How Do Inkless Pens Work? – Explained

Written by Laura Walker / Fact checked by Leilani Carroll

How do inkless pens work

So, how do inkless pens work?

The whole idea of writing with no ink is not new. We can trace its ancient roots back to Roman times when people utilized styluses that were designed to work on wood or papyrus. These styluses, typically made of lead, would leave dark markings on the surface.

During the medieval period, artists employed a fine line drawing technique known as “silverpoint,” which involved gliding a silver rod or stylus on a drawing surface.

Modern-day inkless pens bear a resemblance to the styluses of the past, and they work similarly. But how, precisely, do modern inkless pens function?

How Does an Inkless Pen Work?

how-does-an-inkless-pen-work

The earliest information we found about modern inkless pen technology came from 2014 news articles, often attributed to Italian design powerhouse Pininfarina.

However, some sources suggest that the technology was available before Pininfarina launched its inkless metal pen collection. VAT19 has debuted “The Inkless Metal Beta Pen” way back in 2010. According to their product description, this pen “deposits tiny amounts of alloy metal onto the page” as it writes. But that’s how graphite pencils work.

Pininfarina makes pens that last forever thanks to their nibs that are made of “Ethergraf” alloy.

Unlike graphite and lead, Ethergraf nibs do not “deposit” ink onto the paper. Instead, Pininfarina states that, like the silverpoint technique, the alloy tip creates microscopic scratches on paper as the user writes. This, in turn, triggers the oxidation process and leaves what looks like pencil markings.

When in contact with paper, the metallic tip of an inkless pen undergoes a slight oxidation due to friction. Subsequent oxidation leaves behind permanent, smudge-proof, waterproof marks resembling pencil lines. The unique alloy in the pen’s tip, sometimes containing trace lead, is crucial for the oxidation process.

Other companies designed their inkless metal pen collection differently. Ablink, for example, sells a $7 inkless metal pen on Amazon called “Everlasting Pencil.” Its body is composed of durable metal, while the nib is made of graphite. It is said that one Everlasting Pen can replace 100 regular pencils.

Paper Interaction and Writing Experience

But while there are differences in materials, a metal tip pencil like the Cambuano and a non-metal graphite nib pencil such as Everlasting require replacement nibs. Based on experience, writing with an inkless pen is akin to writing with a sharpened 4H pencil that never runs out of lead. Nevertheless, they have some pros and cons:

Pros

  • An inkless pen is a “never-ending pencil” mainly because they do not require constant sharpening because it never goes dull.
  • Without the ink, you will never have to worry about leaks.
  • The design saves you the trouble of throwing away a pencil once it gets too short after sharpening it many times. Plus, it saves the trees, too!
  • Some nibs can work on multiple surfaces.

Cons

  • Like the 4H pencil, the inkless pen’s markings appear much lighter than ink or lead.
  • If you accidentally drop your inkless pen, its nib will break, and you will not be able to sharpen it. You will instead buy a replacement nib.
  • Because the nib “scratches” the paper instead of dispensing ink, you can’t erase them like you do with pencils.

While inkless pens contain minimal lead, precautions should be taken to prevent children from putting them in their mouths. However, they pose no health risks during normal use.

Conclusion

We are so used to having pens and markers with inks that it is hard to imagine how to take notes or sketch using writing implements that do not have any type of colorant or dye.

As it turns out, the technology was available centuries ago. We only need to look at our past to know the answer to, “How do inkless pens work?”

If you think about it, the technique is pretty simple as it utilizes chemical reactions to leave a mark on the paper.

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