The Anatomy of Pens and Pencils

Alyssa Mertes

Kyrsten Ledger

Promo Expert

It doesn’t matter if you think pens are better than pencils or vise versa, at some point in your life, you’ve had the opportunity to write with both. They can come in all shapes, sizes, and colors from colored pencils to jumbo pens, but help people put their thoughts and artwork on paper.

If you’re curious about the different parts that make up pens and pencils, then you’ve come to the right place! From stick and retractable pens to No. 2 and mechanical pencils, let’s identify what parts make up these writing tools.

Pens

Do you like to click your pen when you’re nervous or do you prefer to twist your pen open and closed? No matter what you choose, every pen style has a different structure.

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.

Stick Pens
Stick Pens

How It Works

Whether the stick pen is ballpoint, rollerball, or gel, it 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.

Why Do Pen Caps Have Holes?

Why Do Pen Caps Have Holes?

Believe it or not, pen caps have holes in them to save people’s lives in case the cap is accidentally swallowed. The hole prevents the airway from being obstructed completely, allowing the person to still breath and seek immediate medical attention.

If you’re a frequent pen cap 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.

It’s All About the Nib
It’s All About the Nib

It’s All About the Nib

The nib is the most iconic element of the fountain pen and is what makes it so unique. That’s because without the nib the pen wouldn’t be able to write. How the ink flows onto paper is determined by what material the nib is made out of and the size and shape of the tip.

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

The tip of the nib is the part of the pen that tells the ink where to go as you write. The tip’s shape will determine the writing style you wish to achieve. For example, a round tip is used to create uniform lines and are used for everyday writing, however an italic tip shape is flatter and used for calligraphy. Round and italic tip shapes are the most common, but there are other shapes that can be used for specialized purposes.

It’s All About the Nib

Since round and italic tip shapes are the most common, they also come in different sizes. Round tips range in size from extra fine (thinner lines) to broad (wider lines) whereas italic tips are sized by their actual width in millimeters (mm). Medium italic is the most used tip size for the italic shape and is equivalent to 1.1 mm.

It’s All About the Nib

Flexibility refers to how far apart a nib’s tines can spread open when pressure is applied. Most fountain pens have firm nibs with very little flexibility to maintain more uniform lines. People who like to write in cursive script or like 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 the thin and wide lines commonly seen with calligraphy.

Most fountain pens will 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 and may be gold for appearance. If the nib contains any real gold, there will usually be an indication of the karat size inscribed onto the nib.

Take a look at the 4 major nib characteristics and the types that are offered.


Tip Shape

Types:

  • Round
  • Italic
  • Left-handed
  • Oblique
  • Zoom
  • Arabic
  • Hebrew

Tip Size

Types:

  • Extra Fine (EF)
  • Fine (F)
  • Medium (M)
  • Broad (B)
  • Medium Italic
  • 1.5 mm Italic

Flexibility

Types:

  • Modern flexible
  • Flexible
  • Firm

Nib Material

Types:

  • Gold
  • Stainless Steel

Nib Characteristics
Types
Tip Shape
  • Round
  • Italic
  • Left-handed
  • Oblique
  • Zoom
  • Arabic
  • Hebrew
Tip Size
  • Extra Fine (EF)
  • Fine (F)
  • Medium (M)
  • Broad (B)
  • Medium Italic
  • 1.5 mm Italic
Flexibility
  • Modern flexible
  • Flexible
  • Firm
Nib Material
  • Gold
  • Stainless Steel

Overtime, fountain pens are able to adapt to your personal writing style the more you write with them. This is because more pressure is needed to write and some nibs have the ability to flex, therefore adjusting to the way you write. From changing nibs to all the different inks available, fountain pens are completely customizable whether you want to be artsy or professional.

Retractable Pens

When it comes to convenience, retractable pens are a great solution! With one simple click, you can save time whenever you quickly need a pen. That’s why retractable pens are often called click pens and are by far the most popular pens made. Overall, they’re very similar to a stick pen; however, they have a spring mechanism that allows the user to click and unclick the pen to their heart’s content.

Retractable Pens
Retractable Pens

How It Works

Ever wonder how retractable pens work with the push of a button? It’s because of a clever mechanism located at the top of the barrel that works every time the button is pressed. 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-to-Open Pens

Similar to retractable pens, twist-to-open pens rely on an internal mechanism to function. Usually these writing tools are made of metal, like fountain pens, instead of plastic like stick pens.

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

How it Works

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 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!

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. Before the colored pencil ancient Greeks and Romans used wax-based crayons. Staedtler, the owner of a pencil-making company, created colored pencils for checking and marking. In the 20th century, colored pencils began being produced for artistic purposes and continue to be used in the art industry.

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 and can be 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 it Works

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.

Printing Your Logo on Pens and Pencils

Whether you prefer pens or pencils, these items often have custom logos printed on the body, barrel, or clip:

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

  • 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 an outer shell and writing material. 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 is a Copywriter at Quality Logo Products®. She has a BA in English from Aurora University and has had her work published for Print + Promo. If you need her, you'll find her with her nose stuck in a book, on a quest to learn something new, or planning her next adventure.

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 O. (2017, December 07).

The Anatomy of A No. 2 Pencil (IMAGES). Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/12/no-2-pencil_n_3908502.html

What Makes #2 Pencils So Special? (2018, May 09). Retrieved from http://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/