Blue or Black Ink?

Blue and black ink are by far the two most popular colors for writing with but there is some debate as to which is the best color to use. A lot of the time it comes down to personal preference but That said, there are some very valid reasons for choosing one or the other, particularly in certain circumstances.

The following guide shows you when to use black or blue ink and interestingly which color is best for creativity and memory retention.

Black Vs Blue Ink

1. Blue or Black Ink for job Applications?

Blue ink stands out more as it contrasts with the printed black ink of the application form. However, most application forms require you to fill out the form in black ink. For example, if you’re applying for a job at this security firm, you’re instructed at the top of every page to stick to black ink.

If you are going to use blue ink for your job application form, then read the form carefully to make sure that it does not state to fill out the form in black ink only. After all, you don’t want to set off on the wrong foot by showing that you have a lack of attention to detail or worse still have your application rejected just because you used the wrong ink color.

2. Blue or Black Ink for Passport / Visa Applications?

When filling out your passport application black ink is mandatory. The U.S National Passport Services clearly that when filling out the Passport application form DS-82

“A common mistake is using a blue ink pen instead of black ink to complete the form. It is clearly stated as one of the instructions that a black ink pen is required.”

UK Passport Application Black Ink only Warning

In the UK the recommended way to apply for a new passport is online, however, you can still fill out a paper application and post it. The application form clearly states:

Complete your paper form in CAPITAL LETTERS and BLACK BIRO only.

Not only must the passport application be completed in black ink but when you finally receive your shiny new passport advises that you must;

Sign on the ‘holder’s signature’ line using a black ballpoint pen.

It is important to note that they state a ballpoint pen as a gel pen or rollerball may smear, if you would like to know more about the differences between these pens then check out our guide ballpoint, rollerball or gel pen which is best for you?.

3. Blue or Black Ink for Credit Card Applications?

Blue ink may also be the better choice for credit card applications and other financial papers. Investopedia writer Gina Roberts-Grey reports that applications and checks signed in black may trigger fraud alerts.

“Blue ink is preferred because when black ink is used, someone at the bank or credit card company may not be able to tell whether they are looking at a photocopy of a signature or an originally inked signature,” says Cina L. Wong, CDE, a certified and court-qualified forensic handwriting expert. “It’s easier to assume that the document is ‘original’ if it is signed in blue ink.”

That definitely had never occurred to me.

4. Blue or Black Ink for Legal and Official Documents?

Black ink is recommended for legal and official documents. (Chinese officials are so strict about black ink, they will reject documents submitted in blue.)

Black Ink Documents

The main reason has to do with copying and digitizing documents. Black ink just scans better than blue, which tends to show up very light. I think this is true more of the older and less expensive copiers and scanners, but those are probably more common anyway.

So, just to be on the safe side, you probably should use black ink whenever filling out or signing legal and/or official documents, unless told otherwise.

5. Black or Blue Ink for Business?

Black ink seems to be the default ink for most business settings and especially government offices. As we have already mentioned it is probably a throwback to the fact that on older scanners and copiers black ink copied better. With the advances in technology, these days that is probably not the case but people are creatures of habit and stick to tried and tested methods.

There’s also the widespread perception, right or wrong, that black is simply the more professional ink color. I read one person lamenting on a message board that everyone in her workplace used black ink at a meeting, except her. Once she realized that and saw others eyeballing her blue handwriting, she decided to switch to black.

Fountain Pen Network

In a discussion about blue or black ink at Fountain Pen Network, one of the users pointed to Debrett’s New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners, which reads:

(For business purposes) black remains the most correct and distinguished choice. Blue is very much in second place and is thought more suitable for women than for men. Blue-black is only appropriate for schoolboys. Colored inks, although more acceptable than before, are still considered very suspect in traditional circles.

The sexism aside, I can see how black ink is perceived that way. It has a more sober, serious appearance and its solidness communicates stability in ways that lighter colors don’t.

But don’t count blue out yet. It turns out that it has a lot to recommend it over black.

6. Blue or Black Ink for Exams?

To quote the great American car manufacture Henry Ford “you can have any color as long as it is black”  In the UK black ink is mandatory in secondary school level exams (GCSEs and similar). If you are in the U.S or another country I would recommend double-checking with the teachers or examining board first if you are unsure.

Probably just as important as to which ink color to use is to make sure that you are using the right pen. You will need a reliable good quality pen that won’t let you down and is comfortable to use. Check out our guide the best pens for exams which goes into more detail about choosing a good pen for your exams with our top recommendations.

7. When Voting Does It Matter Which Color Ink Pen I Use?

If you have taken the time and trouble to go to the polling station to vote then make sure that your vote counts. Use black ink to vote, after pencils, black pens are the recommended tool for voting for the UK. And some voting machines in the US have even been known to not count votes cast in blue.

8. Should I Write my Signature in Black or Blue ink?

While many official documents must be written in black, blue is actually the smarter choice for signatures.

Blue Ink Signature

Copiers can make such high-quality copies now that a document signed in black ink and a copy of that document is often indistinguishable. That’s why even the US military recommends that original documents be signed in blue so that they stand out from any reproductions. The exception to this as we mentioned earlier is when signing your passport, you must use a black ballpoint pen.

Is your signature an illegible scrawl? And if it is does it really matter? turns out that your signature says a lot more about you than you think. Find out more in this great article Your Signature does neatness count?

There’s an interesting side-note to signatures written in blue ink. Marketing research has found fairly consistently over the years that fundraising letters, questionnaires, and other materials often get more and faster responses if they bear a handwritten signature in blue, versus typed or signed in black.

9. What Color Pen is Best for Memory Recall?

The Effect of Ink Colour on Recall Memory 1

When you are doing a lot of studying it makes sense to give yourself an advantage. If you are taking a lot of notes it makes sense to find out what color pen is best for memory? is blue or black ink best for memory?. It turns out that one of the most significant benefits of using blue ink: improved memory recall.

Psychology research suggests that reading and writing text written in color increases the likelihood that you will remember that information. Most of the experiments so far have been fairly small-scale, but the results are intriguing.

For example, one experiment with a group of male and female Grade 9 students found participants had greater recall with red text than blue, and greater recall with blue than with black (33% vs. 27%). Interestingly, a couple of the experiments I saw suggested that girls had better overall recall than boys when color was a factor.

(If you’d like to conduct your own blue or black ink recall experiment, Science Project Ideas has an informally suggested methodology.)

10. What Color Pen is Best for Studying and Note-Taking?

When deciding what color pen is best for studying at first glance, it would make sense that if when recalling written text that students recall more red words than blue and more blue words than black to write your study notes in red. However red is quite a harsh color on the eye to be reading a full page of text in just this color. I would suggest that based on the research try experimenting with using red ink for titles, subject headers, etc to make them stand out and blue ink for the main body text.

Black or blue ink for studying

As you can see from the diagram that using red ink to highlight the headings makes the text easier to read compared to writing it all in the same color. It may be that you prefer a combination of red ink for the headings and black ink for the rest of the text and if that is the case use whatever works best for yourself.

11. Which Ink Colour Improves Creativity

Colour Effects on the Mind

I had never really thought much before about if the color that I am using to write with influences my creativity.

My own perspective on the blue or black ink question has started to shift of late, mainly because of an experience with blue ink.

I typically use black pens – just because that’s what I’ve always done.

Because I’m working on a novel, I keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas when inspiration strikes. One night recently, a thought occurred to me and I grabbed the notebook and my pen, a black Bic Velocity gel, off my desk.

But the pen was out of ink. I wanted to get the idea down before it vanished, so I went to my pen drawer and grabbed the first one my hand touched. It was a Pilot Precise V5 with vibrant blue ink.

Pilot Precise V5

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Ideas that seem brilliant late at night often aren’t so much the next morning. But a day later, when I looked with fresh eyes at what I’d written, I was still pleased. Even better, it gave me more ideas.

Turns out, my experience was not so unusual. While researching this post, I stumbled on a New York Times article about a study that found the color red helped people improve cognition and productivity, while the color blue sparked creativity.

So now, while blue ink may not be right for every situation, I’m going to make sure I always have a blue pen close at hand for the many times it is.

12. Summary

For those who are too busy and don’t want to read the full post here’s what I generally recommend:

  • Black ink for filling out official records.
  • Black ink for Passport Signatures
  • Blue ink for business signatures and most others.
  • Black ink for memos and work correspondence.
  • Blue (or red) for notes and most learning purposes.
  • Blue for credit card applications.
  • Blue (or another color) for creative purposes.

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18 thoughts on “Blue or Black Ink?”

  1. I think that if that is so, then even if in a place, the Vice Chancellor, Heads and Deans,(or the Director,Principal,Vice Principal,Head Masters/Head Mistresses and Coordinators) use green ink and the teachers (Assistant Professors, Associate Professors, Professors, PGTs, TGTs, PRTs and NTTs) use red pen, though the students may be required to use only blue ink and black ink, the passouts (alumni and alumnae) should never be forced to obey that directive as they are no more parts of their alma mater which the rest people are still parts of

  2. I prefer black pens myself. The ink holds up better over time in my old notes and journals. I did notice the last time I signed documents we were given blue pens.

  3. Your article doesn’t even mention a type of communication that used to be the main form of correspondence and underscores a huge void in our society: personal correspondence. Who still doesn’t enjoy receiving a personally handwritten letter? Use blue for person correspondence.

    • Hi Deborah

      Thanks for pointing this out blue for personal correspondence is a great choice but there are many other colors out there which people use for personal correspondence.

  4. I have always liked blue ink simply because it does stand out, even back in the typewriter black ribbon days, you knew you have the original copy, the signature. Anyone remember carbon paper?

    Always liked blue ink while in school.

    I have a bottle of Private Reserve chocolate.

    What I like about it, it has the look of business ink, like black. It more of a dye ink, seems to penetrate into the fiber, stains into the paper.

    If you wet it, it turns pinkish red, but still stays on the paper. It would be extremely hard to try and wash out a signature or an amount. And the change of color is a giveaway that someone tampered with it.


  6. I’ve heard that it’s good to use the same ink pen everytime.i mean,if you are using a black pen for writing your notes you should use the same in your exams . otherwise you may forget those this true?

  7. Great Post! My preference is blue Ink for my primary writing and various colors for notes. I LOVE Gel fine point pens. Some of my favorite brands are Tul, Pentel Energel, Pilot High-Tec-C, Poppin, Bic Cristal Gel + and Stabilo. I’m also a big fan of Pilot Frixon Erasable Pens.

    I concur with Cina L. Wong’s comment pertaining to blue ink in reference as to whether you’re looking at a photocopy or an original. I was a previous Investigative Supervisor for a government agency and I always explained to my staff the reason why I preferred blue ink vs. black.

    It’s so nice to know that I’m not the only one out there that has a “thing for pens.” I’ve been known as the pen scrooge since I don’t let anyone “borrow” my pens. They’re like my children 🙂

  8. My philosophy is unless it is prohibited, one should always use blue for anything that others will read. For recorded documents, checks and anywhere I am concerned about security, I use Noodlers Bad Blue Heron. For personal use, e.g., notes, I like Diamine Royal Purple.

    I started using purple in law school 20+ years ago and I still prefer it on canary paper. I’ve never had anyone say anything about it.

  9. Do we write with both blue and black pens in exams??? I mean how we write our notes like writing the main points with black pen and its explaination with blue pen

    • In the UK you should write with black ink in exams for other countries I would check with your teachers before sitting the exam. after all, you do not want your paper to be rejected or marked down because you used the wrong ink colour. Check out our post on the best pens for exams

  10. Great article! I prefer blue ink because it stands out compared to most printed ink or handwriting since those tend to be mostly black ink. You write a nice overview of the pros and cons of both ink colors.


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