A ballpoint pen is such a common object that most people never think about the technology behind it, or the evolution of ink since it was first introduced in the 12th century. Bic products are among the most recognized in the world. The company has sold well over 100 billion of its iconic Cristal pens since their introduction in 1950.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Bic pens use both oil-based and water-based inks, depending on the type of pen.
Bic manufacturers a variety of pens, including ballpoints, gel, felt pens and rollers. There are both stick and retractable styles of each. Inks are available in a number of colors for the different styles, and you can also choose the size of the line the pen makes, from an extra-fine point ball (0.5mm) to bold (1.6mm).
Although Bic and other ballpoint manufacturers keep their exact ink formulas secret, they have common ingredients. Pigments are mixed with an oil such as benzyl alcohol or phenoxyethanol. Fatty acids are added to lubricate the ballpoint and resist clogs. Surfactants help paper absorb the ink before it dries. Ink chemists are continually developing new formulas to improve the performance of ballpoint pens.
Ballpoint Inks vs. Gel Inks
Bic ink for ballpoints is made from a dye that's fully dissolved in an oil-based paste. By contrast, Bic's gel ink is water-based and colored with powder pigments. Gel inks have gained popularity since their introduction in the mid-1980s because of their smoothness and vivid colors. They're also more age-resistant than ballpoint inks. Early gel inks were slow to dry but technological advancements have produced a gel ink that dries just as fast as ballpoint ink. Roller and felt tip pens also use water-based inks.
The Price of Ballpoint Pens
Ballpoint pens were first sold at Gimbel's department store in New York City shortly after the end of World War II. Priced at $12.45 a piece (over $170 in today's dollars), the new pen design nevertheless proved to be popular, selling 30,000 in the first week.
Nowadays, ballpoint pens come in a variety of styles and can be extremely affordable. A 144-count box of Bic Round Stic pens lists under $11 on Amazon. Bic's retractable ballpoints are more expensive, selling for around $7 per dozen for ink pens and $10 per dozen for gel pens.
Pens as Promotional Items for Small Business
Pens are among the most popular freebies handed out by small businesses. The reasons are clear. Besides the fact that they are inexpensive, they're easy to imprint with a company name and contact information. Unlike other promotional items such as Frisbees, stress balls and cup koozies, pens are very likely to be used again and again. They're easy to tuck into a pocket, purse or briefcase. It's estimated that 50 million Americans own promotional writing implements. Giveaway pens are a sure way to get your business name in front of customers.
You can order promotional pens online from office supply retailers and from companies that specialize in customization of promotional items. Prices vary depending on the style of pen and the type of imprinting you choose, starting as low as 8 cents per pen. Some suppliers offer volume discounts.
Denise Dayton, M.S., M.Ed. is a freelance writer specializing in careers, education and technology. In addition to writing for corporate clients, she has published articles in Library Journal and The Searcher.