Bic Biro

The biro is used by millions people every single day, but how much do you know about this overlooked piece of design?

Product Name
Bic Cristal
Marcel Bich and Edouard Buffard
Year made
- Clear polystyrene casing
- Polypropylene cap
- Brass/ nickel tip

Released in 1950 by French company Bic, the Bic pen (officially named Bic Cristal) helped to change the pen market from fountain pens to ballpoint. By 2006, over 100 billion had been sold - and it's easy to see why, when they can be bought as cheap as 10p, and a single pen can write for a distance of up to 2 to 3 kilometres! The pens come in four different colours: black, blue, green and red - black is the most popular Bic colour in the UK.

What do you see?
What is it made of?
How is it made?
How does it work?
What is its impact?

An Everyday Object

One of the first things you're probably thinking when you look at this picture is how unremarkable it is! Bic pens are a part of our daily lives, it's difficult to go a single day without seeing one! Though this may make them seem boring, it's truly a testament to how well they're designed!

  • By Carlos Delgado, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Outer casing

The outer casing of the pen is made from a clear polystyrene (that’s right, the same material as the bits of foam you use to pack boxes!), which allows you to see how much ink is left.

The hexagonal shape of the pen is inspired by the shape of a traditional pencil. This shape makes the pen strong and durable, as well as giving the user better grip and stability whilst they write.

The Bic pen has a small hole on the barrel, which ensures that the air pressure is the same inside and outside of the pen, helping to prevent it from leaking.

Tip & Ballpoint

The tips of the pens are made from brass/nickel silver, which the ball-point is enclosed in. The ball itself was made from stainless steel until 1961. It was then changed to tungsten carbide, which is made from fusing carbon and tungsten together at a heat of a whopping 2000 degrees Celsius! This chemical compound is almost as hard as a diamond.


The streamlined caps of Bic pens are made from polypropylene (a kind of plastic), and are the same colour as the ink of the pen. If you’ve ever wondered why they have a hole in the top, it’s to comply with health and safety regulations! The hole reduces the risk of suffocation in case the cap is accidentally swallowed.


Injection Moulding

The plastic parts of ballpoint pens are usually made using a process called injection moulding. A mould of the shape of the pen is “injected” with a hot liquid plastic. The mould is removed once the plastic has cooled down and is hard.

Making the perfect ballpoint

Because the tungsten carbide of the ballpoint is so hard, it has to be filed down by rotating plates that are coated with industrial diamond abrasives, which is a bit like a very hard sandpaper.



The ballpoint of the pen is held in a socke, which it can freely roll around within. Because the end of a pen is so small, it can be hard to see what's going on! The easiest way to think of it is like a tiny version of a roll-on deodorant, which works in the same way.

The space between the ball and the socket is big enough that the ink can come out freely when you write with it, but also small enough that the ink inside the pen doesn't dry out.

_ Image credit : By Trounce (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons_

Perfect Consistency

The difficulty with creating ink for the ballpoint pen is making it the perfect consistency. If the ink is too thin, it will leak, and if it is too thick, it will clot and the pen won't work. The inventor of the Bic Cristal, _ Bich created an ink of a perfect _viscosity (or thickness) for his ballpoint pen.


Because of the ink of the Bic pen is quite thick, it relies on gravity to ensure that the ink keeps on flowing out as it's being used. Try it yourself - Biros quickly stop working if you try to write upside down for too long!


Cheap but well made

Several ballpoint pens were made before Bic's, but none of them were such good quality at such a low price. The Bic Cristal changed the world market from fountain pens to ballpoint.

Ease of use

The Bic is cheap, easy to carry round and lasts for a long time (even if we do constantly lose them!). Without them, we could still be using messy and expensive fountain pens!

An Inspiration

The biro is more than just a tool for writing for many people. Many people use it for drawing and in 2011, an exhibition was even held at the Museum of Brands in London to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the BIC pen! The exhibition contained drawings, sculptures, a dress and even chandeliers made using the pens themselves! Both the Pompidou Centre in Paris and The Museum of Modern Art in New York have the pen on permanent display.

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