How Pens Work

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Pens are ranked high among the most often and widely used writing instruments. In the United States alone, about 2 billion pens are manufactured annually. There are many different kinds of pens but the most common ones are 1) ballpoint pens, (2) fountain pens, (3) soft-tip pens, (4) roller ball pens, and (5) specialty pens.

Ballpoint pens have a tiny brass, steel or tungsten carbide ball as the writing tip. The ink reservoir is the compartment in the pen that holds the ink and a narrow tube connects the reservoir to the ball. The ball that is fitted into a socket turns as it rolls across the paper carrying the ink from inside the pen. Most ballpoint pens have a cap made or plastic that is used to close the tip and prevent the ink from drying on the ball. Several modifications have seen the ball point pen have a push-button mechanism that automatically pushes out the body of the pen as the button is clicked or pushed.

The effect of gravity pushes out the ink to the ball and makes it flow smoothly, so because of this, using a ballpoint pen to write sideways may prevent the ink from flowing out properly. To prevent this, some ballpoints are designed to ensure that slight pressure is applied behind the ink column. With this design, the ink from the reservoir will be able to move constantly forward and the pen to write even when its point is higher than its back end. The ink in ballpoint pens is made to be sticky ink because if it was thinner ink, it might leak out of the ball. Sticky ink results in a less smooth write than most pens.

A nib is the writing point in fountain pens. Nibs are made in a triangular like form and are usually made of gold or stainless steel. The ink is carried from the pen's reservoir to the nib by a system of narrow tubes known as the feed. Fountain pens use a highly fluid ink and a property called capillarity is what draws the ink into the feed. The feed includes a number of air passages which allow air to fill the top of the reservoir as ink is drawn from the bottom. The ink flows easily as the air pressure in the pens is the same as the pressure outside the pen.

Roller ball pens use a combination of features from the ballpoint, fountain and soft tip pens. The roller ball has a tiny ball that turns in a socket at the tip just like a ballpoint would but the ink used in roller ball pens use highly fluid ink, just like the fountain. This will ensure a smooth write like soft tip pens. Roller ball pens are made with either a capillary reservoir such as the ones used in soft-tip pens or a reservoir like that of ballpoints. The ink is drawn from the reservoir using a wick made of absorbent material which carries the ink to the ball and only a limited amount of ink can be carried from the wick at a time. This mechanism allows the ink from leaking out. Specialty pens are made for specific purposes and most of them are like gel pens. Gel pens are commonly used among artists and mechanical drafters. Another specialty pen is called a lettering pen which is used to write calligraphy styled writing.

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