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Tap. Tap. Tap.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!