One engineer's quest for the perfect pen

There isn't really a perfect pen out there. Some prefer the control of a ballpoint; a few may like the give of a felt-tip; others still may opt for a pen that can write in space. For 22-year-old engineer Ian Schon, none of the options on the table were for him. So what is an enterprising young tinkerer to do? Why, design his own pen, of course!

Enter The Pen Project, Schon's quest to design the ideal writing implement just for him. "Before this I didn't carry a pen," Schon told us over the phone. It's not that they aren't useful — he uses pens — but the pen never became a companion. If you know any engineers, the fact that Schon doesn't have at least a dozen pens hidden on his person is downright blasphemy.

So, what does the perfect pen look like to Schon? One that's made from aluminum, hides nearly half its length in its cap for easy toting, and writes well every time without leaking thanks to its pressurized ink cartridge. Capped, it measures four inches and looks like a solid cylinder:


Once removed, the cap screws onto the back of the pen, elongating it to 5-3/4":


By comparison, your average Bic pen measures a little shorter at around 5-5/8", and has less girth. The way his pen feels in the hand was something Schon agonized over, and a big part of that was designing around the right cartridge.

In fact, Schon's pen uses the same pressurized cartridge as the aforementioned Space Pen, which was developed by the Fisher Space Pen company in the '60s and used both by the United States and Soviet Union during Apollo and Soyuz, respectively. Knowing that the Fisher SPR4 was his inkwell of choice, Schon set out to design "the smallest pen possible for the Fisher Space Pen cartridge." Glancing between the SPR4 and Schon's pen, one can see the inspiration in the rocket-like nose Schon designed.

You may have noticed something missing from Schon's pen, something that pretty much every other writing utensil out there has in some shape or form: a clip. "I wanted [the pen] to be a reflection of what I was doing in my garage," Schon told us. He was lured more to a pen body that had clean lines over one that had a clip extruding from it. Would a clip be a meaningful addition? Maybe, but in his garage, thinking about what he wanted, a clip didn't make the list.

The garage is where it all started: Schon, who has machining experience from making custom bike frames, was playing around with creating the body for a pen. Interest from friends and fellow tinkerers led him to expand the idea, and now he's taking orders for the pens on Kickstarter, where they sell for $30 each.

$30 is about $29 more than you'd spend on a bucket of Bic pens, sure, but Schon isn't looking to take on a big pen company. That, and Fisher SPR4 pressurized cartridges sell for a hefty $6 a pop, though Schon points out that his pen is designed to be the only one you need. For life. He sells his pens in batches whenever he gets enough orders in — the first run totaled 900 units, and the second wave should ship out by November or sooner. Schon is looking to eventually sell his pen in retail stores, where he estimates they'll command $55 on a shelf.

There's another reason the pen is a little more expensive: Schon sources all of his materials in the U.S. and he sticks with fabricators in Massachusetts, where he lives. The cartridge is the only component Schon doesn't have control over. The SPR4 is still made by the Fisher Space Pen Company out in Boulder City, Nevada.

Is it the perfect pen? Well, who can say. For Schon it is. For you, it just may be, too.

The Pen Project on Kickstarter, via Ian Schon

All images courtesy Ian Schon.

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