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What is the Anatomy of Pens and Pencils?

Kyrsten Ledger

Updated: July 23rd, 2020

It doesn’t matter if you think pens are better than pencils or vice versa, at some point in your life, you’ve probably had the opportunity to write with both. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, from colored pencils to jumbo pens, No matter what they look like, the main idea is to bring your thoughts to a piece of paper.

Now let’s get into the technical side of things: naming the parts of a pen and the parts of a pencil. What is the clicky part of a pen called? Why do pencils have erasers? Let’s dive deep into these questions and so much more!

Pens

The anatomy of a pen is different for all the main types: stick pens, twist pens, ballpoint pens, and fountain pens. What do these writing instruments have in common? Easy – it’s all about the ink at the tip of a pen!

Stick Pens

The most basic of the pens is a stick pen. That’s because they don’t require any fancy internal mechanisms to function. Stick pens can be ballpoint, rollerball, or gel and are identified as a straight pen with a removable cap.

Here are all the parts of a basic stick pen:

Stick Pens
Stick Pens

How Does a Stick Pen Work?

A stick pen has a ball and socket mechanism at the tip to function. As you write, the ball moves around within the socket. This is what allows the ink to flow from the ink chamber onto your paper.

Of course, without the force of gravity, the ink would remain stuck within the chamber instead of flowing down towards the surface. We have Isaac Newton to thank for that!

Why Do Pen Caps Have Holes?

Why Do Pen Caps Have Holes?

Many people like to chew on their pen caps during lectures, writing assignments, or long meetings. Typically, this action is a form of self-soothing and can happen as a result of someone feeling anxious, stressed, or even tired.

The problem with pen caps isn’t that people are chewing on them, it’s that they are accidentally being swallowed. In fact, about 33% of people chew on pen caps alone. Since the caps are so small, they’re a choking hazard and can easily block someone’s airways.

Believe it or not, that’s why most pen caps have holes in them! If someone were chomping down on their pen and accidentally inhaled the cap, the hole(s) wouldn’t completely obstruct their airway, allowing them to still breath and seek immediate medical attention.

If you are a frequent pen chewer and would like to stop, there are healthier alternatives like mints or chewing gum. These will be less distracting to others and leave your breath smelling minty fresh!

Fountain Pens

Unless you’re an astronaut and orbiting Earth, chances are every pen you come in contact with works thanks to gravity. That includes fountain pens!

These 100-year-old pens have a rich history and get their name from the seemingly endless supply of ink, like a fountain. The ink flows from the ink chamber, to the converter, gets filtered through the feed, and then out through the nib onto paper.

Here are all the parts of a fountain pen:

It's All About the Nib
It's All About the Nib

What is the Tip of a Pen Called?

The tip of a pen is sometimes referred to as a nib. This is a term that’s most commonly used for fountain pens, but you’ll also hear it used to refer to stick pen, twist pen, and ballpoint pen tips.

It's All About the Nib Image Source: static2.jetpens.com

What is a Pen Nib?

The nib is the most iconic element of the fountain pen and is what makes it so unique. Without the nib, the pen wouldn’t be able to write. The material the nib is made out of and the size and shape of the tip also determine how the ink flows onto the paper.

For example, a round nib is used to create uniform lines and is used for everyday writing, however an italic nib shape is flatter and used for calligraphy. Round and italic nib shapes are the most common, but there are other shapes that can be used for specialized purposes.

It's All About the Nib Image Source: static2.jetpens.com

Most fountain pens have firm nibs with very little flexibility to maintain more uniform lines. People who like to write in cursive script or enjoy calligraphy typically use modern flexible nibs. These are also known as “soft” nibs and take on a semi-flexible feel, meaning the user is able to make both thin and wide lines.

You’ll also see that fountain pens have either a gold or stainless steel nib. It’s important to know that a nib’s color is not a reflection of the material it is made out of. If the nib contains any real gold, there will usually be an indication of the karat size inscribed onto the nib.

Here’s a quick breakdown of everything you need to know about fountain pen nibs!

All You Need to Know About Fountain Pen Nibs
NIB CHARACTERISTICS TYPES
Quality Logo Products Quality Logo Products
Tip shapeTip Shape
  • Round
  • Italic
  • Left-handed
  • Oblique
  • Zoom
  • Arabic
  • Hebrew
Tip shapeTip Size
  • Extra Fine (EF)
  • Fine (F)
  • Medium (M)
  • Broad (M)
  • Medium Italic
  • 1.5 mm Italic
FlexibilityFlexibility
  • Modern flexible
  • Flexible
  • Firm
MaterialNib Material
  • Gold
  • Stainless steel

Overtime, fountain pens are able to adapt to your personal writing style the more you write with them. From changing nibs to all the different inks available, fountain pens are completely customizable whether you want to be artsy or professional.

Ballpoint Pens

By and large, the ballpoint pen is one of the most affordable and convenient pens out there. The anatomy of a ballpoint pen will change depending on how it's made. They can be made with a removable cap, or with a clicking or twisting mechanism.

The standard click pens, also known as retractable pens, are one of the most common types of ballpoints. Overall, these types of pens are very similar to stick pens, but they have a spring mechanism and a clicker at the top, also known as a plunger.

Here are all the parts of a ballpoint pen or standard click pen:

Retractable Pens
Retractable Pens

How Does a Click Pen Work?

Have you ever wondered why click pens work with the push of a button? It’s because of a clever mechanism that’s located at the top of the pen barrel. The mechanism is made up of a plunger and a simple rotating device, also known as a cam body.

When you’re ready to use the pen and the button is pushed, it tells the plunger to move down. This also pushes the cam body down allowing it to rotate. The cam body only rotates 45 degrees and rests against the plunger, causing the famous click sound.

After the first click, the button is released, allowing the plunger to move in an upwards motion. You hear the second click because the cam body rotates again and hits the plastic stoppers located on the outside of the plunger. The cam body is now located at the bottom of the plunger forcing the tip of the ink chamber to be exposed and ready to use! When you want to close the pen, the same process repeats and rotates the pen back into a non-retracted position.

Check out this video to see the process in action.

Twist Pens

As the name suggests, you’ll rely on a twist pen mechanism to get this writing instrument to function. Usually, twist pens are made of metal like fountain pens rather than plastic like stick pens.

Twist-to-Open Pens
Twist-to-Open Pens

How Does a Twist Pen Work?

The twist mechanism is usually located in between the grip and the barrel so that when you twist the grip, the ballpoint tip comes out. There are stoppers in place to ensure that the pen doesn’t twist all the way around. This also allows the pen to twist in opposite directions to open and close the pen tip.

Pencils

A lot goes into a pen's anatomy and the same goes for pencils. In fact, they're more than just wood and lead. There are many steps that go into making these writing tools. Even mechanical pencils have way more technology than you might think and somewhat resemble how retractable pens function.

No. 2 Pencils

The anatomy of a standard No. 2 pencil is pretty straightforward compared to the other writing utensil but is just as important. Pencils have been around for a long time, however No. 2 pencils in particular have been a school supply standard in classrooms since 1820. That's because the lead inside the pencil isn't too dark or light and isn't too hard or soft. These pencils are just right!

Here are the parts of a no. 2 pencil:

No. 2 Pencils
No. 2 Pencils
Did you know?

Before the invention of the eraser people used balled up, moist bread to erase pencil marks.

What's Inside Colored Pencils? Image Source: www.technoclub.info

What's Inside Colored Pencils?

The first colored pencil was invented in 1834 by Johann Sebastian Staedtler and had an oil pastel inside. In the 20th century, colored pencils began being produced for artistic purposes and continue to be used in the art industry to this day.

What's Inside Colored Pencils? Image Source: www.technoclub.info

While graphite pencils are used for daily use, colored pencils are mostly used for art, coloring, and animation. There are different types of colored pencils, all of which are made of different cores. The core of colored pencils can vary depending on their use, but most colored pencils have a core made up of wax, pigments, additives, and binding agents. Artist-grade colored pencils will have higher quality pigments than student-grade ones and will be either oil-based or water-soluble (watercolor).

Mechanical Pencils

Sharpening pencils, whether you’re using graphite or colored, can be tedious and distracting to others. With mechanical pencils, you can “sharpen” your pencil with the press of a button! While these writing utensils have an eraser and use lead to write, their anatomy is different than a wooden pencil.

Mechanical Pencils
Mechanical Pencils

How Does a Mechanical Pencil Work?

The push button, spring, chuck, and chuck ring work together in mechanical pencils to transfer the lead from the lead reservoir tube through the lead sleeve. Once the push button is pressed it engages the spring, which causes the chuck and chuck ring to grab and pull the lead out. The lead retainer holds the lead and the lead sleeve keeps the lead protected until more is needed.

How is a Logo Added to Pens and Pencils?

There are a few methods commonly used when it comes to printing a logo onto pens or pencils. These include:

  • Screen Printing
  • Laser Engraving
  • Pad Printing
  • Digital Printing
Screen printing

Screen printing

Screen printing gets its name because it forces ink through a custom screen of fine material on a surface. This popular technique works great for pens and pencils and is designed to create a crisp, clear logo that will stand out!

Laser engraving

Laser engraving

Laser engraving is the process of using light and heat energy to carefully decorate promotional items like pens. The lasers quickly burn away bits of material from the item's surface, leaving a small impression.

Pad printing

Pad printing

Pad printing is used to stamp a design onto a desired surface. The pad conforms to the rounded shape of the pen or pencil and prints the design accurately.

Digital printing

Digital printing

Digital printing is similar to printing a picture from your printer at home. Unlike home office printers, though, the machine has to be much larger and have custom frames in place to print logos on pens or pencils.

The Bottom Line

Pens and pencils are made up of a lot more than you may have originally thought. The next time a friend or coworker asks you to borrow a writing utensil, you can blow them away with your knowledge on what they are made of and how they work!

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten's vast knowledge of promotional giveaways and marketing has led to several hit articles. She has also published work for PPB Magazine, a publication from the Promotional Products Association International.

References

Guide to Fountain Pen Nibs: Choosing a Fountain Pen Nib. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.jetpens.com/blog/guide-to-fountain-pen-nibs-choosing-a-fountain-pen-nib/pt/760

MacDonald, F. (n.d.). There's a Reason for Holes on the Tops of Pen Caps, and it's Surprisingly Awesome. Retrieved from https://www.sciencealert.com/why-there-are-holes-in-tops-of-pen-caps-lids-bic (2017, December 07).

The Anatomy of A No. 2 Pencil (IMAGES). Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/no-2-pencil_n_3908502

What Makes #2 Pencils So Special? (2018, May 09). Retrieved from https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/24832/what-makes-2-pencils-so-special

Why is a Fountain Pen Called a Fountain Pen? (2018, June 16). Retrieved from https://luxipens.com/why-is-a-fountain-pen-called-a-fountain-pen/