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definitions - Ballpoint pen

ballpoint pen (n.)

1.a pen that has a small metal ball as the point of transfer of ink to paper

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definition (more)

definition of Wikipedia

synonyms - Ballpoint pen

ballpoint pen (n.)

ballpen, ballpoint, biro, mapping pen, Biro  (British)

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see also - Ballpoint pen

ballpoint pen (n.)


analogical dictionary

fountain pen; pencil[Classe]




ballpoint pen (n.)


Ballpoint pen

Ballpoint pen
Retractable ballpoint pen, disassembled and complete
Inventor László Bíró
Availability Worldwide

A ballpoint pen is a writing instrument with an internal ink reservoir and a sphere for a point. The internal chamber is filled with a viscous ink that is dispensed at its tip during use by the rolling action of a small sphere. The sphere, usually from 0.5 mm to 1.2 mm in diameter, may be made of brass, steel, tungsten carbide,[1] or any durable, hard (nondeformable) material.



The manufacture of economical, reliable ballpoint pens arose from experimentation, modern chemistry, and the precision manufacturing capabilities of 20th century technology. Many patents worldwide are testaments to failed attempts at making these pens commercially viable and widely available. The ballpoint pen went through several failures in design throughout its early stages.

  An authentic "birome", made in Argentina by Bíró & Meyne

The first patent on a ballpoint pen[2] was issued on 30 October 1888, to John Loud,[3] a leather tanner, who was attempting to make a writing instrument that would be able to write on his leather products, which then-common fountain pens could not do. Loud's pen had a small rotating steel ball, held in place by a socket. Although it could be used to mark rough surfaces such as leather, as Loud intended, it proved to be too coarse for letter writing and was not commercially viable.

In the period between 1904 and 1946 particularly, alternatives or improvements to the fountain pen were invented. Slavoljub Eduard Penkala invented a solid-ink fountain pen in 1907, a German inventor named Baum took out a ballpoint patent in 1910, and yet another ballpoint pen device was patented by Van Vechten Riesburg in 1916. In these inventions, the ink was placed in a thin tube whose end was blocked by a tiny ball, held so that it could not slip into the tube or fall out of the pen. The ink clung to the ball, which spun as the pen was drawn across the paper. These proto-ballpoints did not deliver the ink evenly. If the ball socket were too tight, the ink did not reach the paper. If it were too loose, ink flowed past the tip, leaking or making smears. Many inventors tried to fix these problems, but without commercial success.[4]

László Bíró, a Hungarian newspaper editor, was frustrated by the amount of time that he wasted in filling up fountain pens and cleaning up smudged pages, and the sharp tip of his fountain pen often tore the paper. Bíró had noticed that inks used in newspaper printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge free. He decided to create a pen using the same type of ink. Since, when tried, this viscous ink would not flow into a regular fountain pen nib, Bíró, with the help of his brother György, a chemist, began to work on designing new types of pens. Bíró fitted this pen with a tiny ball in its tip that was free to turn in a socket. As the pen moved along the paper, the ball rotated, picking up ink from the ink cartridge and leaving it on the paper. Bíró filed a British patent on 15 June 1938.[5]

Earlier pens leaked or clogged because of incorrect viscosity of the ink, and depended on gravity to deliver the ink to the ball. Depending on gravity caused difficulties with the flow and required that the pen be held nearly vertically. The original Biro pen used capillary action and a piston that pressurised the ink column, solving the ink delivery flow problems. Later Biro pens had a spring that kept pressure on the piston, and still later the Biro pens used just gravity and capillary action.[6]

In 1941 the Bíró brothers and a friend, Juan Jorge Meyne, fled Nazi Germany and moved to Argentina. On 10 June they filed another patent and formed Bíró Pens of Argentina. The pen was sold in Argentina under the Birome brand (portmanteau of Bíró and Meyne), which is how ballpoint pens are still known in that country. László was known in Argentina as Ladislao José Bíró. This new design was licensed by the British, who produced ball point pens for RAF aircrew as the Biro; they found they worked much better than fountain pens at high altitude, the latter being prone to ink-leakage in the decreased atmospheric pressure.

  Ballpoint pen rolling over a paper surface, leaving behind a trail of ink.

Eversharp, a maker of mechanical pencils, teamed up with Eberhard Faber in May 1945 to license the design for sales in the United States. At about the same time a U.S. businessman, Milton Reynolds, saw a Biro pen in a store in Buenos Aires. He purchased several samples and returned to the U.S. to found the Reynolds International Pen Company, producing the Biro design without license as the Reynolds Rocket. He managed to beat Eversharp to market in late 1945; the first ballpoint pens went on sale at Gimbels department store in New York City on 29 October 1945 for US$9.75 each.[7] This pen was widely known as the rocket in the U.S. into the late 1950s.


There are two basic types of ball point pens: disposable and refillable; disposable pens are chiefly made of plastic throughout and discarded when the ink is consumed; refillable pens are metal and some plastic and tend to be much higher in price. The refill replaces the entire internal ink reservoir and ball point unit rather than actually refilling it with ink, as it takes special high-speed centrifugation to properly fill a ball point reservoir with the viscous ink. The simplest types of ball point pens have a cap to cover the tip when the pen is not in use, while others have a mechanism for retracting the tip. This mechanism is usually controlled by a button at the top and powered by a spring within the pen body, but other possibilities include a pair of buttons, a screw, or a slide.

  Tip of a ballpoint pen highly magnified

Rollerball pens combine the ballpoint design with the use of liquid ink and flow systems from fountain pens. Space Pens, developed by Fisher in the United States, combine a more viscous than normal ballpoint pen ink with a gas-pressured piston which forces the ink toward the point. This design allows the pen to write even upside down or in zero gravity environments.[8] A graphite pencil can also be used in this way but produces graphite dust, requires sharpening, and is erasable, making it undesirable or unsuitable for use in some situations.


Compared to rollerball and fountain pens, ballpoints require more pressure to write. Ballpoints lack the free flowing supply of ink that other types have, requiring the writer to apply more pressure to the page. As a result, the ballpoint pens are less likely to leak. Their robustness makes them suitable where a firm press is required, namely for carbon copy-type forms where a layer of carbon paper transfers the writing, but not the ink, to subsequent copies. In such use other types of pens may over time get damaged beyond usability.

They have difficulty writing on surfaces with low friction (such as plastics, shiny surfaces, and wet or oily surfaces).[9] Because of the pen's reliance on gravity to coat the ball with ink, most ballpoint pens cannot be used to write upside down. However, certain ballpoint pens that do work upside-down have been invented.

  In everyday life

Ballpoint pens, due to their low cost and ubiquity, are the most widely used pen to date. Their convenience in writing both on paper and on fabrics without causing the unwanted bleed-through of ink (more present on lower grade of papers) or smears on paper make them appropriate when both presentation and legibility is important, such as on medical papers and carbon based papers. Because ballpoint pens are low cost alternatives to both fountain pens and roller-ball pens, they have become largely a disposable product.

Ballpoint pens are often provided free by businesses as a form of advertising — printed with a company's name; a ballpoint pen is a relatively low cost advertisement that is highly effective (customers will use, and therefore see, a pen daily). Businesses and charities may also include ballpoint pens in direct mail campaigns in order to increase a customer's interest in the mailing.

  Example of a ballpoint pen work-in-progress by artist James Milne.
  Pentel R.S.V.P. ballpoint pens.

  As art medium

Over the years since its invention, the ballpoint pen has become a common medium for professional artists as well as amateur doodlers. Low cost, availability, and portability make ballpoint pens a reasonable alternative to expensive, cumbersome art mediums.

Ballpoint pens are also used to create body art, for both recreational and decorative purposes as temporary tattoos,[10] sometimes referred to as ballpoint pen tattoos. Because of this and of the widespread use of ballpoints by schoolchildren, all ballpoint ink formulas are non-toxic,[11] and the manufacturing and content of the ink is regulated in most countries.


The International Organization for Standardization has published standards for ball point and roller ball pens:

ISO 12756
1998: Drawing and writing instruments – Ball point pens – Vocabulary[12]
ISO 12757-1
1998: Ball point pens and refills – Part 1: General use[13]
ISO 12757-2
1998: Ball point pens and refills – Part 2: Documentary use (DOC)[14]
ISO 14145-1
1998: Roller ball pens and refills – Part 1: General use[15]
ISO 14145-2
1998: Roller ball pens and refills – Part 2: Documentary use (DOC)[16]

  See also


  1. ^ "How does a ballpoint pen work?". Engineering. HowStuffWorks. 1998–2007. http://science.howstuffworks.com/question683.htm. Retrieved 16 November 2007. 
  2. ^ Collingridge, M. R. et al. (2007) "Ink Reservoir Writing Instruments 1905–20" Transactions of the Newcomen Society 77(1): pp. 69–100, page 69
  3. ^ Great Britain Patent No. 15630, 30 October 2008
  4. ^ Webshark Ltd. - www.webshark.hu. "A porcelán-arany csoda". Herend. http://www.herend.com/herald/012/eng/eletmod.htm. Retrieved 11 September 2010. 
  5. ^ The first complete specifications appear to be UK 498997, June 1938 and UK 512218, December 1938; his rather basic Hungarian patent 120037 was dated April 1938. Collingridge, M. R. et al. (2007) "Ink Reservoir Writing Instruments 1905–20" Transactions of the Newcomen Society 77(1): pp. 69–100, page 80
  6. ^ Collingridge, M. R. et al. (2007) "Ink Reservoir Writing Instruments 1905–20" Transactions of the Newcomen Society 77(1): pp. 69–100, page 80
  7. ^ Inventing the 20th century: 100 inventions that shaped the world. NYU Press. 2002. p. 106. 
  8. ^ "Fisher Space Pen - About Us". http://www.spacepen.com/about-us.aspx. Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  9. ^ Russell, Melissa. "How Ballpoint Pens Work". Home.howstuffworks.com. http://home.howstuffworks.com/pen4.htm. Retrieved 11 September 2010. 
  10. ^ [1] discusses using ballpoint pens to create temporary tattoos, and also the danger of using them to create permanent ones
  11. ^ "Safety". Acminet.org. http://www.acminet.org/Safety.htm. Retrieved 11 September 2010. 
  12. ^ "ISO 12756:1998 - Drawing and writing instruments - Ball point pens and roller ball pens - Vocabulary". Iso.org. 12 June 2009. http://www.iso.org/iso/en/CatalogueDetailPage.CatalogueDetail?CSNUMBER=27200&ICS1=1&ICS2=100&ICS3=40. Retrieved 11 September 2010. 
  13. ^ "ISO 12757-1:1998 - Ball point pens and refills - Part 1: General use". Iso.org. 12 June 2009. http://www.iso.org/iso/en/CatalogueDetailPage.CatalogueDetail?CSNUMBER=1129&ICS1=97&ICS2=180&ICS3=. Retrieved 11 September 2010. 
  14. ^ "ISO 12757-2:1998 - Ball point pens and refills - Part 2: Documentary use (DOC)". Iso.org. 12 June 2009. http://www.iso.org/iso/en/CatalogueDetailPage.CatalogueDetail?CSNUMBER=23718&ICS1=1&ICS2=100&ICS3=40. Retrieved 11 September 2010. 
  15. ^ "ISO 14145-1:1998 - Roller ball pens and refills - Part 1: General use". Iso.org. 12 June 2009. http://www.iso.org/iso/en/CatalogueDetailPage.CatalogueDetail?CSNUMBER=23719&ICS1=97&ICS2=180&ICS3=. Retrieved 11 September 2010. 
  16. ^ "ISO 14145-2:1998 - Roller ball pens and refills - Part 2: Documentary use (DOC)". Iso.org. 12 June 2009. http://www.iso.org/iso/en/CatalogueDetailPage.CatalogueDetail?CSNUMBER=23720&ICS1=1&ICS2=100&ICS3=40. Retrieved 11 September 2010. 

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