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Red ink also exists, but of course is used primarily in accounting, for noting numbers that are “in the red” (or negative…) There are other colors, too, but they don’t stand out as clearly against the white, cream or ivory papers that are our standard background to write on.I don’t think there’s a single answer as to why blue or black, back in the mists of time.
Originally (and I’m talking centuries ago), it was somewhat easier to make black or black/charcoal hued inks out of natural ingredients (iron gall, walnuts), than it was to make blue-colored inks, which required expensive pigments.
It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that blue ink became really viable and accessible, thanks to aniline dyes.
And if you’re writing a personal letter (sigh — which almost no one does any more…) it’s a way to distinguish it from something that’s mass-mailed.
Although advertisers have caught on to this, I’ve noticed, and are starting to use a mid-blue color for some mass-advertising junk mail stuff with addresses in italic, to make it look more like a personal letter to the casual viewer.
What people use and when, depends a lot on who they are, where they live and what they do.
In some countries, you can only use black ballpoint for your schoolwork or official forms.
There are a lot of books out there on the subject (the one I used most was Mimi Zeiger’s, and for general advice on style, Strunk and White is unbeatable as well as entertaining), but one definitely needs a guide to navigate them; one of the most common pieces of advice about writing is to emphasise what’s important, but ironically, it’s hard to get a feel for that by reading a big textbook about writing style.
I hope that my two days of haranguing my long-suffering students gave them some helpful tips (more of that below), but teaching is a two-way street, and the course has certainly given me some food for thought, principally about the role of formal written English.
In others, you have to sign your passport in blue pens, because it won’t reproduce. I think in a professional setting, black often looks crisp and clear, but blue also is acceptable as a personal choice.
Blue is great as a way to edit a document that comes off a printer (which is always in black).