If you’re doing a crossword puzzle, you probably want to use a pencil. That way, if you make a mistake, you can erase it.

If you use a pen with permanent ink, you’ll likely be stuck with your answers — whether they’re right or wrong!

Most people are familiar with liquid ink that can be found in pens. If you have experience with computer printers, you also know about liquid ink that comes in cartridges. There are even thick, pasty inks that professional printers use to print artwork and posters.

Basically, ink is a liquid or paste made up of pigments or dyes that is used to color a surface to create printed words or pictures. Modern inks are often made of complex combinations of various chemicals, including solvents, pigments, dyes, resins and other materials.

Ink has been around for centuries. No one knows for sure who invented ink. Experts believe that many different ancient cultures may have independently developed inks as they learned to write and draw.

For example, Chinese inks have been traced back to the 18th century B.C. The ancient Chinese who first made ink used plant, animal and mineral matter, mixed with water, to create different types of ink.

An ancient type of ink that’s still used today for many different types of art projects is India ink. Used in ancient India since the 4th century B.C., India ink was called masi and was made of tar, pitch or burnt bones.

Today, India ink is made with fine soot called “lampblack,” along with water and a binding agent, such as gelatin or shellac.

If you’ve ever gotten permanent ink on something it wasn’t supposed to be on — like your shirt, for example — you may wonder why permanent ink is even made. Shouldn’t we stick with pencil or ink that can be removed easily?

Not necessarily! There are plenty of good uses for permanent ink.

For example, there are many documents — such as legal documents — that we want to last forever. Think about the U.S. Constitution. You wouldn’t want such an important document to be erasable, would you? Artists who use ink also usually want their art to stand the test of time.

Permanent ink lasts a long time, and that makes it ideal for important documents and works of art. Unlike pencil or erasable ink, permanent ink soaks into the paper it is used on.

The pigments and dyes in ink are usually dissolved in water and glycol. When these substances evaporate, the pigments and dyes soak into the paper, leaving a mark that will last a long time, if not forever.

Of course, permanent ink occasionally gets on things — clothes, skin, etc. — that you didn’t intend for it to get on. When this happens, you sometimes can remove the permanent ink with special cleaners.

For example, permanent ink often can be removed with high-pressure cleaning, paint-thinning solvents or nail polish remover.

Even if these special chemicals don’t remove the permanent ink completely, they often reduce its visibility. Over time, the permanent ink may fade away altogether.

And if you accidentally write on your teacher’s whiteboard with a permanent marker? Don’t worry! You can usually remove permanent marker from a whiteboard by drawing over it with a dry erase marker.

Why does this work? Dry erase markers contain acetone, a chemical often used as a paint thinner!


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    • Wasn’t that video awesome, Kerrick Elementary School 2nd/EBD classroom? Thank you so much for letting us know all the great things you learned from this Wonder! We hope you all have a WONDERful weekend! :-)

  1. Hello Wonderopolis! One time my mom used marker on a white board and could not get it off. It is still there. When my mom goes back to work she will try to get it off. I hope it works.

    Maddy M.

    • Hi, Maddy! Let us know if it works! That would be super cool if she was able to remove the permanent ink after it was on the white board for a long time! :-)

  2. The videos are so engaging, I wish our school district would allow teachers to access them along with the site. I wonder if other school districts are experiencing the same problem.

    • Hello, Pamela! We’re super sorry that you’re not able to show the videos along with each day’s Wonder. Can you email us (hello@wonderopolis.org) so that we can address your concerns directly? Thanks so much for being a friend of Wonderopolis! :-)

    • Welcome to Wonderopolis, Julie! We enjoyed reading your blog post and thought that ink blot art would be a fun activity for all Wonder Friends to try! Thank you SO MUCH for your comment today, and tell “C” that his ink blot art was really AWESOME! :-)

    • We’re sorry the video’s trick to remove permanent ink from a dry-erase board didn’t work for you, Some Person. Maybe you could try it again? We hope it works for you! :-)

    • We really like hearing when Wonder Friends learn new things by exploring a Wonder of the Day®, Squary11! Thanks so much for sharing that YOU learned something new about permanent ink! Have a WONDERful day! :-)

    • We hope so too, Cool Kid! What a cool thing– we enjoy WONDERing about the science behind everyday things! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What makes ink permanent?
  • How long has ink been around?
  • Why is permanent ink useful?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to get up-close and personal with ink? As you may already know, ink is great for many different types of fun projects.

Grab your art supplies and prepare to get crafty with these activities:

When you’re finished, we’d love to see what you come up with! Email us a picture of your special ink project!

Did you know that black ink (the nonpermanent kind) is actually made up of many different colors? Try out this fun experiment to see which colors make up black ink!


Still Wondering

Experience the art and culture of Chinese calligraphy and Chinese ink painting through watercolor painting and Chinese instrumental music with ArtsEdge’s Chinese Calligraphy lesson!


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