Good question! I have seen many a marker
spread and bleed through paper, usually to my
dismay. To explain how markers spread on dry and
wet paper, we need to understand how markers
work, and what paper is.
A marker or a pen is a tool used to spread
ink around. Ink is usually a liquid solution
with pigment and other things that make the
pigment stay suspended in the solution and stick
The paper we use today is usually made out of
pressed wood pulp. If you were to look at a
sheet of paper under a microscope, you would see
thousands upon thousands of cellulose fibers
heaped and tangled all around each other. These
fibers are like long, spongey ropes.
When you write with a marker on paper, you
are dumping ink all over these cellulose fibers,
which in turn soak up the ink. If you add too
much ink to the surface of the paper, the ink
flows away from your marker and the saturated
cellulose fibers to the closest fibers that have
absorbed little to no ink. That's what you see
when you see a marker spread on paper or bleed
through paper. As the water or alcohol in the
ink dries (evaporates), only the pigment is left
behind. Markers spread easier on wet paper
because most of the cellulose fibers in the
paper are already saturated with water. The ink
has to travel a ways to be absorbed or it has to
stand on the surface of the soaked paper.
Markers spread on paper for the same reasons
water spreads on your clothes when you spill a
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