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I Never Knew Love Before And Then Came You…


I'm so darn proud of you, I wanna sing about it...

Despite using gel ink pens frequently and thoroughly enjoying the experience, I’ll admit haven’t given their genesis much thought. What I know about their creation or their chemical make up could fit on the tiny silver ball used to spread the precious ink on the page. Thank Xena for the internet, because in addition to playing endless rounds of Rock and Roll Jeopardy, I can also learn about the history of gel ink.

The first time I became aware of gel ink was in the early 1990s. But according to Wise Geek, they’ve been around long before that:

The first gel pens were marketed by the Sakura Color Products Corporation of Osaka, Japan in 1984. Sakura also developed the first water-based gel inks, seeking a modern recreation of the free-flowing inks used in fountain pens. Gel pens soon became popular among graphic artists and architects, who could use the control of a ballpoint pen while getting the brilliant colors of a marker.

I know Sakura. They make those Gelly Roll® pens that the Michael’s near me always has tucked behind the counter, which is actually a good thing. Prior to stumbling upon a store that did that I had never managed to get one that worked. I suspect foul play on the part of the numerous customers who road tested the pens whenever they were granted access to large dump bin displays of the pens and a never ending supply of rolls of miniature butcher block paper.

But listen to what the often dubious Wikipedia has to say:

The main advantage of gel ink is its high viscosity, which supports a higher proportion of pigments in the medium. The pigments are typically copper phthalocyanine and iron oxides, and the gel is made up of water and biopolymers, such as xanthan gum and tragacanth gum, as well as some types of polyacrylate thickeners. The pigments are opaque, and gel pens are available in a rainbow of bright and pastel colours, as well as opalescent, metallic, and glittery colours which show up clearly on dark paper.

Whoever wrote the wiki article on gel pens deserves a big heap of thanks and possibly to be rescued from whatever oubliette they’re locked in. That’s an esoteric pursuit turned up to eleven!

And the curious case of xanthene gum! I’ve always wanted to start a band called Xanthene gum! Long been one of my favorite food additives I don’t understand, but consume in large quantities regardless:

Then one day it happened. Flipping through a chemical trade publication, Inoue saw an ad for an ingredient called xanthane gum, a food-additive supplementing fruit jam or gelatin in instant soup. Inoue still vividly remembers the moment, “My eyes suddenly focused and the answer to our problem flashed across my mind!”

Meaningless to most people, the ad spoke about the ingredient’s dense molecular weight. The ad also mentioned that xanthene gum was a polysaccharide which is a carbohydrate that can be decomposed by hydrolysis into two or more molecules of more complex carbohydrates like cellulose, starch, or glycogen.


I could go on and on about my feeling for these pens and their magically viscous liquid goodness, but I’ll let Dionne and her non-psychic friends The Spinners do it for me:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 10/18/2010 5:34 pm

    Gel pens still make me think of kids’ black-paged sketchbooks. It seems laying on a thicker line also contributes to the short life of these pens, which like Crayola Washable Markers seem to dry out pretty much immediately upon opening. That said, I do love the glorious colors and wish I had a good reason for using them.

  2. 10/19/2010 3:25 pm

    I haven’t used black paper and “milky” gel pens in years. I never could get them to work properly and got frustrated.

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