Do Ballpoint Pens Expire?

We have all encountered pens before with some malfunction or inherent issue that makes it impossible to write a complete sentence without a smudge or a missing letter due to dried ink. This begs the question, “Do ballpoint pens expire, or do they just gradually lose their capacity to carry ink depending on various factors?”

According to various manufacturers and store owners, the average ballpoint pen has approximately two years of shelf life. Although other factors might influence ballpoint pens that will make them unusable during the two years, the ink is usually used to its completion before it expires.

Now that we are aware that pens do have an expiration date, we can look at different kinds of factors that influence the effectiveness of a ballpoint pen, including why it expires and what makes it less effective in the two-year period.

Why Do Ballpoint Pens Expire?

To explain why ballpoint pens expire, we must first be aware of what they consist of and how they work. Pens consist of various substances that alter the longevity and texture of the ink, the most important being chemical dyes, solvents, and surfactants; the latter lowers the surface tensions between the former substances.

Although ballpoint pens also consist of these substances, they have added chemicals that companies have gone to great lengths to keep secret due to the competitive nature of the pen industry. Despite the secrecy, we know the following about the ballpoint pens general make-up:

  • Ballpoint pens consist of a paste that contains between 25 and 50% dye.
  • Benzyl alcohol or phenoxyethanol is used as a solvent which is mixed with the dyes and oils to create a paste that quickly dries when placed on a surface.
  • The mix includes fatty acids to help lubricate the ball when writing.

These substances are then combined with the well-known mechanism of the ballpoint.

A Ballpoint pen’s name derives from the fact that it has a small ball at the pen’s tip that rolls on the surface you are writing on. This allows for minimum ink usage as the cartridge only wets the ball whiles being capped by the ball. Consequently, the pens last longer than their competition and have thus become the most popular tool for writing.

The substances that the ballpoint pen consists of are complex and dense, which causes it to dry over time gradually. Although the mechanism does aid in preserving the ink, it cannot completely stop the ink from being exposed to air and losing its lubrication.

Can You Make A Ballpoint Pen Last Longer?

Although the expiration date cannot be altered or changed due to the substances drying up within the pen, there are various techniques one can use to prolong, or at least preserve, the use of a ballpoint pen.

Various ballpoint pen users have mentioned that the pen does dry during its usage if the pen is exposed to air. Suppose a ballpoint pen is exposed to air the ink clogs, making it difficult to write with an even distribution of ink or even to write at all.

However, this issue can be resolved by warming the ink inside the cartridge. Friction can be used to warm the ink, but the most effective method is to use a hairdryer. The goal is to find a way to heat the substance to regain its lubrication quality.

Another method is to keep air out of the cartridge of the pen. The ball in the pen does aid in keeping air out but exposing the ball to constant air and dust will eventually cause a clog. If you keep the pen capped and stored in a cool, dry place, this will go a long way to preserve the pen’s function and, more specifically, the ink.

The following are a few techniques that can be implemented to preserve and prolong the functions of a ballpoint pen:

  • Position your pen so that it always faces downward. The cap where the ballpoint is allocated provides a buffer for the ink to avoid leakage. On the opposite side, the pen is open, and the ink will drain through.
  • Placing wax on the nib of the pen will aid in preserving the ink as it creates a seal which makes it difficult for the air to affect the ink.
  • Placing a ballpoint pen in an airtight bag also reduces the risk of exposure to air which means evaporation will not necessarily occur.

If Ballpoint Pens Expire, Does The Ink On Paper Also Disappear?

Due to ink expiring over a few years, the ink placed on paper will also dry quickly because of its thickness. The ink will fade but won’t completely disappear. It’s important to note that factors besides “time” affect the ink on the paper’s surface.

Exposure to light and water will both affect the quality of the ink long before it starts to fade by itself. Not only are the previous factor mentioned detrimental to the preservation of the ink on paper, but the formula of the ink and type of paper are also major contributors.

However, the ideal solution for preserving the written word is to keep any surface that has ink on it away from sunlight and humidity. Various companies have also employed different experiments to test ink when exposed to Ultraviolet light. These tests have aided companies in creating an ink that is more resistant and durable.

Therefore, even though techniques are being implemented to expand the life cycle of ink on paper, one can still go the extra mile to use spray varnish, also known as a final fixative, to create a protective layer over the ink.

The protective layer is usually used exclusively for art, but calligraphy can also be preserved in similar ways.


Ballpoint pen ink does expire within a two-year period, but often the ink is used to completion, or the mechanism gets altered by air and dust, which renders it useless long before its expiration. Taking the necessary precautions can prolong the usage of a ballpoint pen, but it won’t adjust the expiration date.

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