Why Is My Pen Not Working? How To Get a Ballpoint Pen To Work


Tap. Tap. Tap.

Scribble Scribble.

Nothing comes out. What gives?

We have all encountered the feeling of dismay when our favorite ballpoint pen stops writing. We try everything in our power to fix it but even the tried and true scribble fails to help. You suspect that there should still be ink in the cartridge. That brings us to a couple dilemmas. First, why is the pen not working? Then, the obvious follow-up - what can we do to fix it?

In this article, we'll investigate the various reasons why a ballpoint pen will not write. Then, we'll suggest some tips and tricks to remedy the issue.

Let's get the easy one out of the way - if the ballpoint cartridge is visibly empty (or nearly empty), then it is time to replace the cartridge with a compatible ballpoint refill. Unfortunately, since most ballpoint pen cartridges have either a metal body or an opaque, plastic one, the ink level will not be visible. If you are unsure about the amount of ink in your pen, then attempt the following suggestions.

Cause #1: Air Bubbles

First, there might be an air bubble in the cartridge. If this is the case, you will see that there is a gap in the ink when you remove the cartridge from the pen barrel.

The solution - Strike or poke the tip of the cartridge on a hard surface, but make sure to keep an eye on the bubble. As soon as the bubble disappears, stop striking and put the cartridge back into the pen. Also, be aware that if you strike too much or too hard, there may be some ink spillage. Similarly, if this doesn’t work, try shaking the pen, which would also help remove the ink bubble.

Cause #2: Storing Ballpoint Pens Wrong

Another reason why a ballpoint pen may not write is because it is being stored with the tip upright. A ballpoint pen’s physical mechanism is very similar to that of a roll on deodorant or perfume. Essentially, it uses a ball and socket, where gravity acts as the force pushing ink from the reservoir onto the ball. Therefore, when a ballpoint pen is being stored tip up, gravity may push the ink in the opposite direction. The simple solution to this is simply to store the pen with the tip down and wait until gravity does its magic!

In contrast, a fountain pen should usually be stored with the nib upright, especially if carried in a bag or pen case.

Cause #3: Ink Clogging The Pen's Tip

One of the more difficult ballpoint pen issues is when the ink clogs the tip. Unlike rollerball pens, ballpoint pens use thicker, oil-based ink. The rolling ball mechanism acts as a cap to stop the ink from drying out, but when left out, unused for long periods of time, it can clog up and stop the ink flow.

The first method to resolve a clogged ballpoint pen is to apply more pressure and draw scribbles and vertical lines on a piece of paper. If this method does not work, then dip the very tip of the pen in rubbing alcohol. [just the tip] This will dissolve any dried up or ink that has hardened on the tip. You can also try to blow into the open end of the ink cartridge which can push the ink closer toward the tip. This method, of course, only works if the cartridge has an open end as some ink cartridges have a cap on them.

If scribbling and a dip in rubbing alcohol doesn't completely resolve the issue, you can try heating the pen tip with the lighter method.

This method entails holding a lighter flame next to the tip of a ballpoint. Do this until the ink is able to flow and the pen can write. Limit the heat contact to only the tip or else the pen will be damaged. If you do not have easy access to a lighter, feel free to put only the tip of the pen in boiling water as it will work the same way. Occasionally, check the temperature of the tip of the pen with your fingers to make sure it is not too much hotter than what you expect it to be. Then, lightly and carefully tap the pen on a hard surface to get the ink to flow.

How To Unclog Your Ballpoint Pen's Ink

If your pen still is not working by this point, we suggest to increase the friction of the rolling ball to dislodge any stuck ink. There are several ways to approach this. One is to write on a rough piece of cardboard. Since cardboard has more texture (tooth) than paper, for instance, it will likely be able to grip onto the tip of the pen and allow the ball to move freely on the surface. Other surfaces you can use aside from cardboard are rubber, such as the rubber on the bottom of a shoe, an emery board, or rough piece of fabric.

Please keep in mind that ballpoint pen parts are very easy to lose––particularly the spring. Be careful when you are taking things apart as most ballpoint pens cannot be used if there is no spring tension. Therefore, when you are reassembling a ballpoint pen, make sure everything is in its correct position and that the spring is still inside the pen if that particular ballpoint requires a spring.

If all of the above fails, simply replace the cartridge of the pen. One thing to keep in mind is that some ballpoints use different refills than others. For example, the Sheaffer Prelude Ballpoint Pen uses the proprietary Sheaffer "K" Ballpoint Refill while the Laban Elegant Ballpoint Pen uses the Parker-style Ballpoint Pen Refill. Therefore, check the product on the Goldspot website to see what related refill works for the ballpoint pen you are trying to fix. If you put an incompatible ballpoint pen refill into a pen, it will most likely not fit and it will not be able to write.

At the end of the day, be patient with your pen. Sometimes it may not work the way that we want it to, but with some scribbling, tapping, rubbing alcohol, and even a little fire, your ballpoint pen should be working in no time. Feel free to check out Goldspot’s ballpoint collection here and if your ballpoint pen needs a new refill, feel free to look through our ballpoint pen refills here as well!

Frequently Asked Questions on Getting a Ballpoint Pen to Write


What is a ballpoint pen and why do ballpoint pens stop writing?

Ballpoint pens are writing instruments that dispense ink over a metal ball. The ball rotates as your writing allowing the ink to flow onto paper.

There are many reasons why ballpoint pens stop writing:

  • The ink has dried up.
  • The ball is clogged with dried ink or debris.
  • The ink cartridge is empty.
  • There's an air bubble in the ink tube.

How to get a ballpoint pen to start writing again and get it's ink flowing onto paper?

We hope the above article has helped you to get your pen working again. If you're pen has ink but won't write, we recommend buying a new ink cartridge for your ballpoint pen. You can search Goldspot.com for your particular pen's brand and see if we have a replacement for you. Ink cartridges normally are affordable and won't cost you too much to get your ballpoint pen working like new!


What is the difference between rollerball pens and ballpoint pens?

Rollerball pens use wateer or gel based inks that flow freely through the tip of the pen. They can provide a smoother writing experience, but can dry out quickly when not capped. Both rollerball pens and ballpoint pens have a ball at the tip of the pen directing the ink flow onto paper. The primary difference lies in the ink itself.

Learn more about rollerball pens here.

Who invented the ballpoint pen?

How did the "Biro" get it's name? How did the Bic get its nickname?

Read the short history of the ballpoint pen here

How does a ballpoint pen work?

See the magic of the ballpoint pen's clever design in action.

See how a ballpoint pen works.

Ballpoint vs. Rollerball Pens

How does a rollerball pen differ from a ballpoint? We compare the differences between writing modes.

See the differences between ballpoint and rollerball pens here.

What's the difference between fountain and ballpoint pens

Fountain pens were the original, ink-delivering writing instrument. See how ballpoints evolved from their predecessors.

Find the differences between fountain and ballpoint pens here.

How to get a ballpoint pen to work

Troubleshoot a problematic ballpoint pen with this handy guide.

Get a ballpoint pen to start writing again.

What sizes do ballpoint pens come in?

Find the ideal tip size for your writing needs.

See all ballpoint pen tip sizes here.

How artists use ballpoint pens

Pens are used for more than just writing.

Find creative uses for ballpoint pens here.

What are gel pens and how do they work?

Find out how a gel ink pen differs from a ballpoint pen.

See how a gel pen works here.

Mechanical pencil lead sizes & lead types

Find the ideal grade and lead diameter for your mechanical pencil.

Explore the various types of pencil leads here.

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