How a Pen Works!

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Promo Expert

We've all used a pen, but have you ever wondered what makes your favorite writing utensil work?

We all love having a collection of pens available at home or at the office. Many of us even have a special one we reach to whenever we need to jot down a quick note. Whether you prefer a fountain or ballpoint pen, the ink cartridges inside act as reservoirs, allowing you to write with ease. Both types of pen rely on gravity to deliver the ink to the paper; however, most fountain pens also rely on air flowing up into the cartridge to function.

How Do Fountain Pens Work?

To understand how a fountain pen works, you need to understand how a pen is made. The fountain pen's nib (or tip) has a system of three small channels for the ink and one larger channel for air. As you write, air flows upward through the feed (a plastic tube) causing the ink to flow out and create a continuous line of ink. The fountain pen also consists of a reservoir (ink concealed in the handle) and a collector (grooves just beneath the nib).

Fountain Pen

You can recreate a larger version of this process with water and a gallon jug. If you fill up the gallon jug and turn it upside down, you'll notice a "glugging" noise. That's because air is trying to fill the space while the water is leaving the jug. If you tip the jug over horizontally, air can enter at the same rate the water is leaving, so you get a smooth flow. The same principle applies to a fountain pen.

How Do Ballpoint Pens Work?

Ballpoint pens work differently than fountain pens, though they also rely on gravity to function. Rather than a nib, a ballpoint pen has a small ball bearing for the ink. This ball bearing is typically made from brass, steel, or tungsten carbine. As the ball moves across paper, it turns and draws ink from the cartridge, creating a consistent ink line with a quick dry time.

Before World War II, fountain pens were the only type of pen available on the market. The world wanted something that wouldn’t smudge or quickly run out of ink. Ballpoint pens are beneficial because they have fast-drying, thick ink and a continuous cap that keeps the ink from running out.

Fountain Pen

How Do Ballpoint Pens Work Without Gravity?

Once human conquered the pens on Earth, they next (delete) turned their eyes toward outer space. Because the ballpoint pen relies on gravity to draw the ink down to the ball-bearing, it wouldn’t work the same way in outer space. Don’t you just hate when space ruins your ballpoint pens? Paul C. Fisher sure didn’t like when that happened.

In 1966, he patented the “anti-gravity” pen, which uses a pressurized cartridge, giving it the ability to write in zero gravity. The pen can also write underwater at temperatures ranging from -30 degrees to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

There is a common misconception that NASA paid Fisher to develop this pen. In reality, Fisher was already working on the pen’s concept when NASA was beginning its space program. Once his design was patented, NASA tested it out for a couple of years. Eventually one of Fisher’s pens went with astronauts on the Apollo 7 mission.

Did you know?

Pens come in a variety of colors with unique clickers and twists. Some even come with a stylus! You don't have to have a metal or plastic one either. We have eco-friendly pens for environmentally-conscious companies and individuals.

In over 200 years, from Earth to space, pens have undergone several transformations. Back in the day, you had to afford a quill in order to write a letter. Today, companies sell boxes of pens we can access instantly in a cup or jar on our desks.

It's hard to imagine a life without custom pens, but thanks to these inventor's hard work, we don't have to worry about sharpening our quills to write that letter home or jot down our to-do lists!