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!

Vintage Markers I: “edding extrabreit”

Extrabreit: Until the early 1990s the term “extrabreit”, or “superbroad” in English, was an additional labeling of the edding 850 due to the fact that the edding 850 was then – and still is –  the widest marker available on the regular market (of course one can find today every type of huge tagmarkers in graffiti stores…).

The edding 800 “extrabreit”: Some weeks ago I found a bunch of vintage edding 800 markers in a sellout, which seems to be much older than the edding 800 markers I already have in my collection. To my surprise these edding 800 markers were also labeled “extrabreit” and even the rest of the labeling was the same like on the old edding 850. It may be that when these edding 800 extrabreit markers were sold in the 1970s, these ones were the widest markers on the market. After the edding 850 was launched, they simply put the labeling on the new wider marker. Doesn´t make much sense to label two different markers the same way. The other vintage edding 800 markers bear the text “in 10 farben”/”in 10 colours” instead of “extrabreit”. Also the other labeling changed a little…

edding 850_800 superbroad en

… note the different “y”

edding 850_800 extrabreit de

Which one is more “extrabreit”?

edding 800 extrabeit in 10 farben de

in 10 Farben

edding 800 superbroad in 10 colours

in 10 colours

However, either the edding 850 extrabreit or the edding 800 extrabreit inspired a German band to adopt the name “Extrabreit” in 1978. I don´t know if they choose this name for this reason, but “breit” is a synonym for “to be drunk” in German… so you can guess what “extrabreit” may mean.

Missing Colors

It started with the four colors black, red, blue and green in the late 1960s. Soon after, the edding 8oo was already available in ten colors. From this on, the edding 800 came in black, red, blue, green, yellow, orange, brown, purple, pink and light blue for decades. Recently, I learned to my surprise that the last three colors – purple, pink and light blue – has been discontinued already some years ago and the color range of the edding 800 has shrunk from ten to seven colors. I wonder why just the last three colors… does that mean that yellow or brown edding 800 markers are more popular among the costumers?

edding 800 permanent markers pink purple paleblue

edding 800 markers in pink, purple and pale blue

Possession of permanent marker on private property – 13 year old boy arrested

Recently I read an unbelievable article – in particular for Europeans. A 13 year old boy was arrested for possessing a permanent marker in school in Oklahoma City. What happened? According to the article, the boy was writing on a sheet of paper with a Sharpie marker. The marker writing bleed through the paper onto the desk (well, that could happen…). His teacher spotted the scene and after the boy rejected to hand over his marker he got arrested.

What´s going on there? Don´t they have real problems over there? I mean, mankind has a bunch of serious problems – war, famine, oppression, murder… but some people make problems where no problems are. Won´t imagine what would happen to that boy if he had one of the markers we used to possess with 13 – and we didn´t write just on a sheet of paper.

For the full article, click here

Some History about Markers

magic marker

Cut-away view of a magic marker | Schnitt durch einen Magic Marker (Monahan, P; Powell, D.: Advanced Marker Techniques. Mcdonald & Co Publishers Ltd. 1987, p. 14)

Permanent markers belong to over half a century to the daily lives of many people. Whether in the office, at school, in warehouses or used by graffiti writers, permanent markers are now an indispensable part of everyday life. The common name for a permanent marker in Germany is edding, according to the famous German manufacturer of writing products of all kinds. However, many people just call them felt pen when speaking of permanent markers.

The history of permanent markers dates back to 1910. At that time, Lee W. Newman patented the first marking pen; the first modern permanent marker should have been the Magic Marker, which was developed in 1952 by Sidney Rosenthal. According to other sources, the first marker was developed in the early 1960s in Japan and was initially made of bamboo and a piece of felt (see Monahan, P, Powell, D.: Advanced Marker Techniques Mcdonald & Co Publishers Ltd. 1987). The first commercial permanent marker – like the classic example of the Magic Marker – consisted of a small glass bottle with an upper part that held the felt nib. They were marketed in the 1960s. Later the body of the markers was also made of aluminum and plastic. The Magic Marker became popular for illustration in art studios and advertising agencies. The classic “glass bottle”- Magic Marker was, similar to other ones like the Letraset Pantone Marker (Letraset Tria Marker), the Chartpak AD Marker or the modern day Copic Marker range designed as a layout marker.

A typical permanent marker consists of a container (either glass, aluminum or plastic), which is filled with felt or some sort of wadding. This filling serves as a carrier for the water-proof ink. The upper part of the marker contains the nib that was made in earlier time of a hard felt material, and a cap to prevent the marker from drying out. Until the early 1990s the most common solvents that were used for the ink were Toluene and Xylene. These two substances are both harmful and characterized by a very strong smell. Today, the ink is usually made on the basis of alcohols (eg 1-propanol, 1-butanol, diacetone alcohol and cresols).

Artline Popmate Marker detail

Unscrewed top of a marker and wadding inside the markers barrel

poster marker artline

Example of a Paint/Gouache Marker: Parts of an Artline Poster Marker

Parts of the valve

Artline Poster Marker

In addition to the classic permanent marker there are also paint markers with a paint-like opaque ink, which could be also be water-based (Gouache or Tempera). Unlike the classic permanent markers the ink isn´t absorbed by wadding, it´s free flowing inside the marker. The ink flow is controlled via valve action. A paint marker contains in addition a tiny ball (either glass or metal) that mixes the paint when shaking the marker.

Permanent Marker gehören seit über einem halben Jahrhundert zum täglichen Leben zahlreicher Menschen dazu. Egal ob im Büro, in der Schule, in Lagern und Versandhäusern oder bei Graffiti-Writern, Permanent Marker sind heutzutage nicht mehr aus dem Alltag wegzudenken. Die gängige Bezeichnung in Deutschland lautet nach dem gleichnamigen Hersteller von Schreibprodukten aller Art edding, wobei viele Leute einfach Filzer oder Filzstift sagen, wenn sie von Permanent Markern sprechen. Letztere Begriffe bezeichnen jedoch meist Fasermaler für Kinder.

Die Geschichte des Permanent Markers reicht zurück in das Jahr 1910. Damals patentierte Lee W. Newman den ersten Marking Pen. Der erste moderne Permanent Marker soll der Magic Marker gewesen sein, der 1952 von Sidney Rosenthal entwickelt wurde. Anderen Quellen zufolge wurden die ersten Marker Anfang der 1960er Jahre in Japan entwickelt und bestanden anfangs aus Bambus und einem Stück Filz (siehe Monahan, P; Powell, D.: Advanced Marker Techniques. Mcdonald & Co Publishers Ltd. 1987). Die ersten kommerziellen Permanent Marker – klassisches Beispiel ist der Magic Marker – bestanden aus einem Glasfläschchen, dass oben mit einem Aufsatz versehen war, der den Schreibfilz hielt. Sie wurden ab den 1960er Jahren vermarktet. Später wurde das Gehäuse der Marker auch aus Aluminium und Kunststoff hergestellt.

Ein typischer Permanent Marker besteht aus einem Behältnis (entweder aus Glas, Aluminium oder Kunststoff), das mit Filz oder einer Art Watte gefüllt ist. Diese Füllung dient als Träger für die wasserfeste Tinte. Das Oberteil des Marker enthält den Schreibfilz, der früher tatsächlich aus einem harten Filzmaterial bestand, und einer Kappe, die das Austrocknen des Markers verhindern soll. Bis in die frühen 1990er Jahre waren die gängigsten Lösungsmittel, die für die Tinte von Permanent Markern verwendet wurden, Toluol und Xylol. Diese beiden Stoffe sind sowohl gesundheitsschädlich, als auch durch einen sehr charakteristischen intensiven Geruch gekennzeichnet. Heute wird die Tinte von Permanent Markern meist auf Basis von Alkoholen (z.B. 1-Propanol, 1-Butanol, Diacetonalkohol und Kresole) hergestellt. Neben den klassischen Permanent Markern gibt es auch sogenannte Paintmarker bzw. Lackmalstifte mit einer lackartig deckenden Tusche, die teilweise auf Wasserbasis hergestellt wird (Gouache oder Tempera).