How Are Washable Markers Different From Permanent?

By Wendy Strain
Choosing the right kind of marker for your project can significantly affect the results.

When you're creating a scrapbook or marking up other materials for equally or perhaps more important reasons, you need to know that the marker you have selected will stand up to the challenge. It's easy to assume that a permanent marker will do the job, but what really is the difference between a permanent and a washable marker? Comparing the differences between these two marker styles will make it easier for you to select the product that best meets your needs.

Ink Components of Permanent Markers

Permanent markers behave more like artist paints in their overall composition.

Permanent markers contain water-insoluble ink,which means that the ink does not break down with water. These types of markers are also generally made with some kind of pigment agent and a binding agent. According to CDMarker.net, permanent markers often use xylene or toluene (both toxic) as solvents to keep the pigments suspended until they are exposed to air.

Ink Components of Washable Markers

Washable inks have a variety of compositions, depending on whether they are intended for whiteboards, highlights or other uses.

Washable marker manufacturers generally avoid the inclusion of toxic components in their ink, although they are present in some styles. Most washable inks are water-based, which makes them easier than other inks to clean up with a generous amount of water. Washable markers also contain pigments of various hues to distribute the color. According to PatentGenius.com, many washable markers intended for use on dry-erase boards also contain an acid or polymeric dye as a means of reducing water content and enhancing dry time.

Durability of Permanent Markers

As with any kind of pigment, permanent markers can fade with exposure to sunlight or otherwise erased.

Just because they say they are permanent does not mean the ink from permanent markers will last forever. Ink quality can fade over time, it can be painted over and it can be removed with acetate or similar solvents. One of the world's leaders in permanent ink, Sharpie says, "We do not have a mathematical formula to figure how long a permanent marker will 'last.'" According to the company, marks will fade in three or four months with outdoor exposure on a nonporous surface, while they may last several years indoors on a porous surface.

Durability of Washable Markers

Washable marker stains may require more than one simple approach to remove them.

Although washable markers may be presumed to be, obviously, washable, there are times when the colors they carry will create a long-term stain. Whiteboards may show streaks of previous days' work in spite of regular cleaning. Smudges of ink can threaten a new business suit despite the use of proper cleaning techniques. In many cases, however, you can remove these stains with strong cleansers.

Appropriate Surfaces for Marker Types

The best type of marker to use will depend entirely on the nature of your project.

As a result of their ink composition, permanent markers are suitable for marking up a variety of surfaces, from metal, to wood, plastic and even paper. The toxic chemicals can give off a strong odor, so use them in well-ventilated areas.

By contrast, washable markers are better suited to surfaces like whiteboards and overhead transparencies, where ink needs to dry quickly and erase easily. They are also better suited for use in enclosed spaces and by children.

About the Author

Wendy Strain's professional career started in 2000 with small community newspapers in Texas. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, education and graphic arts from Texas Wesleyan University and Westwood College, plus independent study in many areas. The ideas she’s discovered through her non-fiction work is reflected in her works of fantasy and fiction.