How Much is Inside A Sharpie?

How Many DVDs can you label with a single Sharpie?

How Much is Inside A Sharpie Marker?

How much is inside a Sharpie?

Sharpie fine point permanent markers are an office-worker's second-best friend. Not only do they provide a strong, legible mark, the comfortable shape and low price make marking fun!

They are great for all kinds of jobs!

  • Addressing envelopes
  • Labeling freezer bags
  • Applying fake tattoos
  • Covering gray hair
  • Making sunglasses
  • Personalizing bus seats
  • Marking livestock
  • Grading fruit
  • Web design
  • Numbering triathletes
  • Ruining Dry-Erase Boards
  • Autographing footballs

Perhaps the only problem with Sharpies is that eventually they run out, and those little refill kits never seem to work. How far could a Sharpie go before that happened?

Before the testing began, I had to decide on the best surface to mark. After weighing the alternatives, I decided that the #1 most common use for Sharpies is labeling DVDs. How many DVDs could we mark with one sharpie?  On Saturday night, we decided to find out.

In preparation, I had taken advantage of a sale at Fry's electronics. They were selling 50-packs of blank DVDs for just $8. Unfortunately, they limited the sale to one-pack-per-customer, so I was forced to go back inside seven times, masquerading as a different Fry's customer each time.

I went first as myself, then the anime junkie, the turbo-executive, the wargamer, the bearded programmer, the P2P DJ, and finally as the shameless pirate. The outfits worked, and I was able to buy 7 packs of DVDs without the cashiers noticing. I wondered if these 350 DVDs could all be labeled by one Sharpie. 

Some friends came over and we took turns labeling DVDs with a brand new black Sharpie marker; retail price $1.59

We tried to think up realistic titles and labels for the DVDs, simulating actual Sharpie use. Mix albums, software titles, ebooks, clip art, fonts and photo collections were imagined and labeled. 

Labeling DVDs with a Sharpie isn't as classy as those round paper labels that run through your inkjet printer, but you can't beat a Sharpie for speed and enticing odor.

Here is a sample of the titles we were composing. You'll be able to painstakingly examine every single DVD at the end of this story.

  • High resolution scans of currency
  • 13 songs from car and beer commercials
  • old school sports logos
  • clip art implosion '89
  • ultimate saxophone jams
  • Norway rocks!
  • Anatomical Photos of Animals and Plants

Before the first 100 were finished, Tom expressed his concerns about how long this experiment might last. The plastic DVDs didn't absorb very much ink at all. 

Amy took her turn. The process would have been faster if we could have all used the pen at the same time.

Tara could have labeled two DVDs at a time... heck, maybe more!

Some DVDs were illustrated. This was one of Mike's.

After the first 200, it became more challenging to think up funny ones. Luckily we were drinking and the sharpie was degassing butyl and propyl alcohol, so they still seemed just as funny.

The action stopped when Tara inadvertently slashed across her jeans.

We rushed to the hospital, only to be turned back when the doc explained that Sharpies aren't actually sharp.

 Just to be safe, we decided to stop labeling DVDs for the night.

The next morning I decided to weigh the pen. I wanted to know if we were close to the end, or if we were still at the beginning of the pen's writing potential. The sharpie weighed exactly 7.5 grams.

I weighed a new, green sharpie and found a disappointing surprise: The new sharpie only weighed 7.8 grams. 220 DVDs had only used 1/3rd gram of ink!

I started to cry... then my tears turned to anger! I struck back, sawing apart the marker. 

Under the solid plastic body was the heart of the Sharpie. It appeared to be a 3½" drinking straw filled with ink-saturated fiber. This modern ink reservoir was invented in 1890, replacing the taro root our ancestors used for centuries in their permanent markers. 

The tip of the pen was also saturated with ink.

The combined weight of these ink-bearing components was 3.7 grams, which meant that I had a lot of DVD labeling ahead of me.


I bought more DVDs and brought them with me to visit Mark, Tara and Karen in San Francisco. I put everyone to work. By the time I returned to Sacramento, nearly 400 DVDs were labeled.


  • Princess Leia's message to Obi Wan
  • Songs that have been misinterpreted as patriotic
  • How to kick ass in Scrabble
  • Songs that are like a tumor in your head
  • Internet Turbolizer Xtreme 2.0
  • 12 recordings of my cat walking on the piano

Unfortunately, the Sharpie was still going strong.. although, sometimes, on the first stroke of a DVD label, it took a bit of coercion to get the ink flowing properly. 

I embarked upon a series of grand DVD labeling projects.

  • Outlines of the 50 states
  • Mottos of the 50 states
  • The countries of Africa
  • The 52 cards in a deck
  • The Elements of the Periodic Table

And the Sharpie kept going! Not since the "How much is inside batteries" episode had a product so utterly outpaced my expectations. I was amazed!

More than 800 DVDs were labeled and I was running out of ideas, running out of patience, and running out of disguises.

I invited Tony to label some.

Chris helped too. He labeled 64 DVDs with the names of famous composers.

Finally, while labeling the "Birds of the World" collection, somewhere between "shags" and "boobies", the pen began to struggle. I could write one whole word without the expected delivery of ink bursting forth. The end was near!

I kept at it, and on August 22nd, almost two months after I began, the Sharpie died. The marker could still muster black streaks, but for legible labeling, it was finished.

The total was 968 DVDs labeled with one Sharpie marker. You can view tiny images of the DVDs on the gallery page.

I estimate the total distance marked to be 1,800 feet.

Mike helped hold the towering stack for this photo. The pile was 54¼" tall (138 cm). The wall was visible through the side of the stack.

The experiment was a success!

Now all I have to do is to convince the Sharpie people to start making ink cartridges for my printer.

Special thanks to Sarah for sponsoring "How much is inside a Sharpie".