How Do Dry Erase Markers Work | Everything You Need to Know

When was the last time you used a dry erase marker? It was fairly recent, right! Even though we use these markers almost on a regular basis, we hardly know how they work.

The best thing about dry erase markers is the fact that they don’t create a lot of mess when compared to chalk. But, how are these wonderful markers different from the permanent markers? 

Before we dive into the basics, let us get to the history of dry erase markers. These markers came into being in the 1990s era and were paired with boards. It functioned as a great alternative to chalks. It is a marker that can be erased from the board as easily as with pencils. This makes it a superior alternative for writing on white boards.

What’s Inside Dry Erase Markers?

To understand best how dry erasable marker works, the key is to understand different types of markers, such as permanent markers first. Permanent markers contain three prime components that include:

  • Color pigment
  • Chemical solvent (alcohol, water, or similar solutions depending on the manufacturer)
  • Release agent/polymer

Primarily, dry erase contains isopropanol, SD alcohol-40, & resin. The SD Alcohol-40 can be defined as specially denatured ethanol or ethyl alcohol. Further, the isopropanol present in the marker helps dissolve the ink and place them onto the surface.

However, when working with dry erase markers, make sure you use a mask as the fumes that come from the isopropanol can lead to short-term health issues such as mucous membrane irritation, liver issues, kidney problems, and so on. Finally, resin present in the markers helps the ink retain its shape. 

The prime difference between a permanent marker and a dry erase marker is the polymer used in these two. Permanent marker inks tend to use acrylic polymer, allowing the pigments to stick to the surface. On the other hand, dry erase markers make use of an oily polymer variant of silicone. 

Apart from this, dry erase whiteboards tend to feature a uniform static charge that allows their pigment to adhere to the board’s surface. [source]

How Do Dry Erase Markers Work?

Dry Erase Markers work in a manner similar to permanent markers. The polymer used in the permanent markers, when combined with solvent & pigments, helps develop the marker ink. This ink is stored within the polyester reservoir located inside the marker’s plastic casing. 

The prime difference between permanent markers and dry erase markers is the fact that the silicone polymer in the latter prevents its ink from strongly adhering to the surface. The lubrication in ink serves as a physical barrier that prevents the colored pigments from getting attached to the board’s surface. 

Although polymer is the prime deciding factor on how dry erase markers work, you also need to be aware of the writing surface. One thing you need to keep in mind is the fact that dry erase markers work only on a surface that is non-porous in nature. When you use this marker on a non-porous surface, the ink imprint resides only on the board’s outermost layer. 

So, you can easily erase the ink without damaging your surface during the process. Now, let us talk about the stains left by dry erase markers on porous surfaces. If you have even got the dry erase ink stains on the clothes, you must know how tough it can be to get rid of the same. 

The ink tends to get soaked within the porous surface and functions in a way similar to permanent markers. So, simply put, dry erase markers retain their property of easy removal only when used on non-porous surfaces. When used on a porous surface, the marker becomes permanent. 

To understand dry erase markers better, you should also know everything about the wet-erase markers. They tend to be different as compared to the dry markers. While both work flawlessly on a non-porous surface, the wet markers also work perfectly on the acetate surfaces. 

In order to clean a mark left by a wet-erase marker, you need to make use of a moist, wet, or damp cloth. It cannot be cleaned with a dry cloth or paper towel. On the other hand, dry erase markers can be cleaned with a simple wipe of a dry cloth or an eraser. 

Stores and restaurants might opt to make use of a wet variant of erasing markers. This ensures that the signboard they set up outside doesn’t get erased by accident if someone bumps against the same.

On the other hand, dry erase markers are perfect for someone that needs to change the text often. Plus, you need to deep clean your whiteboard surface on a regular basis when using dry erase markers. This is due to the fact that there could be remnants of chemical buildup. This could cause the surface to become wonky and rough, leading to more residues getting stuck in the surface.

So, cleaning your whiteboard regularly is important. Remember, dry erase markers would work better on surfaces such as metal, glass surfaces, mirrors, and dry erase boards (whiteboards). So, refrain from using them on any other surface such as wood.

Is Dry Erase Marker the Same as Whiteboard Marker?

Yes, whiteboard markers are the same as dry erase markers. It was first invented by Techform Laboratories’ Jerry Woolf and was then patented in 1975 by the popular Japanese company named Pilot Pens. However, they become popular only in the 1990s.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What makes dry erase markers erasable?

Dry erase marker ink consists of oily silicone polymer. This serves as a quick release agent, which helps make the marker ink very slippery while preventing it from attaching permanently to the surface of the whiteboard. This helps with easy cleaning of the ink from your glass or whiteboard.  

Q: What surfaces do dry erase markers work on? 

The first thing you need to know about dry erase workers is the fact that it works best on nonporous surfaces. This helps clean up the marks with ease once you are done writing. However, if you use the marker on a porous surface, it would act as a permanent marker causing the surface to stain. 

Surfaces such as metals, mirrors, or glass are perfect for using dry erase markers. The ink present in dry markers tends to have a similar formulation as that of permanent markers. If you are wondering what the best surface for using dry erase markers is, it is suggested that you make use of a whiteboard or dry-erase board. There is a reason this marker is also termed a whiteboard marker. 

You can also try out different whiteboard surfaces such as porcelain which tends to be very long-lasting, durable, & easy to clean as compared to other surfaces such as melamine-based whiteboards. 

Q: Why do my dry erase markers dry out so quickly?

If your dry erase marker has dried out too quickly, the prime reason could be leaving it without the cap for a long time. In order to undo this issue and make the marker functional again, you can use a thin syringe and inject some water into the tip of the marker. 

Q: How to make dry erase markers work again?

Another great way to make your dry erase markers functional again is to make use of isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol. Simply pour this liquid into a container.

Next, dip the marker’s tip in this liquid and let the alcohol soak into the tip until you see the ink swirling out.

Read Also: How to Fix a Dried Out Marker


So, the next time you use a dry erase marker, you will know exactly how it works. Make sure you avoid getting the ink on a porous surface, and you are good to go. In addition, using dry erase markers would allow you to clean the surface with a simple wipe. So, you don’t have to worry about rubbing the surface aggressively once you are done.

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Loard Eva

Hi there! I’m Eva, artist, designer, photographer and mom of three little gentlemen altogether. When I’m not playing with my kids, you’ll find me researching and writing for ChooseMarker.

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