ddok / Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock.com.


Throughout civilization, sharing knowledge has been essential. Beginning with the earliest cave drawings in 15,000 B.C., society has been propelled forward by the recording and sharing of stories, ideas and events. Because writing is one of humanity’s most important inventions, fundamental to all people are the universal tools and instruments that help transform abstract thoughts into coherent communication. 

Although technology has expanded and revolutionized how we communicate, basic writing tools are never hard to find. In kitchen “junk” drawers, catch-all dishes and car glove compartments, people stockpile pens, pencils and markers for those many moments when they’ll need to jot down important info. And because these writing instruments are often borrowed, loaned or passed on, consumers can never have too many. According to PPAI research, when people see a promotional pen being given away, they almost always pick it up, which is why writing instruments are among the top-selling promotional products year after year.

But there are many reasons why writing instruments continue to prevail as powerful marketing tools. Sales Manager Bryan Irby of supplier I-Mark says pens are unique promotional products. “They are easy to get, there are so many different styles and shipping costs are minimal because they are so small,” he says. “Right now, every supplier is feeling the pressure from freight problems. In this current shipping setting, people are going toward the products they know they can get and that their end users will use and appreciate.” Since early last year, the pandemic has disrupted global trade, exponentially driving up the cost for shipping goods and extending delays. According to Mark Yeager, CEO of Redwood Logistics, freight rates from China to the U.S. and Europe have surged 300 percent compared to last March.  

As more people get vaccinated and the pandemic wanes, logistical problems will likely persist for both distributors and suppliers, and one of the main issues is the critical shortage of shipping containers. “Essentially, China is producing way more than other parts of the world and as a result, we are seeing a surplus in some countries, while China itself is starved for shipping containers,” says Yeager. “We’re hearing people are waiting weeks to get a container right now. Their alternative is to pay a huge premium in the spot market. They’re just producing a lot and other places are not because the pandemic is really inhibiting ability to get up to full production.” In the spot market, international commodities are exchanged through immediate payments and prompt deliveries. Trading “on the spot,” or the short- term placing of orders, takes place at current daily prices without long- term contracts. 

Yeager also says that fewer transcontinental passenger flights have hindered the option of air freight. “There just isn’t as much air freight capacity because there aren’t nearly as many transcontinental passenger flights,” he says. “And air freight companies typically use that extra capacity in the belly of a passenger plane. So, then you say, okay, if I can’t use the airplane, I’m going to use expedited steamship containers in the spot, but the pricing is way up. The lack of options, combined with this crazy amount of demand, has produced this crisis.”

For distributors looking to navigate this “global transport crisis,” writing instruments can mark the way. Although a promotional pen may not seem like a new idea, with the almost limitless combinations of ink type, color, material and pen style, pens can send a distinct and lasting message. With pens, there are plenty of options for personalization. Recipients of a smooth-writing, personalized pen will want it to last as they constantly use it and take it everywhere. Pen types alone, like the ballpoint, rollerball, fountain and gel, have a specific effect on consumers. According to a 2012 study done by PPAI and co-sponsored by BIC Graphic USA, 83 percent of survey respondents said they are more likely to keep a promotional pen if it’s a ballpoint pen, specifically. 

As essential everyday accessories, writing instruments are here to stay. In the retail sector, this product category is predicted to reach $24 billion by 2025, according to Persistence Market Research. In the promotional products industry, writing instruments accounted for $960 million of total industry sales in 2020 behind apparel, drinkware, fashion accessories and travel/bags, according to PPAI.

Unlike other advertising methods, which may be intrusive, promotional products, and specifically writing instruments, blend seamlessly into everyday life. But there is one flaw that some suppliers are actively working toward resolving: plastic pens are not recyclable. According to Recycle Nation, most pens are made of plastic that will not biodegrade in landfills. In incinerators, this plastic creates toxic gases like dioxins. Although pens are small, these toxic gases add up quickly when billions of pens run out of ink and are discarded every year. According to the University of Southern Indiana, in the U.S. alone, Americans throw away an estimated 1.6 billion empty pens each year. Other writing utensils, like mechanic pencils and markers, are also made with these plastics, adding to the trash occupying space in landfills. Responsibly recycling pens, mechanical pencils, markers and other writing utensils takes effort. Pen manufacturers like Sharpie and Paper Mate are sponsoring programs to help consumers return all their used products, while others are offering greener alternatives; an appeal that may be especially impactful for environmental clients and companies supporting related causes. Sales Manager Raffaele Laurenti of supplier Pagani Pens says, “Sustainable pens are the real and strong trend of the moment.” 

German supplier UMA Pen has one of the first truly sustainable lines of writing instruments in the industry. Managing Director Alexander Ullmann says, “First of all, we know that you will be not able to have production without any release of carbon dioxide. But it is up to everybody to reduce the carbon dioxide release to a minimum and use every possible opportunity or technology to achieve carbon neutral production.” Carbon- neutral companies or products balance out the carbon emissions caused by them by funding an equivalent amount of carbon savings elsewhere in the world. “By using green electricity, using wood chips instead oil for heating, reducing the water consumption for daily production, we could reduce our carbon release down to 30 percent in two years while having the same output on products,” says Ullmann. “We also use recycled plastic, for example, from recycled PET bottles to create our own Recycled PET PEN Series.” PET is short for polyethylene terephthalate, the chemical name for polyester. PET is a clear, strong and lightweight plastic that is widely used for packaging foods and beverages, especially convenience-sized soft drinks, juices and water. Virtually all single-serving and two‑liter bottles of carbonated soft drinks and water bottles sold in the U.S. are made from PET. PET is completely recyclable and is the most recycled plastic in the U.S. and worldwide. 

Ullmann says, “If you want to do something for sustainability, you can. Yes, it will cost some extra money and some extra efforts, but we have the responsibility to us and the next generations.” For environmentally-conscious clients and recipients, offer greener options like writing instruments made from recycled materials, or refillable or reusable pens with disposable ink cartridges. Ultimately, any good-quality writing instrument will exceed both the client’s and recipient’s expectations.  



The nose cone, or tip of the pen, is a metal or plastic piece that holds the tip of the ink cartridge in position when the cartridge is extended for writing.

The ink chamber is always stored in the cartridge, whether it’s a ballpoint, gel, rollerball or hybrid, refillable or single-use pen. When the cartridge is extended, the pen is ready to write.

The spring keeps the ink cartridge retracted until it’s ready to be used.

The pen barrel houses the inner parts of the pen and is often the location for a logo or message. 

The clip that’s connected to the pen cap can be used to attach the pen to paper or clothing. Sales Manager Raffaele Laurenti of supplier Pagani Pens says, “Most of the time, we suggest imprinting the logo on the clip of our pens because you can always see the logo when you handle the pen.”

The thrust device controls whether the cartridge is extended or retracted with a simple click. 

Credit: Pens.com


Add a little luxury to your next campaign with the LuxGel. With this plastic push retractable pen, clients can choose from four rich, metallic colors. This smooth-writing ballpoint pen has a sculpted grip for writing comfort, while black anti-fraud gel ink helps ensure that all hand-written communications and signatures are made “smoothly” and securely. 

Hub Pen Company  /  PPAI 110772, S11  /  www.hubpen.com


Connect with recipients in the most accessible and efficient way with the Cloud Pen. With imprinted QR codes, the Cloud Pen is sustainable technology that serves limitless marketing and communication services. Measure the performance of your advertising at any time, help customers locate your business or use to constantly update your message to reengage target groups again and again. Personalize with a dynamic, graphically optimized QR Code that links each pen to a landing page specifically designed for mobile devices and customized to exact specifications. 

Pagani Pens  /  PPAI 206605, S3  /  www.paganipens.com


With soft-touch metallic finishes on the barrel and diamond-textured grip, the Phoenix Softy Metallic makes writing an experience. Polished chrome accents on the trim and clip create a sophisticated look. Choose from a variety of premium barrel and matching stylus colors. Customize with your logo using ColorJet, a vibrant, full-color inkjet imprint technology.

Goldstar  /  PPAI 114031, S10  /  www.goldstarpens.com


The German-made PET PEN PRO is made completely from recycled materials. As part of one of the first truly sustainable lines of writing instruments in the industry, this retractable ballpoint pen can stand alone or complement any sustainably focused campaign. With a specially designed ink flow system, ink cartridges can be refilled and retrofitted, extending the pen’s life. 

UMA Pen  /  PPAI 792758, S1  /  www.uma-pen.com


Get two for one with the Neptune Pen with Highlighter. This ballpoint pen with black ink is twist action. There is a rubber grip for writing with comfort and control and a chiseled tip highlighter. With a silver barrel, choose either a blue, green, pink, orange or yellow highlighter. 

Hit Promotional Products /  PPAI 113910, S13   /  www.hitpromo.net


Freshen up any promo with the Lemonade Comfort. This soft-touch pen features a a bright ombre wrap with a rubberized finish. For writing excellence, the fine-tip, push-retractable ballpoint pen uses hybrid ink. Choose from three ombre colors, shown in ombre blue to green.

Hub Pen Company  /  PPAI 110772, S11  /  www.hubpen.com


Fun and useful, this Moptopper with a stethoscope-shaped clip is a perfect promotion for health-care workers. With a pen, a soft-silicone stylus and a microfiber screen cleaner, this smiling pen head frees up space in pockets or drawers— and stands as another “friendly face” to welcome patients to their visit. 

alphabroder  /  PPAI 156993, S16   /  www.alphabroder.com


The Trio Series has three great marking tools in one: Post-it® flags, a highlighter and a ballpoint pen. Recipients can highlight, write and flag with just one instrument. The attached flag dispenser on the cap is loaded with 50 flags. The chiseled highlighter tip allows for fine marking, or turn it sideways for wide areas of color. With black ink and a variety of highlighter colors available, the white barrel can be custom-printed using up to four colors.

3M Promotional Markets  /  PPAI 113638, S11  /  www.3m.com/promote


The casings of the True Biotic pen are produced from micro-organisms, and they degrade just as naturally as they are produced in the sea, soil or anywhere. This is the first-ever writing instrument to have all its external components made from natural, plastic-free biopolymers (PHA). Refill blue or black ink in the lead-free jumbo plastic ballpoint writing ball with a tip made of rust-proof steel.

Pagani Pens  /  PPAI 206605, S3  /  www.paganipens.com


Kristina Valdez is associate editor of PPB.