How Do You Keep Pen Ink From Fading?

Many inks will fade over time, because of how some of its chemicals react to UV light. That’s fine when you’re writing a grocery list, but what if you’d like to preserve your notes for posterity?

No ink is 100% fade-proof. However, you can help slow down the process by choosing more fade-resistant ink and paper, and taking very simple precautions when you’re working with valuable documents.

Keep out the light

How do you keep pen ink from fading?

The #1 enemy of ink is ultraviolet rays. Always store your journals and other documents in a bookcase or box that’s not hit by direct sunlight. If you like to bring your notebook around with you, use a protective leather case or portfolio.

For example, this leather case even has a pen holder and pockets for loose slips of paper. You can insert a new notebook, and the natural distressed look actually becomes more beautiful with age.

Also, develop simple habits like closing your notebook when you’re done writing instead of just leaving it open on the page.

If you’re working on a drawing or art journal page that needs to be left out overnight (for example, you added paint elements that need to dry, or you just need a break from the page) lightly cover it with a cloth or use a table away from a window.

Use acid-free paper

Have you ever wondered why some historical documents have lasted for centuries without breaking down, but the notes you made just 10 years ago already look faded?

It’s the paper material. Paper was originally made from hemp, cotton, and bamboo. Today, many commercial papers use bleached wood pulp, which contains a compound called lignin.

By fi:User:MPorciusCato – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5201557

As the paper ages, the lignin turns into hydrochloric acid, which reacts to the inks and causes it to fade. It also turns the paper yellow and makes it brittle and fragile. You can see that in old newspaper clippings, or even your grandmother’s old recipe books.  

That’s why for journals or valuable documents, look for paper that is specifically labeled “acid-free”, “archival quality” or “artist-grade”. They may be more expensive, but they will last longer and look better.

Pick fade-resistant inks

I confess that I am a bit obsessed with collecting different kinds of pens and inks. Sometimes, I fall in love with a beautiful color and buy it, without really looking into how long the ink will last, or whether it will discolor over time.

That’s not entirely a bad thing: not all inks have to be fade-resistant. I don’t really care if my random notes are illegible after a few years, because I’ll be throwing those papers out long before then.

But I do have to be more careful when I’m choosing inks for my journals, drawings, scrapbooks, or the letters and cards that I give to loved ones. Fountain pen inks in particular are typically made of dyes, which are more sensitive to chemicals in the paper and environmental exposure.

Some ink brands carry fade-resistant inks but bear in mind that even within the same brand there will be colors that are more likely to fade because of the type of pigments used.

For example, among  Noodler’s Bullet-Proof inks, the most fade-resistant colors are the original Black, Heart of Darkness, Upper Ganges Blue, and 54th Massachusetts. However, the Noodler’s Baystate Blue and Rachmaninoff fade relatively faster, and Diamine Ancient Copper is barely readable after a few years.    

Fountain pen ink forums have long threads dedicated to fade-testing. Try this thread on the Fountain Pen Network to get you started.

As a rule, the more saturated inks resist fading better, as explained in this video. Saturation is how watery an ink looks: is it bold, vibrant, and opaque, or does it look watered down? Some brands, like Diamine, Private Reserve, Noodler’s, are known for very high ink saturation.

Also bear in mind that water-resistant inks are not automatically fade-resistant. Some inks that can withstand a little water can completely fade when exposed to bleach, which is an indicator of how they will react to chemical exposure over time.

And if you’re concerned about fading, completely avoid iron-gall inks, which will generally fade into a brownish color because of the iron content.

Black is your safest bet

How do you keep pen ink from fading?

If longevity is your primary concern, then a deep, vibrant black is your safest color. One of the most popular colors that are used by professional artists is the Platinum Carbon Black, although the pigments can clog some pens. We recommend using an inexpensive pen first.

Platinum Carbon Ink Bottle 60ml - Black
  • Pigmented carbon ink
  • Capacity 60ml
  • Ink colour: Black

Other good bets are the Pelikan Fount India, Sailor NanoBack, and the iconic Noodler’s Heart of Darkness. Rohrer & Klingner inks (specifically Ausziehtusche Schwarz and Zeichentusche Schwarz) have also been known to stay vibrant for decades.

Colored inks can be fade-resistant but stick to darker colors as well. For example, pick a very rich midnight blue instead of a royal blue, or a deep reddish-brown instead of a light sepia.   

Use a protective varnish

You can protect artwork, letters, or scrapbooks with a varnish or fixative. Just give it a light spray—holding the can about 50 cm away from the page—and let it dry before applying another layer.

Always test the varnish on the same kind of paper (or a small inconspicuous corner). Use a high-quality brand that dries clear and is non-yellowing, such as Krylon Gallery Series Artist and Clear Coatings Aerosol or Sennelier HC10 Universal Fixative.

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Varnishes and fixatives come in different finishes: clear, matte, and glossy. These not only stop the ink from fading, but can also keep out dirt, dust, fingerprint smudges, and mold. Some sprays can also make colors more vibrant, which is perfect for ink drawings or scrapbooks.

If you like to attach photos or memorabilia to your journals, use acid-free glue or tape (such as Lineco or Scotch Quick Drying Tacky Glue). If you like to decorate your journal page with markers, also look for acid-free, like this set by Arteza or Ibayam.

Tested by time

Only time can tell whether ink is truly fade-resistant. However, choosing the right writing materials and taking a few precautions can give you a good start—and hopefully preserve your work in its full color and vibrancy.

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