Home > PEN FAQs

(1). Can you tell me the history of the ballpoint pen?

Yes, it’s a long story
Quill pens were the writing instruments of choice for centuries, used by the Lord of the Manor. The Lord owned serfs, and the serfs owned hens, a prolific, and self-replacing source of quills. With the Industrial Revolution, an increasingly sophisticated technology produced better writing utensils, such as the fountain pen. This elegant writing instrument reigned supreme from 1884 to 1945, made a comeback in the early 1950s, and is still used to an extent today. It successor, the ball-point pen, has an interesting history, mirroring the stormy times into which it was born. It turned many a schoolboy mouth blue, and destroyed the handwriting of generations of ordinary people.
To most of the world, Biro is still the generic name for the ball-point pen. Like the Hoover, the Biro is named after its creator, a Hungarian born journalist, Laszlo Josef Biro. Biro was a man of many accomplishments, painter, writer, sculptor, medical student, hypnotist and inventor. He invented a reliable automatic gearbox that he sold to the Ford Motor Company. For commercial reasons, Ford buried the idea. Laszlo and his brother George patented the Biro pen in 1938. In 1940, as war engulfed Europe, the Biro brothers emigrated to Argentina, where a fresh patent was applied for in 1943.
The Biro contained a tiny ball-bearing in its tip, and this rotated, picking up ink and applying it to the paper. A patent for a similar product was taken out in 1888 by John J. Loud, but it was never developed commercially and had faded into obscurity. The British Government bought licensing rights for the pen for the RAF. Pilots had complained that fountain pens leaked at high altitudes, and the new pen, with its special thick ink, worked. The Biro was a success. Branded the Eversharp CA for Capillary Action, the pen sold successfully in Buenos Aires. Eversharp began preparations for an American invasion.
The product was selling well, helped by the fact that it required no refill for a year. The storms of World War II faded away, but the battle of the ball-points was about to begin. A Chicago businessman, Milton Reynolds entered the picture. Visiting Argentina, he was impressed with the new pen, and bought a few samples. Disregarding the Loud and Eversharp patents, he took the pen to the USA, ahead of the competition. Eversharp paid one million dollars for the Biro patent, but unfortunately the inventor had forgotten to register it in the US. Cynically riding on the back of Eversharp advance publicity, the Chicagoan introduced the ball-point for a hefty price, to the anxiously waiting public. With the help of Gimbals, Department store in New York City, Reynolds made millions. Eversharp protests went unheeded. A feeding frenzy erupted, as dozens of companies rushed to market with outrageous claims and shoddy, leaky, and generally unreliable merchandise. Reynolds slipped away, pockets stuffed with money.
The bubble burst, and a disgusted, ink-stained public returned to the tried and true fountain pen. The invention was too good to disappear, however, and surviving companies began to produce better and cheaper ball-points. By 1950, Paper-mate was making good, cheap ball-point pens, and in 1954, the Parker pen company, which had stood aloof from the fray, brought out a quality ball-point. In 1957, the badly wounded Eversharp sold its pen division to Parker, and Eversharp assets were finally liquidated in the 1960s. The ball-point wars have now been won. The Biro now dominates the writing market, challenged only by improving felt-tipped pens. Parker, Schaeffer, and Waterman hold dominant places in upscale fountain pen and ball-point markets, while Bic and PaperMate have captured the throwaway slot. Laszlo Biro died in 1985, having donated his name to the English language.

(2). Can tell me how a ballpoint works? Why doesn't all the ink come flowing out?

We will introduce the history and technology behind these popular writing instruments so that you can understand them completely!
Pen Technology: A pen is a tool used for writing or drawing with a colored fluid, such as ink. A ballpoint pen is a pen that uses a small rotating ball made of brass, steel or tungsten carbide to disperse ink as you write. It is very different than its pen predecessors -- the reed pen, quill pen, metal nib pen, and fountain pen.
All of the pens that preceded the ballpoint used a watery, dark India ink that fed through the pen using capillary action. The problems with this technology are well-known. For example: The ink can flow unevenly. The ink is slow to dry. The ink is exposed to the air while it is flowing through the pen, so it cannot dry quickly or it would clog the pen.
When it does accidentally dry in the pen, the ink gums the whole thing up and requires meticulous cleaning.
When you add to this list the fact that fountain pens tend to flood when you fly on an airplane with them, you can see that all pens up until World War II presented some significant problems for their users -- the world awaited a better solution.
History of the Ballpoint Hungarian journalist Laszlo Biro was well aware of the problems with normal pens. Biro believed that the idea of a pen using a quick-drying ink instead of India ink came to him while visiting a newspaper. The newspaper's ink left the paper dry and smudge-free almost immediately. Biro vowed to use a similar ink in a new type of writing instrument. To avoid clogging his pen up with thick ink, he proposed a tiny metal ball that rotated at the end of a tube of this quick drying ink. The ball would have two functions:
It would act as a cap to keep the ink from drying.
It would let ink flow out of the pen at a controlled rate.
In June 1943, Biro and his brother George, a chemist, took out a new patent with the European Patent Office and made the first commercial models, Biro pens. Later, the British government bought the rights to the patented pens so that the pens could be used by Royal Air Force crews. In addition to being sturdier than conventional fountain pens, ballpoint pens wrote at high altitudes with reduced pressure (conventional fountain pens flooded at high altitudes). Their successful performance for the Royal Air Force brought the Biro pen into the limelight, and during World War II the ballpoint pen was widely used by the military because of its toughness and ability to survive the battle environment.

(3). How pencils are made?

Let’s take a look the picture on the right:

(4). What’s the pencil’s grading and classification? For example, HB, 2B.

Many pencils across the world, and almost all in Europe, are graded on the European system using a continuum from “H” (for hardness) to “B” (for blackness), as well as “F” (for fine point). The standard writing pencil is graded HB. According to Petroski, this system might have been developed in the early 1900s by Brookman, an English pencil maker. It used “B” for black and “H” for hard; a pencil's grade was described by a sequence or successive Hs or Bs such as BB and BBB for successively softer leads, and HH and HHH for successively harder ones.
As of 2009, a set of pencils ranging from a very hard, light-marking pencil to a very soft, black-marking pencil usually ranges from hardest to softest as follows.
Koh-i-noor offers twenty grades from 10H to 8B for its 1500 series; Derwent produces twenty grades from 9H to 9B for its Graphic pencils and Staedtler produces nineteen from 9H to 8B for its Mars Lumograph pencils.
The main market for such wide range of grades are artists who are interested in creating a full range of tones from light grey to black. Engineers prefer harder pencils which allow for a greater control in the shape of the lead. This is reflected in the way pencils are packaged and marketed. For example, for its Graphic pencils Derwent offers three packages of 12 pencils each: Technical (with hard grades from 9H to B), Sketching (with soft grades H to 9B), and Designer (with medium grades 4H to 6B).
Pencils graded using this system are used to measure the hardness and resistance of varnishes and paints. The resistance of a coating (also known as its pencil hardness) is determined as the grade of the hardest pencil that does not mark the coating when pressed firmly against it at a 45 degree angle.
Another common method uses numbers to designate the grade of a pencil. It was originally created by Conté and adopted in the United States by Thoreau in the 19th century. The following table shows approximate equivalences between the different systems:
Also seen as 2-4/8, 2.5, 2-5/10. Although widely accepted, not all manufacturers follow it; for example, Faber-Castell uses a different equivalence table in its Grip 2001 pencils: 1=2B, 2=B, 2 1/2=HB, 3=H, 4=2H.

(5). What’s the history of Oil Pastel?

Oil Pastel is a relatively new medium, considering that most have been around for centuries.
In 1921, assisted and advised by artist and theorist Yamamoto, 2 brothers-in-law developed a high quality crayon, which combined the soft, smooth color application of crayon with the brightness of pastel. They continued to improve their product at the Sakura Crayon Company, and thus the name Cray-Pas was born. The final formulation was developed in 1927 and has been considered a children's medium, not one for the serious artist.
In 1947, artists Henri Goetz and Pablo Picasso approached Henri Sennelier with the idea of designing a professional version of the children's product. Picasso told Henri, "I want a colored pastel that I can paint on anything, wood, paper, canvas, metal, etc. without having to prepare or prime the canvas." Goetz wanted a pastel he could use to start oil paintings. He told Henri, "If painting seems to be the complete of all pictorial techniques, then pastel is certainly the most direct. No instrument as the brush, knife or palette interferes between the artist's gesture and his work." Two years later in 1949, with the help of the two artists, Sennelier invented the first professional oil pastels.
They had a creamy consistency with a brilliant color palette. The unusually wide range of grays were chosen specifically by Picasso. Later an assortment of iridescent and metallic pastels was added followed by fluorescents. Sennelier also makes a giant pastel, and more recently a new "Le Grande" size in the same color range as the standards..
Years later, other brands jumped into the market - Caran d'Ache in 1981, Holbein in the early 80s with two grades of their oil pastels: student and professional. Talens and Grumbacher added theirs at about the same time.
Oil pastels use wax and inert oils as a binder making them non-yellowing and giving them excellent adhesion characteristics. They are completely acid free, and they never harden, thus they will never crack. Oil pastels can be applied to any paper, rigid support or fabric support without technical restraints, allowing the artist complete freedom of expression while maintaining archival stability.

(6) What are the differences between oil pastels, soft pastels, hard pastels, oil sticks and oil bars?

All of these are made with the same pure pigments that are used in traditional oil paint. The difference is the binder and the fact that they are all formed into a stick or bar.
Oil pastels are pure pigment in a fossil wax and mineral oil binder.
Soft and hard pastels are the same; the difference is in their hardness only. Soft pastels are pure pigment with gum tragacanth as a binder.
Oil sticks and oil bars are true oil paints, which are pure pigment and oil such as linseed, with a drying agent as a binder. They form a skin that can be peeled off for use.

(7). What supports are good with oil pastels?

Oil Pastels are a very versatile media. They may be used on any archival support such as paper, board, and canvas and even on metal and glass.

(8). What’s “Correction Tape” and “Correction Fluid”?

Correction tape is an alternative to correction fluid used to correct mistakes during typing, or, in some forms, handwriting. One side of the tape, which is placed against the error, is coated in a white, opaque masking material. Pressure applied to the other side of the tape transfers this material to the paper.
A correction fluid is an opaque, white fluid applied to paper to mask errors in text. Once dried, it can be written over. It is typically packaged in small bottles, and the lid has an attached brush (or a triangular piece of foam) which dips into the bottle. The brush is used to apply the fluid onto the paper.Before the invention of word processors, correction fluid greatly facilitated the production of typewritten documents.One of the first forms of correction fluid was invented in 1951 by the secretary Bette Nesmith Graham, founder of Liquid Paper.

(9). How to use correction tape?

Hold the corrector, white tape side down, press tip to paper over area to be corrected. With mild pressure, roll over what you are trying to cover/correct. Stop when you have covered the area necessary. That should be it. Now you can write over it. Note: Do not write over tape with a gel pen, the gel doesn't dry and will smear. Pencils do not write very well over the correction tape either.
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