Something odd I read recently sent me to the B&L electroplaters microscope. In the book portion of Matt Rota’s Ballpoint Art Pack an aside about how ballpoint pens work states “The surface of the ball is covered by thousands of tiny holes connected by tiny channels that allow the ball to retain ink within it…”. This was in contrast to my conception of the ball in a ballpoint as a smooth an uncomplicated marble. Naturally, this must be investigated.

To that end I pulled the metal tip from off a cheap ballpoint. Lacking a suitable mount I placed a round of blu-tack on a slide and pressed the metal pen tip into it such that the ball pointed upwards and remained firmly secured to the slide. The slide I placed on a detachable mechanical stage which I had previously affixed to the electroplaters microscope.

I did not have high hopes as the size of the ball meant using what should be considered a very high power or any spherical surface. The rapid slope from any given point on the surface of the ball was sure to leave only a very limited field in focus at any given time. Still, one could expect to see any holes if indeed holes there were. No more preface is needed I think, here then is the surface of the ball of a ballpoint pen:

One is sure to notice the rough surface, and conspicuous absence of any holes that would infiltrate the ball as described by Rota. Of course, a single example is hardly enough to prove that no such ballpoint exists, perhaps the simple rough ball is a product of the cheapness of the pen I used. Further investigation may be warranted.

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