mhatzapa / Sharlotta / . Photo illustration by SPARK Publications.

Every day, writing instruments fulfill an important role in our lives. Pens, pencils, markers and highlighters help us to remember important details, brainstorm ideas and communicate with each other. Consumers want writing instruments, which is why they are amongst the most popular promotional items. “Gone are the days of the communal pen, so it makes sense that everyone keeps their own pen and carries it with them to sign receipts and the like,” says Pam Baker, sales and marketing manager at Hub Pen. “We started the Keep the Pen campaign, and distributors and other pen suppliers have run with it. Pens have always been a low-cost way to advertise and now, more than ever, they are a vital part of any marketing campaign.”

Writing instruments, along with bags, have the lowest cost per impression of any promotional item in the U.S. Seventy-three percent of people always keep one writing instrument with them, according to PPAI’s study “Writing Instruments in U.S. Households.” Most people have at least 10 writing instruments in their homes, and of these, about 25 percent are promotional products. By 2022, the global writing and marking instrument market is expected to reach $24 billion, according to Technavio, a global technology research and advisory firm. Increased demand for multifunctional pens—with features such as erasers, highlighters, styluses, etc.—is driving growth in this market.

In response to stay-at-home orders and social distancing, sales for books, toys and art supplies soared during the week of March 21, according to the NDP Group. U.S. families stocked up on commodities like board games and activity books to keep kids entertained and office supplies to help navigate homeschooling. According to the NDP Group, writing instrument sales grew 146 percent as did markers (81 percent) and other traditional back-to-school supplies, which grew 18 percent overall. “Another key trend is the desire to digitally detox, where consumers seek out methods such as bullet journaling, guided journals, hand-drawn typography and planners, and by doing so they leverage premium, colorful and unique pens,” says Rhonda Reilly, director of sales for Pilot Corporation of America.

Bright neon hues, from brilliant oranges to dazzling pinks, and transparent materials paired with pops of color are trending for writing instruments. “The same can be said for metallic finishes,” says Carrie Lewis, marketing communications manager for BIC Graphic NA. “While metallics have been trending for a few years, the latest designs include bold metallic elements in a fresh way that help position the brand/imprint as innovative and on-trend.” Consumers will also be drawn to writing instruments that are eco-friendly, made with recycled plastic and products containing PrevaGuard in response to the public health crisis. “PrevaGuard products contain an EPA-registered antimicrobial agent that is molded directly into the product," says Lewis. “This helps protect the product by suppressing the growth of bacteria, molds, mildew and fungi, especially in high-moisture environments.”

While style is important, end users keep promotional writing instruments because they enjoy using them. While as many as half of U.S. consumers own at least one logoed writing instrument, consumers expect a writing experience that is free of ink leaks and blots. “Elevated ink is always going to be in-demand when it comes to writing instruments,” says Lewis. “People want to have a smooth and consistent writing experience when it comes to the pens that promote their brands.” When purchasing pens, buyers are interested in ink color, point size and how their logo will look on the product. “The ‘90s are having a retro pop-culture moment and when it comes to writing instruments, gel inks are sparking nostalgia for those ‘milky pens’ everyone had in middle school,” says Lewis. “Today’s gel inks are much improved, creating thick, opaque strokes that show up well on dark or slick surfaces.”

To best sell writing instruments, distributors should sell on quality, not price, says Reilly. “Everyone writes with a pen, and most people prefer a specific brand or ink—gel, ballpoint or rolling ball,” says Reilly. “Pens offer companies a useful way to promote, launch and offer thanks for [doing] business.” With writing instruments at every price point, distributors can focus on the priorities of each client and how to best convey their message. “Now, when in-person meetings may not be happening due to social distancing, writing instruments also work well for direct mail campaigns,” says Lewis. “It is also important to know the audience. There are options for every style, budget and brand, whether the target is executives or a direct mailer to the masses.”

Writing instruments are the perfect advertising vehicle that can be marketed to all ages, genders, socio-economic classes and demographics. Whether you’re learning how to write your name or signing an important contract, writing instruments are used every day to communicate and accomplish tasks. With writing instruments, you can be sure your client’s message or logo will make it into the end user’s hands—literally.


Multifunctional Pens
The digital age, coupled with growing environmental consciousness, has led to a more paperless world. With email, social media and texting, the demand for pens has decreased along with paper. Market share for pens has dropped by nearly half over the past five years, from 10.4 percent of distributors’ total revenues in 2013 to 6.1 percent in 2017, according to PPAI’s Annual Estimate of Distributor Sales data. But pens still make up the largest share of the market. In 2017, after segmenting the global market for writing instruments, Technavio found that pens accounted for 54 percent of the market and is expected to grow.

The demand for pens has increased because manufacturers are adding more features to the standard pen, like erasers, a stylus, highlighters, USB drives and flashlights. Pens have become multifunctional tools for today's consumers. The stylus pen, for example, has become more popular as today's consumers look for ways to avoid touching public screens following COVID-19. Stylus pens are a two-in-one tool comprised of a traditional pen that writes on paper and another “pen” that can be used on touchscreen devices, like ATMs. Stylus pens also keep your screen free of fingerprints and scratches, making it easier to scroll, select and highlight. “We are living in a touch-free world these days, and stylus pens have become the biggest trend hands-down,” says Pam Baker, sales and marketing manager for Hub Pen. “Nobody wants to touch those screens at the checkout line or the pickup kiosk, so having that handy stylus is a must.”

For people who want the freedom to make mistakes, pens with erasers will be their best friends. “Erasable options are a cost-effective promo for bullet journaling or students who are taking notes that may need editing, and an ink eraser gives them the freedom to change their mind—all while avoiding visible typos,” says Carrie Lewis, marketing  communications manager for BIC Graphic NA.

In today’s world, consumers are looking for products that work and help them every day. Writing instruments are tools for self-expression and are deeply personal to each user. Seven out of 10 people have a preferred pen, and most people say they tend to keep their favorite pen away from others. If distributors can find the perfect combination of features in a pen, end users won’t stop using it.

  • Ballpoint pens are the most common and well-known type of pen. These pens use oil-based ink that dries faster than other types of ink, which mean less smudging. This ink is also thicker, so they use less ink when writing and are longer-lasting. However, thicker ink is also more prone to clumping, and for a smooth finish, more pressure must be applied when writing. Ballpoint pens are an easy and reliable option for simple, everyday use.

  • Rollerball pens are like ballpoint pens but use a water-based ink. Water-based ink flows faster than oil-based ink, requiring less pressure for a smoother writing experience. Rollerball pens are ideal for writing text with dark and fine lines, and they also come in a wider range of colors because they use water-soluble dyes. End users will have to make sure to refill the ink often since these pens use more ink than other types.

  • Gel pens combine characteristics from ballpoint and rollerball pens. Using a water-based gel ink that has the consistency of both types of ink, gel pens are less likely to smudge while still flowing free enough for smooth writing. These pens offer the comfort of rollerball pens with the performance of ballpoint pens. And, since they use pigments instead of regular dyes, gel pens are also available in a variety of colors. Gel pens are the perfect pens to rely on when making bold statements.

Source: National Pens


This soft-touch pen will be a cool treat for your next campaign. End users will be drawn to the vibrant neon of the Soberta Comfort, which will be easy to spot when it’s time to sign the next bill or package receipt. With a ridged grip for easy comfort and a fine ballpoint, end users will want to keep track of this pen. Colors include neon pink, blue, green and orange (shown).

Hub Pen Company / PPAI 110772, S11 /


Avoid ink-stained hands with the Sharpie S-Gel. With no-smear, no-bleed technology, end users will use this pen at home, school or in the office—and with its sleek design and contoured rubber grip, they’ll be hesitant to loan it out. This pen will leave a cool matte finish, offering a smooth writing experience. Available in three gel ink colors: black, blue and red.

Sanford B2B/Newell Custom Writing Instruments / PPAI 114177, S10 /


With the FriXion Light Erasable Highlighter end users can highlight and erase repeatedly without fear of damaging books or documents. The highlighter’s unique thermo-sensitive formula disappears with erasing friction. The durable chisel tip with brilliant florescent ink colors will draw end users’ attention to important details. Available in blue or yellow (shown).

Pilot Corporation of America / PPAI 112712, S5  /


While we will always need pens, we don’t need the bacteria that comes with them. The REF130 REFINE Antimicrobial pen is made with a material additive, Sanitized Silver, that inhibits the spread and growth of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, yeast and algae. The REFINE is pre-branded with the antimicrobial imprint on the clip, making it not only an affordable product for businesses wanting to cost-effectively promote their brand, but also a way to say, “we care about you and your safety.”

Cedar Crest Manufacturing  / PPAI 409498, S6 /


For clients welcoming their employees back into the office, think ahead with this aluminum pen and pencil holder. This common office desk staple can brighten recipients’ day with a personal or inspirational message. Available in nine bright colors: red, green, gold, purple, orange, lime, black, silver and blue (shown).

Payne Manufacturing / PPAI 209947, S2 /


Perfect for sunny summer days, the La Jolla Pearl with Stylus has a pearlized metallic painted barrel with pops of color on the clip. While the pen glides away, the trendy satin silver stylus will also keep fingers away from public screens. Clients can customize the white pearlized barrel by selecting a clip color and decor with a full-color inkjet imprint using ColorJet technology.

Goldstar / PPAI 114031, S7 /


For clients who prefer the smoothness of gel pens but the control of ballpoint pens, point them toward the GlideWrite ballpoint pen with TechniFLO ink technology. This ink technology is internally tested and proven to deliver the richest ink flow and lowest friction—easy writing without smearing or clumping. The transparent barrel is also on-trend for writing instruments.

Pentel of America, Ltd  /  PPAI 113818, S6  /


With the unexpected brand placement on the tip, the Hugo Boss Ballpoint Pen Ribbon Classic is an essential writing instrument. The light and balanced silhouette of this pen highlights elegant simplicity that end users will appreciate and use often. Available in black with chrome and mat gunmetal with rose gold accents (shown), this version comes in fountain, roller and ballpoint styles.

Stark Enterprises, Inc. /  PPAI 521359, S2  /


For conferences and meetings, this classic black Hugo Boss Set Tire Pen and A5 folder will complete any corporate gift. This set is adorned with a sports car-inspired print, mixing contemporary minimalism with a rustic aesthetic. The dark chrome plating gives this pen an air of urban sophistication, while the impeccably balanced silhouette and well-engineered technical features allow for an optimal writing experience.

Stark Enterprises, Inc. /  PPAI 521359, S2  /


For campaigns focused on sustainability, the B2P Colors Gel Roller Pen - Clip Only is a must-have. The bright and colorful barrels are made from 89-percent post-consumer recycled plastic and are textured to mimic the look of a water bottle. Clients will enjoy using and gifting this smooth-writing, long-lasting G2 gel ink pen. This pen has a fine retractable, 0.7 mm point, and the ink is refillable.

Pilot Corporation of America  /  PPAI 112712, S5  /


Working from home this summer? Give your home office a glow by adding some sparkle to your daily routine with this set of two Swarovski Crystalline Ballpoint Pens. Perfectly combining fashion with functionality, they are filled with hundreds of clear Swarovski crystals using the Crystalline technique, and feature one pink- and one gray-lacquered metal barrel with rose-gold tone plated accents. Looking for the perfect gift-ready item? These gorgeous pens are delivered in an elegant blue box. Both pens come with a replaceable, high-quality ink refill.

Rymax / PPAI 262551, S1 /


For the modern utilitarian, the Cross Tech3+ gets it done all in one. This multifunction pen switches from a black ballpoint to a red editing ballpoint then to pencil with a simple twist. Clients can engrave a logo on the panel for their next campaign. Recipients can interchange the classic conical-shaped top with the included stylus for use with any mobile touchscreen device. Presented in a premium gift box with a lifetime warranty, end users will save this pen for life’s big moments.

A.T. Cross Company / PPAI 114156, S8  /


Kristina Valdez is associate editor of PPB.