Thursday, 10 June 2010

Bic, Edding55, Paper Mate, Ball Pentel: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

I am prepared to humour them. I picked them from the stationery shop cringing:

two BIC Orange™ Fine - one blue, one black;
one BIC Cristal® blue;
one Edding55 1 black;
one Ball Pentel Fine Point R50
two Paper Mate, Nylon - one blue, one black.

They are only pens, I tell myself. And look at the key benefits, won't you. The Bic Cristal is a "world-renowned classic": quality, quick-drying ink, says the Bic website. Also it boasts a Tungsten carbide ball, perfect sphere and very resistant. The cap is ventilated. The barrel clear for visible ink supply. And this is a long lasting product: it has got up to 2 kilometres of writing length in it. It's PVC free and has been manufactured using "the right amount of raw materials". The BIC Orange goes one further to promise 2.5 to 3.5 km of writing length. And like the ubiquitous yellow school pencil it also promises high visibility.

Bic Orange and Bic Cristal

The Ball Pentel. Another design icon. What a 1970s revolution: an affordable rollerball, with water-based fibre-fed ink - a green barrelled wonder. The epitome of rollerball coolness in 1970s classrooms. The Paper Mate Nylon (or Tempo as I knew it) was perhaps the Ball Pentel's poor cousin in terms of design but a staple of many a pen case and a favourite for doodling. And what about the Edding55 with its fine point and smooth stripey barrel? It spoke elegance to me and it promised fine writing.

Bic Orange and Edding55

Yes, I am prepared to humour these pens; pretend it is all well with their plasticky goodness, their inexpensive utilitarian looks. Indeed I am prepared to be objective, even appreciate their usefulness and contribution to the world of writing. The BICs are lightweight and invest handwriting with an informal feel. If a Mont Blanc gives words a veneer of seriousness, the BIC is relaxed and takes things on its stride. The Ball Pentel is the eternal student taking notes on large lined pads. The Edding55 wants to be classy. The Paper Mate doodles in the corners of notebooks.

Paper Mate Nylon and Ball Pentel

And yet and yet. These pens will be forever invested with other meanings: prickly adolescence, first dates, disposable knowledge, cheap paper, copied thoughts, nascent aspirations. Edding 55's life has always been short, its long barrel managed to always deliver very little ink for very short time. The Paper Mates were rude and noisy. The Ball Pentel could not be trusted to produce uniform lines for ever - it failed around the curves. Nobody expected much of the BICs. However, they delivered whatever humble offerings they had promised.


  1. "Tungsten carbide" is close to being an anagram for "carpal tunnel"!

    There is indeed something to be contemplated about the basic tools we use to get tasks done. While the basic Bic may not inspire, it also makes handwriting affordable to many.

    Some of the writers you mention here loved plain, ordinary writing implements and paper. (Proust seems to be a good example.) I suspect they would approve of these choices.

    And ... have you seen the vermeil (gold-plated sterling silver) Bic Cristal version?

  2. I wonder how many of these end up in dumps every year all over the world. Do they recycle easily. Not sure.


  3. Stephen: It is close to being an anagram! I agree about the affordability but there is something about these instruments that makes me uncomfortable. I suppose that it doesn't have to do with the pens themselves as with the memories invested on them.
    Thanks for pointing me to the vermeil Bic. I guess it warrants a whole blogpost to itself.

    Fernan, there are some efforts of making pens more environmentally friendly. Watch Paper Mate dissolve here:

  4. Ah, the Ball Pentel. I'd forgotten all about those, but the mere sight of them brought back memories of school in the 1970s. We would pull the end off, remove the felt-like refill inside, and draw with it. The only problem was that the refills smelled like rotting fish.

  5. Dear Nemo,
    Thank you for surfacing in this blog. I have been distraught by the death of the Inkanthropist. I kept Ink Quest's link in remembrance. I can now happily replace it with Mobilis Ink Mobili.

  6. Well, I'm not sure that Mobilis Ink Mobili can live up to Ink Quest, which I also used to read avidly, but I will do my best. (I too was distraught when the Inkanthropist disappeared, but I have honoured him by stealing one of his puns.)

  7. > I kept Ink Quest's link in remembrance.

    That's funny, so do I. I guess I'm still incredulous that the Captain of the Penquod tossed me, a longtime honorary crew member, unceremoniously and without warning into the sea. If the Rachel hadn't come along, I'd be ... well, I shudder to think where I'd be! As it is, I'm barely existent.

  8. Well, I take comfort in the thought that Nemo's vessel runs on Inkathropist ink.

  9. Very well written blog. The classic bic cristals have been my favorite writing pen since the 1970s. They've never let me down, have helped me develop my career as a writer and have kept me company over the years as I've developed my craft.

  10. Kim, interesting that you're rooting for the old Bic. There is something to be said about humble writing instruments. Proust would have been a fan.

  11. Having fussed around with fountain pens and more expensive brands, I am now back home with Bic Cristals, that I had previously used during my school years!