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Original content © The Ballpointer / Mahozawari Unlimited

​​    thINK  by B. Neufeld  originally posted March 5, 2016

Pen Companies Fumble the Ball: Gel Ink Ballpoint Pens

...feathered oil-based linework.

​​​​There you are at your local stationery emporium picking up envelopes and white out, and you decide to check out what's new in the pen department. Upon arriving at the pen aisle, you are suddenly confronted by walls of brightly colored ballpoints. Look at all those vivid colors (pictured) staring at you from the shelves! Looking for that certain shade of blue? Take your pick. Someone at the ballpoint pen companies have apparently been paying some amount of attention to the popularity, or at least the existence, of artists using their products to create fine art. They should; artists have probably been soliciting them for years for sponsorship, or at least some free pens. 

Ballpoint pen companies have answered the call for more ink colors. Better late than never, perhaps, but unfortunately the call seems to have come from 12-year old Japanese girls. Or kindergarten teachers. Given the sudden glut of colors made available, they seem to be overcompensating for having made consumers wait. Ballpointers can now buy yellows and oranges, three shades of pink or purple, four shades of blue or green… You get the idea, I'll not overcompenstate my point. All those colors are good news for all those twelve year-olds writing love letters — bright red hearts, pink cupids and golden sunbea… wait, do teens actually  write anymore? The bright colors will nonetheless translate into good business for the pen companies, they hope. Unfortunately, all of this newly available color is essentially as useful to the average ballpointer as screen doors on a submarine. If only the pen companies had solicited some input from the artists who'd been soliciting them all along… 

​​SWATCHWATCH   revised October 9, 2016

Oil-based Ink tests Revisited  

Swatch Watch  ink tests initiated by The Ballpointer  in February, 2015, entered a second stage of testing in March, 2016​The first year of lightfast  testing pitted the oil-based inks of several common ballpoint pen brands against two separate lighting conditions which could be considered normal. Those two conditions, for the sake of differentiation were titled  Interior  and  Exterior, and followed the same criteria which the recently popular gel pen inks are now facing, as reported in the archived thINK column at left. Swatches were scanned monthly and compared to previous months and the original February 2015 scans.

After one year, the swatches exposed to Exterior light had shown such drastic effects that further testing was deemed unnecessary. The swatches exposed to normal Interior lighting conditions, however, warranted further investigation, so exposure was continued under the same circumstances although comparisons to the original scans of February, 2015, are now less frequently posted. 

The latest results are published below; approximately 20  months of exposure to normal Interior  lighting conditions, in this case comparing the freshly inked scans of February 28, 2015, with scans of September 30, 2016. We have posted the comparisons side by side just as the swatches were originally rendered and subsequently cut in half. As to which column pertains to which date, it should be obvious: all scans of September 30, 2016, show noticeable fading and/or discoloration. The white of the page also shows slight yellowing...

Findings continue below...


Zebra's Sarasa  GEL INK colors are starting to show noticeable fading and/or discoloration after 7 months of exposure to both exterior (results far leftand interior (near left) lighting conditions. Still, there are some surprises to be found among the colors withstanding exposure with little or no ill effects. Results of both lighting conditions are compared with the freshly inked scans of 7 months ago (center left).

Exterior  exposure...
Most gel colors now show some effects of exposure to exterior  ambient light after 7 months

    PURPLE continues to top the list, failing gloriously with heavy fading and loss of opacity. The two shades of LIGHT BLUE caught up with purple since the last comparison in June 2016. The two shades of PINK also took a dramatic turn in the past 4 months, as did the metallic SILVER and GOLDMAGENTA and the DARK BLUEs are starting to show a hint of discoloration passing the 7-month milestone. BLACK, RED, the two shades of ORANGE and all the GREENs show no ill-effect from exposure.

Interior  exposure...

Degradation of color under interior lighting conditions are still minimal and isolated to specific colors, but degradation is nonetheless apparent, some having already shown hints of weakness 4 months ago. PURPLE tops the list here, too, again followed by the LIGHT BLUEs. 

 Discrepancy in results 

Noticeable fading against interior  light, in colors which are otherwise faring well against exterior  light; BLACK, the DARK GREENs and DARK BLUEs show this.

    This may be due to scanner discrepencies, but there may be another factor at-play: swatches facing exterior  light have been hidden from any other notable amount of light when the sun goes down, while interior  swatches continue to face interior lamp light until much later after dark. These factors will be kept in mind when comparing future results.

All ink swatches

© Mahozawari Unlimited  for tests conducted by

*Updated findings posted intermittently

   ​ OUTSIDEINPUT  contact

Predictions & comments from readers & contributors

Tokyo  April 2, 2015 

I've instituted a ''Restoration Policy'' for certain sales, promising to do so for customers who request it as long as I'm alive & able, provided they've clearly followed recommendations I include in my sales invoices (& other stipulations). I do this because I've had cases of irate customers calling back with complaints about faded artwork & I even showed up to investigate once and found the artwork hanging right under a skylight! Needless to say I didn't restore that one.   

  TB  adds: This thoughtful tip comes from esteemed ballpointer Lennie Mace

New York, NY  March 15 

I bought a piece of art in ballpoint pen in 1991 and it looks the same today as the day I bought it. I must say I anticipated it might fade and very consciously hung it in a hallway that gets no sunlight, just a simple lightbulb that only gets turned on sometimes to show off that and a few other pieces hanging there! 

  TB  asks: Color ?

NY, NY  replies: Lots of color! Whatever could be considered full color in ballpoint pen, I guess. There's yellow and orange and pink and purple colors used in it. I don't have a photo of it when it's new or I'd send it. All I know is it looks great and I love it!   

Boston, MA  Jan 21, 2015  

I've definitely learned some lessons and will have to do some more testing, particularly with regard to the Schmidt p900b which, at least according to one reputable source, may be considered archival?
   Another artist I've emailed with regarding ink tells me that, as he understands it, while we might think technology would catch up and make an archival ink ballpoint pen that the issue has to do with pigments vs dyes. That in order for the ink to flow well, it's has to be super fine at a molecular level. Dyes are able to flow more smoothly than pigments so they are used in ballpoint pens instead of pigments, thereby rendering the ink fade-able. 

  TB  wonders: Anyone with knowledge of this 'Schmidt 900 '?


Input is welcome & encouraged but, by doing so, you are authorizing the use & publication of any texts &/or data provided.

SWATCHWATCH   compiled by The Ballpointer staff, Mahozawari Unlimited  & Points East   revised October 9, 2016

Seeing the light: Zebra SARASA  GEL ink colors

Lightfast ink testing  for 2016 will literally shine a light on newly abundant GEL inks. Over the past couple of years, major ballpoint pen companies one after the other have begun producing their own lines of gel ink ballpoints. (While some companies have already produced multiple lines of gels,  Bic is not yet known to have any.)
     Tests of normal oil-based inks conducted by The Ballpointer  throughout 2015 had included several of Zebra's SARASA  gel ink colors thought to be of artistic interest and usage. Reliable oil-based yellow inks, for example, are still a relative rarity, so we thought the gellow worth investigating. Seeing as most oil-based purples had previously been proven unreliable even after relatively short periods of time under the most basic lighting conditions, we thought tests of the purple gels  also worth inclusion. Blacks of any brand or ink type are always worth testing, if only to gauge their performance against their counterparts. Also included were the gel-based metallics, silver and gold, for their obvious novelty factor.
     For 2016 The Ballpointer  chooses to expand its focus to include a fuller spectrum of available SARASA  gel-based colors. (Even more  SARASA gel ink colors exist, more than we settled on, but it was decided this many colors would be adequate for the purposes of our lightfast testing.) Those initial tests begun in 2015 (Phase One) will also continue into 2016 and will occasionally be reported here, including the gel colors noted above, but those same gel colors have also been newly swatched for this year's testing. The gel inks appearing in both tests will at some point be compared against each other. (Now well into year two of exposure, results of  Phase One oil-based ink testing will resume in  June and at intervals thereafter.)

Control Factors  for 2016 testing will remain as they did in 2015; Two separate environments constituting what can be considered probable or possible lighting conditions. The variables remain the same: proximity-to and type-of light.
EXTERIOR  sets: Window exposure: natural duration of ambient daylight; bright but *indirect sunlight. Occasional amounts of stronger, reflected light depending on time of day and season. At least 8 hours of overnight darkness.
INTERIOR  sets: Normal exposure; low lamp light and/or refracted, ambient room light. No bright light, no spotlight. The conditions of an average room throughout an average day. At least 8 hours of overnight darkness.

Both sets received the same amount (time) of exposure relative to their placement. Neither set received direct sunlight ; only the different degrees of indirect, ambient light as noted above. The results of testing against direct sunlight promised to be so obvious as to be deemed unnecessary, but we may undertake such tests in the future.
    Unlike the monthly reporting of results throughout 2015, this year's results will be reported every two or three months. Scanning conditions remain unchanged: same machine, same settings. All scans of swatches exposed to Interior  & Exterior  light are compared against the Freshly Inked  scans ...


Below is the label of the paper used for all ink swatches produced for these tests. We did not select this brand for any specific reasons or with any specific outcome expected, this paper is simply what was easily obtainable to us.

   Swatches & findings copyright © The Ballpointer / Mahozawari Unlimited. All Rights Reserved.

Ultimately, the problem of light is inherent to the medium and only minimally avoidable.

Solutions are limited. Be smart. Spray fixatives also offer no guarantee, and may actually do more harm than good. Test! Changes in temperature, humidity and the air around you also conspire to break down your inks at a molecular level until color virtually disappears from the page. So-called  air fade, dark fade and additional questions of  weatherfast offer only more prospects for degradation. Keep visiting The Ballpointer to track the official findings of our upcoming research, and, if you have any experience or expertise of your own to offer, please share your information with us. Your input and participation are welcome  (see below). And don't trade in your ballpoints for brushes just yet

THINK   by O. Lebron   posted February 26, 2015

Common Sense Advice for the Fight Against Light

For the uninitiated, lightfastness refers to the sensitivity or susceptibility of ink color to light; specifically exposure to the ultraviolet  (UV) rays of sunlight, direct or reflected, but also from artificial sources (spotlights; fluorescent light, et al). Amateur doodlers or hobbyists for whom it's all about recreation, convenience and economics, can draw without giving any thought to the matter, and the value of commercial artists' artwork is tied to the disposability of commerce and lives on in reproduction. But anyone intending to hang ballpoint pen artwork on a wall and have it remain beautiful, or hoping to put a price on an original ballpoint drawing, should acquaint themselves with the considerations listed below. 
   Ballpoint companies are not known for providing information regarding the lightfastness of their inks, and other reports listing ratings and ratios are Greek to the layman. What  
is known is that ballpoint pen inks are mostly  OIL-based dyes which consist of any number of additives affecting lightfastness. The oil-based inks, it is important to note, are the inks anyone hoping for longevity ought to be using. Water-basedMilky-type pens and  gel inksare most unsafe for anyone with higher hopes. Unfortunately the pen brands offering the most variety of colors are the gel- or dye-based inks, generally rated as "poor to moderate" and considered unstable. Additionally, halftone effects achievable with those pens are very limited compared to effects achievable using the thicker, oil-based inks. 
   In response to inquiries from artists asking for advice about the lightfastness of ballpoint pen inks, we are publishing this introductory list offering common sense considerations of greatest concern to ballpointers. Good habits and rules-of-thumb to abide by, which should become second-nature if they are not already. 

・Document the artwork right away 

First and foremost! Highest-quality scans and/or photographs are of utmost importance in the preservation of the "image" itself, recording it for posterity and making it available for reproduction anytime thereafter. Poorly lit, barely focussed art "selfies" may be good for social media bragging but are otherwise useless (and only come across as amateurish).  
Frame artwork as soon as possible 

Especially if showing it off is on your agenda. There is some proof to suggest that the "sealing" of the artwork into a protective casing helps defer what's known as "air fade". Think Declaration of Independence. No need for the bullet-proof glass, but… 
Don't depend on UV glass to be your savior 

It surely won't hurt, but if the extra expense is prohibitive — considering many ballpointers choose the pens because that's all they can afford — just stick to your budget. Regardless, framing artwork in UV glass isn't a license to start hanging your artwork poolside. You are therefore best advised to…
Keep all light-sensitive artwork under wraps until exhibited 

Framed or not. Don't display until or unless necessary. Think museum curator; even museums only occasionally offer fragile artworks on paper, etc, for public display. Many collectors are even known to keep such purchases in a vault or at least in the dark. But, showing off your babies is half the fun and 100% of the business (hopefully), so… 
Take great care in considering wall space 

You may be too late to discover that the wall you've chosen to display your masterpiece catches two hours of direct sunrise every morning for the better part of a year, while you're still snoring and unaware! Hang art on walls which receive minimal exposure to light of any kind, if you must hang it at all. Hallways! Southern-walls (artwork facing  North) which usually don't receive direct sunlight (opposite in the Southern Hemisphere). And keep in mind…
Sunlight is not the only enemy 

Fluorescent light is also known to emit higher levels of UV rays, and overexposure to any strong, direct light will affect ballpoint pen ink. Hot spotlights: enemy! Again: museum curator! Dimmed or otherwise controlled lighting. Low, ambient light is best, with a lamp nearby for moments of show-and-tell. 
Do ink tests of your own 

The Ballpointer tests will be undertaken using basic pen brands, but brands vary from country to country. You are the one with the pens and paper; know your own materials... Ink-in solid swatches of color using your preferred ballpoint pens and papers; make note of which are which; keep one page in a drawer, away from all light, to keep it "virgin"; place the other page out in direct sunlight &/or under hot spotlight/lamp; study what happens! Scan them at the outset and at different intervals, as well, to document the effects at those moments in time.
Discuss the matter openly with prospective buyers 

Clearly outline the care necessary to insure the artwork's longevity. It will ultimately rest upon the buyer to use common sense, but artists should advise all interested parties outright. Ballpoint ink is not alone in susceptibility to damage from overexposure to light. Pen and ink  of any type is equally sensitive. Colored pencils  and pastels  also fall into this category. Watercolor  painting may be most delicate of all, and even oil paintings shouldn't be hung on walls which will receive direct sunlight for any period of time.

LABnotes: standard  oil-based  inks


Papermate  INKJOY  (above grouping, top)

All Inkjoy colors show some amount of fading or discoloration now more than a year and a half  (20 months) of normal room lighting (right side). MAGENTA shows only minor discoloration. PURPLE shows the most severe fade. BLUE shows the most loss of hue, slowly turning black.

Bic  VELOCITY  (above grouping, center)

LIME (light green) and MAGENTA (pink) show the least amount of ill-effect. ALL other colors show a general flattening of color and/or fade, with PURPLE faring worst.

Bic4-in-1  (above grouping, bottom)

GREEN remained unaffected the longest of the 4 standard ballpoint colors, but now shows a hint of fading. Impressive results from one of the most recognizable and trustworthy brands, until now.

Zebra  Z-GRIP  (left grouping, top)

​**Z-GRIPcolor note: Along with the brick-colored  'ORANGE' are the interesting color quirks of a teal-colored 'GREEN' and a bronze-colored 'LIGHT GREEN', none of which match the color printed on the pens' caps. All colors held steady until recent months, now most are starting to show some fade. LIGHT BLUE and MAGENTA are faring best, showing only a hint of discoloration.

Pilot  SUPER-GP  (left grouping, interspersed)

Only 3 basic colors available, but in multiple point sizes. BLACK began fading earliest, and BLUE now joins it. RED is the only of these 3 colors still holding its own.

**Super-GP swatch note : The 3 colors are interspersed randomly within the Z-Grip and Mitsubishi  swatches.

Bic 4-in-1  pastel colors  (immediate left)

LIME (light green) shows little, if any, ill effects, with TURQUOISE (light blue) only now starting to show some fade. PINK shows discoloration but no fade. PURPLE, as with all other brands, is a complete failure.

Mitsubishi 2-in-1 pastel colors  (immediate left)

TURQUOISE is only now starting to show a hint of fade. PINK shows drastic discoloration.

Pentel R.S.V.P.  (left, bottom)

Both PINK and TURQUOISE just recently began to show hints of fading, but not as dramatically as the same colors of some other brands.

All ink swatches  © Mahozawari Unlimited

for tests conducted by

The problem is, all these new colors are gel inks; water-based gel ink colors. While gel inks provide a clear, consistent line with only the lightest touch, such a light touch in terms of ballpoint art is where a halftone would be desired, and expected, for most artists using ballpoints. The kind of halftone effects the thicker viscosity of traditional oil-based inks allow, which gel inks do not (comparison pictured), is practically a prerequisite. That's what attracts artists to ballpoints in the first place, a fact obviously lost to the suits in charge. Without those halftone lines there'd be no ballpoint wow-factor to speak of; great for line art or love letters, but, even then, gel inks stay wet on the surface of the page far too long. You don't have to be an artist to know that wet ink is a no-go for successful ballpointing. The water base also affects ink coverage. Some colors require great effort to fill solid areas. Even then, the fill is inconsistent, and that much effort with such watery ink causes the ball point to actually scratch the drawing surface. This side effect is particularly noticeable after the ink has dried because gel inks dry to a flat matte finish showing all imperfections of the surface, not the recognizable slick gloss of dried oil-based inks. Between the development, production, packaging, promotion and distribution of their new rainbow-spectrum lines of gel ballpoint colors, companies producing them obviously spent a bit of time on this, and bundles of money. How, then, does one politely tell the bosses they've fumbled the ball, or, sacre bleu, wasted money

The Ballpointer tested a handful of gel inks as part of its first round of lightfast ink testing (2015), but only the few thought to be of any artistic use. Metallic silver and gold have novelty factor. Yellow was an obvious candidate, seeing as it's the one color for which many artists would have immediate use. Purple and black were included just to compare with their oil-based counterparts. A year of exposure to two separate lighting conditions showed results both expected (purple fade) and surprising (yellow strength, pictured). This year, with full sets of ink colors now flooding the market, The Ballpointer furthers its gel ink investigations using a greater selection of available colors. 
    I've already been testing some assertions about gel ink ballpoints. One selling point I was quickly able to confirm is the claim that gel ink pens can write upside down: True. Not only did I lay in bed writing upside down for no other reason than to see when ink flow would cease, but I'd also stand the pen upside down overnight and try again the next morning; and the next, and the next. The ink kept a'flowing, but when was the last time you needed to write or draw while lying flat on your back? 
    Some sources I came across stated that gel inks provide opaque coverage; light over dark, white over black, etc. Wrong. Whomever wrote this is either mistaken, describing some other type of gel ink, or outright lying. "Water-based" should be a clear enough hint; water is not opaque.
    Gel ink flow is inconsistent, and varies from color to color. The pinks I've used, for example (although for writing, not drawing), have very poor ink flow. As a matter of fact, the inks of all "light" versions of colors I've tried flow inconsistently. Basic blue flowed smoothest and allowed more consistent coverage, but with a very strong odor, disproving a separate claim that gel inks are odorless: gel inks are not odorless. People using the pens to write may not notice this but artists laying down greater amounts of ink will definitely notice a stink (faces closer to the point of contact); as much of a chemical odor as oil-based inks produce. In the process of inking the swatches for testing, our "inker" was overcome with a headache. 

I'd say artists using ballpoint pens will have to continue making due with existing colors until pen companies run out of twelve year old girls but, as you ought to know, artists have already been making due with what they have. Artists like Nicolas Sanchez, Allan Barbeau, Shirish Deshpande and a handful of the Filipino upstarts attain sufficiently realistic color using existing inks, in delicate layers mixed directly on the page, proving the oil-based colors are not as limiting as one might think. Lennie Mace's creative use of existing oil-based colors vividly expresses little regard or necessity for true-to-life color comparisons.Even Juan Francisco Casas has been gettin' his color on. 
    The final verdict will, of course, come when results of extended exposure to light are revealed. In the end, drawings done using gel inks may end up no better than the magic marker doodles decorating refrigerators worldwide; good for proud display until the next sketch comes along, then into a folder or trash bin before any fade is noticeable. Until then, and regardless of the results, the pen companies will probably do well with pre-teen girls, the coveted target demographic fueling the economies of many world powers. More about gel inks in  May

...fails to compare against...

​Feathered gel ink linework...