October 2016 marked a very special anniversary for Pentel, as the company celebrates 70 years of designing, manufacturing and selling some of the world’s favourite writing instruments.
The company has come a long way since it was founded in 1946 as Japan Stationery Company Limited in Tokyo by the late former chairman Yukio Horie. Mr Horie was a visionary and entrepreneur with a passion for art materials and writing instruments. He established his company to purchase and sell stationery products in the days when Japan was in desperate need of inspiration and a new sense of direction and purpose, following the end of the Second World War.
Yukio Horie was one of the first of a new generation of Japanese business people to predict the widespread popularity of art and culture among consumers of all ages in peace time. He made it his mission to develop crayons and pastels that would help people express their ideas and creativity. By the end of his first year in business he had established his first factory in Soka, Tokyo and started work on the challenge of developing art materials.
In 1951, Mr Horie successfully combined the benefits of crayons and pastels in the first of his products to go on sale. This was followed in 1955 by the launch of the Pentel Oil Pastel, a product with a more stable quality. Exporting to overseas countries had commenced two years previously, and the Japan Stationery Co. Ltd. was now starting to gain momentum.
Not content with developing just art materials, Yukio Horie turned his attention to everyday writing instruments and in 1960 launched the Pentel Pencil, the world’s first mechanical pencil with a push button for advancing the lead. At the same time, he introduced the world to Hi-Polymer Refill Lead for his mechanical pencil and an oil-based Pentel Pen, a forerunner of N50, one of the company’s most successful permanent markers.
During the Sixties, two more factories were opened in Tokyo and branches were set up in Hong Kong, the USA, France and the UK.
Sales take off
In 1963 the company came to the attention of the world, when it launched the Sign Pen, an acrylic-fibretipped pen that revolutionised the way we write. This made the headlines when it was spotted at a trade fair in the United States and subsequently fell into the hands of President Lyndon B. Johnson. The President liked the pen immensely and when this was reported in newspapers and magazines sales really took off.
The Sign Pen was even adopted as the official writing instrument of NASA and went into space with a Gemini mission in 1966. This publicity cemented the future of the Sign Pen as the must have writing instrument for the workplace, studio, college and home. To date, more than two billion Sign Pens have been sold around the world.
In 1971 the company changed its name to Pentel Co. Ltd, a name that reflects the close connection between painting, pastels and pens (pen) and communication and expression (tell).
The launch of another iconic product was about to familiarise a new generation of consumers with the Pentel brand and inspire the future development of everyday writing instruments. In 1972, the company introduced the greenbarrelled Ball Pentel rollerball, featuring a cushioned ball tip and water-based ink that gave users the fluid writing sensation of a fountain pen, without the inconvenience of messy refilling.
When Pentel’s sales people first saw it, they were sceptical about the green barrel, as the colour was so unconventional. But after a short time they began to see that the pen’s distinctive looks were a positive thing that helped Ball Pentel stand out from the crowd. Over the next few years, the Ball Pentel rollerball became the cool pen to have in every pencil case, studio and office. Numerous celebrities have been photographed with a Ball Pentel in their hand; there is even an archive photo showing Her Majesty the Queen marking her race card with one.
In 1976 Pentel received the prestigious Deming Prize, awarded in recognition of company-wide efforts to introduce best practice quality control and implementation. The prize was named after the American engineer, statistician, professor and author Dr W. Edwards Deming, whose work with Japanese industry leaders is often cited as a key inspiration for the Japanese post-war economic miracle of 1950 to 1960. In 1978, Edwards Deming visited Pentel in person to inspect the working practices of the company.
Over the next 12 years, innovation followed innovation, as Pentel created one ground-breaking writing instrument after another, including the synthetic fibretipped brush pen, the valve-controlled plastic-tipped correction pen and the pigment ink Hybrid gel roller.
It is estimated that around two-thirds of the world’s writing technology in use today is inspired by Pentel innovation, and the mission to produce products offering superior performance attributes continues to motivate the company to this day.
A major introduction of the last 10 years is EnerGel, the name given to a range of pens and special ink that offers an exceptional writing experience at an affordable price. Unlike conventional gel pen ink, which provides strong, vivid colours but can be slow to dry, EnerGel ink dries extremely quickly, making it suitable for left-handed writers as well as right. Those who are left-handed often comment that regular gel ink smudges as their hand moves across the page, leaving messy splodges on hands and paper. Thanks to EnerGel’s quick drying formula, this problem is virtually eradicated with most types of everyday writing paper.
The Maxiflo Dry Wipe Marker is another Pentel innovation designed to improve the everyday writing experience. Its vivid liquid ink writes sharp, vibrant lines, but its key feature is the push-button ink replenishment system. It’s not unusual to find that if a cap has been left off a dry wipe marker for a few hours the tip has dried out. With Maxiflo, the tip can be recharged with fresh ink by putting the cap on the end of the barrel and pushing the end button. This extends the life of the marker and makes every last drop of ink usable.
The ‘one-click’ pencil
The most recent example of Pentel innovation, from 2015, is the Orenz mechanical pencil featuring unique lead protection technology. With Orenz, unlike other mechanical pencils, you only need to press the end button once to advance the lead, making it a truly ‘one-click’ pencil. The lead does not protrude below the sleeve and, as the pencil is used, the sleeve gradually retracts into the barrel until all the lead is used. The family also includes a 0.2mm lead size, the world’s finest diameter mechanical pencil.
Quality is at the heart of the Pentel operation. All of the company’s factories are accredited to the ISO 9001 quality management standard, and most also to the ISO 14001 environmental management standard.
In addition, Pentel has a strong social and environmental policy, playing an active role as a corporate and community partner. In the UK, Pentel has raised over £1.1 million for Breast Cancer Now, through sales of special edition pink pens, and in the US it has donated part of the proceeds from sales of EnerGel pens to PanCAN, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. All three Japanese Pentel factories engage in community cleaning initiatives several times a year, collecting litter and improving the local environment, and every August two of them host a summer festival for their local communities. In France, Euro Pentel hosts a similar event.
Today, Pentel is a global business with over 2,000 employees and a network of 21 sales offices covering more than 120 countries. Looking to the future Pentel continues to focus on its mission, which has remained constant throughout its 70 years of operation: to develop and deliver user-friendly writing instruments that enable people all over the world to experience the joy of creative expression.