Can You Use Blue/Red/Green Ink In The Army?

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We have seen many rumors and theories on why most western militaries encourage their troops to use black in for official paperwork and after noticing a few people reaching out and asking if you can use blue ink in the Army or wider military, we have decided to make this the main focus of today’s article. Keep in mind, although we are usually asked about ink in the army, the regulations and traditions that tend to govern ink color usage in the military are usually the same for the Navy, Airforce, Marines, and Coast Guard.

Although traditionally, senior officers of three/four-star ranks would use green ink to make it easier for all other ranks to recognize their paperwork, junior officers and warrant officers could use blue or blank ink, and all other ranks would use black ink, times have changed. Although the military for each independent country can and does have its own regulations for ink usage, members of NATO are technically meant to go by the NATO regulations with all troops using either blue or black ink for general use.

Thats said, there are some exceptions for specific trades in the military as well as some specific uses for different coloured inks. We have an overview of each of these for each specific ink colour below as well as the various circumstances that they should be used. Please note, you should always check the regulation for your countries military, branch, or specific unit as the information below is just for reference.

Is Blue Ink Authorized In The Military

NATO regulations do state that all troops from the fighting forces of its member states are able to complete official paperwork in either blue or blank ink. That said though, their is still a preference for paperwork to be completed in black ink with there being some reports of the admin cells for some units refusing paperwork that has been completed in blue ink.

Most militaries will accept general correspondence that has been signed off in blue ink but most do have documentation to state that black ink should be used for official trade based paperwork. For example, engineering and medical paperwork almost always has to be completed in black ink and is confirmed in the guidelines for completing the relevant engineering/medical paperwork correctly.

Although rare, some militaries can have you complete paperwork in black ink but then sign the document in blue ink. This is used as a way to easily identify the original document due to the signature being in blue ink where as photocopied versions of the document will have a signature in black ink.

Although the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst started this tradition, many officer training units have adopted it over the years as a final prank on their graduating officers. The prank consists of purposefully leaving a pen with blue ink on top of the graduation book for each course after the junior officers have graduated training to see if any of them switch the pen over to using black ink to stick with military tradition or if they go ahead and write in the book with blue ink.

Is Red Ink Authorized In The Military

Red ink is authorized for use in most western militaries but has the specific designation of only being used to highlight errors on official paperwork. Using red ink for general use is always prohibited as the red ink turns invisible on white paper when working under red light in a tactical environment. As you can imagine, this may end up causing problems in any situation where red only lighting is in effect due to the tactical requirements of the unit.

This is one of the reasons that black ink is encouraged as it tends to be easy to view when used on white paper under a red only light order. Although blank ink has taken precedence now, historically, some units were permitted to use purple ink when working under red light as it is just as easy to view under red light as blank ink but is clear to see that the ink is purple when the paperwork is viewed in white light. This used to be used as a way to track if paperwork had been completed under white or red light with errors made in purple ink not usually being scrutinized as much as those made in blank ink.

Is Green Ink Authorized In The Military

Many senior ranking officers that hold either a three-star or four-star rank in a western military will still use green ink for their paperwork to stick to tradition. The original tradition of senior officers using green ink came about as a way for other ranks to know that the paperwork they were reading was directly from a high ranking officer rather than any other rank. Over the decades, it has also become commonplace for the commanding officer of battalion-sized units to complete their paperwork in green ink even if they do not hold a three or four-star rank.

Although not technically part of the military, the head of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service also completes all of their paperwork in green ink. This is also due to the tradition of Sir John Scarlett having completed his paperwork in green ink and subsequent leaders of the organisation followed suit.

Why is Black Ink Encouraged In The Military

Even though the regulations for most western militaries and members of NATO do state that troops can complete their paperwork in either black or blue ink, black ink is usually preferred. Although we were unable to find any official confirmation as to why, we have been able to think of two possibilities.

We actually touched on the first reason earlier in the article and that due to black ink tending to show up better under red light than blue. Although the difference is marginal, this maybe a reason that some units will encourage their troops to use black ink on their paperwork rather than blue ink.

The second reason is due to black ink having traditionally been better for optical character recognition. Although modern technology is good enough for blue ink to be recognized by photocopiers and scanners just as well as black ink, with militaries all over the world being big fans of tradition, the use of black ink over blue ink may be encouraged due to historical reasons for being easier to photocopy.