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Ballpoint pen with removable cap
Push-button ballpoint pen (below)
disassembled into individual parts (above)

The pen or ball pen is a writing instrument comprising an ink paste by means of a ball on paper transfers. It goes back to patents from the 19th century. The colloquial short form pen originally referred to the ink pen developed by Rotring in 1928 . Since its loss of importance and the triumph of the ballpoint pen worldwide in the 1940s, "Kuli" is generally used in German for the ballpoint pen.

Similarly the ballpoint pen (engl. Ballpoint pen ) is the gel pens or ink roller (engl. Rollerball pen ).


Macro video: writing ballpoint pen (1.5 MB)

Ballpoint pens consist of two parts: a housing with a lead guide of different designs and a lead, which is the actual writing implement. The refill is often permanently installed in cheap ballpoint pens. Better quality ballpoint pens allow used refills to be replaced. Ballpoint pen refills consist of at least three parts:

  1. an ink reservoir, which consists of a plastic or metal tube in which a viscous, concentrated ink paste is located.
  2. a writing tip, which closes the ink tube at the bottom and contains the ball guide. This usually consists of brass or stainless steel.
  3. a writing ball, which is made of hard metal or an extremely hard ceramic material (e.g. tungsten carbide ) in order to keep wear to a minimum .

The upper end of the ink tube is usually open, or at least equipped with an air-permeable seal so that the air can equalize the volume of the prescribed ink. To prevent the ink from drying out, a sealant of the same consistency floats on top of the ink and prevents direct contact with the air. In cheap mines this seal is missing, which is why they dry out faster.

If the ballpoint pen strokes the paper, the ball rotates, absorbing ink on the side facing the storage container and releasing it onto the paper on the other.

Ordinary ballpoint pens have to be held with the point down when writing, because the ink is only transported to the writing ball by gravity. In contrast to the thin fountain pen ink, there are no capillary forces here . However, there are special ballpoint pen refills that are filled with nitrogen and under pressure. Between the ink paste and the airtight end of the ink tube there is a metal plate which, like a piston, pushes the ink paste in the direction of the writing tip. This makes it possible to write upside down or in weightlessness (see also: Space Pen ).

Depending on the desired line thickness, the ball has a diameter of 0.7 to 1.4 millimeters, with particularly fine ballpoint pens, for example in Japan , even 0.2 millimeters. Ballpoint pen ink is waterproof and often also document- proof according to ISO 12757-2. It is therefore difficult to wash it out of textiles. Basically, ballpoint pen ink is available in all colors. The most common are blue, black, and red inks.

Although the ballpoint pen ink dries very quickly on the paper and becomes smudge-proof, ballpoint pen tips do not tend to dry out and therefore do not need an airtight sealing cap such as fountain pens. Due to the tough consistency and extreme opacity of the ink, the consumption is so low that ballpoint pens enable the highest writing performance of all writing implements. Some manufacturers advertise with a writing performance of their large refills of up to 10 km or 600 letter pages in A4 format. Both the ink in ballpoint pens and the pens themselves are non-toxic.

Push-button ballpoint pen

Functional principle of the push-button ballpoint pen.
engaged (pressed in); freaked out

As with the refill on older mechanical pencils , the ballpoint pen refill can be pushed out of the housing and pushed back. Since its length does not change in contrast to the lead (no repeated sharpening), it is pushed back to protect it in the housing when not in use. The most applied for mechanism - a locking mechanism - is in principle of electrical pressure switches over (on doors, for example closures.) With engagement position or other older applications. The lead is pushed out against spring force by pressing the push pin at the top end of the pen, after which it clicks into place when released and remains pushed out. Repeatedly pressing the button releases the lock and the lead moves back into the housing with spring force when you let go.

In electrical pressure switches mostly a guaranteed switching Heart this switching mechanism in four steps. In contrast to this, the movement is not only to and fro, but in the ballpoint pen a component rotates around its longitudinal axis. In the illustration of the functional principle on the right, this is a revolving ball and in the second introductory image the part next to the push button (push button and housing do not rotate against each other). The switching mechanism in the push-button ballpoint pen also works in four steps (1st to 4th in the adjacent figure)


Galileo Galilei already made a sketch showing a kind of forerunner of the ballpoint pen. The first patents on writing implements that carry their own ink were issued in the 19th century.

In 1888 the American John J. Loud received a patent for a ballpoint pen-like device that could be used to mark leather . Slavoljub Eduard Penkala , a Croatian inventor, also patented a ballpoint pen forerunner in 1906. Born in Hungary, László József Bíró , supported by his brother Georg, invented the basic shape of today's ballpoint pen with a colored lead and a rolling ball in the tip of the lead to apply the colored mass to the paper in Budapest. Presumably he got the idea while looking at rotating pressure rollers that apply the color to the paper in a similar way. He had his patent, first granted in Hungary in 1938, renewed on December 27, 1938 in the USA as “Fountain Pen for Pulpy Ink” (later “Ball Pen”) and in Argentina in 1943 , where he had fled in 1940 from the persecution of Jews in Hungary . There he founded the company "Sylvapen".

The real breakthrough for the ballpoint pen came with the British businessman Henry George Martin . He recognized the ballpoint pen as the ideal writing tool for flight crews that also works at great heights without spilling. He bought the patent rights from Bíró, founded the world's first ballpoint pen factory together with Frederick Miles in Reading ( Berkshire , England) in 1944 and started series production. In the first year of its existence, the company supplied 30,000 ballpoint pens to the Royal Air Force.

In June 1945 the American businessman Milton Reynolds became aware of the ballpoint pen in Buenos Aires . He had the technology replicated in the USA. Under the name Reynolds' Rocket , the ballpoint pens became a sales success in the USA in the same year, although the ballpoint pen cost around one and a half times as much as a fountain pen. However, due to quality problems, Reynolds had to take back thousands of copies and went bankrupt in 1951.

After the Second World War , several companies began to produce ballpoint pens, some of which did not own the patent rights. The German company Schneider paid 19 million DM in license fees from 1947 until the patents expired. The Schmidt company in the Black Forest concentrated on the manufacture and development of the mechanics of ballpoint pens. The Frenchman Marcel Bich got the problem of the blob under control. At the end of 1950 he launched his ballpoint pen under the name BIC and thus finally heralded the age of the ballpoint pen as a mass product.

Pen having a housing of flagging beech with silicone cap will for use in touchscreens

In several countries the ballpoint pen is named after its inventor , e.g. B. biro in England and Italy , birome in Argentina or penkala in Croatia . In France , Baron Bich manufactured large quantities of cheap, disposable ballpoint pens under the brand name BIC, making bic a synonym for ballpoint pen. In Argentina, Inventor's Day is celebrated annually on László Bíró's birthday (September 29th).

The first pens were in 1945 for 8.50  US dollars sold. In Germany the first models cost around 20 DM in 1950  .

Ballpoint pens are now used on a large scale as advertising media. The housing surface of ballpoint pens can be printed with simple and inexpensive printing processes for large quantities, or even with small quantities with an elegantly engraved name. Ballpoint pens are also often produced as design objects. For example, noble or specially treated types of wood serve as the housing, making every ballpoint pen an individually designed one-off piece.


Common types of ballpoint pen refills

Plotter and the like

Some technical devices use special ballpoint pen refills, such as pen plotters such as the Commodore VC-1520 or the Silver Reed EB50 plotter typewriter .

Use in school

In school, the ballpoint pen is usually only allowed after the complete acquisition of a connected font, which also includes learning how to use fountain pens (see there: School writing acquisition ) , usually in the second grade. Exceptions are mostly allowed for left-handers, as writing with fountain pens with the left hand can easily lead to smudging.

Gas pressure mines

The NASA used a special ball-point pen in which the ink is not flowed by gravity, but has been pushed out by the mine filling with gas for their space flights. The manufacturer then had the ballpoint pen marketed under the name "Space Pen". It was also used by NASA in space under the conditions of weightlessness.

In the Soviet Union, plastic-coated grease pens (a kind of “wax crayon”) were used initially, and later ballpoint pens with gas pressure refills were also used.

World record

The largest ballpoint pen was made by Olaf Fügner. This was recognized by Guinness World Records (GWR) in 2006 and published in the Guinness Book of Records in 2009. The production of a correspondingly large mine was not just a technical challenge. A special writing paste had to be made in the laboratory. The working mine comes from a Swiss company. The ballpoint pen is made of cardboard (except for the beginning and end pieces) and is 333 cm long with a diameter of 11.1 cm. The total weight is approx. 8 kg. The mine itself is 106.5 cm long. The shaft width is 1.6 cm.

Dubious additional income offers for ballpoint pen assembly

For many decades, home- based ballpoint pen assembly was a common manufacturing step. Ballpoint pen parts are light and small, the work simple and calculable according to the number of pieces, which is why work is still a sought-after sideline that was often outsourced in the past. However, consumer advocates warn against numerous dubious job offers. According to , today only special forms or small series can be conveyed in home work, for which the use of machines is not worthwhile. Another industry portal , , did a research in cooperation with the consumer center in Hamburg, unable to find a single manufacturer who offers home work for ballpoint pen assembly. The business model of dubious providers is mostly based on chargeable hotlines, overpriced goods purchases or any form of advance payment. Legally, the dubious offers are mostly unassailable through a clever formulation.

See also

Roll-on packs use the same mechanism to apply deodorant , sunscreen and other active ingredients to skin surfaces. Typically, matt plastic balls - for some time now hollow blown ones - made of LDPE with a diameter of 10.16-35.56 mm (0.4-1.4 inches ) are used. If possible, the pack is stored with the ball facing up.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Pen story: Briton founded factory . , March 29, 2013, accessed on November 24, 2015.
  2. In Saarland for pens , the term permanent clerk in use
  3. ^ Center for Pediatrics at the University of Bonn, Information Center against Poisoning, accessed on July 13, 2019
  4. Tec. Teacher friend: "How does a ballpoint pen actually work?"
  5. WDR : “Laughter and factual stories: ballpoint pens”
  6. Note. It is the drop in air pressure in the cabin that causes the air in fountain pens - fountain pens and cartridges - to expand, which may push ink out of the reservoir.
  7. Margarete Rehm: Information and communication in the past and present. (No longer available online.), May 2, 2000, archived from the original on May 7, 2015 ; accessed on November 16, 2014 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  8. ^ History of the Schneider pens
  9. ^ The company: history . Schmidt Technology, accessed November 24, 2015.
  10. ^ Dwayne A. Day: The billion-dollar space pen . The Space Review, May 1, 2006 (English).
  11. Guinness Book of Records 2009
  12. Home work ballpoint pens: earn money with assembly . ( Memento of the original from November 24, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice., accessed on November 24, 2015. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  13. Serious home work: Asked the consumer advice center - be careful if you have to pay in advance ( memento of the original from April 2, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. and research about job offers: Part-time job assembling pens - Does this part-time job actually exist in home work? (each accessed on April 2, 2010). @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  14. Hollow ball for roll-ons and roll-ons, accessed August 12, 2018.
  15. Roll-On Balls, accessed August 12, 2018.
  16. Roll-On Kugel-Fitment, assembled, accessed August 12, 2018.

Web links

Commons : Ballpoint pen  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: ballpoint pen  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations