Monday, February 3, 2014

Archival Ball Point Pen Ink Test

This is a much longer post than usual because I figured that for those interested in the subject, it's probably worth reading. If you just want the results scroll done to the bottom. 

From time to time I do light fast tests on my materials because for obvious reasons, I'm curious about what I'm using. On the one hand, there are the claims of manufactures which lean toward exaggeration and the other there is real world experience, which puts things in perspective. This post is about the real world experience with ball point pens. Bic vs MontBlanc, Parker or any other pen claiming the archival DIN ISO 12757-2  standard. 

Many of my artist friends and I enjoy drawing with a ball point pen. I've drawn with it for years and basically carry one with me every where I go.  Every sketch pad I own has at least one sketch in ball point pen. 

I've known for a long time that they're fugitive (meaning that the ink will fade/disappear) but it's just such a good drawing utensil that it would be silly not to carry one. Honestly, in my sketch pads the ink has held up just fine. So it was hard for me to believe that if they really did fade, it would be a problem.

Years ago I did a bunch of preparatory drawings and hung them on my studio wall because I needed to reference them while taking the idea further. Actually, it was a series of ideas and I had the drawings up for several months while I worked on various other projects at the same time. 

I had a north light studio and figured that since no direct sun light was hitting the drawings they would probably be ok. 

One day, I looked at the drawings and was surprised to see them noticeably fading. 

I was reading a great book then about inks written by Jos. A Smith that described a light fast test. I followed the instructions and ran a light fast test on the Bic (my favorite, then and now) and every other pen I could find. 

The test called for half of the sample to be exposed to direct sunlight for 3 months, with the other half hidden from the light. 
In short, every pen I tested faded  almost completely within a month - Damn it! I Love drawing with them. 

Recently, a friend of mine made a beautiful drawing using a Bic and we got into conversation about it. Other artist friends claimed to use the expensive Mont Blanc pen with the all important ISO which apparently doesn't  fade. I tested those pens previously but thought I'd test again. Any one who has looked this up online has come across across Jerry's  posts listing every pen he could find with the DIN ISO 12757-2 rating. 

The test results are underneath. I also tested a UV spray recommended to me at the art store.  The scanner picked up more that is apparent in real life but anyone can see that the basic results. On the left is the protected strip, in the middle the exposed strip and on the far right the exposed with 5 coats of UV spray. 

My conclusions: The UV spray is useless and actually discolored the paper. The DIN ISO 12757-2  standard is complete hype. It fades so badly that it's barely different than a regular Bic.     The Bic which is really the most comfortable to draw with, has the most control and has the least amount of ink blots when drawing, is a complete loss. 

In the end, if you love drawing with a ball point ( I do) just keep it covered. Skip the UV spray. 
Another note of interest is the paper used for this test. It was "acid free" which basically means it was treated to be a neutral PH. Using quality paper is another important consideration for obvious reasons. The scanner equalized things somewhat but you can still see what's happened. Holding the sample in reality, it's easy to see that the exposed paper is substantially more yellow and brittle. 

I'm running a test now with the famed expensive UV Museum glass that is available in most frame shops. So far I'm sad to report that it's basically the same. Meaning that the glass offers little to no protection. I will update this post when I have the results.  

I posted this on the recommendation of a friend who thought it would be of interest to many people. I've searched for years for an archival ball point pen and have never found anything better than the above. If you know of anything archival, please post a comment here or send me an email at  It would be great to have a quality instrument that doesn't fade. 

UPDATE - Feb 13, 2014
I wrote to Bic to explain the limitations of the ink in their ball point pens. Their response (sadly predictable) is underneath, as is my corresponding reply (which I don't expect to go any where).

Dear Mr. Vallejo:

We have received your e-mail.

Over the years, hundreds of ideas have been developed by BIC’s engineers, designers, business and marketing experts, as well as by outside consultants.  Some of these ideas have been used in the past or are currently in use, others are retained for possible future use and yet others are still under development.

Our engineers continuously study the market for ways to improve our products including size, shape and color.  Our product line is updated to meet the ever changing needs of our consumers.  When they find the demand for a change great enough to warrant mass production, you can be sure to find it on the market with the BIC Trademark.

Currently there are no plans to manufacture an archival ballpoint pen.  BIC writing instruments are designed for general purpose usage in the office, home and school.

Thank you for your interest in our products.

BIC Corporation, One BIC Way, Suite 1, Shelton, CT 06484-6299 USA 
My response: 

Thank you for your response. I understand your position but would like to point out if you take into consideration the amount of artists using Bic ballpoint pens for artwork that is often sold and you consider the requirements of of artistic materials to insure their permanence, I believe the undeniable conclusion is that there IS a demand in the market place for an archival ballpoint pen.  


  1. Noodler makes a rollerball pen that can be filled with Noodler's bulletproof inks. I am not sure, however, if drawing with these pens is like drawing with a ballpoint. I haven't tried yet and I am not convinced that you can achieve the same shading and tone differences that you can get out of a Bic.
    Here is more information about the rollerball pen:

  2. Thanks Lorenzo. I have a Noodler pen and love it but the rollerball pens don't produce the same range of delicate tones that a ballpoint does.

    It's amazing to me that no pen manufacture has developed this because it's such an obvious hole in the market place.

  3. I know I'm late to the party on this, but I was referred to your blog by a teacher. I am currently searching for a ball point pen that has a consistant line that doesn't gunk. Currently I'm using a Pentel RSVP and my major complaint with the pen is that it gunks every 20 or so lines. I decided to try and switch to a Pentel Hybrid, tecnica and the line is so inconsistant, that it makes me want to go back. Which bic pens would suggest?

  4. No need to apologize Anwar. I think I tried the Pentel RSVP that you mentioned but I'm not sure. The Bic pen I use can be found at any Staples. It's the grey one, called "Round Stic" M.

    As I mentioned above, it draws beautifully but it will most definitely fade. I use it for sketch pad drawings as an alternative to pencil, which smudges when the papers rub on each other.

    The Mont Blanc or Parker or any of the more expensive refills are usually ok. However, since they fade at the same rate as the Bic Pens, I continue to use the Bic.

    The above mentioned, when drawing with a ball point, it's important to roll the tip onto a napkin on a regular basis or you will get the "gunk" deposited on your drawing, as you noted.

    Consider the "rolling wipe" as part of technique. Just like you might have to re-dip a quill if you were using that.

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  6. Valuable experiment. Thanks for posting.
    I tell people who buy my work not to hang near direct sunlight. i havent had a complaint from someone who hasnt followed that advice. i have drawigs i did in ballpoint 20 years ago that are fine. probably cos they have been in a drawer the whole time.
    Surprised you think the UV museum/art glass doesnt offer any extra protection! I spend so much on that glass, at least it is still less reflective. The interesting thing really would be to know if just being near (not under) direct sunlight still induces fading. that would require a lot of time though I suppose. James Mylne

    1. Thanks for your reply JRM. I too have ballpoint pen drawings from 20 - 30 years ago that are fine in my sketchbook. My concern was was triggered when I had a wall of drawings hanging in indirect north light begin to fade in approximately 4-6 months. I had been told this would happen but since the drawings in my pad suffered no problems I thought I'd chance it.

      When those drawings faded, I thought I'd do a more extensive test to see if any ballpoints were different or if using the famed/expensive UV museum glass made any difference. I was hoping it would but... it didn't.

      The final conclusion regarding ballpoints is that any exposure to light will result in fading. Believe me I wish it weren't so.

  7. I think maybe the standards of "archival" and "direct sunlight" are different. And those archival standards differ according to what someone is try ing to sell. Hard to get a reall consistent system.

    1. Hi Bill,

      Thanks for your post. In general, archival materials do not fade when exposed to light.. A graphite pencil or charcoal for example suffers no change at all when exposed to the same test. Direct sunlight is a common test used to accelerate any potential challenges with durability over time. In this case the limitations of the ink used for ballpoint ink are revealed very quickly. A shame for all of us, because everyone I know loves drawing with a ballpoint pen.

  8. Thanks Dorian for this post. I used the basic Bic Chrystal for many years. My dad has a 35 year old drawing of mine in his office that still looks pretty good. The Schneider Express 735 cartidge has been useful for the last 5 or so years, but it smudges a lot. Inspired to look again by your discussion here, I looked again, and found the Schneider Slider Edge fine ballpoint on Amazon, and so far I really like it. Same archival ink, and less smudging!

    1. Hey Jeffrey. I just picked up a couple of Schneider Slider Edge pens. Did you do any light tests? They arrived today and are very similar to the bics for drawing with. If the ink really is archival it could be a winner..... Any experience with fading compared to bic? Cheers D

  9. Uni Ball claims their pens are archival safe.

  10. Thank you for posting the results of your test and your research. We were discussing it in a thread on the pen and ink forums at I love the feel and look of ballpoint sketches, but for now I'll just save it only for my sketchbook. On the plus side, if someone tells me they are having a hard time getting a ballpoint stain out of their clothing, I'll just tell them to leave it on the windowsill for a few months! :)

  11. Thanks for the share the results.
    Well, to get to the point… I'm a illustrator and I love to draw not only for sketches with the rollerpoint pens by Bic, but last week someone told me the limitations that the Bic pens has, and the fact that it fades away from the paper and in some cases they stain the paper because of the acid that the ink contains.
    But not everything is lost, this guy told us that a great Spanish artist font that the rollerball pens by Schneider have a formula that prevents the stainted paper problems and the fading of the ink, here in México is hard to find them, but if I fond them I will share to all of you the results of the light test of that ink.

  12. I use pens all the time in my art, and ave been very frustrated with the idea that the ink will fade (I went through all the pens I could). It's great you did a test like this! I guess I too will stick to BIC.

    One thing in your post struck me with an idea.. Perhaps the UV spray in conjunction with a sealer would do the trick? I myself spray the finished paintings with a semi-gloss sealer, and that actually makes the ink darken substantially, blending the black in the ink better with my sharpies and acrylic paints. I will have to try hanging one in the light as an experiment to see how it fades..

    In any case, thanks for posting this!

    Here's what I do with ballpoints and stuff.. :)

  13. I was looking for any information about light fastness of ballpoint pens and found your experiment very interesting. Thanks for sharing! Can you please tell what kind of UV spray you used? (I personally believe that none of them would make any difference, but my friend suspected that you simply didn't use the right kind of it, and I promise her to ask)

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  15. Thank you so much for this. I was tempted to try getting back to using ballpoints as I loved them in the past and have recently remembered why and seen good work by others. Maybe scan and glicee print is the ultimate solution? Is black ink better than colored? I am also interested in your thoughts on the schneider slider edge xb. I bought one in london and it handles a lot like a ballpoint.

  16. Hello, thank you Sir for such a great article. Here is my own test. (with some drawings in portfolio) That disturbing temporariness is so sad. There is no better drawing tool than ballpoint pen for me. I can't believe there is basically nothing we can do about this matter.

  17. For anyone finding this and still looking for archival inks in ballpoint (and other) pens I highly suggest you read this Blog post I found

  18. Was doing a little recheck to see if any archival ballpoint pens have shown up. Thanks for doing the research. I have used bics too, and they are good. My fav for the last 25 years has been Pilot Better retractables (because they are refillable with Dr. Grip refills) or the Pilot BP-S pens. The ink consistency, flow and lack of build up is the most consistent of any. However there is a sweet spot in the middle of the ink supply use, where flow is so good it carries the softest gray line to perfect black, totally controllable. It does fade tho. Found that out to my chagrin long ago. Keep 'em in my sketchbook, no problem. Cheers!

  19. Just going to have to do it in pencil. I've read notebooks written in pencil from a sailor in the 1800's. It must be archival for it to survive so long.