Product Type: Bic in Homeware
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The Truth Behind Bic Biro Pens
Member Name: Nar2
Advantages: Cheap to buy, different colours, different strengths. Cristal line up the best.
Disadvantages: Plastic can hurt when it smashes, a few problems when actual writing, availabilty, differing prices.
As a writer, reviewer and teacher it's no surprise that unlike my colleagues who use Parker "Jotter" pens and expensive classy premium priced pens such as SHEAFFER who are now also owned by Bic, I still like to snap up the cheap, disposable pens which like my mobile phone (brick Nokia,) if it gets stolen, there are no tears to shed.
Over the years there have been endless and oodles of companies who produce disposable pens, either from three of the best known companies around; Staedtler of Germany, Bic of France (who also make those dangerous disposal wet shavers) and Papermate from America. I know which company I prefer but their pens are becoming scarcer as the years go on.
But the world of the disposable reputable brand name biro pen is being threatened now with the advent of supermarket deals from companies such as Asda and Tesco, whilst all round stores such as Woolworths have their own stock of cheap biro bens - often 20 or more for the same price which Bic were initially famous for pricing.
In terms of my experience with Bic Biro pens however it has been a touch and go experience. My first experience was back in the 1990's when Bic started to bring blister packs of 4 self colour black ink pens to the market, trapped in a 1980's yellow-esque shaded body and looked for the most part quite clinical and boring. At least they were semi-comfortable thanks to their six sided hexagonal shape although it would take at least ten years before Bic launched a rubbed ended grip pen copied from Papermate with their rubber coated "Comfort Grip," pens but availability in the UK meant that consumers were often buying Papermate's original version. At the cost of a mere 50p to £3-99 depending on type, Bic Pens have always retained their value by offering consumers cheap pens at cheap cost, and the day they began to produce different colours, such as red, blue, black and green the cost spiralled to £2-00 and £2-50 if not bought at stationery shops and newsagents such as W H Smith. At nearly £4 you could find special edition packs by Bic featuring two of their "Cristal" (so called for their clear bodies compared to the matt versions) three colours and a single red biro pen, which in some Secondary schools today is frowned upon even by teachers. This pack has now increased to two of each colour and sometimes you will receive one or two of my more favoured articles by Bic, their disposable 0.5 mm retractable automatic pencils.
Despite the price, which is often the reason that many will reach for Bic's Biro pens, it is the quality; or rather the lack of it, which I feel, sometimes is disappointing for my money. I don't generally keep hold of biro pens that run out (you'll have a hard job removing the end, let alone the ink cartridge tube of a Bic pen but if you can they make ideal pea shooters), and yet in my collection, which is made up of Staedtler and Papermate pens, there isn't a fair deal of Bic in the pens I prefer to write with.
One of the closer realisations to a cheap biro pen shouldn't be down to the price or how good it looks, despite Bic's marketing deals with dressing up cartoon merchandise such as Walt Disney or Hot Wheels transfers on one of their "classic" bog standard biro designs, but in reality how good is it to write with?
Generally speaking, Bic Biro pens have a great tendency to dry up if the lids are removed, whereas the Cristal range can last longer, strangely enough. Most often than not if you are a buyer of biros the lids inevitably get lost over time, whilst the ventilated lids can be stiff and unyielding to plop on the end of the pen where the lid should go (Cristal range included here). Staedtler however have lids which easily slide on and don't feel so small or sharp in my hand when attempting to put the lid on the end, whilst their "shirt clips" actually slide onto clothing properly against Biro's poor excuse of a clip, which is often sharp and two sided making it difficult to sit on fabric holders, if you try and store the pens in say, a laptop bag. If the clip on the Bic is useful for anything its great as a make shift cuticle pusher if you get bored in lectures...
With reference to Bic's basic biros that are now available in clear plastic lenses (and not to be confused by Pound land's French market only box of 15 "Ultra Round Stic Grip" pens in frosted plastic with striped black rubber ends, which are a total bargain and write much better) the UK versions tend to write with ink that doesn't flow very well. I find that sometimes it feels as if I am writing with a very precise pin head which can scratch paper, particularly paper which has a quality thickness of 70gsm. Exert pressure and the body of the pen starts to flex which doesn't say much for the plastic quality or intention of appeal of the overall pen.
The worst aspect of the Bic isn't in the delivery of writing quickly or slowly, but by attempting to draw something that needs precision. The ink doesn't run out but its own delivery onto the paper suffers greatly because of its tiny ballpoint. Coupled with a poorly made metal bayonet end, which keeps the point to the body of the pen, I find Bic pens outside the Cristal range, generally disappointing compared to other brands.
At least in terms of its design you know what colour you are choosing thanks to the colour of the ink which can be clearly seen in the plastic acrylic body. But then again most biros without the Bic name have this similar copied body style, and Bic is no different in this instance compared to other brands.
In terms of build quality, Bic pens can be very sharp when their bodies can be broken; I've lost count of the times when one of my pupils has accidentally trod on a Bic pen and tiny fragments of sharp acrylic flooding occurs on the floor gets picked up by tiny hands only for slight cuts to occur. Make no mistake - Biro pens by Bic can be dangerous if they get broken.
The colour of the ink can sometimes fade too. When different colour packs have been purchased, I find the Green ink pen has the worst tendency to run out or dry out. Green ink isn't particularly appealing but at least its a choice over red, blue and black. The latter colours however are the most vibrant - and so they should be - because Bic were one of the first companies to give consumers the choice of different single colour inks.
For a time Bic also supplied different thicknesses of nib, branded each pen either with headings such as "Medium," or "Fine," based on the nib's diameter of ink supplied. Generally although the Medium pens are average, the "fine" versions should be avoided. On the Cristal range, you can see which thickness of nib you have bought as it is displayed in white lettering alongside the symbol of Bic's trademark.
So where can you find Bic pens? Generally speaking I find Woolworths have the biggest range on sale as well as supermarkets who may also stock their own brand. Our local Somerfields and Co Op sell a pack of 10 Bic blue Biros in a loose plastic pack at the cost of 75p to 85p which is really good going for a cheap pack of surplus pens. But then again they sell their own versions twice the amount at 99p.
Over the reputation of who has been around the longest Bic pens have been around for a lengthier time than supermarket brands (and if you are so interested and put your faith into Wikipedia there is a lengthy info page about the Biro pen invention and Guess Who the company was who patented the design!). Generally I find for the Cristal range, the Royal Mail post offices sell cheaper packs of Cristal pens in colours or red, blue or black.
Bic as a company however are still producing shavers, stationary and anything else they can market which can be classed as writing materials. Their website currently shows around 40 ball point pens if their basic versions aren't enough. Their biggest problem I find is like many of the companies Bic are rivalling; the pens may be available in other countries but in the UK, buyers generally seek the cheapest where Bic is concerned and if you are going to start out producing cheap pens for the masses, this kind of reputation can be harder to break free from when trying to produce pens with a higher quality of plastic and nib with a higher cost price to match. Long live the Cristal pen however don't feel tempted to try the "fine" versions. Thanks for reading. ©Nar2 2008
Summary: They may have been the first to make Biro pens, but they're not always the best.
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