How does it work? - Ballpoint pen

How does it work? - Ballpoint pen

The invention of the ballpoint pen made writing a lot easier.



ballpoint pen, writing, writing instruments, László Bíró, pencil, fountain pen, ink bottle, cartridge, ink, technology

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Writing instruments

  • pencil
  • ballpoint pen
  • fountain pen
  • feather
  • ink bottle

Ballpoint pen

The ballpoint pen is the most commonly used modern writing instrument, its history goes back to the 17th century. Galileo is said to have designed the first ballpoint pen. The first patent on a ballpoint pen was issued in 1888 to John Loud, and later several improved versions were invented throughout the world. However, these instruments also had several problems.

Modern chemistry and the appearance of precision production lines, the use of capillary systems and ink paste revolutionised the technology.

László Bíró, a Hungarian journalist patented his ballpoint pen in 1938. Later that year he emigrated to Paris and then to Argentina to escape the Holocaust. The success story of his pen started there in 1943. His invention was copied by many, with more or less success. Since the 1960 Biro pens are commonly used throughout the world.

Ballpoint pen


  • cartridge
  • spring
  • steel ball
  • ink
  • plastic case


Biro pens owe their success to their economic and reliable use. Modern chemistry and the appearance of precision production lines made it possible to put the ideas into practice.

There are two common types of ballpoint pens, disposable and refillable. Refillable pens are made of metal (or sometimes plastic). The refill replaces the entire internal ink reservoir and ballpoint unit rather than actually refilling it with ink, as it takes special high-speed centrifugation to properly fill a ball point reservoir with the viscous ink.

The refill is embedded in a spring, which, together with a button at the top of the pen are parts of a mechanism that allows to retract the tip. The tiny ball in the tip is placed securely in a socket so that it cannot fall out of the pen or slip into the tube. The ball is usually made of steel and there are tiny capillaries on its surface and inside that convey the special ink to the paper during writing.


In use

The father of the ballpoint pen

László József Bíró (also known as Ladislao José Biro) (Budapest, 1899 – Buenos Aires, 1985) was a Hungarian journalist. He worked as editor of several magazines and newspapers in Budapest in the 1920s, but he became known as an inventor.

In France a company called Societé BIC purchased the patent to manufacture ballpoint pens. Ballpoint pens are widely referred to as ‘biro’ or ‘biro pen’ in many English-speaking countries, in Spanish they are called ‘birome’. During World War II the Royal Air Force also used ballpoint pens, as they worked better than fountain pens at high altitudes.

In Argentina InventorsDay is celebrated on László Bíró’s birthday, 29 September.



Fountain pens depend on gravity to pull the ink down to the nib. The ink needs to be relatively thin, so it dries slowly and often smudges. This problem was solved by inventor, László Bíró’s 1938 patent of ballpoint pens.

In a ballpoint pen the nib is replaced by a tip that ends in a tiny rotating metal ball, usually 0.5–1.2 mm in diameter. This allows the ink to be more viscous and dry faster than traditional inks.

The manufacture of ballpoint pens started in Argentina in 1943. Today they are commonly found everywhere in the world as they are mass produced and cheap. There are refillable and disposable ballpoint pens.

The inventor’s name is still used in several languages to refer to ballpoint pens, for example ‘biro’ in English or ‘birome’ in Spanish.

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