When I first joined college back in the fall of 2013, up until that point I had always written using a blue ball point pen. Once I started attending the classes, all of us were strongly urged by the teachers to write using a black pen only. I found it rather odd. What difference does it make if one wrote using black ink or blue,  but as it turned out there was a reason behind that advice.

My university used to scan the answer scripts of the students and the evaluation used to happen on a computer screen where the marks were fed into the system itself. An answer script written blue ink would appear very light on the document, severely affecting the readability and jeopardizing well deserved marks of the student. Hence, to make sure students don’t lose out because of a system’s inability to scan documents properly, black ink was vigorously promoted on the campus. The campus book mart only put black pens on display and provided blue ones only when specifically asked, the teachers used to sign unofficial documents in black and so on.

Same is the case with most other official write ups. Black seems to be the default ink for most business settings and especially government offices. For example, if you’re applying for a savings account at a public sector bank in India, you’re instructed at the top of every page to write in black. Visa applications, passport applications etc are also preferred if written in black. Chinese officials are so strict about black ink, they will reject documents submitted in blue. 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.

So is black ink the best as far as writing is concerned? Definitely no, blue ink has some pretty good points in its favour. In fact, blue is actually the smarter choice for signatures. Copiers can make such high-quality copies now that a document signed in black ink and a copy of that document are 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.

There’s an interesting side-note to signatures written in blue ink. Marketing research has found fairly consistently over the years that surveys, questionnaires and other materials often get more and faster responses if they bear a handwritten signature in blue, instead of typed or signed in black. This may be because of the fact that black seems impersonal if you are trying to connect to your reader.

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.”

So while it just boils down to personal choice while selecting the colour of ink you want to write with, it does help to know the subtle differences. While either ink may not be right for every situation, one should make sure they always have both pens close at hand for the many times they are.

So which colour of ink do you prefer? Let me know in the comments section below.