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How Far Will A Ballpoint Pen Write?

This is awesome: Researchers at the University of Reading are studying a wide assortment of ballpoint pens available in the UK to determine how they perform and why.

The style of a ball point pen varies from the utilitarian to a fashion or style statement with an accompanying large variation in price. In this work we look beyond the external shape and style to the key elements of the pen. We want to know how these components relate to the writing life of a pen and how they influence the use of a ball point pen.

Some preliminary results of the study, being conducted by the Centre for Advanced Microscopy and partially funded by Bic, have been posted to the university's website.

One of the most interesting bits is that the average writing length of a ballpoint pen is 900 meters (the longest was 2,000).

For some brands the contour length was almost half this length whilst for others the contour length was 50% more than the average. The consistency of contour length was quite varied for some brands and very consistent for others.

To determine the writing lengths of the pens, researchers used machines that approximated the writing strokes, speed and downward pressure of an average person and wrote until the pens were exhausted.

The researchers also measured the length of some common writing tasks to help put those numbers in perspective. According to them, a 900 meter ballpoint pen would write:

  • 6207 signatures
  • 5114 phone numbers
  • 971 Christmas cards
  • 169 letters

Now, what we don't have yet is the specific brands involved in the testing and how long each specific pen lasted, although we have to assume that at least some were Bics. It would be interesting to know because Bic claims its ballpoint pens will write for 2 to 3 kilometers. But others have made even bigger claims, including one from India's Flair Pens that its ballpoint is good for a whopping 10K meters.

Don't worry, we've contacted the university to see what more we can find out.

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