Science, Tech, Math › Science How to Make Your Own Invisible Ink Use it to write and reveal secret messages Share Flipboard Email Print Clive Streeter / Getty Images Science Chemistry Activities for Kids Basics Chemical Laws Molecules Periodic Table Projects & Experiments Scientific Method Biochemistry Physical Chemistry Medical Chemistry Chemistry In Everyday Life Famous Chemists Abbreviations & Acronyms Biology Physics Geology Astronomy Weather & Climate By Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Chemistry Expert Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville B.A., Physics and Mathematics, Hastings College Dr. Helmenstine holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and is a science writer, educator, and consultant. She has taught science courses at the high school, college, and graduate levels. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Updated September 08, 2019 Making invisible ink to write and reveal secret messages is a great science project to try, even if you think you don't have the right chemicals. Why? Because just about any chemical can be used as invisible ink if you know how to use it. What Is Invisible Ink? Invisible ink is any substance that you can use to write a message that is invisible until the ink is revealed. You write your message with the ink using a cotton swab, dampened finger, fountain pen, or toothpick. Let the message dry. You might also want to write a normal message on the paper so that it doesn't appear to be blank and meaningless. If you write a cover message, use a ballpoint pen, pencil, or crayon, since fountain pen ink could run into your invisible ink. Avoid using lined paper to write your invisible message for the same reason. How you reveal the message depends on the ink you use. Most invisible inks are made visible by heating the paper. Ironing the paper and holding it over a 100-watt bulb are easy ways to reveal these types of messages. Some messages are developed by spraying or wiping the paper with a second chemical. Other messages are revealed by shining an ultraviolet light on the paper. Ways to Make Invisible Ink Anyone can write an invisible message, assuming you have paper, because bodily fluids can be used as invisible ink. If you don't feel like collecting urine, here are some alternatives: Heat-Activated Invisible Inks You can reveal the message by ironing the paper, setting it on a radiator, placing it in an oven (set to lower than 450 degrees F), or holding it up to a hot light bulb. To write the message you can use: Any acidic fruit juice (e.g., lemon, apple, or orange juice)Onion juiceBaking soda (sodium bicarbonate)VinegarWhite wineDiluted colaDiluted honeyMilkSoapy waterSucrose (table sugar) solutionUrine Inks Developed by Chemical Reactions These inks are sneakier because you have to know how to reveal them. Most of them work using pH indicators, so when in doubt, paint or spray a suspected message with a base (such as sodium carbonate solution) or an acid (such as lemon juice). Some of these inks will reveal their message when heated (e.g., vinegar). Examples of such inks include: Phenolphthalein (pH indicator), developed by ammonia fumes or sodium carbonate (or another base)Thymolphthalein, developed by ammonia fumes or sodium carbonate (or another base)Vinegar or diluted acetic acid, developed by red cabbage waterAmmonia, developed by red cabbage waterSodium bicarbonate (baking soda), developed by grape juiceSodium chloride (table salt), developed by silver nitrateCopper sulfate, developed by sodium iodide, sodium carbonate, potassium ferricyanide, or ammonium hydroxideLead(II) nitrate, developed by sodium iodideIron sulfate, developed by sodium carbonate, sodium sulfide, or potassium ferricyanideCobalt chloride, developed by potassium ferricyanideStarch (e.g., corn starch or potato starch), developed by iodine solutionLemon juice, developed by iodine solution Inks Developed by Ultraviolet Light (Black Light) Most inks that become visible when you shine a black light on them also would become visible if you heated the paper. Glow-in-the-dark stuff is still cool. Here are some chemicals to try: Dilute laundry detergent (the bluing agent glows)Bodily fluidsTonic water (quinine glows)Vitamin B-12 dissolved in vinegar Any chemical that weakens the structure of paper can be used as an invisible ink, so you might find it fun to discover other inks around your home or lab.