What is Pen Ink Made From? – Ingredients of Pen Ink

Written by Laura Walker / Fact checked by Leilani Carroll

What Is Pen Ink Made From?

Have you ever stopped to wonder what the mysterious liquid inside your pen is made of? While we often take it for granted, the composition of pen ink is definitely worth knowing.

Pen ink is usually made from pigments or dyes, solvents, resins, surfactants, and additives.

Curious about “What is pen ink made from?” Discover its colors, flow, and more in this blog spot. Keep reading!

Where Does Pen Ink Come From?

Common Ingredients in Pen Ink


Pen ink is a fluid composition that allows for writing or drawing on various surfaces. It is typically made up of pigments or dyes, solvents, resins, surfactants, and additives.

1. Pigments or Dyes


  • Dyes are substances that can dissolve in ink and provide color, while pigments are materials that are insoluble and need to be finely ground to prevent settling or separation within the ink.
  • Pigments can be organic or inorganic and come in a wide range of hues. Organic pigments offer a wide range of vibrant colors but are prone to fading over time. Inorganic pigments, on the other hand, are earthy and muted, but offer more resistance against discoloration.

Common pigments used in pen ink include carbon black for black pen ink, phthalocyanine derivatives for blue ink, and various other colorants for different shades.

On paper, pigment-based ink provides more opaque results, while dyes are more transparent and translucent.

2. Solvents


Solvents help dissolve the pigments and ensure the ink flows smoothly onto the paper. Water is the common solvent used in water-based inks, oil in oil-based inks, and alcohol-based inks.

Solvents facilitate easy flow and drying of the ink, making it suitable for a variety of pens and surfaces. However, certain solvents may have a strong odor. They can evaporate quickly, potentially causing the ink to dry out or clog the pen.

3. Stabilizing Binders


Ink binders can act as stabilizers since they help to increase the overall performance of the ink, including surface appearance, the flow of ink as well as solvent and rub resistance. There are two main types of ink binders: resins and polymers.

  • Resins can be made from natural sources like plants, essential oils or egg albumin. However, in today’s time, they are mostly lab-made and categorized into modified resins or hydrocarbon resins.
  • Polymers are also laboratory-synthesized, including several kinds such as acrylics, polyamides or polyvinyl chloride.

Note that the classification of resins and polymers in ink production can be tangled as they are generally called binders due to the similar chemical nature of these compounds.

4. Surfactants

source: hannasingapore.com

Surfactants are added to ink for the following purposes:

  • Enhance wetting ability and reduce surface tension
  • Aid in even spread of ink across the paper

Improve ink’s ability to adhere to various surfaces

Unfortunately, some surfactants may cause unwanted side effects, such as reduced water resistance or potential ink bleeding.

5. Other Additives


Various additives may be included in ink formulations to modify specific properties. Examples include pH adjusters to maintain stability and glycerides to help the ink flow smoothly.

However, incompatibility between additives and certain pens or papers may cause issues like ink feathering or pen malfunctions.

How is Ink Made for Pens?

The exact methods can vary depending on the type of ink and the manufacturer, but here is a general overview of how pen ink is produced:

  • Formulation: The chemical composition of pen ink is formulated by selecting specific pen ink ingredients in appropriate ratios. This determines the desired color, viscosity, drying time, and other properties for the ink based on use and pen type.
  • Mixing and grinding: Once the pen ink chemical formula is determined, ingredients are blended in containers or tanks, manually or with automation, to disperse pigments or dyes in the solvent and resin base, creating a homogeneous ink solution.
  • Filtration: The ink mixture is filtered to remove impurities and particles by passing it through fine mesh filters or other mediums to achieve a clean and particle-free ink.
  • Quality Control: Rigorous measures ensure consistency and adherence to standards. Ink samples are regularly tested for color accuracy, viscosity, pH level, drying time, and more, particularly for non-toxic pen ink and sustainable pen ink or eco-friendly ink.
  • Bottling and Packaging: After passing quality control tests, the ink is transferred into appropriate containers, depending on the intended use and pen type. Labels and other packaging materials are added, providing essential information about the ink, such as color, type, etc.

Different Types of Pen Ink

1. Water-Based Ink


Water-based ink is the most widely used type of ink, known for its versatility and ease of use. It consists of pigments or dyes dissolved in water, along with additives and binders.

Water-based inks are commonly used in gel pens, rollerball pens, and fountain pens. They dry relatively quickly and are available in a wide range of colors. These are also easy to clean and are less likely to clog pens compared to other types.

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2. Oil-Based Ink


Oil-based ink, as the name suggests, uses oil as the main solvent. It is typically ballpoint pen ink.

Oil-based inks are known for their durability and resistance to water, making them suitable for writing on surfaces that may come into contact with moisture.

They dry slowly and provide a smooth writing experience. However, they may require more pressure to write compared to water-based inks.

3. Gel Ink


Gel ink is a type of ink that combines the properties of both water-based and oil-based inks. It uses pigments suspended in a water-based gel or gelatinous substance. Gel ink offers a smooth and consistent flow, vibrant colors, and excellent color saturation.

It is commonly used in gel pens, which have become popular for their smooth writing experience and the ability to write on various surfaces. Gel inks may take slightly longer to dry compared to water-based inks.

Is Pen Ink Bad for the Environment?


Pen ink can have varying environmental impacts depending on its composition and disposal methods. Traditional pen inks often contain synthetic chemicals that can be harmful to the environment if not handled properly.

However, the use of plant-based inks and biodegradable inks is gaining popularity as more environmentally conscious alternatives. These have natural ingredients in pen ink, minimizing their ecological footprint.


What is pen ink made from? Beyond the seemingly simple and ordinary fluid that effortlessly flows from our pens, pen ink is a fascinating concoction of carefully selected ingredients. From pigments and solvents to resins and additives, the composition of pen ink is a delicate balance of chemistry and craftsmanship!

We hope this article answered all your questions concerning the secrets behind what your usual pens are made from and how they are made.

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