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May 31, 2006 12:03 AM

Broken: Pen ink color

BicA reader named Matt writes in:

I came accoss this pen today. One would think that it writes in blue ink. The cap is blue, the plastic by the point is blue, the plug at the end is blue, and even the logo of the business (in this case, a local bank) is also blue.

However, when I started writing with the pen, the color of the ink came out black. Having a pen with exterior blue indicators should not have black ink inside.


Oh No!

Posted by: gmangw at May 31, 2006 12:12 AM

The pen was get what you pay for. Buy your own.

Posted by: inkydinkydoo at May 31, 2006 12:48 AM

I would say if any of those blue areas actually

showed the ink color it would be the plug. The bank name in blue is really a stretch. Speaking of, since it's obviously a freebie what's the big

complaint about? Put it back where you got it if it doesn't measure up. Free items don't promise a thing.

BTW I prefer blue ink myself and have had a bear of a time occasionally in the past trying to find blue ink refills. Black seems to be the color preferred by most. Possibly a carry over from the old days when blue ink wouldn't copy on copy machines?

I say NOT broken. Sorry Matt, you're wrong on this.

Posted by: SparkS at May 31, 2006 12:53 AM

What's that awful scraping sound? Oh, it's just the bottom of the barrel...

j/k: I find this annoying too, but free is cheap

Posted by: abcdario at May 31, 2006 12:55 AM

How does that old saying go? Something about the mouths of gift horses?

And if it is really getting on your nerves mail it to me, because I will appreciate it....especially if it is a Bic RoundStic. And speaking of my favourite cheap pen, how can they do it so well and so cheap? You can buy a dozen of these pens for under a dollar and they last a very long time and write very well. But that was just a rhetorical question. My real question is "How come so many manufacturers like PaperMate can keep making such awful pens and charge more for less?"

I swear everytime I pick up a PaperMate it pisses me off because they never write well. I mean it only has one job to do! Am I doing something wrong? Or *are they just imcompatible with left-handed people(if so I missed the warning label)?



Posted by: josephc4 at May 31, 2006 04:00 AM

The complaint is valid, but, as has already been pointed out.... it's free, ergo the relevance of the brokenness is kind of a stretch.

Posted by: Glenn Lasher at May 31, 2006 06:42 AM

I don't want you to think I'm cheap, but I have a lot of pens like that. Blue on the outside and black ink on the inside.

Posted by: Jpantis at May 31, 2006 07:10 AM

I suspect that black ink must be cheaper, because less than one out of every ten promotional pens I have been given has been blue, the rest were all black (except one which was a hi-liter disguised as a pen).

Also I would like to point out that the idea behind giving you a promotional object is so that you are carrying a commercial advertisment arount with you. Which is why promotional objects, espically pens often have a phone number and an address on them.

By the way, the arguments I used with respects to the laser pointer also apply here.

Posted by: Sean P at May 31, 2006 08:49 AM

To the posters saying it's not really broken because it's free: perhaps you are right, when observing it from the customer's point of view. You got a free pen, so why complain.

But what about from the bank's point of view? Do they want to give out free pens that will frustrate some number of our customers, i.e., those customers who want to sign something with a black pen but end up signing in blue?

What if the bank were giving away Coca-Cola, but when you took a sip it was really ginger ale? Free, yes, but frustating...still.

Posted by: Michael McWatters at May 31, 2006 09:19 AM

Golf clap, abcdario.

Posted by: Steve at May 31, 2006 10:02 AM

Re: the various philosphies of "The pen was get what you pay for."

So, free things make no promises, right? So, if I picked up a pen and it turned out the pen had no ink in it at all, you'd still claim it's not broken? Or if it were made out of asbestos?

Free or no. There are some standards we can expect to be adhered to.

Posted by: DaveC426913 at May 31, 2006 11:07 AM

By the way, who said the pen was free?

The OP didn't.

Posted by: DaveC426913 at May 31, 2006 11:09 AM

This is quite common. You might as well say that it should be white ink because most of the pen is white. Cheap pens like this are nearly always black or blue, and the color of the rest of the pen usually has no relation with the ink color.

Posted by: Fuzzy at May 31, 2006 11:33 AM

ergo the relevance of the brokenness is kind of a stretch.

Brokenness is always relevant here! Doors that you can't tell push from pull are a broken design, but they're free to use as well.

That said, I'd go so far as to say that free promotional merchandise is one place where you don't want broken design. You don't want to build any kind of negative association between a broken thing and your company, even if there's no rational reason for one to affect the other.

Posted by: rich at May 31, 2006 12:13 PM

Why isn't there a "Post a comment" section on the "Hotel internet access code card" page?

Posted by: JAC at May 31, 2006 12:15 PM

Be BOLD and angry.

Posted by: BolderMan at May 31, 2006 12:38 PM

Theres no comment posting on there probly becuase of people who rhink they're funny, like Bolderman right there...

I have all sorts of pens that have no revelence on what ink they have. Its just a normal thing for me. Inconvience, but not quite broken for me.

Posted by: Timber at May 31, 2006 12:56 PM

The cost of the pen is irrelevant. It was a good post because it draws attention to something that goes unsaid: you judge the color of pen ink based on the cues given on the pen. The principle could be applied in other contexts.

Think of a yellow ketchup bottle, or a red mustard bottle. Color is a cue. If you don’t want to learn or think, then keep wasting your mental energy on debating how broken it is.

Posted by: WillF at May 31, 2006 02:33 PM

What the hell is wrong with you people? Who cares if the pen was free? It gave every indication that it was a blue pen. The *INTERFACE* was broken. That's the point.

ObSheesh: Sheesh!

Posted by: The Damned Ghost Of Tookie at May 31, 2006 02:40 PM

Here's the thing, Did the bank say they were blue pens, or did you just assume they were, based on other clues? See, when you BUY a pen, it tells you the ink color on the packaging, so if the ink is not as advertised, you have a valid complaint. In this case, there was no written or verbal indication of ink color, so you cannot complain. The cap was blue, you say, well, as you point out the bank's logo is blue, so the other parts of the pen will match that design color scheme. Suppose the pen was given away at a LA. Dodger game. Their color is 'dodger blue' so the pen is all blue. Well, the INK INSIDE can be any color, and likely will be black, since black is more common. Hope you get my point, sorry for the rant.

Posted by: Inspector Clouseau at May 31, 2006 03:24 PM

mabye someone was messing with it, I occasionally modify my pens by swapping parts with others.

Posted by: deadman at May 31, 2006 03:34 PM

You think freebies dont count? Someone should try this: Take a cup of dirt, and dump it in a big coffee pot of hot water. Now set the hot mud on a table in your office, with a sign that says 'Free, help yourself'. It doesn't say anything else, but people will ASSUME it is coffee, and pur themselves a cup. Note their expression when they spit it all over the floor, then tell them, "hey, its free, what do you expect?" Then explain to your doctor how you got a broken nose.

Posted by: Beavis at May 31, 2006 03:35 PM

ROFL all very funny, but the pen is, indeed, BROKEN. *I think that there's a blue ink shortage or something! I mean, I have almost no blue pens at my house!

*I'm joking from here on!

Posted by: Another guy named Alex B. at May 31, 2006 05:05 PM

What's broken is that the bank is giving away ball point pens instead of gel ink pens. It is harder for thieves to "clean" off gel ink than regular ball point pen ink. The bank should be helping its patrons to prevent theft instead of buying crappy pens.

Posted by: Capt. Wafer at May 31, 2006 05:49 PM

Boo hoo.

Get over it.

Posted by: big_wang at May 31, 2006 11:24 PM

This may seem trivial to some people, but consider this: Someonie *did* buy that pen. It was probably lying on the ground because the person who bought it thought it was broken.

This is not scraping the bottom of the barrel. This is a design flaw. The colour on the outside of a pen should be similar to the colour on the inside.

Imagine, if you will, giving a set of crayons to a child. All the crayons are different colours, but when the child uses them, they all turn out black on the paper.

Posted by: Gabriel Hurley at June 1, 2006 12:29 AM

PS: I just noticed that it was a free bank pen, but my latter aurgument still stands.

Posted by: Gabriel Hurley at June 1, 2006 12:32 AM

Well, most promotional pens don't use the 'cap indicates colour' type of thing...if they're making a pen, they can choose what they want.

Anyway, no one's going to die because they used a black pen instead of a blue one, right?

Posted by: Trent Chernecki at June 1, 2006 01:38 AM

I will attempt to add to my initial comment which I thought was very EASY to understand. This is for those that seem to have a tough time with the basics involved here.

1. Its a FREE pen. If the color doesn't match some misconceived idea that the logo color indicates ink color I say this. Get over it and move on.

2. It's obviously FREE. Anyone that paid good money to advertise someone elses product is to my mind an idiot. Oh sorry, there are millions of T-shirts around with advertising on them. I assume the owners paid good money for them. I still say they are idiots. The company should pay YOU!

3. The mud comment was about as logical as the others griping about the free pen not being the color expected. Come on people, this is the real world. If it's not the color your goofy thinking says it should be put it back and walk away. Can't get much easier.

4. A tip of the hat to Inspector Clouseau, and others, on their well thought out comments. I got a smile from Capt Wafers comment too. What I want to know is how do they get those itty bitty balls to stay put in the tip of those ballpoint pens. Not only that, but it has to move around so the ink can come out. That sports fans is engineering at it's best.

5. Here's a little FREE tip to those that are upset that pen color doesn't match their ideas.

Pick up the pen and scribble a few random lines

on a scrap of paper. You will then be able to see what color ink is in the pen. Amazing!

Posted by: SparkS at June 1, 2006 03:08 AM

This is all very silly. Companies ALWAYS design their free pens in their coporate colours. So if their corporate colours are blue, or, red, or green, thats what colour the pen will be and they are unlikely to give a toss what colur the ink is.

As an example, my company's free pens are made of entirely blue see-through plastic, with a silver bit at the top where you click it on and off, and silver writing down the side. Yet the ink is black (GASPS!!!). People write, scribble and doodle away happily and no-one ever complains about the fact that the colour of the pen doesn't match the ink. (Nothing to do with the fact that we've brainwashed them and they are no more than mindless droids :P)

So many people email these days that actual writing is mainly for taking notes in meetings or while on the phone, or making shopping lists etc while at home - who cares whether the notes are in blue or black?

Posted by: Leprechaun at June 1, 2006 04:52 AM

Some people here are making the argument that if enough people do something stupid then something isn't broken. Imagine where that would take us.

Saying "there are lots of pens like that" just means there are lots of careless designers.

Posted by: WillF at June 1, 2006 07:50 AM

Black is the standard color for ink. Not broken.

Posted by: pj at June 1, 2006 09:49 AM

Are you sure it isn't just very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very dark BLUE?

Posted by: ben at June 1, 2006 10:24 AM

When the entire pen is obviously coloured and/or styled to match the logo no one reasonably expects the colour to match the ink.

The problem here is that the format of the pen is identical to a standard format with only the presence of the logo to differentiate it. The reason that this pen is causing a controversy is not that logo of the pen is blue but that the standard indicators for this type of pen's colour is "always" indicated by the end plug and the plastic ring between the body of the pen and the ink cartridge.

P.S. I stand by my argument that promotional items are NOT free. They are given to you in exchange for the service you provide in carrying around an advertisent for the company that gave it to you.

P.P.S. Some people prefer blue ink to help differentiate between an original signature and a photocopy.

Posted by: Sean P at June 1, 2006 10:54 AM

So what I'm learning from these posts is this:

* All FREE pens are crappy but they were free so I should just shut up about it

* All FREE pens are black, because that is the desired color for photo copying and differentiating between original signatures, so don't pay attention to anything else except the logo since that is the only thing the (crappy) free pen is good for

* All FREE (and crappy) pens were made by idiots who don't really care about how the pen works or might meet my needs because it is not about being writing instrument but rather a fashion statement for their company.

Posted by: that'll_do_pig at June 1, 2006 11:45 AM

If you want to play with pen colors...

Note that they do let you make bad design decisions like choosing a confusing trim color.

However, the bank of the pen in question probably could have chosen white or black trim, or a black background.

Posted by: WillF at June 1, 2006 12:19 PM

Come on, people. "Free" has nothing to do with it. The poster isn't just whining about his free product not working. He's pointing out that, free or not, the design is broken. I agree. Yes, we all have lower expectations of cheap and free stuff, and that does explain the reason for the poor design -- but it doesn't make it NOT broken.

Posted by: Lomedhi at June 1, 2006 01:05 PM

Not broken.

The product in question is a promotional item that also happens to be a useful tool (you can write with it). Its primary function is an advertisement for the company, and its secondary function is a writing utensil. Hence, the company picked out colors for the tip and cap that match the corporate logo/color scheme.

Those who insist that the plastic color should indicate the ink color are assuming that the pen was designed as a writing utensil first--which it was not. Normally, the color of the end cap and tip serve to convey the color of the ink, but this pen breaks with those conventions to serve a different function--advertising/promotion for the company.

Posted by: dmention7 at June 1, 2006 01:55 PM

AHHHH My GAWD! That comment by Gabriel "Imagine, if you will, giving a set of crayons to a child...." What does that have to do with this? Comparing crayons to pens is like comparing apples to oranges. similar, but very different. Most posters here agree that this is an advertising tool first, and therefore the color scheme is geared to the company logo colors. Not the ink. (and that 'mud' comment was very funny BTW. Good point!)

Posted by: Man with a sign at June 1, 2006 03:25 PM

Okay, this is actually no joke. I happen to be a paramedic who suffers from a very rare optical disorder called canotsinoiriah. I cannot see black. Recently, I had to rush to a woman's apartment. She had inadvertently swallowed an entire chicken drumstick and was unable to speak. She tried to write on a piece of paper what had happened, but because the pen had black ink and she thought it had blue ink because of the cap, I couldn't read what she wrote. I had to sit there and watch her slowly, agonizingly expire. What a tragic waste. And, now her family's estate is suing the bank, Waprofita, and the maker of the pen, Leisure Time Writing Instruments, for $100 million.

Seriously, let's recap some rules of this is broken:

1. Free things CAN be broken.

2. No one needs to DIE for something to be broken.

3. Utilitarian items should provide PREDICTABLE behavior.

Posted by: McWatters at June 1, 2006 10:37 PM

To dmention7, who insists the pen is not broken because the pen's "primary function is an advertisement for the company, and its secondary function is a writing utensil."

That is hilarious, but bad logic. When I pick up the pen, the primary function I expect it to perform is to write, hopefully in a predictable color.

When I need to write something, I don't say to myself, "Gee, if only I had an advertisement for a company."

Posted by: McWatters at June 1, 2006 10:42 PM

If the pen's trim color was purple, orange or green would you expect it to have a corresponding ink color?

Posted by: Andy Hoffman at June 1, 2006 10:57 PM

The pen writes. Ink flows.

You have no negative comment about the performance of this fine quality (promotional / free)writing instrument.

You received it and wrote with it. The ink color surprised and overwhelmed you. Take a deep breath.

Slowly, carefully, step away from the stealth pen that tricked you into using black ink against your will...

Posted by: inkydinkydoo at June 2, 2006 01:06 AM

My oh my, who would have thought a crappy pen would divide the public mind thus?

perhaps that was the intention of the bank....muhahaha

Posted by: leprechaun at June 2, 2006 07:15 AM

The bank could have picked blue ink.

Posted by: WillF at June 2, 2006 07:48 AM

Like I've said before, it almost always comes as a surprise which postings are suddenly going to flare up into long comment lists.

If I bought (or was given) a marker with a yellow cap, I would assume it was a highlighter. Woe be it to the poor person who tries to highlight an important item and instead ends up blacking it out with permanent marker.

If something has a common method of illustrating the contents of the item, and in this case that would be the end piece and cap denoting the ink inside, then altering that for design sake seems stupid. It would not detract from the blue logo to have a black cap and end piece. In fact, the contrast might make the logo stand out more.

Also, as there are pens that write in purple, pink, green, etc (as a lot of young girls can tell you), if the pens end piece and cap were one of those colors I WOULD assume that it wrote in that color.

Posted by: SillyGirl at June 2, 2006 11:05 AM

are you kidding?

Posted by: sheri at June 2, 2006 12:03 PM

Have you ever had one of these pens "explode" in your pocket? Now THAT is broken.

Posted by: thinker at June 2, 2006 01:56 PM

Well what if some kid was taking a geography test and it asked for you to color Thailand blue and Laos black and you color thailand with the "blue" pen and it turns out to be black F- :)

seriously though the design is broken not the pen itself because the pen does right it just is giving the wrong interpitation of what kind og ink will come out.

Posted by: edison at June 2, 2006 04:57 PM

sorry that should have been wright

Posted by: edison at June 2, 2006 04:59 PM

Of course the coffee tastes like dirt. It was ground this morning.

I have a friend in the industry, and I asked him about pens. Caps are interchangeable, but are supposed to be the color of the ink, and the plug in the bottom of the barrel is to be the color of the ink always. period. Having a blue plug and black ink is broken. BTW-there really is no such thing as black ink, it is incredibly dark blue. No joke. Ask any printer who isn't stupid or drunk.

Posted by: Paul at June 2, 2006 06:19 PM

*the pen writes

-not the color you expect

*but it writes = pen not broken

*the bank gave the pen as a promo

-the cap and plug color cause you to anticipate blue ink

*the ink is black = the BANK is broken!

Better go get all of your money out of the broken bank that is wasting money and angering people with confusing pen indicators


be thankful a bank is still giving something away for free (and carry a pen you like).

Posted by: nope at June 3, 2006 01:38 AM

quote > be thankful a bank is still giving something away for free (and carry a pen you like).

Nothing is free. If the bank is giving them out, then it's coming from a marketing budget that could have been spent on customer service instead of pens whose caps don't match the ink ;)

Posted by: McWatters at June 3, 2006 06:50 PM


actually you wanted write. Wright is the spelling of the name.(as in "the Wright brothers")


now I am going to have to dip a black pen in rubbing alcohol and see what colour the rubbing alcohol turns. :)

I know that bakers use a very dark green for black icing

Posted by: Sean P at June 5, 2006 11:45 AM

McWatters quote>> Nothing is free. If the bank is giving them out, then it's coming from a marketing budget that could have been spent on customer service instead of pens whose caps don't match the ink

was in response to

nope quote > be thankful a bank is still giving something away for free (and carry a pen you like)

McWatters - nope first suggested: quote:

Better go get all of your money out of the broken bank that is wasting money and angering people with confusing pen indicators.

Go get that money out! FAST!!! and take a couple of pens on the way out!

Posted by: nopen at June 5, 2006 11:39 PM

Take another one and see if it the same it just might be a manufacturing error

Posted by: Take another at June 13, 2006 04:59 AM


Posted by: LAST at June 22, 2006 01:14 AM

And if the pen is clear...? Then it would have transparent ink? Or maybe invisible ink. ;-)

Posted by: Yowzers at June 22, 2006 10:58 PM

Man, you're picky.

Posted by: joe at July 7, 2006 02:56 PM

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