A Cynical Ramble About The Popularity Of Blue Ink

2017 Artwork Blue Ink Moan article sketch

A few days before I wrote this article, I had to write a quick note and the only pen that was lying around nearby was an old ballpoint pen… with blue ink!

This naturally made me wonder why blue (of all colours) is such a popular ink colour. I mean, it really doesn’t make sense! Of course, it wasn’t until a few days later that I actually bothered to do even a small amount of research into this subject.

From a quick Google search, I found this forum page which, amongst other things, suggests that blue ink was originally popular because it helped to distinguish hand-written signatures from photocopied/ carbon copied ones, because it could be more easily used in early copying processes, because of the composition of the ink, because it differentiated formal and informal correspondence etc…

But, despite now having all of this knowledge, I still find it to be utterly bewildering why anyone would want to use blue ink. And, why black ink isn’t the “default” ink colour for ballpoint pens. I mean, if you pick up a random ballpoint pen (with no colour markings on the outside), it’s probably going to be blue. Where is the logic in this?

My views about blue ink seem to be deeply entrenched and surprisingly strong. Ever since sometime when I was a teenager, I just felt that black ink was more “serious” and more “permanent”. Blue ink always seemed slightly lighter and I always thought that this meant that it was more prone to fading than black ink was.

Not only that, virtually all books, magazines etc… are printed in bold, solid black ink. So, whenever I wrote with black ink (and whenever I still do every day), it just felt like whatever I was writing was just a little bit more ‘serious’. It feels like everything I write has just a little bit more gravitas than it would if I wrote it in frivolous, annoying blue ink.

Then, of course, there’s the artistic side of things. Although most of my art includes paint, I come from a drawing background. In particular, I come from an ink drawing background. Yes, I’ll often make sketches in pencil, but pencil seems even more impermanent than blue ink does.

It’s a fact that art usually looks better when it’s drawn in black ink. Your drawings stand out immediately in a way that they just don’t do if you decide to create a visually-confusing mess using blue ink (like the drawing at the top of this page, my first blue ink drawing in… hopefully, a very long time!). In other words, there’s a much higher level of visual contrast between black ink and white paper than there is with blue ink and white paper.

Even when you add a lot of other colours to your artwork, black ink lines are both clearly bold and pleasantly unobtrusive. They’re something that the audience doesn’t consciously notice, in the same way that you probably haven’t consciously noticed that this article is written using black text.

Likewise, if you make art using blue ink, then it looks a lot more… informal. If you want to go for the ‘look at my wonderfully spontaneous sketches‘ kind of look, then I can see how it might work. But, if you want to give your art more of a “professional” kind of look, then black ink is usually the only real option.

I don’t know why this obscure topic ended up provoking an entire blog article but I still find it confusing and illogical that blue is the default ink colour for many ballpoint pens. Still, if online articles about the decline of handwriting are to be believed, then this is probably more of a moot point than anything else. And I’m still surprised that I have such strong opinions about blue ink, of all things.

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Anyway, I hope that this grumpy rant was interesting 🙂

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