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Getting more ink from a ballpoint pen

Heymatt:

Here is one no one can answer: how to restart ink flowing in a ballpoint pen after non-use. This has everyone stumped, so if you can’t answer, that’s OK.

— John, via email

At the Alice Research Institute, nearly infinite knowledge is mine to command! And here I am answering questions about dried-up pens. It shows you something about where people’s priorities lie. At least I get to talk about ink a little bit.

The ink in ballpoint pens differs from printing ink in that the coloring agent is a dye rather than a pigment. Pigments are solid particles that are suspended in the “vehicle” (a transparent medium that keeps the otherwise dry pigment flowing), whereas dyes are liquid and soluble. Your ballpoint pen is filled with a pasty compound that’s about 50 percent dye; the rest being some kind of solvent and chemical stabilizers. It’s extra-thick because it would otherwise dribble out of the pen, but that viscosity is what makes it vulnerable to clogging up. It also contributes to the short-ish “shelf life” of a ballpoint pen. You see? There are concessions being made on both sides of this matter.

The long and short of it is that pens have about two years in them and then they’re liable to go permanently dry at any point. The jig is up. Toss it out and get a new one. If you think there’s a few more scribbles in there, but the usual methods of tapping and scraping the pen don’t work, try soaking the tip in a solvent such as acetone (nail-polish remover), isopropyl alcohol, or kerosene. If the culprit is some dried-up ink at the periphery of the ball, that should loosen it up.

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Albert Brooks’ mockinfomercial introduction

The glad-handing human laugh track, assures his audience, “That was funny.”

Heymatt:

Here is one no one can answer: how to restart ink flowing in a ballpoint pen after non-use. This has everyone stumped, so if you can’t answer, that’s OK.

— John, via email

At the Alice Research Institute, nearly infinite knowledge is mine to command! And here I am answering questions about dried-up pens. It shows you something about where people’s priorities lie. At least I get to talk about ink a little bit.

The ink in ballpoint pens differs from printing ink in that the coloring agent is a dye rather than a pigment. Pigments are solid particles that are suspended in the “vehicle” (a transparent medium that keeps the otherwise dry pigment flowing), whereas dyes are liquid and soluble. Your ballpoint pen is filled with a pasty compound that’s about 50 percent dye; the rest being some kind of solvent and chemical stabilizers. It’s extra-thick because it would otherwise dribble out of the pen, but that viscosity is what makes it vulnerable to clogging up. It also contributes to the short-ish “shelf life” of a ballpoint pen. You see? There are concessions being made on both sides of this matter.

The long and short of it is that pens have about two years in them and then they’re liable to go permanently dry at any point. The jig is up. Toss it out and get a new one. If you think there’s a few more scribbles in there, but the usual methods of tapping and scraping the pen don’t work, try soaking the tip in a solvent such as acetone (nail-polish remover), isopropyl alcohol, or kerosene. If the culprit is some dried-up ink at the periphery of the ball, that should loosen it up.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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