Does it really need to be that permanent?

If you read any of the forums or blogs related to pens you know ink permanence is a recurring subject. I suspect everyone gets interested in it at some point or another. I myself have more than once gotten a bit obsessive about finding and using only the most permanent inks or pens. Each of these threads rehashes some common themes:


We must write in pen, because pencil can be erased. Actually, erasing isn’t that easy – I did drafting with pencils very early in my career, and I can assure you that completely erasing pencil that has been in place for a while is not an easy task even with an electric eraser on vellum. I do not think one will be able to thoroughly erase aged pencil from the kinds of paper most notebooks and letters use, at least not without damaging the paper. If the intent is to destroy the material, tossing or burning would be a lot of faster.

Yes, changing individual entries is a different story, and for keeping records and checks and the like ink obviously makes sense, but it’s ironic that pencil is avoided because aside from erasing, pencil graphite is pretty resistant to water and solvents.

We must protect our writings from the ages so that future generations can have them. What we write in our letters and journals will be treasured for decades to come and our distant successors wouldn’t be relieved to learn they’d become unreadable, and thus be able to throw them away. Sure, everyone wants mementos, but I tend to doubt anyone is going to wade through the volumes I’ve filled with drivel over the years. Some of the letters I wrote to Susan early in our relationship are sweet and G-rated, but some of them would surely have a third party reader writhing in agony. In fact, I’m pretty sure we never invent time travel because I haven’t been visited by descendants asking me to stop writing.

But, you never know. I might still invent something or become famous, and lots of journals may be a nice retirement package for some great, great, grandchild.

Even so, given how much of old writings have survived, is the quality of ink in modern times really that critical?

Checks, of course, must be written in the safest ink. The assumption here is that the checks we write are routinely seized upon by forgers, and we must guard against them washing our checks and re-writing them for larger amounts to someone else. I wonder how often this really happens. Those who have a lot to lose clearly need to be careful.

Any forger who goes to the trouble to steal and wash a check of mine is going to be disappointed. I’ll know it happened because he’ll send me a bill for the NSF charge. I write checks rarely these days, and it’s getting more infrequent each year.

It must resist the common spill. This one is pretty plausible for lab notebooks and folks who frequently write in restaurants, outdoors, or anywhere near a child with a beverage. As a parent I’ve learned to keep a minimum distance between the disaster triangle formed by a child, an open glass of liquid, and anything of value. Even so I’ve spilled on a book a few times. Each time it’s smeared the ink, but what was left was fairly easy to read. Even the least water resistant ink I’ve tested under running water has left enough image to be legible, and in the common scenario, what is lost was written only moments earlier, and can likely be recalled. This is another case where pencil has the advantage.


So how permanent does it really need to be? I can’t remember anything I’ve written in my life that was critical enough to warrant the kind care I could take to make sure something is permanent.

How far do you go to make sure what you write is safe?

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