Ballpoints, like all pens, write best when they’re used. While rollerballs and fountain pens stop writing when they dry out, ballpoints often just write poorly. Sometimes simply using the pen will usually revive it, and within a few pages of writing it will be back to full potential. Other times that doesn’t work, or the pen just doesn’t write. If it’s a cheap disposable you might be happy tossing it, but if it’s a cartridge that cost a few bucks it’s worth a little time to fix.
When I buy a new pen I often con myself into getting a spare refill (or two) when I buy it, and then they sit around for a few years before they get used. After that long, they tend to be sticky writers, and even the supposedly 100-year self life Fisher refills don’t write very well when old. Not to mention the freebie pens that accumulate here and there that invariably get really stiff – especially the ones that have lived in a car for a few years. All can be improved.
Alcohol is the answer. First pour yourself a stiff drink. Actually, no, you don’t need the drink. What you do need is alcohol – rubbing alcohol will do nicely. A quarter of an inch or so in a shot glass works well. Now dip the point of the pen in and let it sit for a few minutes. It usually doesn’t take long, and you’ll see a bit of ink dissolving in the water. Alcohol will dissolve ballpoint ink, and will loosen up any cruddy ink near the ball. Take the pen out and write a bit. It should be smoother and have more nicely flowing ink. If not, let it soak for a little longer and try again.
So why not revive some of those old pens that are lying around? You may be surprised at how well they can be made to write.