How to refresh old or dried out markers

Refreshing semi-dried out markers (or reviving completely dry markers) isn´t just a good way to save money; it´s also useful if you use older, better performing markers that aren´t available anymore. Take layout markers for instance. In most cases, they are very expensive and even the refill ink, if there is any to get, is often damn expensive. So if you have a bunch of dried out markers or you´ve left a marker uncapped for a while, the following tips may help you to make the marker work again. But also regular dried up permanent marker pens can be make work again in just a view steps.

For an instruction in pictures click here.

I started reviving my old layout and permanent markers when I discovered that the original refill ink, or more correct the refill ink in its former solvent-based formula, wasn´t available any more. Since the early 1990s, harmful solvents based on toluene/xylene weren´t used any more for marker inks (with exceptions, see below). The formula switched to alcohol-based ink. Well, that’s nice, but I made the experience, that the “new” alcohol based ink doesn´t fit in most cases with the “old” solvent-based ink. Sometimes it´s helpful to ask in a stationery or art supply store: Some brands offer a thinner for their marker inks and even today it´s possible to find a special solvent-based ink thinner somewhere left over.

Important note: Solvents like toluene, xylene, and lighter fuel are harmful substances. If using those substances, ensure adequate ventilation, use gloves, don´t eat, drink or smoke during use. If you´re using alcohol, be also careful – and never use Methanol! Methanol is a toxic substance that even cause serious health damage when inhaling fumes or getting in contact with skin. See below what kind of alcohol I prefer for reviving markers.

And, maybe also important, I do not guarantee that you´ll be successful. There are too much different brands, ink formulas and so on. I just share my own experiences and of course my mistakes (but in most cases it worked perfect).

Some other important things you need to know when reviving markers: First, you won´t get the same color tone like before in most cases, and not every try to refresh your marker will be successful. Color: In a used marker a large amount of the pigment are already depleted. That means, by adding a solvent you fill up the marker with a colorless fluid that absorbs the remaining pigments. The result of a successfully revived marker is a lighter tone in color. If you got more than one marker of the same color, you can easily create nuances of the same color.

That´s different when refreshing a new, but dried up marker (left uncapped for a while for instance. You won´t believe how many people throw those markers away…). In this case chances are good you´ll match the original color afterwards.

Choose the right solvent

First, make sure to get the adequate solvent fluid for the type of marker you want to refresh. Both layout markers and permanent markers are either based on a solvent like toluene and xylene (especially the old ones, like the old Letraset Pantone Markers, but also some contemporary markers like the Chartpak AD Markers, some Yoken Markers, Pentel Markers and so on) or alcohol (and water in some cases). If you´re not sure, which kind of solvent was used for the ink – you´ll sniff it (well, better don´t do that…)! Solvent-based markers have a much stronger odor than alcohol-based or water-based markers.

edding refill ink

edding refill ink from the 1980s: contains xylene, toluene…

Lighter fuel, paint thinner and pure toluene from a pharmacy

Lighter fuel, paint thinner and pure toluene from a pharmacy

For markers with solvent-based ink you´ll need a solvent like toluene or xylene. I found a data sheet for permanent marker ink and was surprised, that marker ink contains much more xylene than toluene – some 70% toluene in a red color ink – so better use xylene… For alcohol-based ink you´ll need pure alcohol.

Update: You may use lighter fuel for solvent-based markers (shown in the picture above). As I wrote in one comment, that never worked well with solvent-based edding markers; however, with vintage layout markers such as Pantone and Magic Markers it works… surprise for me. And, even lighter fuel is also harmful when inhaled during work, it has a somewhat softer smell than xylene and toluene…

1.) Solvent-based markers

First, get the adequate solvent. Ordinary paint thinner that is available in every hardware store contains in most cases toluene and xylene. However, often some paraffin derived additives like white spirit are in it and that may – that’s my experience – being incompatible with the marker ink in the marker. And don´t use turpentine or acetone, the latter make some inks agglutinate, turpentine may hamper the ink to dry completely (it´s a cleaning tool for paint brushes or a thinner for oil-painting, not for permanent marker inks or layout marker inks). And, never use water for refreshing solvent-based markers, that won´t work.

If you find toluene or xylene in it´s pure form, it´s the best option. As mentioned before, that may be a bit complicated. In Germany, most pharmacies have these two substances. Since toluene and xylene are highly harmful substances, they may ask you what for you need toluene/xylene. Whenever I explained them the purpose, they gave it away in small amounts for cheap, sometimes even for free. Ask them for a medicine dropper (it must be glass or a solvent resistant material). Well, if you got the stuff, do use it only – and I mean ONLY – in a well ventilated area.

Medicine dropper

Okay, in the unscrewed marker, drop the solvent several times onto the wool-filling inside the marker. The ink color will immediately fade. Don´t overfill the marker! It´s better to repeat that step than to overfill the marker and risk a mess. It depends on the dimension of the marker how many solvent you´ll need, try five to ten (on edding refill ink bottles it reads: “1ml corresponds to approx. 40 drops” – just as a measure…) drops first. Screw and close the marker. Store the marker vertically with nib/cap up. Wait a while – half an hour or more. Then store the marker upside down, also for a good while. It may take some time until the dried marker ink and the solvent mixes in a matter, that the color doesn’t look faded. If you store the marker upside down, it´s good to put them in a glass jar or on tissue – if you put too much solvent inside the marker, ink may flow out – so don´t overfill!) If you can´t unscrew the marker, remove the nip carefully, put it aside and drop the solvent through the opening into the barrel. Also, be careful not to overfill. Take care when replacing the nib, the ink/solvent may spurt out – replace it slowly. Follow the same steps as with an unscrewable marker.

2.) Alcohol-based markers

If your markers are alcohol based make sure to get pure alcohol like isopropyl alcohol. You may also use rubbing alcohol for cleaning, but it often contains a small amount of water (see picture below).

Rubber alcohol: 94% Vol.

Rubber alcohol: 94% Vol.

Pure isopropyl alcohol: 99,97% Vol.

Pure isopropyl alcohol: 99,97% Vol. – better choice

However, for refreshing the marker there won’t be a difference, but if you work on paper, the paper maybe will wave a little bit according to the water. The water may also cause the marker ink not to dry completely if applied on other materials than paper, like plastic or metal – so far my experience. Some brands like copic have a special thinner. It´s also pure isopropyl alcohol and you may use that for all kinds of alcohol based ink. For reviving your markers, follow the steps from “1.) Solvent-based Markers”.

A last advice: avoid mixing alcohol-based ink and solvent-based ink or filling alcohol into solvent-based markers and vice versa. This may lead to a chemical reaction that will cause aluminum barrels to corrode. In the below picture you can see what I mean… I refilled an old edding 500 solvent-based marker with the alcohol-based edding refill ink of today, and some weeks later, it started to corrode…

edding 500 permanent marker

Corrosion on an edding 500 marker

Refreshing/reviving markers this way works only with permanent and layout markers. I never was successful to refresh paint markers or gouache markers (markers with a water-based pigment ink, like the Artline Poster Markers). Once, the paint or gouache is dry, there isn´t much to do as far as I know. If you´ve made other experiences, just let me know…

Please let me and others know, if these steps worked with your markers – feel free to share your experiences and leave a comment!

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6 comments

  1. gur

    I once tried to refill a pentel w 100 maker with an alcohol based ink and that corrosion issue happened too, even though I tried to clean it before with a solvent. But damn I love that marker and I had to try…

    By the way, as I love this world of markers and I’m into this ink alchemy thing, I’m freaked about this blog.

    greetings!

    • justsomemarkers

      Thx for your comment! Yeah, I recently found another old late 1980´s broad-tip Uni Paint Marker I refilled twenty years ago with a crazy mixture of spray paint, marker ink and alcohol… Looks funny now, with a lot of bubbles on the tube. Maybe I should post a picture… How did you refill the pentel? Did you open it on the back (I read on another marker site that someone did so) or did you refill it through the valve (that’s quite a mess!!)?

  2. edward white

    I use lacquer thinner to refresh my Chartpak markers, You can get it at any hardware store and it is cheap,
    It is basically Toluene and xylene

    • justsomemarkers

      Yeah, this works usually, if it´s only xylene and toluene. However, most paint thinners in Germany also contain mineral spirits (Waschbenzin), and this doesn’t work well with some inks. Depends on the ink formula. In one book about marker drawing it reads, that one my use lighter fuel – and that never (!!) worked with the older xylene/toluene edding markers for instance…

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