penna stilografica

The fountain pen

Thanks to its peculiar ink transmission system, the fountain pen has a unique ability in terms of expressiveness and fluidity of the stroke. The nib represents its true soul and must be chosen according to the style of the user. Precisely for this reason it is essential to know the different types of nibs on the market and their characteristics, just as it is important to know how types of fountain pens differ.

The fountain pen, is a timeless myth and still very much alive! Certainly not to be locked up in a museum, the fountain pen is not just for collectors but an object to be rediscovered, especially in recent years made up of PCs, tablets and touch screens. By simply evoking its name, you feel enclosed by a new sensation, made of large white sheets crossed by neat lines of ink. Closing your eyes you almost smell the scent of wooden furniture, drapery, of an "antiquity" that always deserves to be rediscovered, preserved and enhanced. The fountain pen, therefore, is much more than a simple tool for writers, it is a real symbol. But to get to know it well, it's best to start from the beginning.

The fountain pen: what is it

The main feature of the fountain pen is its ink distribution system which, thanks to the principles of gravity and capillarity, connects a tank full of ink to a nib. In fact, it is thanks to this peculiar system that the fountain pen has a unique ability in terms of expressiveness and fluidity of the writing stroke. At the same time, the stylus pen requires special care and attention. If it is not used daily, for example, the ink in the tank could dry up, obstructing the sophisticated distribution system, which would not be able to get a uniform flow to the nib, which is essential for smooth and pleasant writing.

The fountain pen in history

There are traces of the origins of the modern fountain pen that date back to ancient times. In fact, in 953, when an Egyptian imam asked for a pen that would not stain, he received a pen consisting of a reservoir and a nib, from which the ink flowed out. Later, in the Renaissance, a pen of this type was also depicted in some drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.

As for its modern history, however, it can be traced to 1780, the year in which a prototype of a fountain pen was developed by a certain Scheller, who thus laid the foundations for the first patent in 1809. Just under twenty years later, in 1827, the French government also patented the fountain pen and started a vigorous production.

The biggest stumbling block in perfecting this new object was the need to ensure a uniform ink flow: enough to write but not too much to stain everything. They tried everything, from complex systems of valves, vents and taps. In the end, they concluded that the only possible solution was to rely on the physical phenomenon of capillarity.

The fundamental step towards the modern fountain pen therefore consists in overcoming the problems linked to the functioning of the distribution system between the ink chamber and the nib. In this sense, the contribution of Lewis Waterman was fundamental, he invented the multi-fissure reservoir, giving reliability and functionality to this type of pen. Since then, of course, giant leaps have been made with respect to flow quality and chamber refilling. In 1929 Pelikan designed the piston-filler fountain pen, which is still on the market, although obviously much less used than the cartridge, created by the French branch of Waterman, which today is certainly the most used system.

How the fountain pen works

Beautiful to look at, linear in appearance, the fountain pen is actually a well-built machine and a writing instrument that is not easy to handle. It commands respect!

The fountain pen piece by piece

In addition to the barrel, which functions as a reservoir, and the nib from which the ink comes out, the fountain pen is composed of:

  • the casing, or the external part, often consisting of the barrel (body) and cap;
  • the delivery system that allows the ink to pass from the tube to the nib through tiny rods and then to "flow" onto the paper;
  • the clasp, initially not widely used, but which became established over time, until its current common usage.

Operation, use and maintenance

It is not easy to become familiar with this type of pen, which is why it is important to practice. Unlike other types of pen, the fountain pen must not be used vertically, the nib must instead be placed on the sheet obliquely at 45 °, keeping the pen still between the thumb and forefinger. Through the weight of the pen, once you place the nib, the ink will come out automatically and, if the nib is flexible, depending on the pressure you exert, you can have a wider or narrower stroke.

Particular care and attention is required when the ink runs out or when you want to change the color. It is always advisable to clean the nib and, when putting the cap back on, it is important to keep the pen vertically with the nib facing up, otherwise the ink could come out and cause stains. For optimal conservation of the fountain pen, regardless of whether or not the ink runs out, this maintenance should be performed more or less every two or three weeks.

Types of fountain pen: it depends (a lot) on the nib

The nib can be considered the soul of the fountain pen; it is built with precious material that gives softness to the writing quality of the pen. It can be steel, or gold, a ductile material that makes writing soft and smooth, and for some years now, also titanium.

There is no single model of nib, on the contrary, changing it transforms the style of the fountain pen, which must however adapt to the type of writing of the person who uses it. For example, a person who tends to write with a thick stroke will have to look for a wider nib, while someone who is used to a smaller stroke and fine writing will have to choose a thinner nib. For this, there are different types of nibs, which differ mainly (but not exclusively) based on the size of their tip:

  • Extra Fine (EF).
  • Fine (F).
  • Medium (M).
  • Large (B).
  • Extra-large (BB).
  • Large Oblique (OB), which allows a thick but still smooth stroke.
  • Medium Oblique (OM), with a particular oblique finish designed to increase the sensation of smoothness.
  • Left Hand (LH), which is the specific stylus for left-handed people.

Beyond the style of nib that you choose, fountain pens can still be divided into three main types, which are characterized by the refill method.

  1. 1. The cartridge fountain pen is certainly the most common type; the ink is refilled by directly replacing the finished cartridge with a new full one.
  2. The converter fountain pen. In this case, the cartridge is not replaced but refilled from time to time. This saves the waste of a cartridge casing, but obviously the refilling process is more complicated. The advantage is that, if necessary, a replacement cartridge can be used, which is certainly more practical in some situations.

The piston fountain pen, on the other hand, has no cartridge, but an internal reservoir that must be refilled directly. It is certainly the least comfortable solution, but also the most fascinating and real; some purist enthusiasts won't allow alternatives!


The nib, heart of the fountain pen

The nib is the true soul of the fountain pen. Generally built with precious materials, and crowned by a rounded metal tip, it is certainly the most important part of the pen because it determines the style and quality of the stroke. Precisely for this reason, there are different types of nibs for fountain pens, which differ mainly (but not exclusively) according to the size of the tip.

What is the nib?

The essential components of a fountain pen are the ink chamber and the nib, from which the ink comes out onto the sheet. Undoubtedly, the innovative ink distribution system between the barrel and nib represents the quality element that allows the fountain pen to achieve a unique stroke in terms of fluidity and expressiveness. In any case, the inimitable style of the fountain pen is given by the nib, which is the real heart of this type of pen.
The nib is generally made from precious materials; in the most important and expensive models it can also be made of gold.

Fountain pens with gold nibs can be found in our store

The nib is crowned with a rounded tip of iridium, a material from the platinum family, which is soldered and then meticulously polished. Obviously, the more precious the material used for the nib, the greater the softness and elegance to the handwritten stroke.

Why is the stylus so important?

When writing, the fountain pen should never be held vertically, but diagonally, forming a 45° angle between the nib and the writing surface. In fact, with the pressure exerted on the pen, the ink automatically flows out on the sheet and you need to find the right position to avoid staining the paper. The nib is so important precisely because it is the tool with which the ink is transmitted from the ink chamber to the sheet. It follows that the style of writing and the quality of the stroke of a fountain pen vary mainly according to the characteristics of the nib.

Passionate about pens? Read also the in-depth study dedicated to the ballpoint pen

Different types of nibs

One of the fundamental rules for choosing a fountain pen is that the type of nib must adapt to the writing style of the person using the pen.
A person who tends to write with a thick stroke, for example, will be better off with a wider nib, on the contrary, those used to writing with a smaller stroke, will have to find a thinner nib. For these reasons there are various types of nibs.

The difference between types of nibs is mainly due to the size of their tip, but not only.

Below, the most common types of nibs:

  • Extra Fine (EF).
  • Fine (F).
  • Medium (M).
  • Large (B).
  • Extra-large (BB).
  • Large Oblique (OB), which allows a thick but smooth stroke.
  • Medium Oblique (OM), with a particular oblique design to increase the sensation of smoothness.
  • Left Hand (LH), is the stylus specifically designed for left-handed people.

Taking care of the stylus

Cleaning the nib is an essential operation to ensure the proper functioning of the fountain pen. If the stylus is not used daily or in any case continuously, the stylus should be cleaned at least once every three months. Otherwise, the ink could dry up, and as a result the pen will write badly or will no longer write.
Once the pen has been disassembled, the ink cartridge must be removed and the nib cleaned. The first fundamental rule to follow in order to do this correctly is to use only water, at room temperature, without using any other product or solvent, which could damage the pen. Finally, the nib must be dried with the utmost care. If after the first wash the nib remains dirty, it should be left "soaking" in water, changed often, until the ink is removed completely.

Fountain pen maintenance: some simple but important tips

The use of the fountain pen guarantees a unique fluidity and expressiveness of the stroke, but also requires particular care and attention in cleaning and maintenance. For this reason, it is important to follow a few basic rules that allow an optimal functioning and long life of the pen.

Love and cleanliness: two fundamental elements for the fountain pen

The two essential elements for taking care of your fountain pen and ensure optimum performance and long life are: love and cleanliness. Love because the fountain pen is the means by which we transfer our thoughts, ideas and emotions to paper. Cleanliness because like any elegant and refined instrument it needs care and maintenance to perform at its best. As for the emotional connection, it is obviously difficult to give advice and each person is free to become attached to their fountain pen as they see fit. For its cleaning however there are some simple but important rules that are essential to follow.

Cleaning the fountain pen: important rules to follow

Let's start with an important premise: the unique ink transmission mechanism of the fountain pen guarantees an elegant and expressive fluid stroke, but it also requires special care and attention to function optimally.

The first fundamental rule is to remove the ink or the cartridge if the fountain pen is not used for an extended period of time, as the ink could dry out and create encrustations in the feeder, thus preventing the pen from writing.

For cleaning, we recommend using only cold water, avoiding other products or solvents that could damage the fountain pen. If the pen is a plunger type or uses other direct filling methods, the operation consists of loading and unloading the ink chamber, until the water comes out completely clean. On the other hand, if the pen uses a cartridge, you can let the water flow directly from the tap. In any case, if it is not possible to remove all the build up, then it is advisable to let it "soak" as long as necessary. Naturally if the pen has metal parts, it is not advisable to leave it in water too long.

If the "do it yourself" cleaning operations do not have the desired effect (and the pen continues to work poorly), our advice is to contact a specialized center that can perform professional cleaning and also check if the problem is due to other factors. A misalignment of the nib, for example, could be the cause of the malfunction.

Some simple tricks for taking care of your fountain pen

The best position in which to rest the pen is to hold it vertically, with the nib facing upwards. When you refill a plunger or converter fountain pen, after having taken it out of the ink well, a useful tip is to let out 4/6 drops before using it.

It’s important to ensure the thorough drying of the nib after using the feeder (conductor) preferably with a cotton cloth or a sheet of absorbent paper. The models with a reinforced nib deserve particular attention: in these cases the excess ink may not be seen because it is present inside the barrel. It is therefore necessary to put the pen vertically and let the ink flow out before drying it.

Finally, one of the most common mistakes – and one to be absolutely avoided - is to attempt to straighten or repair the stylus yourself if it is damaged by a bump or a fall. In fact, repairing a nib is a delicate operation and for this you need to rely on a professional and avoid doing it yourself, as you could cause further damage!

Penna stilografica per mancini

The fountain pen for left-handers

It is universally recognized that the fountain pen has a unique trait in terms of expressiveness and fluidity. The quality of the stroke is mainly due to the transmission system of the ink on the sheet through the nib, which is the true soul of the fountain pen. A special nib has been designed for left-handers, which thanks to the oblique cut on the left side allows left-handers to find the right writing angle.

The characteristics of the fountain pen

The main feature of the fountain pen is the fluidity and expressiveness of the stroke. The fountain pen is able to transmit the ink homogeneously and compactly onto the sheet thanks to an innovative ink distribution system from the barrel (reservoir) to the nib. The true soul of the fountain pen is in fact the nib: built with precious materials, it allows a softness and elegance of the stroke. For this reason, fountain pens differ according to the type of nib they use, which in turn determines the style of writing. A larger type of nib corresponds to a thicker stroke, while smaller nibs are suitable for those who prefer a thinner stroke.

The left-handed fountain pen

Another key feature of the fountain pen is that it must never be used vertically. On the contrary, for an optimal flow of the ink the nib must be placed on the sheet obliquely at 45°. Of course, with traditional nibs, left-handers have enormous difficulties in keeping the right writing angle. Therefore, special nibs have been designed, which by having the oblique tip cut to the left facilitate writing for left-handers. All the other components (tube, clip, protective casing…) are based on the traditional fountain pen. So, just the nib needs to be changed.

Unfortunately, the left-handed nib does not solve the problem of fresh ink stains. That said, thanks to the design of fountain pens for left-handed people it takes much less effort to write. This is because with the traditional nib the wrist was forced to hold an unnatural and somewhat uncomfortable position. In addition, the nib with the oblique cut to the left allows a greater visibility to the writer, who can finally see clearly and effortlessly what they’re writing.

inchiostro nero

Ink for pens: how to choose it

Writing inks are special preparations, composed of solutions of dyes or pigment suspensions, specifically designed to be used with the pen. On the market there is a wide variety of inks for fountain pens, which differ in drying times, shades, fluidity and consistency. Here are some tips to help you make the best choice.

What is ink?

Ink is essentially a preparation consisting of solutions of dyes or pigment suspensions, which can have a variable consistency, from liquid to paste. The result of this preparation is that well known fluid that has the principle characteristic of fixing itself on certain materials, such as paper, through the use of the most diverse tools: from the pen to the printer, passing by the rubber stamp.

In this sense, writing inks are preparations that are not produced for printing. On the contrary, they are to be used with the pen, which depending on the type has a specific mechanism for spreading the ink, from the ink chamber to the paper. Obviously, the fundamental qualities of writing ink must be - among others - speedy drying times, the sharpness of the stroke, the smoothness and the inalterability of the color.

Today, on the market it is possible to find a huge variety of inks for fountain pens that differ in color, tone, shades, drying time, type of container (which depending on the shape and design can make it more or less easy to refill).

Ink for fountain pens

The strength of the fountain pen (which clearly differentiates it from roller or ballpoint models) is the quality of the stroke, unique in terms of expressiveness, elegance, fluidity and smoothness. Precisely for this reason, there are many different types of ink for the stylus pen, which allow a wide choice in line with the refinement and sophisticated elegance of this niche instrument.

Depending on the model, the ink for the fountain pen can be supplied to the tank with a cartridge, a dropper, or with other fairly specialized transmission systems. When you are about to choose an ink from the many available, you must avoid choosing ones that are too cheap. Bad ink may affect the excellent capabilities of the stylus. Of course, it's not even a question of always choosing the most expensive option. Rather, to be on the safe side, it is necessary to take into account some important aspects that allow you to better evaluate the quality of the ink.

The fundamental characteristics for a good ink are fluidity and consistency. The ink must guarantee rapid drying, smoothness and must not corrode the material with which it comes into contact. In addition, water resistance, saturation and permanence on paper are also fundamental aspects. All these elements must be evaluated, taking into consideration that the ink for fountain pens can be black or colored and that this also affects the characteristics of the stroke.

Due to the complexity of the choice and the different technical components that you need to be aware of, often the best solution when you have to buy an ink for your fountain pen is to contact a specialized store that can provide all necessary assistance and advice.


The rollerball pen

The roller or rollerball pen is a variation of the ballpoint pen (also known as the Biro). It uses a gel or water-based ink that allows a smoother, more fluid and pleasant stroke. It was invented in Japan about fifty years ago and, thanks to its comfortable and agile characteristics, it quickly conquered the European and US markets.

The rollerball pen: what is it

Rollerball pens are an important variant of ballpoint pens. They differ from these because - whist still adopting the mechanism of a rolling sphere to transfer ink onto paper - they do not use a viscous oil-based ink, but a different model, based on water or gel, which allows an even better result. In fact, the stroke of the roller pens is famous for being fluid and continuous, therefore more pleasant, smooth and functional.

Are you a lover of fountain pens? Read here

How does the rollerball pen work?

The roller pen works in the same way as the ballpoint pen, also known as Biro after the Hungarian writer, Laszlo Biro, who invented it in the 1940s. The soul of the roller pen therefore remains the "famous" steel ball, meticulously smoothed and inserted inside the tip of the nib, which can have a diameter between 0.38mm and 1.6mm. The ink passes from the reservoir to the nib through a ring, with many tiny ridges, which connects the reservoir (the ink chamber) to the tip of the pen.

The fundamental difference between the roller pen and the ballpoint pen - as explained above - lies in the type of ink used. Water or gel based liquid inks make writing much faster, lighter, and more fluid, because they are absorbed by the paper much faster. As we will see further on, the ink of the roller pen dries very quickly, but in the more advanced models it is possible to easily refill the pen, the refill does not require special care and is easy to insert.

The disadvantages of the ballpoint pen

The fluid ink used by the roller pens guarantees a better result than the ballpoint pen, but at the same time there are some drawbacks. One of the most significant is due to the fact that this type of aqueous ink evaporates very quickly. So, if a pen is left open without its cap, or without closing it tightly, it will probably run out of ink in a short time. Therefore, the roller must always have an airtight cap, which allows a good seal. It’s for this reason, that it is generally recommended for those who write a lot, or for a daily and constant use.

There is another aspect for which the roller pen may not be the best choice. Being much more fluid and watery, the ink of the roller is absorbed to a greater extent and consequently saturates the paper to a substantial degree. Therefore, if it is used with thin types of paper, the ink can pierce it, thus staining the support or the underlying sheet.

The history of the rollerball pen: its success in the USA and Europe

The rollerball is a fairly recent pen, it was invented at the turn of the 60s and 70s in Japan by the Ohto company. Curiously though, the rollerball pen did not achieve great success in its home country, while it quickly became a popular product first in the United States and then in Europe. In fact, due to its characteristics as an agile, fast and therefore very practical pen, the roller lends itself perfectly to the hectic lifestyle we are used to in the Western world, where it has now become one of the most used tools.

How to choose the pen that's right for you. A comparison between ballpoint, rollerball and fountain pen

Choosing the perfect pen is never easy. In fact, there is no one type that is better than the others in absolute terms. On the contrary, the choice is subjective: it must start from the specific characteristics of the pen to evaluate those that best suit personal needs and writing style. Here is a small comparison between ballpoint, roller and fountain pens, which can be useful to help navigate your way to the best choice.

Ballpoint, roller and fountain pen, choosing between the three most used types of pen (h2)

Once you decide to buy a pen, it is never easy to choose the one that best suits your writing style and needs. This is for a very simple reason: there is no objectively better type of pen; instead there are pens that are better suited to a particular way of writing or to the specific needs of those who buy them.

Starting from this important premise, we can consider and recommend some criteria that facilitate the choice of the perfect writing instrument. In fact, there are different types of pens that differ from each other in the build materials, ink transmission technology and type of writing. Today the three most used are:

  • ballpoint pens;
  • rollerball pens;
  • fountain pens (stylus).

Obviously, the first encounter with a pen is visual. For this reason, aesthetics are essential in falling in love with a pen, even before the sensation of touch, when we come into contact with the materials used for its manufacture. Having said that, beyond aesthetics and the feeling of comfort that a pen transmits, it is also important to know the characteristics (at least the main ones) of the three types, to understand which may be the most suitable for your writing style and your requirements.

A comparison of stylus, rollerball and ballpoint pen

Currently, the most widely used pens in the world are ballpoint pens, also known as "biro" after the Hungarian writer, László Bíró, who contributed to their invention in the 1940s. At the core of this type of pen is the sphere, a meticulously polished steel ball with a maximum diameter of 1.6 mm that "rolls out" the ink deposited from the plastic straw (the ink chamber) through a ring that holds a set of tiny ridges. This very simple and agile mechanism has made the ballpoint pen the most used in the world. Generally, this type of pen is recommended because it adapts to many materials, the ink dries quickly and the ink reserve lasts a fairly long time. The only negative is represented by the fact that in the long run, if you write a lot of text, ink can accumulate around the tip, resulting in paper stains.

In principle, it can therefore be said that the strong point of the ballpoint pen is the practicality of the instrument, the ease of refill and in general its simplicity. Obviously, these characteristics of the ball mechanism make it less attractive and interesting from other points of view. In fact, the fountain pen, which has a fairly complicated transmission mechanism, also has an almost unique ability in terms of expressiveness and fluidity of the stroke. The stylus has a greater smoothness than the pen and the line of the stroke is more varied: the nib (which is the true soul of the fountain pen) tightens and widens according to the movement of the writer’s wrist. Thus, in addition to making one’s writing more beautiful, in a certain sense it also shows the state of mind of the writer.
Having said that, the fountain pen requires special care and attention in maintenance, especially if the pen is not used continuously. You should keep this fundamental aspect in mind when choosing which pen to buy, just as it is important to know that it’s not easy to write with a fountain pen since it must be held at an angle and the nib must never be in a vertical position. In short, the fountain pen may certainly create beauty and variety of the stroke, but it is an impractical, very demanding and delicate type of pen.

Finally, to have a complete picture and therefore be able to choose the best type of pen to buy, we must not forget the famous roller. Rollerball pens are a variation of ballpoint pens. While still adopting the mechanism of a rolling sphere to transfer ink onto paper, they use a different ink based on water or gel, and not oil, which allows a more fluid and continuous stroke, which is more pleasant and also functional. However, the ink takes longer to dry on the paper, the roller pen refill lasts only a short time, and without the cap the ink quickly dries out and the pen no longer writes. Another aspect for which the roller may be not recommended in some cases is due to the fact that the roller saturates the paper much more, if it is used to write with thinner types of paper, then the ink can pierce it, thus staining the support and the underlying sheet.

How to choose a fountain pen according to your style

The first step in choosing a fountain pen is to consider your writing style. In fact, the substantial differences between the various stylus pens are due to the different nibs used and each nib corresponds to a specific writing style. So let's follow some tips to find the most suitable fountain pen.

When it comes to choosing a fountain pen, either for oneself or as a gift, attraction certainly plays its part. Aesthetics play a fundamental role, especially for an object like the fountain pen, with its innate elegance and foregone times feel. Color, shape, inlays. Everything contributes to making one fountain pen more beautiful than another in the eyes of its future owner. But the proverb reminds us, however, the habit does not a nun make: the pen that pleases the eye may not be the most suitable. In fact, it is still an object with a specific purpose: writing. And writing, especially with a fountain pen, is something very personal. There are those who hold the pen firmly and those who have a very delicate grip, those who push on the paper and those who barely touch it. When choosing a fountain pen, therefore, one must also and above all take into account one's personal writing style.

Tips for choosing the most suitable fountain pen: the secret is in the nib

Let's start from a simple but essential premise, all the substantial differences between the various stylus models reside in the nib. The nib is the soul of a fountain pen. It is no accident that it is also the element on which the choice of your pen must converge.

That said, the first step in choosing a fountain pen correctly is to consider your writing style. Only then can you really identify the most suitable nib. For example, those who are used to writing in small characters, will certainly find themselves better off with a fine nib, while those who prefer writing in large characters, should choose a wider nib.

Another element to consider is the amount of pressure used when writing. In the case of those who apply greater pressure on the sheet when writing, in fact, rather than focusing on the size of the nib, it is necessary to look at its consistency. Tubular nibs are usually more rigid than traditional ones and could therefore be a better choice for those who write with a heavier stroke.

Another case is that of left-handers, who can find nibs designed specifically for them, with the oblique cut on the left side that allows them to find the right writing angle without straining the wrist and also have greater visibility.

However, with all these considerations we must keep in mind that the nib does not only change the writing style of a stylus pen, but also the way in which it should be used. For example, if one chooses a wide nib because they’re used to writing with large characters, they will also have to take care to keep it in an almost horizontal position when writing, to allow the ink to completely wet the nib and ensure a correct functioning of the pen.

The most common types of nibs

  • Extra Fine (EF).
  • Fine (F).
  • Medium (M).
  • Large (B).
  • Extra-large (BB).
  • Large Oblique (OB), ideal for a thick but at the same time smooth stroke.
  • Medium Oblique (OM), with a particular oblique finish that allows the writer to experience a greater sensation of smoothness.
  • Left Hand (LH), the stylus suitable for left-handers.

penna a sfera

Biro, the ballpoint pen

The ballpoint pen, commonly known as the biro, was born in the 1940s, thanks to the intuition of the Hungarian writer László Bíró. The author, to overcome the drawbacks of the fountain pen, created a ball mechanism to release the ink onto paper with quick drying times and without stains. Today the ballpoint pen has a simple and effective mechanism, which makes it the most widely used writing instrument in the world.

The ballpoint pen: what is it?

Originally conceived as a reliable alternative to the fountain pen, today the ballpoint pen (the famous biro, named after its inventor) is certainly the most used tool for writing. Unlike the fountain pen, which releases ink through a nib, the ballpoint pen is composed of an internal reservoir, the refill, which deposits the ink on the paper through a rolling metal sphere. Like the nib for the fountain pen, the ball of the ballpoint pen can have different sizes and is usually made of steel, carbon, or tungsten carbide, an inorganic material that is among the hardest substances in existence, used for tools or jewelry.

The history of the biro

The idea of a ball mechanism to apply ink on paper with a reliable mechanism came about as early as the 19th century. More precisely, the first patent referring to the idea of a ballpoint pen goes back to 1888. It is the result of the work and ingenuity of John J. Loud, a leather tanner who was looking for an innovative way to write on leather, seeing as fountain pens with their delicate nibs did not allow it. This is where the concept of an instrument consisting of a tube, a reservoir containing the ink, takes shape, which then passes over the paper through a rotating sphere.

Loud had found a way to write on leather, but his ballpoint pen model was still too crude and did not allow a precise stroke on paper. The sphere was still too large and heavy, the excessive fluidity of the ink did not dry easily and stained the sheet; for this reason its patent did not lead on to becoming a mass product.

László Bíró, the inventor of the ballpoint pen

It is in this context that the intuition of László Bíró, a writer and journalist born in 1889 in Budapest, Hungary and a naturalized Argentine, fits in. Bíró was looking for a faster and simpler writing tool than the fountain pen, which certainly had several drawbacks, such as long drying times, staining, and the need for frequent refills.

Legend has it that the idea of adopting the ball mechanism came to him while observing boys playing marbles on the street: after crossing puddles, the marbles left a rather uniform strip of mud on the ground behind them. Bíró's intuition therefore consisted in reproducing that mechanism, inserting a rotating sphere on the sheet of paper under an ink tube. He then asked his brother Giorgy for help, a chemist by profession, who made a fundamental contribution to the success of the project. In fact, if the concept of a ball mechanism for writing was not totally new, what made it effective this time, was the idea of using it with a more viscous and denser ink, less fluid, and quick drying. Therefore, Bíró’s fundamental innovation is precisely the combination of the ball mechanism with a high viscosity ink, inspired by the one used to print newspapers, which the writer from Budapest developed together with his brother.

In 1938, Bíró patented his pen model in Great Britain. A few years later, he fled to Argentina with his brother, and in 1941 formed the Bírós Pen of Argentina, with which he gave the impetus for the spread of the ballpoint pen all over the world. Marcel Bich, a naturalized French Italian industrialist, was instrumental in spreading it in Europe. After having bought the patent, he perfected the model, giving life to the Bic pen, the most famous and utilised disposable ballpoint pen in the world today.

The components: how a biro works

Just as the nib is the true soul of the fountain pen, the sphere is the heart of the ballpoint pen. It is a meticulously polished steel ball, designed down to the smallest detail to transfer the ink from the ink chamber to the paper in the best possible way.
The ball is perfectly spherical, with a diameter that can range from 0.38mm to 1.6mm, inserted into the tip of the ballpoint pen, which is usually made of plastic, brass, nickel silver or stainless steel. The ink is contained inside a plastic straw (the reservoir) and passes over the sphere through a set of tiny ridges.

The refill release mechanism can be snap-on or rotating. The refill is nothing more than a metal tube that contains the ink and ends with a sphere, which, sliding on the paper, allows you to write. So it represents the true heart of the pen, and on that depend the fluidity, the smoothness and therefore the quality of writing. Generally speaking, it can be said that the medium-low range pens are snap-on, while the high-end ones use the twist mechanism, which is certainly more precise and elegant.

A most curious thing is that the ballpoint pen can be more or less valuable, with a click or rotation mechanism, when covered with precious materials and produced by the most famous brands. The most important and decisive part for writing, however, is the refill. You can therefore insert a high quality refill in a low cost pen (obviously compatible with the original refill) and write more pleasantly than with a fine pen with a poor refill. Of course, the materials, the mechanism, the balance, the handling and therefore the quality (of the casing) of the pen have their importance, but to a lesser extent.

The same thing happens for the roller, which we talk about here.