigments, but they do affect the viscosity of ballpoint pen inks (how quickly or slowly the ink flows).

Solvents vary in viscosity, and those with lower viscosity make the ink flow through the pen easily, resulting in smoother writing.

In contrast, solvents with high viscosity cause the ink to be thicker and give bold lines while writing or drawing.

Generally, oil based ink like the ink inside ballpoint pens is always more viscous than water based ink like that found in fountain and rollerball pens.

Viscosity Infographic

Solvents also affect drying time, which is how long it takes for ink to set and dry on paper.

Ballpoint pen ink dries quickly because they use solvents with faster evaporation or absorption rates so the ink dries almost instantly upon being applied.

This is important to prevent smudges when the user’s hand moves over what they have written.

Helpful Tip: Got a stain? Check out my How to Remove Ballpoint Ink Stains article.


Resins add adhesive quality to oil based ink, acting as binding agents between the ink and paper.

stickiness of Ballpoint Ink in ballpoint refills

They anchor the ink to fibers in the paper, preventing smudges and thus creating clean, precise strokes.

Resins account for about 15-45% of ballpoint pen ink and are synthetically produced.

These substances contribute to the durability of inks. Resins form a protective film over the ink once it dries, shielding it from abrasion, moisture, chemical exposure and other external factors.

This coating enhances the ink’s resistance to fading and damage over time and makes oil based inks more resistant to handling and friction.

What’s more, resins bind the dyes and pigments within the ink, preventing them from separating. This ensures the ink remains homogeneous, thus flowing more uniformly and producing consistent color.

Common types of resins used in ballpoint pen ink include:

  • Phenolic resins: created by the reaction of phenol with formaldehyde
  • Ketonic resins: derived from ketones and formaldehyde
  • Alkyd resins: polyester-based resins modified with fatty acids
  • Acrylic resins: made from derivatives of acrylic acid or methacrylic acid
  • Polyurethane resins: formed by reacting polyols with isocyanates

Resins are typically used in a blend, with each contributing particular characteristics to the ink, such as adhesion, flexibility, and durability.

The combination of different resins helps achieve the optimal ink performance and the levels are proprietary to manufacturers’ ballpoint refills.

Find Your Refill: The Best Ballpoint Pen Refills


Ballpoint pen ink also contains special additives that bring specific properties to the solution and enhance the ink’s performance. These additives include:

  • Surfactants- reduce surface tension of the ink so that it flows more smoothly
  • Stabilizers- maintain the ink’s chemical integrity by preventing changes in pH level
  • Antioxidants- prevent the breakdown of ink by oxygen which causes changes in color and temperature
  • UV absorbers- protect ink from harmful effects of UV radiation like fading and discoloration
  • Thickeners- adjust the ink’s viscosity so that it’s neither too thin nor too thick
  • Drying agents- help the ink dry quickly while writing
  • Anti-settling agents- prevent solid particles from sinking to the bottom of the ink reservoir

The combination of these additives enables ballpoint pen ink to perform well under various conditions and enhances the user’s writing experience.

How Does Ballpoint Ink Work?

When ballpoint pen ink gets into contact with paper, several things happen.

  1. The rotating metal ball picks up ink from the reservoir and deposits it on the paper. The ink spreads thinly and evenly as the ball rotates.
  2. The solvents evaporate or oxidize due to exposure to air. As they evaporate, they leave behind the pigments, dyes, resins and other ink components.
  3. The substances that remain get absorbed into the paper fibers and adhere to the surface. This creates permanent strokes that are resistant to smudging and smearing.
  4. As the components get absorbed, they also form a solid film which protects the ink from fading from exposure to light. The resins continue to harden, providing more durability to the ink.

Ballpoint Pen Colors

How is Ballpoint Ink Made?

To create the ink, manufacturers add raw ingredients to a mixing vat.

Batch mixers usually add the ingredients at specific times determined by automatic controls.

These computerized mixers also inject the correct pigments or dyes to create the needed color of the specific ink being made.

Each manufacturer has a proprietary recipe and creates ballpoint refills to replace ink inside ballpoint pens.


Ballpoint pen ink is a special blend of ingredients, each purposefully chosen to provide a crucial role in delivering a smooth and reliable writing experience.

Dyes, pigments, resins, solvents and other additives create the colors, viscosity, and chemical stability of ink.

Now you understand the science behind what makes writing with ballpoint pen ink effortless.

What is your favorite quality about ballpoint pens and the oil based ink that makes them run?

Leave a comment below!

And to learn more about Ballpoint Pens and Pen Ink, check out these articles:

Sam Di Nardo

Sam Di Nardo is an author for Dayspring Pens, where she has honed her expertise in ballpoint, rollerball, gel and fountain pens since joining the team in 2018.

From her initial role as an Engraver to becoming the Production Manager, Sam's journey has been marked by her passion for the history, manufacturing, and the unique value of gifted writing instruments.

A graduate of Regent University with a degree in English Literature and a special interest in Old Norse literature, dive deeper into Sam's world and discover why she's your trusted guide in the realm of gift pens.

Follow Sam on LinkedIn.

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