Advertising & Marketing

Parts of a Pen: Anatomy of Ballpoint, Stick & Fountain Pens

Curious About How a Pen Works—But Not THAT Curious? We’ve Got Your Back!

There are many reasons you might experience curiosity about the inner (and outer) workings of the parts of a pen. It could be that…

  • You’re killing time waiting for your phone to charge.
  • You’re bored at a trade show break-out session.
  • You’re a compulsive pen clicker looking to enhance your habit with mechanical understanding.
  • You’re the sucker stuck sitting next to said pen clicker looking to dismantle the offending device before misophonia gets the best of you.
  • You’re shopping for a pen to promote your brand and this blog post popped up.

In these and other instances, pens and their parts can get a person thinking….

But we’re pretty sure we better make this “anatomy of a pen” course quick and easy or we’ll lose you to YouTube or a good crossword puzzle or watching paint dry or…. So here’s a smattering of info related to pens, parts, and of course (why we’re here), promoting your awesome brand.

Parts of a Ballpoint Click Pen

Tip or Nose Cone: Commonly referred to as the tip of the pen, the nose cone is a metal or plastic piece that holds the tip of the ink cartridge in position when the cartridge is extended for writing.

Ink Chamber or Cartridge: Whether it’s ballpoint, gel, rollerball, or hybrid, refillable or single use, ink’s stored in the cartridge. When the cartridge is extended, the pen’s ready to write.

Spring: Keeps the cartridge retracted until ready for use.

Barrel: The pen barrel houses the inner parts of the pen. The stylus, if there is one, and nose cone are at the ends of the barrel.

Thrust Device or Cam: This is a marvel of mechanical engineering that controls whether the cartridge is extended or retracted. It’s responsible for All. That. Clicking. More on that below.

Best Sellers at

Mechanics of a Click Action Ballpoint Pen

We know you have a limited lunch break and that surfing the web at work is an exercise in speed reading and snippets, so enjoy this succinct explanation of the complicated click pen mechanism.

There’s a spring at the nose cone (tip) of every click pen. The spring wants the cartridge to always be retracted. The magic sauce in the click action pen is called the cam or thrust device. The cam sits above the ink cartridge and has little grooves, slants, and ledges that push the cartridge into a different position with each click.

Each click does one of two things: Pushes the cam against the force of the spring to a groove where the ink cartridge is fully extended but not locked in place; or rotates the cam to one of two grooves that let the spring force the cartridge back up into the barrel until it’s either locked in fully retracted position, or until it’s locked in writing position.

Still interested and confused? Let’s break down the four clicks of the click pen this way:

  1. First click: The spring inside the barrel keeps the ink cartridge and pen tip in fully retracted position. The first click pushes down on the cam, rotating it to the first (highest) ledge. This ledge pushes the cartridge against the spring and all the way out, extending the tip to its farthest point, completely outside the barrel. Not suitable for writing, just ready to be released back into writing position. Click!
  2. Second click: The second click (listen for it!) rotates the cam to the second highest ledge. In this position the cartridge is released back into the barrel to the position where the cartridge tip is extended just enough for writing. The click you hear is the cartridge hitting the cam at the ledge that stops the ballpoint tip in the perfect extended position—not too far out, not too far in, secured in place and ready for you to write!

Done writing? Or just need to hear more clicking sounds like a cat meowing or a wolf howling at the moon? Time for clicks three and four:

  1. Third click: This click rotates the cam back to the first (highest) ledge again. The cartridge is pushed all the way out, extending the tip to its farthest point again. Not in writing position; just ready to be deployed. Click!
  2. Fourth click: The fourth click rotates the cam to its lowest ledge, which allows the spring to push the cartridge all the way back into the barrel to its resting and fully retracted state. Phew! By the way, the last click is the loudest click as the cartridge is going from fully extended to fully retracted.

The whole process? One could say it’s a beautiful transfer of energy between clicker and clickee. An exercise in potential and kinetic energy. Who can blame the obsessive clicker? Well, those with misophonia for one. Plus anyone studying for a test. Or trying to write a blog post….

If you’ve read this far, you might want to work here…or come down the Rabbit Hole with us by watching this video: “How a Retractable Ballpoint Pen Works.” (Thanks “Engineer Guy” Bill Hammack!) Then come back and pick one of our top-selling promotional pens to put your name on. Here’s our favorite:

Alpha Soft Touch Pen with Stylus®

Check out all the other highly clickable, highly customizable offerings within our Best-Selling Alpha Pen Family.

How a Ballpoint Pen Works

A ballpoint pen works like a bottle of roll-on deodorant. These photos (thanks, How Stuff Works!) illustrate the “point”:

Think of the ink as the deodorant—pee-yew! The steel (or equivalent) pen tip is the deodorant’s plastic rolling ball. And the paper is your arm pit—did we say pee-yew?! And just like the top of the roller ball on your deodorant may dry out between uses, the pen’s tip may dry out, too—but the ink inside stays wet. Once the tip touches paper it gets freshly coated with ink and then…let the writing (and deodorizing) commence.

How a Stick Pen Works

The stick pen has the same ball-and-socket (AKA roll-on deodorant) functionality at the tip, but the cartridge is not retractable. The stick pen tip requires no extending or retracting—just a cap. Folks who love the stick pen? Those partial to cap-chewing, straight-forward engineering, and the notable absence of clicking. If this is your target audience, check these out:

Superball PenSoft Touch Cozy Gel Pen

How a Fountain Pen Works

Rather than a ball-and-socket system to control ink flow like the ballpoint pen, the fountain pen uses a series of internal channels and air pockets that control the flow of ink from the cartridge to the paper. Think of the fountain pen like a water system where the ink reservoir leads to various rivers, streams and creeks ending in ink on paper. The regulation of ink flow is key. Managing a controlled ink leak is the fountain pen’s raison d’etre.

The fountain pen is for letter writers, deep thinkers, and those slightly partial to anachronistic pursuits. Also, fountain pens are not inexpensive so we don’t recommend handing them out willy-nilly at a job fair. Here’s the one we like for promoting your brand on a fountain pen. It’s more affordable than most and has a great reputation for reliability.

Zebra Fountain Pen

And for a deep dive into all things fountain pen, ExplainThatStuff does not disappoint.

Retracted, Extended, Clicked or Capped, a Pen’s Always in Style

Given the above smorgasbord of parts of a pen and related tidbits we just tossed your way, you may feel a bit tickled, intrigued, baffled, or vexed. We hope not the latter but we understand. We commend you for getting this far and encourage you to give yourself a pat on the back.

Also, we’d love to get your name on one of our promotional pens so you can see for yourself how efficiently our pens please your recipients and advance your brand.

Karleen Wise Andersen

From marketing tips to product recommendations, I’m here to help small businesses be their best.

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