What Is a Ballpoint Pen? Definition Plus Examples

What Is a Ballpoint Pen? Definition Plus Examples

Out of all the writing instruments available today, ballpoint pens are the most used pens, and no wonder! 

They are dependable, durable, and affordable, and on top of all that, they use quick-drying ink that’s evenly distributed to any writing surface. But what is a ballpoint pen exactly, and how do you choose the right one for you? 

Our Truphae team of experts has all the information on what makes ballpoint pens a go-to for so many people. We’ll tackle the history, anatomy, and specifics of ballpoint pens, and answer all of your questions about the most reliable pen ever created. And if you're interested in buying one, check out our favorite ballpoint pens here.

Without further ado, let’s see how ballpoints came to be.

Brief History of Ballpoint Pens and Ink

The ballpoint pen was initially invented by John J. Loud, who obtained the patent on October 30th, 1888. 

john j loud ballpoint pen

John J. Loud, Inventor of the Ballpoint Pen. Photo Credit: NBS Intellectual Sdn Bhd

Loud was a Harvard-educated lawyer who worked as a leather tanner and inventor. While working with leather, he noticed that he often needed to mark where to cut and no pen was able to properly serve this purpose; a fountain pen was too messy, while a pencil would make only a faint mark.

Hence, he designed the writing tool that forever changed the history of writing. The pen was a great success, however, it was too rough to be used on paper, so his patent lapsed.

The person who actually patented the ballpoint pen is László Bíró, a journalist who worked on the design together with his brother György. 

László was frustrated by how fountain pens often left smudges if the ink wasn’t properly dry, so he was looking to create an alternative. He noticed that the ink used to print newspapers dried much faster than the ink in fountain pens, so with his brother’s help, who, on top of being a dentist, was also an excellent chemist, he created an oil-based ink for their ballpoint pen.

The brothers worked on the design for years before finally patenting it in 1938, and the pen was named Biro after them.

What Is a Ballpoint Pen?

ball point pen

The ballpoint pen has been the go-to writing instrument for students, business people, and pen aficionados for over a century and it’s the pen that completely revolutionized the writing experience. It’s a writing tool that supplies oil-based ink to the pen via a metal ball that dispenses the ink and transfers it onto your notebook or paper. 

Truphae’s store has a wide selection of ballpoint pens. Whether you’re looking for affordable ballpoint pens, moderately-priced ballpoint pens, or even want to filter through the store and search for a ballpoint pen by color (blue, gold, red, etc.) or by the manufacturer (Montblanc, Caran d’Ache, LAMY, etc.), we’ve got you covered.

Anatomy of a Ballpoint Pen

A ballpoint pen consists of five main elements:

  • Barrel - the casing that carries the ink chamber. Some pens even have clips attached to the barrel so you can add them to your notebook or place them in your pocket.
  • Ink chamber or cartridge - the vessel that carries the ink in your pen.
  • Spring - the mechanism that keeps the cartridge in place.
  • Thrust device - controls whether the cartridge is extended or retracted and produces the clicking sound we all know.
  • Nose cone - a plastic piece that holds the tip of the ink cartridge in a writing position.

How Does the Ball Stay in the Pen?

The reason why the ball stays in the ballpoint pen is that it rests inside a hollow metal socket that has a hole on one end. 

The socket has one opening for the ball, and one for the ink cartridge so the ink can flow freely to the top of the pen. 

It’s designed so perfectly that the ball is held just tightly enough so it neither falls out through the top nor goes back into the cartridge, but rather allows the ball to spin freely, providing you with adequate ink at the top of your pen.

How Does Ink Come Out of a Ballpoint Pen?

As we’ve already mentioned, the ink is stored inside the cartridge that has a tip on the other side where the ball is located. 

The bearing ball, made of brass, steel, or tungsten carbide, turns as you’re writing while the ink slowly spreads over the ball as a result of gravity pulling it down towards the exposed tip, and it transfers to the paper. 

Because the paper has a porous quality, it easily absorbs the ink. While you’re writing with the exposed side of the pen, the other side gets recoated so you have a constant ink flow. 

What Is Ballpoint Ink Made Of

Not much has changed in the way ink for ballpoint pens is made, however, there are variations from formula to formula. 

The first component is the oil that helps create smooth ink that dries very fast. Commonly used oils include benzyl alcohol and phenoxyethanol, which are mixed with different dyes to get the desired color. For example, carbon black is used for black pens, phthalocyanine for blue pens, and so on. 

Apart from these two main ingredients, each company has its own formula for the ink. Different ingredients have different purposes, like improving the quality of the ink, lubricating the ballpoint, avoiding clogs, and ensuring that the ink dries fast.

What Is Gel Ink Made Of?

Gel ink is made of thick water-based gel in which pigments are dissolved to give the pen a specific point. This ink is more viscous compared to other inks and it can support a large number of pigments, meaning it has a more vibrant color compared to other pen inks. It can also be used to make fluorescent, metallic, and glitter ink that’s not common for ballpoint pens.

The gel is made up of water and biopolymers, such as tragacanth or xanthan gum, polyacrylate thickeners, and pigments, such as copper phthalocyanine and iron oxides. Most gel inks are water-resistant, so be careful not to accidentally stain your clothes.

What Keeps Ink in a Pen?

The ink cartridge is part of the pen that’s responsible for releasing or keeping the ink inside the pen. When the pen is not in function, the ink cartridge holds the ink inside the tube. Once you start writing, the ball starts rolling around inside the pen tip and the ink starts coming out slowly. 

What Is the Difference Between a Ballpoint Pen and a Rollerball Pen?

Rollerball Pen Tip
Cartier Louis Black - Rollerball Pen Tip

Where rollerball pens and ballpoint pens differ is in the ink they use. The former uses water-based paste ink, while the latter uses oil-based gel ink.

As a result, ballpoint pens have the following characteristics:

  • Quick-drying ink
  • Ability to write on various surfaces
  • The ink might flow unevenly because of the high viscosity of the ink
  • Requires a bit of pressure so the pen starts working

Rollerballs have the following characteristics:

  • The ink dries a bit slower compared to ballpoint pens, but much faster than fountain pens
  • Has more vibrant colors
  • Requires less pressure to write
  • Has a smooth ink flow

Problems With Ballpoint Pens

Even though using ballpoint pens has many advantages, there are also some drawbacks to using them, such as:

  • Needing to use more pressure when writing
  • The line can skip due to inconsistent ink flow
  • Clots can develop due to the high viscosity of the ink

Why Ballpoint Pens Stop Working? 

These are the most common reasons why your ballpoint pen has stopped working:

  • The pen has run out of ink
  • The pen has a clog and the metal ball isn’t rolling
  • The ink has dried around the ball and it can’t roll

How to Get Your Ballpoint Pen Working Again?

If you’ve experienced some of the abovementioned problems, here are the steps you need to take to get your ballpoint pen working again.

Scribble Method

The easiest method to get the ballpoint writing again is to start scribbling with it on a piece of paper. This can help move the rollerball around, or move the lot away so the ink can start flowing to the tip once again.

Rubbing Alcohol Method

Since alcohol dissolves oil, you can try fixing your ballpoint pen by dipping the top of your pen in rubbing alcohol and then trying to scribble on the paper again. 

The Lighter Method

Warm the tip of the pen with a lighter for a couple of seconds and then start writing to see if ink starts coming out of the nib. If not, keep adding heat and test occasionally until you’ve made sure that the clot has dissolved and the pen is working once again.


Why Do Ballpoint Pens Leak? 

There are three main reasons why your ballpoint pen is leaking. The first one is because the ink reservoir has a hole and the ink is leaking through it. 

The second is caused by a sudden pressure change, and commonly occurs when using ballpoints while flying. The last one is because the sphere in the tip is very loose and the ink keeps leaking because it’s pulled down by gravity.

Can Ballpoint Pens Dry Out?

As with any pen, even a ballpoint pen can dry out, however, it won’t dry quite as fast as a fountain pen or a rollerball. The most common reason for ballpoint pens drying out is being exposed to air uncapped or unretracted for longer periods of time, causing the ink to dry out.

How to Store a Ballpoint Pen?

Since ballpoint pens need gravity to pull the ink slowly down the cartridge, they’re mostly stored with the nib point down while also being capped or retracted.

How to Clean Ballpoint Pens?

You can clean a ballpoint pen with a paper towel and some warm water, or use rubbing alcohol on top of a cotton swab if you have a clogged tip.

How Long Do Ballpoint Pens Work?

How long your ballpoint pen works depends on how often you use it. A typical ballpoint pen can write 100 pages or 50,000 words on average before it stops working.

Can a Ballpoint Pen Be Erased?

Generally, the ink from ballpoint pens can’t be erased from paper unless you own a ballpoint pen that has a specific eraser, often produced by the same brand as your pen. If you want to erase the ballpoint pen from other surfaces apart from paper, you can do so by using nail polish remover on a cotton swab.

Does Ballpoint Ink Stain?

Ballpoint inks can stain your clothes, so be careful not to accidentally leave a leaky pen in your shirt or pockets.

How to Remove Ballpoint Ink Stain?

Ballpoint ink stains can be removed from clothes by using a solvent, which depends on the material the piece of clothing is made of. For example, rubbing alcohol can be used to remove stains from cotton, a soap-based cleaner works for cleaning pen stains from silk, and alcohol-based cleaning solutions work on most synthetic materials. To remove the stain, test the solvent on an inconspicuous part of the clothing to see whether it damages its color. 

If it doesn’t, clean the spot with the solvent, rinse, and then clean with a liquid detergent before putting it in the washing machine at the hottest setting available for the material. Check whether the stain is gone before drying, and if it’s still there, repeat the process again. Be careful when doing this with delicate materials, such as wool, silk, or cashmere, because you may damage the fabric if using a solvent.

Can a Ballpoint Pen Freeze?

Most ballpoints can freeze, however, several manufacturers have developed a special ink that doesn’t freeze even under the most severe conditions, such as in extreme cold, underwater, in space, etc.

Can a Ballpoint Pen Be Refilled?

Depending on the quality of your ballpoint pen, it may or may not be able to be refilled. Cheap ballpoint pens are typically made for single use, so once you’re out of ink, you can recycle them. 

Luxury ballpoints, on the other hand, are all refillable. To refill them, you just need to order the cartridge that you like, remove the old cartridge, replace it with the new one, and you’re ready to use it again.


Ballpoint pens are the ultimate go-to pens for everyone since they’re affordable, dry very fast, are least prone to leaking, and are readily available. We’ve used them for over a century, we use them today, and we’ll surely use them as long as people keep writing on paper. 

If rollerballs are your cup of tea, feel free to check out Truphae’s ballpoint pen collection to find the perfect one for you or to purchase it as a gift.

We hope that you found this post useful and learned something new about the most used type of pen in the world. 

In the end, we want to ask you whether you’re a rollerball pen, fountain pen, or ballpoint pen type of person. Let us know in the comments below and make sure to tell us why you prefer one over the other.

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