Bible Marking Pens




Introduction: Bible Marking Pens

About: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying posting things I have learned and done since I got my first ...

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.

Step 1: 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

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.   

Step 3: Black Pens

The text underlinings on this page were done with a better quality black ball point.  After many years, the ink still has not bled through to the other side.  The same is true of the "cf v. 5" (= "see verse 5") notation, which was also made with the same ballpoint.  The "Mt 12:28" notation was done with the 0.2mm crafter's pen.  The crafter's pens work very well and can be purchased in various line widths.  The problem is that they run out of ink quickly and are not refillable.  While I like them, I gave up on them because of their short life.  I believe the "IDB 2" notation was also done with a crafter's pen.  ("IDB" refers to a multi-volume Bible dictionary set I use.)  It appears I went back later to add more detail and used a very fine point Kohinoor pen for the "p 631" notation and for the additional notations beyond it that are illegible here.  The Kohinoor pen is a quality instrument available at fine art stores.  They are expensive to buy and require a lot of cleaning and maintenance to keep them working well.  You can see the Kohinoor pen here.

Step 4: PaperMate Pourous Point Pens

For a time I used red PaperMate Flair pens.  I believe they were Porous Point pens, although they may have been felt tipped.  It was the mid-1970s then.  They worked pretty well.  Although the red underlinings on this page are clear and easy to read, they did not bleed through to the other side of the page.  Different point widths are available, but they are generally a little thick for notations in narrow spaces.

Step 5: What I Use Now

Currently I am using the extra fine point fountain pen shown in the Introduction photo.  It is a kit built pen from about 15 years ago.  At that time, several points were available and I bought an extra fine point.  I loaded the pen with red ink.  The pen is convenient and easy to refill.  The photo shows a notation I made with it.  It does, however, bleed through some on the thinnest papers.  See the second photo.  But, I try to write quickly so the pen does not sit long in any one place.  It also helps if the ink is not overly watery.  And, I can always check the other side of a page before writing to be sure I will not obscure anything I want to remain free of bleed through.  So long as the color of ink I use for notations is different from that of the text, bleed through is less of a problem, too. 

It would be nice if I could recommend one pen for everyone.  Much depends on whether you merely want to highlight, or to add your own notations, too.  I use several Bibles and mark them all.  Usually I do some underlining and may write a reference to an occasional cross reference.  Some Bible papers bleed through more easily than others.  You will probably need to do a little experimentation.  But, by all means avoid cheap ball points and pens that put quite a bit of wet ink onto the paper.  Those may be fine for writing on normal stationery, but not for marking the thin papers used in printing Bibles.  All in all, I prefer my extra fine point fountain pen, but those are not always easy to find.  In addition, one pen maker's extra fine fountain pen point may be another's fine.  There is little uniformity between brands on such things.  



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    20 Discussions


    Do you want to buy vintage pens? I found one like that, which is quite rare:

    It is great to see fellow North Americans engaged in the endless and timeless exercise of reading and studying the bible.

    1 reply

    There are more of us than we know. I went with my wife to a home in our neighborhood for a meeting about landscaping between the women. The home was very tastefully decorated and I looked for any sign of religious art on the walls, but saw none. Just as I was sitting down I glanced two very worn Bibles on a very available shelf. Later I noticed the wife was wearing a cross. We had a nice discussion.

    Hi, I'm trying to learn Greek right now and was wondering if you had any tips on how I should best approach this? Thank you for your time

    3 replies

    I assume you want to learn New Testament Greek, often called Koine Greek. I did an Instructable once on learning New Testament Greek. A key part of that was to point the reader to a course in first year Greek from Prof. James Voelz at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO. They get a number of people who decide later in life to become pastors. Voelz' course is available for free download on-line through iTunes University, also through the Concordia, St. Louis website. The course is keyed to a textbook he has authored. That textbook can be purchased at Amazon. It is a little pricey. I have not used it, myself. (I do know Voelz puts a lot of emphasis on learning the rules for accenting words. In my college Greek class we studied those, too; but, you can read the Greek New Testament daily and almost never need to pay any attention to accent marks, except for rare occasions when two different words are spelled the same, but for different accents.)

    My favorite first year Greek text is Machen's New Testament Greek for Beginners. But, you will likely need someone to give you guidance on translating the exercises. I would suggest you phone various pastors in your area. Look for one who has kept up with his Greek and would be willing to give you some guidance when you have questions, maybe even sit down with you to go through the lessons with you as you progress. It would be a wonderful review for him, too.
    Another option is to look for a college in your area that offers a course in New Testament Greek and sign up.
    Studying a language requires persistence. A person does not need to be very highly intelligent, just persistent. Anyone who will encourage you, especially after you got sidetracked with work or a vacation or something else, is very helpful.
    These days there are all sorts of websites with a Greek text you can download or read on-line. You really do not need to buy your own scholarly edition. (Many of these may be the Textus Receptus. I have always preferred a Westcott-Hort style text. But, only a few passages show any significant differences. I like e-Sword. It is a free suite of Bible software and you can opt to get a Westcott-Hort text for free. I also like The Bule Letter Bible, especially for Apple devices. It includes a Westcott-Hort text. And, Blue Letter Bible includes the entire Thayer Lexicon. All of these things are free.)
    When you begin working with the text of the New Testament after a first year Greek course, you are constantly analyzing words to know what tense or case, etc. each is. There comes a time when your familiarity grows and you just read them, knowing where and how each fits into the sentence, without analyzing.
    I hope this helps.

    Alright thank you, someone told me that our old youth pastor speaks Koine, so I'll hit him up, and thank you so much for your time

    Unless he is really exceptional, I doubt he actually speaks Koine. He may know it fairly well. All who study Greek get busy with lots of ministry things, and it is easy to get away from the regular use that is necessary to keep it up. Tell the former youth pastor helping you learn will also help him review and stay fresh. He sounds like a good choice for you.

    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.

    1 reply

    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.

    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!!

    What pen brands should be avoided, which do you recommend?

    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?

    5 replies

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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?


    2 replies

    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.)

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