For as long as there have been pens, there have been headaches caused by ink smearing issues. This is especially true for fountain pens and dip pens that leave small wells of ink bubbled up on the page until they dry — but ballpoint pen and printer ink also have a tendency to smear. But why does this happen? When there is a wet bulge of ink sitting on top of the paper, the answer seems obvious. But when the ink from your pen rolls on smoothly, logic says it stay where you’re writing, not end up smudged all along the side of your hand. In order to understand why ink smears, we first need to look at how different ink dispersal methods work.
Pens and Printers
The ballpoint pen, despite what modern frustrations might say, is the answer to centuries of dealing with ink smudges from fountain pens. Part of the difference is the technology of the pen itself, and part of the difference lies in the type of ink. Fountain pens rely on a combination of gravity and changes in air pressure to dispense the ink. Since fountain pens rely on small channels in the nib to let ink out and air in, a loosely flowing water-based ink works best. However, if the air opening is too large, the ink can rush out too quickly and leave an inky mess everywhere.
Ballpoint pens function almost entirely differently. There is a tiny, smooth ball in the tip of every ballpoint pen (thus the name). As you press the pen against paper and move it, the little ball rolls and spreads ink along the page. To make sure the ink doesn’t run horribly, ballpoint pen ink is typically made with oil instead of water. The higher viscosity means the ink will roll on smoothly and is less likely to sit damply on top of a piece of paper.
Laser printers are a different ballpark entirely. Well, almost entirely. They still use ink, after all. But unlike pens, laser printers use a combination of powdered ink, electrical charges, heat, and pressure to apply ink to a page. Positive and negative charges pick up small particles of powdered ink to create the design — as designated by a laser — and a roller deposits the ink on your page. Then the page goes through a pair of heat rollers to fuse the ink to the page.
Stop The Smudging
Generally, the reason for smudging lies in the paper as much as the pen. The more porous the paper, the fewer fibers it has to absorb and hold onto ink pigments. Water-based inks smudge more because the water in the ink has to either be absorbed or evaporate for the pigment to stay where it was placed. Ballpoint pens are less likely to smudge because there is less moisture for the paper to absorb. That being said, the higher quality and thicker a page, the less likely ink is to smudge, no matter which pen type you use. However, get any ink wet again and the paper works a lot like a paper towel; it will absorb the moisture and the ink pigment will spread with it.
If you are tired of dealing with ink smudges, the answer is to switch to a material that doesn’t absorb liquids. TerraSlate waterproof paper is waterproof, grease-proof, and otherwise non-absorbent — but it still holds fast to ink. Our waterproof printer paper can be used with a standard laser printer just like your typical printer paper. Unlike standard paper, however, our waterproof paper is all rip-proof and colorfast. You can dunk it in a full bathtub and the ink will hold fast.