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How Are Pens Made? A Look at the Manufacturing Process

Alyssa Mertes

Published: May 27th, 2021

We use pens to write our grocery lists, jot notes at the office, and sign checks and paperwork. Maybe you've even used one to make a cool drawing, or to write a collection of essays. Whatever the case, it's always good to have a pen in your bag, at your desk, or in your drawers at home.

It seems like pens appear out of thin air when you need one, but somebody has to make them, right? Here's how that process works and some other fun facts that are worth knowing!

What Are the Different Types of Pens?

Picture a pen in your mind. What do you see? Is it a click pen, a typical Bic Stic Pen, or maybe a gold-plated fountain pen? There are a ton of different types of pen out there, and everyone has a favorite!

Here are the most common types of pens:

  • Disposable ballpoint pens
  • Refillable ballpoint pens
  • Stick pens
  • Fountain pens
  • Retractable pens
  • Rollerball pens
  • Stylus pens
  • Gel pens
  • Novelty pens
Pen and journal

Disposable Ballpoint Pens

While disposable ballpoint pens will eventually run out of ink, they're typically pretty cheap to make. Factories will make millions of these pens in bulk every single day!

refillable ballpoint

Refillable Ballpoint Pens

Wouldn't it be nice if you never had to get rid of your favorite pen? That's the beauty of refillable ballpoint pens, which are designed for the ink in the cartridge to be easily replaced.

Person writing

Stick Pens

You probably have a million pens lying around, and a majority of them are likely stick pens. These cheap pens come with a cap that can be removed from the top and placed on the bottom.

Fountain pen

Fountain Pens

If you want to look classy, it's all about picking up a fountain pen! These pens are commonly used for calligraphy and are made from heavier materials than ballpoints or stick pens.

Retractable pen

Retractable Pens

Everyone loves that satisfying click sound when writing. These clicky pens are more formally referred to as retractable pens. They have a plunger on top that causes the nib to pop in and out every time you click.

Rollerball

Rollerball Pens

Let the good times roll! Rather than the pointy nib at the bottom of most pens, rollerball pens have an inky ball that glides across the page every time you write.

Stylus Pen

Stylus Pens

It's a digital world, and many people use their phones just as often as pens to take notes. Get the best of both worlds by using a stylus pen! These pens are made from metal or plastic and have a rubber piece that's compatible with phone and tablet screens.

Gel Pen

Gel Pens

The ink inside of gel pens is a bit more viscous than typical pen ink. With a variety of colors, and even glittery options, gel pens are wonderful for art projects.

Novelty Pen

Novelty Pens

Be a little quirky by writing with novelty pens! They're molded from plastic into unique shapes like paintbrushes, carrots, flowers, rocket ships, or even syringes.

All of these pens are made a bit differently, but that doesn't mean one is better than the other. You can't go wrong having at least one of each in your supply cabinet!

What Are Pens Made Out Of?

Pens are made out of plastic, specifically a type known as polypropylene copolymer or PPC. This plastic is used to make the barrel, ink chamber, and the cap if one comes with the pen.

The following materials can be used to make pens:

  • Polypropylene Copolymer (PPC)
  • Galvanized iron
  • Stainless steel
  • Aluminum
  • Tungsten
  • Metal alloys
  • Rubber
  • Colorants
Polypropylene Copolymer Source: whatech.com

Polypropylene Copolymer (PPC)

Used in everything from car parts to textiles, polypropylene copolymer (PPC) was discovered by a pair of petroleum scientists in 1951. This lightweight material has excellent physical and mechanical properties that you won't find in any other type of plastic.

Galvanized Iron Source: metalsupermarkets.com

Galvanized Iron

Galvanized iron is used to make the springs inside of ballpoint pens. The reason the metal is galvanized is to protect it from corrosion in the future.

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel

The springs and the nibs on fountain pens may be made from stainless steel. This material is resistant to corrosion and easy to form into different shapes.

Aluminum

Aluminum

Lawyers, doctors, and many other professionals write with metal pens. These pens are made from lightweight aluminum, which is sleek but not too heavy to hold.

Tungsten

Tungsten

The ball at the bottom of rollerball pens is often made from tungsten. This is a tough metal that doesn't break down easily.

Metal Alloys Source: bartieworld.com

Metal Alloys

Fountain pens aren't made from real gold, but rather alloys, which are metals mixed with other metals. The brass used in the nib of ballpoint pens is also an alloy of copper and zinc.

Rubber

Rubber

Some ballpoint pens have a rubber grip on the barrel. This makes the pen more comfortable to hold for an extended period of time.

Step 1

Colorants

Dyes, pigments, water, and oil combine together to make pen ink. Red, blue, and black dyes are most common, but pens can really write in any color of the rainbow!

The anatomy of pens is pretty interesting! They seem pretty simple in design, but they're more complex than you might think. Each part has to be precise and fit just right in order for the pen to work.

Did you know?

Did You Know? Do you want to be eco-friendly? Try pens that are made from recycled paper, wheat straw, grass, wood, bamboo, or even biodegradable corn!

How Ballpoint Pens Are Made

The ballpoint pen is the most commonly used type of pen. It's pretty simple and cheap to make, which is why factories around the world produce millions every single day!

Ballpoint pens are made in the following steps:

Step 1
Step 1

Pour PPC Pellets

The process begins with PPC pellets being separated, measured into the right portions, and poured into a giant funnel known as a hopper.

Step 2
Step 2

Melt PPC Pellets

The plastic pellets travel through a machine where they're melted down and injected into molds in the shape of the pen barrels. While in the machine, the barrels are attached to a plastic framework known as a runner. This same process is repeated for the caps if they are part of the design.

Step 3
Step 3

Repurpose Runners

The plastic barrels are removed from the runner, which is then ground back down into PPC pellets that are used to make more pens. Think of it as recycling at its finest!

Step 4
Step 4

Fit With Nibs

The reservoirs, which are the thin tubes that will eventually hold the ink, are inserted into the plastic barrels. The metal tips, known as the nibs, are also added to the bottom. This is the piece that you will eventually use to write. The pen is finally starting to look like a pen rather than a tube of plastic!

Step 5
Step 5

Inject the Ink

The premade ink is injected into the reservoir through the tip of the pen. In order for the ink to be used, it has to be thick, slow drying, and totally free of particles or debris.

Step 6
Step 6

Test the Ink

Before the pen can go to the next steps, the ink flow and quality is tested. Anything that doesn't produce a smooth line or clogs up the nib is discarded.

Step 7
Step 7

Assemble the Pens

A technician finishes assembling the rest of the pieces, which includes putting the ink chamber into the barrel, sliding in the spring, and screwing on the nib. For click pens, they also pop on the thrust tube and push button.

Step 8
Step 8

Inspect the Pens

Every pen is inspected by hand to ensure quality control. If any of the pens are faulty, they are tossed aside. The plastic bits from discarded pens are ground up and reused for the next batch.

Step 9
Step 9

Print the Text or Logo (Optional)

Pens are often used by businesses as a way to advertise. Their company name, contact information, and/or logo is added to the barrel via screen printing, engraving, or debossing.

Step 10
Step 10

Prepare for Shipment

The pens are ready for writing! The final step is getting them packaged, whether it's in boxes or plastic sleeves. Once in their packaging, the pens are put into boxes and shipped to brick-and-mortar or online retailers.

Watch this video to learn more about the pen manufacturing process!

What Are the Most Popular Pen Brands?

Now that you know more about the manufacturing of pens, let's talk about who makes them! There are a ton of top-notch pen suppliers in the world.

The most popular pen brands include:


  • Bic
  • Uni-ball
  • Pilot
  • Sharpie
  • Cross
  • Parker
  • Zebra
Bic Pens Source: amazon.com

Bic Pens

The Cristal is the most popular pen in Bic's line. In fact, 14 million Bic Cristal pens sell every day around the world! They are made with a ton of different ink colors and come in plastic sleeves or boxes. You can get as many as 24 Cristal pens for around $5.

Uni-ball Pens Source: target.com

Uni-ball Pens

Write with the smoothest, thickest ink by picking up Uni-ball pens. These rollerball pens are bestsellers, earning $1.09 million in sales every single year. While they come in a variety of colors, it's the black ink pens that are always the most popular.

Pilot Pens Source: amazon.com

Pilot Pens

Ready for takeoff! Pilot has it all - fountain pens, refillable ballpoints, stylus pens, and even pens made from recycled bottles. It's no wonder why they're the third largest pen manufacturer in the United States.

Sharpie Source: amazon.com

Sharpie Pens

You love Sharpie markers for signing holiday gift tags, or doodling on your folders and gym shoes. Now it's time to give their pens a shot! The first Sharpie pen was released in 1964, and the brand continues to come out with new styles and colors every year.

Cross pens Source: cross.com

Cross Pens

Do you need high-end pens as gifts? Cross is the perfect choice! They have a ton of elegant ballpoint and fountain pens as well as a collection of special edition designs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, first responders could get chrome ballpoints printed with police officer, RN, or firefighter emblems.

Parker Source: webbshop-greencarrier.se

Parker Pens

No matter what your taste, Parker has the pens for you! They've made over $400 million in sales in their company's history, and it's no wonder why. Their selection includes both classy fountain pens that come in gift boxes, and more affordable retractable pens that can be ordered in bulk.

Zebra pens Source: officesupplyhut.com

Zebra Pens

Zebras in the wild have black and white stripes. Zebra pens, on the other hand, come in a ton of fun, bright colors! The company's website claims that the ink will dry in 1 second, making these pens a great choice for art projects and creative writing.

Paper Mate pens Source: amazon.com

Paper Mate Pens

Paper Mate made Strategist Magazine's list of best pens. The brand is not only extremely affordable, but also offers a variety of styles, from thick barrels with rubber grips to thin stick pens. Not to mention, the eye-catching rainbow of ink colors!

Montblanc pens Source: montblanc.com

Montblanc Pens

Jot your meeting notes or conduct your next interview using Montblanc pens. The metallic barrels are professional and sophisticated, which is why they're great gifts. These pens are a bit of a splurge starting at around $225 each.

Waterman Pen Source: amazon.com

Waterman Pens

Ooh, la, la! Waterman is an elegant pen brand from Paris that's best known for their fountain pens. The selection includes gold or metal tips, leather accents, and pens housed in stylish gift boxes. Of course, these premium pens come at a price. Each starts at over $100.

Did you know?

Did You Know? Fisher is a brand that makes anti-gravity space pens. These pens were taken aboard Apollo 7, which was the first crewed space mission in history!

What is the Top Pen Brand?

For everyday writing, Bic is one of the top pen brands in the world. They are standard office supplies in every workplace and are also very popular for back-to-school season.

Where Are Bic Pens Made?

pen art https://d.facebook.com/oscarukonuarts

Bic is one of the bestselling pen brands on the market today! All of their pens are proudly made in the USA. They also have an additional 16 stationery factories around the world in France, Mexico, India, Brazil, Tunisia, and South Africa.

The company has a strong global presence and fans in many different countries. Just take Oscar Ukonu, a self-taught artist in Nigeria who creates extraordinary works of art using Bic ballpoint pens. Ukonu uses 10 pens for every drawing and sells his prints for $600 each.

Overall, you can't go wrong with Bic! Their brand is affordable, the ink is long-lasting, and you can use their pens for writing, drawing, and notetaking of all kinds!

pen art https://d.facebook.com/oscarukonuarts

How Long Do Pens Last?

pens

The average pen will last for 7 years and will write about 45,000 words. This number can increase or decrease depending on how often you use your pens, or if you leave them in an overly cool environment.

pens
Did you know?

Did You Know? Get ready to celebrate! National Ballpoint Pen Day is on June 10th.

What Was a Pen Made Of 1,000 Years Ago?

pens

We've come a long way with pen manufacturing. Over 1.000 years ago,people dipped goose or swan feathers in ink to write letters, notes, and even plays and novels. These early pens were known as quills.

Before then, ancient civilizations carved bamboo or plant stems into fine points and dipped them into ink made from water, soot, vegetable extract, and no kidding, boiled donkey skin!

The history of pens is incredibly vast, but it's safe to say we've come a long way in the manufacturing. No donkeys are harmed in the making of the pens we use today!

pens

Stats for Success

Stats 1 icon

The United States produces about 2 billion pens every single year.

Stats 2 icon

95% of people will write their name first when they get a new pen.

Stats 3 icon

An estimated 125 ballpoint pens are sold every second.

Stats 4 icon

The market value for pens is projected to reach $19 billion by 2025.

The Bottom Line

There you have it! You don't have to pay for expensive courses or go to a university to learn more about engineering. Just start here with the pen-making process. Hopefully this opens your eyes to all the hard work it takes to get pens from machines and into your hands!

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.

References

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Hamilton Pen Company. Gold Nibs vs Steel Nibs - Which is the Best? Retrieved from, https://www.hamiltonpens.com/blogs/articles/gold-nibs-vs-steel-nibs-which-is-the-best-fountain-pen-nib

Tinkham, N. (2014, September 25). 18 Facts You Never Knew About Pens. Retrieved from, https://keetonsonline.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/18-facts-you-never-knew-about-pens/

Push Cases. (2020, January 29). 13 Facts You Never Knew About Pens. Retrieved from, https://www.pushcases.com/blogs/news/13-facts-you-never-knew-about-pens

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Eagle Stainless. Stainless Steel Characteristics. Retrieved from, https://eagletube.com/about-us/news/stainless-steel-characteristics/

Russell-Ausley, M. How Ballpoint Pens Work. Retrieved from, https://home.howstuffworks.com/pen3.htm

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Dun & Bradstreet. Uni-Ball Corporation. Retrieved from, https://www.dnb.com/business-directory/company-profiles.uni-ball_corporation.de3ce0f95ff6c9c71d1f50d36dfa728a.html

The Strategist. (2020, October 23). The Best Pens on Amazon, According to Hyper Enthusiastic Reviewers. Retrieved from, https://nymag.com/strategist/article/best-pens-writing-amazon.html

History of Pencils. History of Space Pens. Retrieved from, http://www.historyofpencils.com/writing-instruments-history/history-of-space-pens/

Bic World. A Global Presence. Retrieved from, https://us.bic.com/en_us/global-presence

Cai, M. Brezezinski, D. (2020, December 31). Artist Draws Hyperrealistic Portraits Using Bic Ballpoint Pens. Retrieved from, https://www.insider.com/artist-draws-hyperrealistic-portraits-using-bic-ballpoint-pens-2020-12

Bridges, T. (2020, March 23). How Far Will a Ballpoint Pen Write? Retrieved from, https://blog.penvibe.com/how-far-will-a-ballpoint-pen-write/

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