Why Do Pens Stop Working When They Still Have Ink?

There is nothing like a good pen. Using a good, reliable pen is one of the small joys of life. No matter what type of pen it is or what it is being used for, everyone needs a reliable pen. This is why it is frustrating when a pen stops writing, especially there is clearly ink left in the pen. Many people find themselves in this annoying situation and wonder, “why do pens stop working when they still have ink?”

Pens stop working when they still have ink because the ink dries out, air has become trapped in the cartridge causing air pockets, the ink has dried in the nib of the pen, preventing ink from flowing, debris in the nib is blocking the ink, or the paper that is used is not receiving the ink well.

There are many reasons for the ink to stop flowing in a pen that still has ink left in it. It usually depends on the pen type, the type of ink, and the paper that is being written on. Let’s examine some of the reasons why ink stops flowing in various pens and how to resolve this problem.

What Causes Ink To Stop Flowing In A Pen?

There are many different pens available in this modern age of writing. Each pen type is constructed differently and uses its own ink delivering system. The possible causes of hindered or halted ink flow in a pen largely depend on the type of pen used.

Ballpoint and rollerball pens are more likely to experience flow interruptions or halted flow altogether than fountain or felt-tip pens are.

The ink used in the various types of pens is an important factor to consider here because different pens use different inks at various viscosities and use different bases such as water or oil.

Below is a close inspection of four major pen types and some reasons why their ink may stop flowing:

Ballpoint Pens

Ballpoint is the most likely to stop flowing, even if they have plenty of ink in the cartridge.

The ink used in ballpoint pens is oil-based, which means that it spreads thinly, is used sparingly, and lasts longer, but it also means that the ink is more likely to clump and cause blockages in the pen nib.

Ballpoint pen ink is very thick and easily gets clogged in the ball bearing used to transfer the ink to the paper.

Suppose a ballpoint pen is left unused for an extended time. In that case, the ink that is left on the ball in the nib is likely to dry out, which prevents the ball from rolling within the pen, which prevents the ink from being transferred to the paper.

This is the most common reason why ballpoint pens stop working, even if they have plenty of ink left.

Ballpoint pens are also susceptible to air developing pockets. This can be a real problem and can be difficult to fix.

If air pockets have formed within the ink cartridge, the pen will stop working until the air pocket is worked out of the pen and resume writing once the air has evacuated.

Rollerball Pens

Rollerball pens are susceptible to the very same problems as ballpoint pens, as they transfer ink to paper by the very same mechanism.

The key difference between rollerball and ballpoint pens is the type of ink that is used.

Rollerball pens use water-based ink instead of oil-based ink. This means that the ink flows more readily and is used u more quickly, but it also means that the ink is not likely to clump and block up the ball bearing in the nib.

Rollerball pens are also prone to air pockets, but they work themselves out more quickly in the water-based ink than in the oil-based ink of ballpoint pens.

Felt-Tip Pens

Felt-tip pens are some of the least likely pens to stop working, especially if they still have enough ink left in them to write with.

These pens sometimes have a liquid ink cartridge or reservoir. They more commonly use an ink-soaked material that stores the ink and transfers the ink to the nib, which then transfers the ink to the paper.

This material is soaked in ink and is very dependant on the body of the pen remaining air-tight. If the pen is somehow ruptured, cracked, or opened in some way, the ink is very likely to dry out very quickly.

For this reason, it is crucial to be sure that felt-tip pens are well looked after if you would like to use them for a long time.

Fountain Pens

Fountain pens are considered to be an acquired taste in the modern world, as they are much more high maintenance and far more expensive than their more commonly used alternatives.

These pens are usually better made, use higher quality ink than other pen types, and are therefore less likely to stop working in the middle of a sentence.

However, while these higher-end pens are of better quality, they are not immune from ink-flow problems.

If a fountain pen has stopped working, it has probably run out of ink, even it appears to have ink left in the reservoir, but what you are seeing is ink residue left on the inside of the casing that creates the illusion of a full tank.

If you have checked the reservoir, and if it does still have plenty of ink to use, then there is probably something wrong with the nib of the fountain pen.

If a fountain pen has gone unused for a while, there may be ink that has dried on the nib of the pen that is obstructing the flow of ink, or perhaps some ink has dried within the nib of the pen or inside the reservoir and has blocked it altogether.

Does The Paper Matter?

Paper is an important factor, but it is usually not why ink stops flowing from a pen.

However, if the paper’s surface is too smooth, is oily, or is waxy, then the pen may stop working when used in certain areas of the paper, making it seem as if the pen has stopped working, but really the paper is to blame.

Be sure to use paper that is thick enough for writing on and absorbing ink well, but not too smooth either. 

How To Get A Stuck Pen To Write Again

There are a few methods for reactivating the flow of ink within a pen, and some of them are as simple as you would imagine.

Ballpoint and rollerball pens can be unstuck by scribbling on paper until the ball is freed from dried ink and starts rolling again, the pen may be struck on a hard surface to dislodge the dry ink, and if all else fails, try heating the nib of the pen in hot water to melt the dried ink from the ball bearing.

Felt-tip pens that have run dry may be revived by sprinkling a few very small drops of water into the ink chamber of the pen to add some moisture back into the ink, or the nib of the pen may be soaked for very short periods in water.

These methods offer mixed results, as dry felt-tip pens are challenging to revive and often need to be replaced if they stop working.

Fountain pens that have stopped working may need to be repaired. Closely inspect the nib of the pen and look for any damage or obstructions.

If the nib if the pen has been somehow damaged, the nib will need to be repaired or replaced for the ink to flow normally.

If there is dry ink within the nib or reservoir of the pen, remove any cartridges or reservoirs from the pen, clean out the ink as best as you can, and run lukewarm water or ink dissolving agents through the body and nib of the pen. This should dissolve or dislodge any dried ink.


There are many reasons why the various types of pens stop working, even when they still have ink.

It usually is determined by how well the pen is made, the quality and type of ink used in the pen, and the pen’s mechanism for transferring ink to paper.

If a cheap pen stops working, it may not be worth the time it takes to fix it, and rather just use a new pen and hope that it is more reliable.

However, suppose an expensive pen stops writing while it still has ink. In that case, it is worth investigating and solving the problem to continue using your favorite writing instrument.

If a pen has stopped working mid-sentence, it may not be used up, and it may be possible to get the ink flowing again! So be sure to investigate the cause of a dry pen and not be too quick to determine it useless.

Similar Posts