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When were 4 color pens invented?

Four color pens, also known as quadruple color pens or 4-color ballpoint pens, allow writers to quickly switch between four different ink colors in one single pen. This provides convenience and efficiency for activities like note taking, illustration, coloring and more. But when exactly were these multi-color pens first invented?

The History of Pens

Humans have been writing for thousands of years, first using simple tools like reeds and feathers. The earliest known pens date back to Ancient Egypt around 3000 BCE and were fashioned from rush stems. Over the centuries, different civilizations experimented with quill pens, metal dip pens, fountain pens and more. By the late 19th century, mass production made pens more affordable and accessible than ever before.

In 1888, an American named John Loud created the first ballpoint pen prototype that used a small rotating ball at its tip. But it wasn’t until 1938 that the Hungarian journalist László Bíró developed the first commercially successful ballpoint pen. The Bic Cristal ballpoint pen was introduced in 1950 and became the most popular disposable pen globally. Since then, ballpoint pens have continued dominating the affordable pen market.

The Invention of Multi-Color Pens

After single-color ballpoint pens, the next innovation was multi-color pens. In the 1960s, various inventors and companies patented different types of multi-color pens. Here are some key early developments:

  • In 1963, the retractable two-color ballpoint pen was patented by Lawrence Albert.
  • A dual-reservoir four-color pen was patented in 1965 by Walter Wiederhold of the Esterbrook Pen Company.
  • The first commercially successful 4-color ballpoint pen was introduced in 1967 by Milton Reynolds of the Reynolds International Pen Company. It was called the Reynolds Rocket.

So multi-color ballpoint pens emerged in the 1960s, with the 4-color Reynolds Rocket leading the way starting in 1967. By the 1970s, 4-color pens had become popular in offices, schools and homes around the world.

How 4-Color Pens Work

4-color pens contain four ink reservoirs, one for each color. The ink reservoirs connect to a central ballpoint writing tip. Switching mechanisms like twist dials or click buttons rotate the ballpoint to the chosen ink color.

Here are some typical construction features of 4-color pens:

  • Ink reservoirs – Usually plastic tubes holding roughly 0.7 mL of ink per color.
  • Metal ballpoint tip – A small rotating ball disperses ink onto paper.
  • Ink – Liquid or gel ink formulas suitable for ballpoint pens.
  • Plastic barrel – Houses the ink reservoirs and writing tip.
  • Color selection – Twist dials or click buttons rotate the tip between colors.
  • Spring – Retracts and extends the writing tip.
  • Cap – Covers the pen when not in use.

When the pen user selects a color, the ballpoint tip rotates to align with the corresponding ink reservoir. Pressing the tip to paper allows ink to flow out of the reservoir and onto the writing surface. Retractable tip designs provide protection and convenience when the pen is not active.

Popular 4-Color Pen Brands

Many companies manufacture 4-color ballpoint pens. Here are some of the major brands producing these multi-color writing instruments:

  • Bic – Bic 4-Color pens feature iconic see-through barrel design.
  • Paper Mate – Paper Mate 4-in-1 pens offer soft grips and Visoglide ink technology.
  • Pentel – EnerGel 4-Color pens deliver gel ink performance.
  • Pilot – The FriXion Clicker 4-Color pen has distinctive thermography erasable ink.
  • Sharpie – Sharpie 4-Color Flip Chart pens have sturdy, chisel-shaped tips.
  • Zebra – Zebra 4-Color Multi pen combines ballpoint and mechanical pencil.

These top brands compete on design, comfort, writing quality, unique features and price-point. But they all provide the core functionality of on-demand 4-color writing.

4-Color Pen Design Variations

While most 4-color pens follow the standard model described above, some unique designs offer different approaches to multi-color function:

  • Multi-tip pens – Each color has its own tip instead of sharing one rotating tip.
  • Highlighter combos – Combines ballpoint colors with highlighter tips.
  • Erasable ink – Uses thermography ink that erases with heat.
  • Gel ink – Gel ink flows more smoothly than standard liquid ballpoint ink.
  • Metallic colors – Special metallic silver, gold and other colors.

These alternate designs provide unique advantages but are less common than the basic model. Most consumers opt for standard 4-color pens due to their affordability, reliability and versatility.

Evolution of 4-Color Pen Design

While the core function of 4-color pens has remained consistent, some design aspects have evolved over the decades:

  • Ink formula – Early oil-based inks were messier. Modern gel and Visoglide inks are more advanced.
  • Shape – Initial pens were round or hexagonal. Ergonomic triangular grips emerged in the 1980s.
  • Features – Basic pens evolved to add rubber grips, finger grooves, retractable tips and more.
  • Colors – Color combinations expanded beyond basic options like black/blue/red/green.

While retaining the same core 4-color function, pens continue improving through ever more comfortable, convenient and practical designs.

Cultural Impact of 4-Color Pens

Since their emergence in the 1960s, 4-color pens have had significant cultural influence as both useful tools and symbolic objects. Here are some ways 4-color pens have impacted art, business, education and beyond:

  • Visual art – Artists use 4-color pens for illustration, sketching, manga art, hand lettering and other mediums.
  • Office work – Business people rely on 4-color pens for note-taking, planning, editing documents and highlighting.
  • Education – Students and teachers utilize 4-color pens for note-taking, grading, illustrating lessons, arts and crafts.
  • Writing – 4-color pens allow writers to easily differentiate ideas when outlining, organizing and editing.
  • Memorabilia – Retro 4-color pen brands like Paper Mate and Bic have strong nostalgic appeal.

From functional everyday use to collecting vintage models, 4-color pens hold a unique place in modern material culture.

The Future of Multi-Color Pens

What does the future hold for 4-color pens and other multi-color writing instruments? Some possible innovations include:

  • More ink colors in one pen – 5, 6 or more colors.
  • Digital features like spellcheck, text conversion, data storage.
  • Colored leads combining 4-color pen and mechanical pencil.
  • Touch screens to select digital ink colors and properties.
  • Cloud connectivity and app integration.
  • Environmentally sustainable materials like recycled plastic.

While adding more complexity, these innovations could expand the capabilities and relevance of multi-color pens for 21st century writing and communication needs.


The 4-color ballpoint pen emerged in the 1960s as the next evolution of writing instruments. Though simple in concept, these pens enable efficient note-taking, illustration, editing and more. The 4-color pen’s core design has remained largely unchanged even as new brands and styles have entered the market. With their versatility and nostalgic familiarity, 4-color pens seem poised to remain popular writing tools well into the future.