We have come a very long way since our early ancestors relied on their fingers to make wall paintings and ever since then a myriad of materials has been used as writing instruments. This started off with stone tools to carve symbols known as pictographs but as this developed into what we would now regard as writing there was a need for much finer control over the writing instrument itself. Since then we have seen wooden sticks, feathers, brushes, chalk, graphite and charcoal used to get the written message across.
In the last two hundred years with the emergence of more sophisticated writing instruments a diverse range of materials has been used to manufacture them. Ivory, bone and metal were used to manufacture early fountain pens but with the emergence of synthetic materials, particularly plastic a revolution occurred in pen manufacturing as mass production techniques drve prices down. This coincided with greater levels of literacy in western societies and the level of demand fueled further innovation.
Pens are now incredibly cheap as a result of these innovations and certain sectors of the pen market are extremely price-sensitive. In particular, promotional pens when used as business gifts have to be cost-effective because they are used as giveaways and are not sold to the end-user. The cost of this is usually borne by the company's marketing budget and although price is important the look and feel of the pen must hide its under low price. It would be detrimental to any company's corporate image if the promotional items they are gifting to their existing or potential customers appear as sub-standard.
Here we seemly have an irreconcilable problem – great looking promotional pens that scream quality but at a low cost. To get around this dilemma manufacturers have returned to molding pens from inexpensive plastic and then using decorative finishes to conceal the undering material. Increasingly we are seeing silver colored personalized pens to mimic metal but with a lightweight core. These decorative finishes are usually sprayed with a silver paint and the effect can be very convincing. However, the under light light weight can give the game away when the pen is handled and in recent years manufacturers are adding low cost steel components to the internal cavities of plastic promotional pens in an attempt to give the impression of high quality.
The whole point of these innovations is to increase the perceived value dramatically while only marginally increasing the cost of the pen. A recent variation on this theme is the use of electroplated plastic pen parts that look identical to chrome plated metal and this when combined with the other techniques outlined above make for a very cost-effective and attractive business gift. Mutton dressed up as lamb I hear you say? Well not really, the result is usually stunning and the promotional pen functions as well as any pen that has a much higher price tag, so perhaps we should regard it as a testament to man's ingenuity.