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Pens - A Comprehensive Guide

Pens are one of those essentials everyone has used and needs. You’ve almost certainly used pens throughout your life, from an early age at school to at home or in the office. In today’s world of computing and screen-based working, we’re still very much using them, but in different ways to how we used to. This guide teaches you everything you need to know about pens, including the different types, the many and varied uses of pens today, and hopefully some interesting facts along the way.

What is a pen?

So, what is a pen? Sure, most of us use them all the time, but do you actually know exactly what they are and how they work?

Put simply, a pen is a handheld writing tool that uses gravity to distribute ink onto a surface – normally paper. The term is a broad one, and covers many different products and uses, which is why our own range of pens has over 7,000 products!

Pens started out as pointed quills dipped in ink, and over centuries have evolved through a huge number of modifications and technical advancements. Nowadays, you can get many different varieties that will write underwater or on any surface, types that won’t leak and also traditional elegant designs that provide a beautiful and smooth writing experience.

The many different types of pens

Pens come in so many different shapes, sizes and types that it would be impossible to list them all here, but the vast majority of them can fit into one of the following categories.

Fountain Pens

A fountain pen uses water-based ink which is fed through a fountain pen nib from a reservoir (normally an ink cartridge or converter) and onto the paper. It’s a traditional method of writing and fountain pens have a huge following due to their smooth writing experience, delicate and premium design, and the skill required to use one correctly. Fountain pens have seen an increase in usage lately as a creative escape from all that screen time, as well as being a more careful, detailed form of writing in such a fast-paced era.

Ballpoint Pens

Ballpoint pens (or biros after their Hungarian inventor László Bíró), are a classic in schools, at home or in the office. They don’t dry out, often have no cap (because they’re easily lost) and work on a click-action system, and you can just pick them up and go. They use oil-based ink, which dries quickly and can write on different surfaces better than its water-based counterpart. An interesting fact is that the technology used in a ballpoint pen is so precise, and requires such small tolerances, that only a few companies in the world can manufacture them. Ballpoints come in so many different styles and colours that there’s an enormous range to choose from.

Rollerball Pens

Rollerball pens are a happy medium between a fountain pen and a ballpoint, by combining the smooth writing style of a fountain pen with the ease of use of a ballpoint. The ink in a rollerball is often water-based, which is why all rollerball pens have a cap on them to prevent drying out. In more recent years, gel pens have hit the scene. These are rollerball pens with gel ink inside them that can hold bright vibrant colours (often metallic) and be used for more arty, crafty purposes.

Technical Pens

Technical pens are precise drawing pens, used by architects, designers and engineers to create scale drawings for use in building and manufacturing. They used to be used a lot for technical drawing (drafting) but, when computer aided design came about, their use drastically diminished. Today they’re used mainly by traditional engineers and hobbyists. The technology of drawing pens has, however, trickled down to fineliners, which are cheaper, disposable, pigment-liner pens that have many more uses in everyday stationery and art, including colouring, handwriting and drawing.

Marker Pens

Often referred to as Sharpies (a brand that helped make markers popular), marker pens today come in all sorts of colours, shapes and sizes. You can now get permanent markers, whiteboard markers, highlighters and even paint markers which disperse paint instead of ink – very useful in decoration and industrial marking. A marker pen has a fibre tip, which can dispense much more ink than a normal pen, and onto almost any surface, making them ideal for use around the home, in construction or in the workplace.

Multi Pens

A multi pen is one that has multiple functions, usually allowing the user to choose between different coloured refills, or a pen and a pencil. The function can often be changed with some sort of mechanism, like a button or a twisting cap. They’re useful because it’s a tool to tick all the boxes, and means you only have to carry one item around with you.

The many different uses for pens today

With people using computers in almost every aspect of work and home life now, pens are now generally used for quick note taking or other small tasks. However, they’re not going anywhere, and pens have taken on a whole new lease of life in the arts and crafts world, with people using them for all sorts of different creative ideas.


Pens are still used all the time at school. Children still need to learn to write successfully as an essential skill, and pens are usually used in exams and classes.


Computers are everywhere now, but we can almost guarantee you still have a pen on your desk, using it to jot quick notes or organise your daily to-do list. Pens are on the up in this regard, as people start to enjoy the break from the screen and the careful attention to detail, as well as getting creative with colour when it comes to personal organisation. One new trend is bullet journaling, where you take a plain notebook or journal and transform it into your own creative life planner.


Pens are a great gift idea, and one that’s often overlooked. You can get many different premium designs made from precious materials and the best craftsmanship, and quite often you can get them personalised and engraved, too. All supplied in luxury presentation gift boxes, fine-writing pens are an excellent choice for a gift that keeps on giving.

Home, DIY & Industrial

Pens are everywhere around the house (but nobody can ever seem to find one!), and this will always be the case – whether its for writing the shopping list, or marking out where you want to cut on your latest woodworking project. Pens also have a place in the industrial world, too – after all, how else are you supposed to mark out a weld repair while underwater on the bottom of an oil rig?


We all remember the great days as a kid of trying to keep within the lines while turning a black and white picture into a work of art. Well, colouring has recently seen an increase in the adult world, too, as a powerfully relaxing mindfulness technique, and a great escape from the fast pace and stress of daily life.


Drawing, sketching and illustration are not just the realm of the pencil any more. With the introduction of fineliner pens, in many different sizes and colours, artists have turned pens from an everyday object into a creative, essential tool.

… And anything else you can think of!

The beauty of pens is that you can come up with an endless list of arty, crafty and organisational uses in everyday life. The incredible range of pens you can buy today means there’s no limit to the possibilities! If you do come up with something unique, we would love to see it!

The ultimate essential

From school to the workplace and beyond, pens have firmly established themselves as a necessity in everyday life, as well as a tool for expression, art and creative freedom – and they aren’t going anywhere. Available in a massive variety of different sizes, types, colours and designs, you can find exactly what you need for your own specific requirements.

Further Reading

Wikipedia (Pens)

The Birmingham Pen Museum

Time magazine article on ballpoint pens