What Made Black And Blue Pens Standard? A Colorful Look at Ink

Yashvi Peeti


Yashvi Peeti is an aspiring writer and an aspiring penguin. She has worked as an editorial intern with Penguin Random House India and HarperCollins Publishers India. She is always up for fangirling over poetry, taking a walk in a park, and painting tiny canvases. You can find her on Instagram @intangible.perception

I haven’t spent too much time wondering why black and blue inks are used so widely. They have been such a routine part of my life since school that I just took it as a given. Digging into the history of ink and color psychology helped me understand decisions that were already made for me. It also made me realize that we have been missing out on some things that using diverse colors and shades can do. Scroll down to enter the fascinating world of words and the tools used to write, preserve, and remember them.

History Of Ink

There’s years of trial and error behind the smooth ink that flows out of the tips of our pens. Next time you pick a pen, take a moment to really marvel at all the thought and effort that’s gone into making this simple, accessible tool. Let’s hear Brian Allison, an esteemed historian and author, talk about the making of ink in the 18th century.

The early and abundant availability of black and blue inks has been a contributing factor to them still being used as standard inks.

Black vs. Blue Ink

If you are like me, you probably pause for a minute and wonder which color to use while signing official documents. Let’s have a lawyer clarify it for us. Blue ink is preferred while signing legal documents as it helps differentiate the original from the copy. Here’s Andy I. Chen’s explanation.

Impact Of Color On Learning

Color has the ability to make you feel, and that’s probably why we have biases associated with particular colors. It brightens our day, grabs our attention and has measurable impact on our cognitive function. It influences memory and rational thinking. It’s fascinating to think I can change my mood and learning outcomes just by surrounding myself with a particular color.

We have all felt how color changes the way we perceive information, even if we haven’t explicitly noticed it. I hope the next time bright yellow sunflowers make you feel warm, or a black dress exudes elegance, you think of your bias!

Once you notice and understand how the wonderful colors of the visible spectrum can be used to your advantage, feel free to experiment. Change the font color for your Word docs, really pick the shades for your PowerPoints, and dig up those highlighters.


There’s probably a reason that blue is most people’s favorite color! Blue has a calming and soothing effect on the brain. In the anxiety-driven, nerve-wracking situations that we often find ourselves surrounded by, Prussian, cobalt, and the sky come to our rescue.

Blue is also associated with productivity. It increases memory performance, stimulates creativity and aids intellectual thinking. I can’t wait to make it a part of my poetry writing routine.

Using blue ink and painting your office’s walls blue can create an atmosphere that helps you focus. It is also a good choice for challenging tasks. So the next time you hit a creative block, bring out those blue papers, pens, and highlighters.


This color is often associated with elegance, formality, sophistication, dominance and mystery.

Black ink on a white background creates a contrast that makes information easy to recognize and retain. It is widely used in formal education. There’s a lot of research showing how adding specific colors instead of just sticking to black and white, can positively change our learning outcomes. This explains why some of us highlight sections and sections of text just to keep things interesting and not doze off!


We associate red with attention, excitement, passion, danger and failure. A research study, The Impact of Colors on Learning, gives important insights to the usage of red ink. Using red ink can activate a “prevention focus,” which reminds us to prevent negative outcomes. Red is the ultimate “better safe than sorry” color. It enhances performance on detail-oriented tasks and can lead to greater accuracy while proofreading.

Why We Use Red Pen for Corrections (And Why We Shouldn’t)

Schools and editors use red pens for correction for it helps them notice mistakes and to makes the errors more noticeable to the receiver. However, our minds associate the color with failure, dominance and aggression. This is starting to make the world rethink this practice. Our mistakes should be opportunities for analysis and improvement, and not things we dread looking at.

A research article, The pen is mightier than the word: Object priming of evaluative standards, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology addresses its use. Reds pens activate error signals and link to poor performance. Even if we let go of our association with failure, research suggests that using a red pen leads to evaluative harshness.

Abraham M. Rutchick, one of the researchers performing the study, highlights his findings in an interview with NPR.

“So each person comes in they come in individually, of course they each get one essay to read. It’s the same essay for everyone. And just before they start, they’re given a pen with which to do the corrections and mark the grade and that pen is either red or blue. And we found in this third study that the people with red pens assigned lower grades than the people with blue pens.

It was about four-point to 100-point scale. So the difference between a B-minus and a C-plus.”

Colors are intriguing and knowing their history and effects on our psychology can help us be learn easier and feel better. I am going to go find my perfect inks for specific purposes and I hope you do too!