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.

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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.