Picture of Bible Marking Pens
These represent a sampling of most of the pens I have used for making notations on the thin paper used to print Bibles.  They are a fountain pen with red ink and an extra fine point, a dry mark pencil, a 0.2mm crafter's pen, and a red ballpoint.
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Step 1: The Problem

Picture of The Problem
This is a page from a Bible I use often.  The paper is so thin that a faint image of the factory print from the other side of the page is almost legible.  Although I did not make any notations on this page, I did highlight some cross reference listings with a yellow dry marker pencil.  A dry marker pencil is good for highlighting, but useless for making one's own notations.  Dry marker pencils come in quite a variety of colors.  They need frequent sharpening, but there is no danger they will go through the paper.  

Step 2: Bleed through

Picture of Bleed through
I have been using this copy of the Greek New Testament over the last 45 years.  It contains markings from a wide variety of pens.  This page shows markings from two pens that bled through the paper.  Look to the right of the numeral 8.  You can see "NB" (Nota Bene = pay close attention, Important!) in reverse from the other side of the paper.  It was made with a fine point fountain pen, but that pen put too much ink onto the paper for marking Bible paper, and it bled through.  Notice the red "5-6" below the "NB."  For a while I used cheap red ballpoint pens for Bible marking.  Within a few years the ink took on an oily look and bled through the paper, even though it looked fine for a while.  I quit buying those cheap red pens.  The red ballpoint in the Introduction is a pretty good pen, much better than the cheap ones I used years ago.   
mynd_games3 years ago
I underline and write in my Bibles a great deal and over the years I have found plenty of things that did and did not work. There was a lively discussion and some great information to be found at :

I have had great results with Pigma Micron pens. They have a variety of tip sizes from .05 mm and up, as well as many colors. I use blue, black, orange and green. I have a thinline bible and for underlining I like the 0.3 or 0.5 size just fine and for writing I like the smallest .05 size.

Phil B (author)  mynd_games3 years ago
Thank you for the comment and the link to the earlier discussion. I am sure a lot depends on personal tastes. I am still finding my kit fountain pen equipped with an extra fine nib and filled with red ink my all-time favorite. I am sure a lot depends on personal needs and preferences.

I have used Pigma pens, but was disappointed in how soon they ran dry.
overblast3 years ago
As in, a list of types to avoid, a list of types recommended, in sets of types of use. For example, a brand of kit pens we could look for or just a general term for it. Thanks!!
overblast3 years ago
What pen brands should be avoided, which do you recommend?
mole13 years ago
You've clearly done some serious research here. Bible paper is very strange stuff. I think only one mill in North America makes it.

I used pencil on Topaz India Paper forty plus years ago, and it's still there without any apparent change. Is there a reason you don't use a 0.5 mm B lead?
Phil B (author)  mole13 years ago
When I was in school a professor told about notes he made with a lead pencil on recipe cards he had kept for years in a shoe box. He said after all of those years his notes had shuffled enough that they had become nearly illegible. I remembered his comment and decided I would always use a pen to mark things. Thank you for sharing your experience with pencil lead.
mole1 Phil B3 years ago
I'm not trying to convert you or anything, but I just checked... the only notes still legible in my great grandmother's Bible are the ones in pencil. There were some in blue fountain pen ink that were almost gone when I was a child. Those are now blank paper. I think graphite is much less subject to chemical change than most inks.

Perhaps the shuffling of your professor's notes resulted in repeated rubbing of slightly textured paper on the graphite to the point of smudging or nearly erasing it. He would have been writing in an age before micro leads. It takes a lot of effort to make a solid line with an even slightly dull pencil. His point is well taken. Indelible ink would have been better in that situation.

A few years ago I did light fastness tests on Derwent's Graphitint colored pencils. The colors are beautiful and all more or less the same darkness as regular graphite. In less than ten days, through double pane windows, facing west, in December, in Seattle, many lost all color and were reduced to nothing but grays.
Phil B (author)  mole13 years ago
You obviously know a lot about art and graphics supplies. The professor I mentioned made the remarks I remember in late 1967 or early 1968. He was probably about 50 years old at the time. I expect he had used a common wood encased "lead" pencil. He advised us to make all of our notes in pen.

I have always been partial to black inks for most things, but red inks for underlining, etc. to contrast with black printed text. I know blue inks for fountain pens came in washable blue and in permanent blue. I would guess that your grandmother may have used the washable blue variety. In those days fountain pens had a reputation for burping ink and for leaking. Washable blue inks were popular as a protection against ruining clothing and other things that might be spattered with ink from an accident with a fountain pen.

I would like to use a pen that does not bleed through at all, but when I look again at underlinings and notations I have made with red ink and my extra fine point fountain pen, the bleed through on thin paper is on a level comparable with that of the original ink used to print the volume's text on the other side of the page.

mole1 Phil B3 years ago
Oh! I bet you're right about the washable blue ink. I know my mother used that kind with a dip pen in the 1950's.

To see if your ink is actually bleeding through (being absorbed through) the paper, try putting a black piece of paper behind part of a page of your Bible. If your notes on the back of the page don't show up as darker than what would normally by white space on the page in the area that has the black paper under it, it may be that the paper is just very translucent. You may be experiencing 'show through' of dark values. Red, black, dark blue, brown, and purple have very similar dark values. Using a lighter value color of ink might help.

I prefer underlining to highlighting in texts. Berol Prismacolor colored pencils work well for me because they are soft enough to leave a mark easily. There is no bleed through in regular books. (Dark purple on the last page of my Bible did show through like the original printed ink.) In texts, colors with lighter values work better for me. .. yellow ochre, orange, canary yellow, bright green. I'll try some of those later and let you know about show through. If anyone inherits my Bible, they may wonder for a long time about all the colors on the last page.
Phil B (author)  mole13 years ago
Thank you for your comments. I learn a lot from them.

I tried the black paper procedure you suggested. On one marking the red ink did not show through. On another it did a bit. Fountain pens perform differently according to whether the nib needs to be cleaned or the viscosity of the ink.

Even though I have an emotional preference for fountain pens, if I am honest with myself, the markings that have worked out best over all of the years would be those made with either a quality ball point, or the Koh-I-Noor pen. But, the Koh-I-Noor pen was a lot of bother, and I found mine to have been scratchy. The ball point that seems to have worked very well was a stick PaperMate with black ink. I was using those about 40 years ago.
lemonie3 years ago

Yes it can be thin, I've known of people roll cigarettes with hotel-bible pages  (morally-corrupt as that may be)
Do you think testing pens on cigarette rolling-papers would be a good idea, if the paper-grade is a good match?


Phil B (author)  lemonie3 years ago
That sounds like a very good idea. Or, I would start by making a small underlining someplace in the volume where an undesirable bleed through would not be a problem.

The German Bible Society published a little story about a man who accepted a free New Testament and told the giver he intended to tear the pages out for the purpose of rolling cigarettes. The giver said that was fine, but asked the man to promise he would read each page before he smoked it in a cigarette. By the time the man had read and smoked his way to the Gospel of John, he had become a believer. (The story was reported not to have taken place in Germany, but I do not remember where.)
lemonie Phil B3 years ago

I had heard that before. True or otherwise, it makes the point that books are for reading, with an aim to learn something.