Why Do Pens Sometimes Not Write On Paper? (Reasons & Fixes)

If you’ve ever been writing and the pen suddenly stops writing on your paper you know how frustrating it can be. The pen works most of the time but not always. It will make you wonder why do pens sometimes not write on paper?

Your ballpoint pen may stop writing for several reasons. The most common issue is that the ballpoint has become clogged with dry ink. It is also common for the ink inside to dry up if it is too old. Sometimes, the problem is with the paper instead of the pen.

While pens are typically quite reliable, they can fail you at the most inconvenient times. In this article, I will cover the above issues in more detail. I will also cover other possibilities and quick fixes for a pen that won’t write.

Reasons your pen isn’t writing

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In addition to the above issues, your pen can stop writing because of air bubbles, the angle of the pen, an empty cartridge, and stains on the paper. Each of these problems falls into one of three categories.

  • Mechanical issues
  • Ink issues
  • Surface issues

While each issue is different, they have similar solutions depending on the type. Mechanical issues are when the physical casing or moving parts prevents you from writing. Ink issues are of course when the ink isn’t working as it should. Lastly, surface issues are when your pen is working just fine, but the paper or other surface doesn’t cooperate.

Let’s cover how to identify what the issue is then go over the solutions.

Mechanical issues

how are ballpoint pens made

Ballpoint pens are designed to be used in certain ways. One common design aspect that can result in the pen not working has to do with gravity. Your pen is designed to let gravity pull the ink down onto the ballpoint. 

If you store the pen point up or write with it that way, it may not work. The ink gets pulled towards the other end which opens up some air between the ink and ballpoint.

Pens also come with certain built-in weaknesses. Again, this comes back to the ball at the tip. If left uncapped for a long time, ink can dry up in and around the ballpoint. This clog can prevent the ball from rotating. 

Additionally, the tip and ball can be damaged. While neither part is especially fragile, they are very important. A damaged tip can cause the ball to fall out or have a harder time spinning.

Ink issues

Just as important as the point is the ink in a pen. Unfortunately, the ink cartridge in most pens isn’t perfect. Not to mention ink has a shelf life

Though they are designed to last as long as possible, the ink in a pen can dry up. When this happens no amount of gravity will pull the ink onto the ballpoint. There should be an expiration date on either the packaging for the pen or the ink cartridge. 

Another possible issue is an air bubble in the cartridge. This can come about as a manufacturing error or some fluke of physics. These bubbles aren’t an immediate issue if they’re further to the back of the cartridge. If they are between the ink and the ballpoint you won’t be able to write. 

Surface issues

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It is natural to assume that when your pen isn’t writing it is the fault of the pen. However, sometimes the problem is what you’re writing on. Ballpoint pens work when the ball rolls, picks up ink from the cartridge and deposits it on the paper.

If the ball cannot roll for some reason you won’t get any ink on the page. One reason this may happen is the texture of the surface. The ball needs some level of friction to turn. If the surface is too smooth, the ball can’t rotate.

Another reason this may happen is stains on the surface. An oil stain on a piece of paper can make it too smooth for the ball to rotate. This can also happen with waxy paper. In addition to spills, oil from your fingers can build up and cause this.

Fixes for a pen that isn’t working

The above is what to look out for, but how do you fix these various problems? In most cases, it just takes a bit of patience. 

For mechanical issues such as a pen stored upside down all you need to do is store it with the tip down for some time. Similarly, don’t write with the point angled upwards. If the ball is clogged by dry ink you just have to scribble on a rough surface. If that doesn’t loosen the ball you can dip the tip into rubbing alcohol to dissolve the ink. 

If the tip or ball is damaged there isn’t much to be done. You can try to bend it back into shape but it may never work as well as it should.

Ink issues are usually solved in one of two ways. Either by replacing the cartridge or forcing the ink to behave. If nothing seems to work then the ink is likely to dry in the cartridge. At this point, you need to replace the ink. 

When there is an air bubble in the ink cartridge you can try to force the ink down. This can be done by shaking the pan. If you want to have a bit of fun you can apply centrifugal forces to the pen. This is done by tying a string around the end and spinning it in a circle for a bit.

Surface issues are very simple unless you have to write on a problematic surface. If you do not you can simply change what you’re writing. If you have to write on a surface that your pen doesn’t like you have to get creative. One solution is to write on a different surface and then glue the better surface onto the other one.

Final thoughts

The level of effort you apply to fix a pen should really depend on the pen. If it is a dime a dozen pen it simply isn’t worth the effort. Naturally, the more expensive the pen, the fewer issues you should have.

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