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How Does a Ballpoint Pen Work?


Ballpoint pens are the most common of pens that millions of people use to write and perhaps make an art with. However, have you ever asked,”How does a ballpoint pen work?” We’ll answer that and more in this post, so be sure to read until the end.

What is a ballpoint pen?

A classic ballpoint pen is composed of three parts, the nose, ink cartridge, and the barrel. The nose consists of the ball and the point that secures it. Manufacturers make the ball of textured tungsten carbide, which is considerably resistant to deforming. Others use materials like steel and brass, but tungsten is usually preferred. The point of the nose that houses the ball is made of brass since it resists corrosion and is pliable enough to be molded into different forms.

The ink cartridge uses materials ranging from polycarbonate plastic and aluminum. Premium pen plates their aluminum cartridges with gold, silver, or platinum for a better visual. The maker uses different materials for the barrel depending on their formulation.

Most barrels have a streamlined and balanced shape to distribute weight evenly, but many pen companies have begun opting for a more ergonomic shape that sits on the hand more naturally. This shape is achieved by molding the barrel accordingly or adding rubber or latex-free grips. Some ballpoint pens can also have springs and thrust tubes if they are retractable.

The ink plays an integral role in making the pen work smoothly. It has to be fluid enough to continuously supply the ball with ink but not too much as to leak out of the pen. The thick viscosity works together with gravity to ensure a good ink flow.

The ballpoint pen ink achieves this through a mixture of dye and oil base. Manufacturers have a specific ratio that ranges from 25 to 40 percent dye. Depending on the color, the dyes and pigments consist of organic pigments like carbon or a mix of inorganic compounds for other colors.

Oil bases or fatty acids like benzyl alcohol and phenoxyethanol achieve the viscosity needed for the mechanism.

The creation of the ballpoint pen was valuable. However, there is one problem- Smudging. Fortunately, experimenting with the previously mentioned bases solved the problem. They also have additives that give the ink a specific quality, making it more vibrant, fast drying, and stable.

How does a ballpoint pen work?

As we have established, the pen has a tiny ball on its point. The point is attached to the ink cartridge and is ready to write.

The ink flows from the cartridge onto the ball and coats it. As you glide it along the paper, gravity ensures the continuous flow of ink, and the pressure allows the ball to roll accordingly. Ink automatically stops flowing when there is no applied pressure to the tip due to its viscosity.

The ball is held in place by the point and functions like a bearing ball. The nose point has a tiny socket that secures the ball in place but allows enough movement for the ball to roll. The socket is hollow inside and creates a pathway for the ink.

How is a ballpoint pen different from a rollerball?

Rollerballs and ballpoints use a similar mechanism as their name suggests. The most obvious difference would be their ink as a roller ball is water-based, unlike the oil based ballpoint pen. The water-based ink is slightly more similar to the ones used in fountain pens and provides a more fluid writing motion.

If we would compare their bodies, ballpoint pens are less prone to drying, so it’s common to see them using a twist or click mechanism. Rollerballs require caps and dry out when left uncapped for long periods.

Rollerballs are offered in much finer tips and are perfect for people with small handwriting. The water-based ink also allows for a wide selection of colors. Ballpoint pens provide better control in writing and are used more commonly for official documents.

Pros and Cons of a Ballpoint pen

The oil-based ink of ballpoint pens dries faster and is not as prone to smudges. The thick consistency makes it less likely to bleed through paper and offers more control. They are great for the heavy-handed and lefties struggling to find a pen that doesn’t dye their hand while writing.

The nature of the ink is resistant to drying, so you have more options when it comes to the body if you prefer retractable ones and don’t have to worry about accidentally leaving it uncapped.

The same ink also has a couple of disadvantages. It can sometimes leave blobs of thick ink that are messy and ruin your page if you smudge it. It requires constant pressure that can get taxing on the wrist if writing for long periods. This ink isn’t as fluid as other inks, so it mainly comes in medium to bold points. There are finer ballpoint tips, but these usually don’t write as well.

How to take care of a Ballpoint pen?

Storing ballpoint pens is straightforward by leaving them with their tip facing down. There is no need to worry about leaks in normal circumstances, and placing it on its point will make it ready for use at any time.

Make sure to cap or retract it before storage because they can still have ink clogs if exposed to the air long enough.

Cleaning your ballpoint pen will prevent ink clogs and lengthen its shelf life. If it already has a clot, you can take it out by scribbling on a piece of paper or using heat to melt the ink. Take note that when using heat, only apply it to the metal part of the tip and be careful not to go too far. Only clean using this method in an open space away from flammable materials.

Warm water and cloth or cotton can clean most dirt off the barrel, and use rubbing alcohol for the stubborn stains. You can use a cotton swab for the inside of the barrel, but avoid getting water on the ink cartridge.

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Ballpoint pens use a tiny ball on the tip covered by oil-based ink as it rolls to write bold strokes. Hopefully, this guide has helped you learn new things and resolved questions about the ordinary yet ingenious creation of the ballpoint pen.

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