It’s one of the most irritating things in the world. You’re writing out a grocery list, a letter to a friend, jotting down your thoughts in a daily journal, or just taking some general notes and, all of a sudden, your pen just stops writing. The ink inside is clearly there but it won’t write.
There are several reasons for this and it may not be the paper that’s the problem. It could be that the pen tip is dry or clogged. When it’s the paper’s fault, it’s usually because the ballpoint or rollerball is having trouble rolling across the material.
The possibilities don’t end there, however, as there are a number of other issues that may crop up, depending on the type of paper you’re using and the type of pen. For the most part, the issue seems to be more prevalent with rollerball and ballpoint pens.
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Why Your Rollerball or Ballpoint Pen Stop Writing on Paper
Both ballpoint pens and rollerballs function the same way, with a small ball in the tip that rolls along as you write, picking up the ink behind it, rolling around, and depositing the ink on the page. Hopefully, this process results in a smooth, uninterrupted writing experience.
Sometimes, that’s not the case but it’s not always the pen’s fault. There are a ton of paper types out there—many more types of paper than there are types of pens. Some paper just doesn’t get along well with the rollerball function on rollerball and ballpoint pens.
It all boils down to friction. There has to be enough friction to grab and rotate the ball as you write. If the ball isn’t rolling, you’re not laying down any ink. Another possibility is the existence of other materials on the page.
If the page you’re writing on has an oily surface, as a result of some outside factor, the surface of the paper loses the friction it needs to roll the ball. It might be an old stain or a wet spot that changed the texture of the paper, even though it had long ago dried out.
It can also be a combination of two things: First, you start to write but there is no ink on the ball at the moment. The second happens only after you fix the pen. You go back to write but your previous passes pressed the microscopic fibers of the paper’s surface flat.
Now that those fibers are flattened, the paper lacks the friction surface necessary to roll the ball but only in that particular spot.
Other Reasons for a Pen to Stop Writing on Paper
Most of the other reasons are related to the pen itself. This is especially true when you’re using gel pens, fountain pens, quill pens, stylus pens, and fineliner pens. None of these pens feature a rolling ball at the tip, so they lack the excuse that it’s the paper’s fault if they stop writing.
Its the Ink
No matter what kind of pen you have, ink is the singular thing that unites them all. No matter the design, ink is capable of drying out inside the pen and clogging up the works. Another possibility, something that happens mostly in ballpoint pens, is a gap appearing between the ink and the tip.
Otherwise known as an air bubble, there is really no way to work it out without removing the ink tube itself and squeezing or otherwise finding a way to push the air bubble through so the ink can reach the tip again.
On its own, without disassembling it, you probably won’t be able to get rid of the air bubble just by scribbling on paper. Air bubbles can happen in other pens as well. However, when it comes to water-based inks, it’s harder to form an air bubble because of how thin and watery the ink is.
It just flows better. It’s also easier to get rid of an air bubble in a fountain pen cartridge or convertor. With a converter, all you have to do is use the filling mechanism to push the air bubble out. Replace the converter and continue writing once the ink makes its way down the nib to the point.
The Mechanical Operation of the Pen
No matter what type of pen you’re using, gravity is the force behind the adequate flow of ink. All pens require gravity to push the ink downward, through the tube, cartridge, or converter, and to the nib or point where the type of pen function takes over.
Laying pens on their sides for long periods, or putting them in a pen holder upside down will push the ink back in the wrong direction. It’s especially prevalent in water-based inks, with fountain pens being the most likely to suffer from gravity issues.
You should never store a fountain pen upside down, even if it’s only for a few hours. With the water-based ink in fountain pens, gravity works against you even more and it will take some time to get the ink to go back the other way so you can start writing again.
Leaving pens uncapped, whether it’s a ballpoint and rollerball or a fountain pen and gel pen, always increases the possibility of the tip drying out or the ink that’s sitting on the tip drying out. With ballpoint and roller pens, the dry ink is capable of freezing up the ball.
When you try to write, the ball won’t roll and you won’t get any ink, regardless of the paper you are using. With fountain and gel pens, dry ink on the tip simply gums up the works, creating a non-smooth surface tip for writing. Even if the ink does distribute, there will probably be gaps and jagged-looking lines.
Fixing a Non-Working Pen or Paper
As far as the paper is concerned, if the surface isn’t right for a rollerball or a ballpoint, you simply have to switch pen types or go to a different type of paper. Usually, when the rollerball isn’t rolling, a fountain pen, gel pen, or a fineliner pen will do the trick.
Dealing with air bubbles is often a pain, mostly because you have to remove the ink tube, cartridge, or converter. Once you remove it, you can blow on one end, use the driving mechanism, or use a thin wire or needle to push through the air bubble and get the ink flowing again.
Dry ink on a ballpoint pen usually just requires some extra friction to break away the dry ink and get it rolling again. When it comes to fountain pens or other pen types you can disassemble, you will have to do so and wash it completely out with water until it’s shiny and clean.
With non-fountain pens or quills, you can often dip the tip in rubbing alcohol, which will eat away that dry, clogged ink and get the ball rolling again.
All Things Considered
When a pen won’t write on a piece of paper, especially a type of paper where you haven’t had trouble in the past, it’s usually a problem with the pen. When it’s the paper, it’s often a matter of friction, or the lack thereof.
If a lack of friction is causing your rollerball or ballpoint to fail, you’ll just have to find a different paper texture or grab a different type of pen that doesn’t use a rolling ball to work.