The Anatomy of Pens and Pencils

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Promo Expert

You may have recently ordered a bunch of personalized pens or custom pencils to promote your brand. But do you know the names of all of the parts of those fabulous promotional items? You've probably heard the words "barrel," "spring," and "cap" before, but what about "lead sleeve," "chuck," or "thrust tube"?

If you're curious about what the different parts of pens and pencils are called, then you've come to the right place! If anything, you'll learn some interesting trivia for that upcoming company party. So let's take a look under the hood and identify what parts make up your favorite pens and pencils.

Stick Pens

This is a Stick Up

We'll start with the least complicated of the pens: stick pens (the straight ones with a cap). Since stick pens don't require any fancy click or twist mechanisms, their parts are pretty straightforward.

All of the pens featured here are ballpoints, and in fact most of the pens you encounter on a day-to-day basis are ballpoint pens as well.

As you can see in the diagram above, the tip of a ballpoint pen consists of a ball and a socket. The ink is able to transfer from the ink reservoir (or chamber), through the socket, to the ball, and onto your paper thanks to gravity. According to, "As the pen moves across the paper, the ball turns and gravity forces the ink down the reservoir and onto the ball, where it is transferred onto the paper. It's this rolling mechanism that allows the ink to flow onto the top of the ball and roll onto the paper you're writing on, while at the same time sealing the ink from the air so it does not dry in the reservoir."

Retractable Pens

Now You See Me, Now You Don't

Retractable pens (or "click pens," maybe even "clicky pens") are by and large the most popular, so the time has finally come to quench your undying need to know what their parts are called and how they work together.

Twist Pens

Twist and Write

Now we've come to the fanciest of the pens: twist pens. Twist pens are often made of metal rather than plastic, and they are usually heavier than other pens because of the twist mechanism inside the barrel.

On a twist pen the ink chamber goes through the twist mechanism. The mechanism consists of a groove with stops on it to prevent the pen from twisting all the way around. The twist mechanism is usually in the middle of the grip and the barrel so that when you twist the grip, the ballpoint comes through the tip. Some twist pens don't have a grip and instead have an upper barrel and a lower barrel.


Being #2 Isn't Always Bad

Your standard #2 pencil is pretty straightforward. In fact, you might already know what most of its parts are called. But hey, diagrams are cool, and maybe you've never heard the word "ferrule" before.

You may have already known all of those parts, and you probably already know how a pencil works. But do you know how pencils are made? Check it out!

Mechanical Pencils

Mechanics of Mechanical Pencils

We all know and love mechanical pencils thanks to years in classrooms and hours spent taking standardized tests. While these writing utensils have an eraser and a tip just like the wooden variety, they deviate far away from the parts of a standard pencil.

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. Each time the push button is pressed, the chuck extends past the chuck ring and its jaws open to allow the lead to fall through. When the button is released the chuck's jaws close around the lead, and it retracts back into the chuck ring ton hold the lead in place.

When it comes to promotional products printing, there are a few methods that are used most often to decorate pencils and pens. Learn about all of these processes in our PIPP: Promo Item Printing Processes course!

Screen printing involves transferring a design onto a product using screens that work like stencils and ink in your color of choice. The screen printing process can print not only on metal, plastic, and paper, but also on round and cylindrical objects of different sizes.

Laser engraving involves etching a design into the surface of an object with what else? A laser. The laser might cause the material to change color, which can produce a stunning effect. Laser engraving is usually reserved for pens with metal barrels.

Pad printing involves using a specialized pad, which is pretty much like a rubber stamp, to pick up the ink from a plate with your design and then "stamp" it onto to pens. Pad printing is a useful imprint method for pens because the pad can conform to the round shape, giving your logo a nice, crisp look.

Digital printing involves printing your logo onto a surface with the help of a computer printer. The process isn't too different from printing out documents with the printer you'd see in the office! It produces full color designs, and it can also be used to create rounded, three-dimensional stickers that are applied to pens or pencils in a process called color doming.

As you can see, your favorite promotional writing utensils are a combination of physics, chemistry, and engineering. Pretty cool, huh? Impress your friends and colleages by naming the parts of the pens and pencils they use every day! And the next time someone asks if they can borrow a pen or pencil, you can blow their mind with some interesting facts!