Parker pens come in three basic formats, the ballpoint, the fountain pen, and the rollerball. All of these depend on gravity to pull the ink from the reservoir through to the nib. They don’t have pressurized cartridges or inbuilt mechanisms like the Fisher Space Pen, the Pilot Downforce Pen, or the Tombow Airpress Pen and so are not specifically designed to write upside down.
Parker ballpoints, rollerballs, and fountain pens can’t write upside down. When we held the paper above our heads and tried them out, the ballpoint could write five or six words before the ink gave out. The fountain pen and the rollerball only managed a few scratchy strokes before giving up on us.
To understand whether Parker pens write upside down, it’s necessary to understand a bit about the ink flow mechanisms of each kind. We did a home test with the three types of Parker pens to see if they could write upside down. This article looks at the design features that prevent them from doing so.
The Engineering Of Parker Pens
Parker has a solid reputation for making durable, high-quality pens. Believe it or not, a significant amount of engineering and design goes into making a reputable pen and the ink it uses, and Parker holds a considerable number of patents in this regard. Parker has a long history, and included in its list of patents are various designs for –
- fountain pens,
- fountain pen ink,
- ballpoint pens,
- stable blue writing ink and dye,
- writing instruments,
- non-aqueous ink,
- ballpoint reservoirs and refills, and
- ballpoint writing balls
The ink composition in a pen is as crucial as the reservoir, feed system, and nib. Inks that are thicker and more viscous remain in the feed and nib for longer than low viscosity fluid inks such as fountain pen ink. When using them to write upside down, ballpoints may be able to write a few words before the nib runs out of ink due to its higher viscosity, but fountain pens and rollerballs can’t.
The point is that in the early days of pen development, when Parker started up, there was much focus on avoiding ink blotting, clogging, and leakages. This resulted in pens designed to work the right way up. They all relied on gravity and capillary action to ensure a consistent ink supply that didn’t flow out of the nib in an uncontrolled manner.
Although pens became increasingly sophisticated in terms of ink feeds, capillary action, ink composition, and ink flow, there simply wasn’t a need for pens that could write upside down.
No one had heard of space travel which is pretty much the only practical application of a pen that can write upside down. People sat at desks or placed their writing materials on various tables and flat surfaces to write as they did for thousands of years and still do.
Can Parker Fountain Pens Write Upside Down?
Parker’s fountain pens use either plastic ink cartridges or the famous bottled ink known as Quink. Before this, inferior inks caused much clogging in fountain pens, and in 1928 Parker set out to develop a better one. Quink flowed better, was non-corrosive, more resistant to water, and did not stain pens as easily.
It was advertised as having a secret ingredient called Solv-X that reduced clogging. Parker’s Research Department took three years and conducted one thousand and twenty-one experiments to produce Parker’s quick-drying Quink. Before this, people using fountain pens had to apply blotting paper to soak up the excess ink.
Since fountain pen inks need to flow smoothly, they have low viscosity, which means they are fast-flowing liquids. This characteristic means that when you hold the pen upside down, it pools in the lowest point of the reservoir or refill, robbing the nib of ink.
Since the ink feed of the fountain pen relies on capillary action and gravity to keep a constant supply of ink in the nib, it cannot write upside down. This is true whether the pen uses plastic cartridges or has a built-in reservoir. There is no mechanism to forcibly pump the ink up through the nib.
In fact, fountain pen designs aimed to allow the ink to retract from the nib to prevent ink leakage when carried in a pocket. This was a common problem with early fountain pens as the leakages spoiled people’s clothes when they carried the pen. Parker was awarded several patents concerning the feeder designs of its pens in 1894, 1898, 1905, and 1911 to prevent leakage and stop the pen nib from drying out.
The object of these innovations was to ensure that when the pen was inverted and returned to the writer’s pocket, the ink was withdrawn from the feeder and the nozzle into the reservoir without interfering with the flow of ink to the nib when in use. The Parker fountain pen was therefore deliberately designed to return the ink in the feed to the reservoir when it was held upside down.
Needless to say, such a design isn’t conducive to writing upside down. Fountain pens are intended to release ink onto the paper only when light pressure is applied to the nib. Otherwise, the fluid ink would flow out of the pen in no time, making a big mess. It is harder to apply the required pressure to a nib when writing upside down.
Can The Parker Ballpoint Write Upside Down?
Production of the Parker Jotter ballpoint pen began in 1954. Three and a half million units were sold in the first year, and it remains a popular ballpoint pen to this day. Parker ballpoint pen ink has a higher viscosity than Quink, which means it is thicker and flows more slowly.
The ink is actually a paste consisting of dyes suspended in a mixture of fatty acids and solvents. The fatty acids lubricate the ball at the tip of the pen for a smooth writing experience. However, Parker ballpoint pens, like many others, still rely on gravity to ensure a constant flow in ink to the tip.
The higher viscosity of ballpoint pen ink means that when you hold the pen upside down, it doesn’t quickly flow back into the body of the refill. As a result, the Parker ballpoint pen can write a short sentence when used upside down before the ink disappears.
Ballpoint pens that can write upside down have more viscous inks and a pressurized ink reservoir that forces the ink onto the tip. Parker ballpoint pens don’t have thick ink or pressurized reservoirs, so they can’t write upside down for long. If you own a Parker, try it and see for yourself.
Can Parker Rollerballs Write Upside Down?
Rollerball ink is either water-based or gel-based, unlike oil-based ballpoint ink. The ink in a rollerball is more similar to fountain pen ink than ballpoint pen ink, meaning it flows pretty easily. Some rollerballs even use fountain pen ink.
Like a ballpoint, a rollerball has a tiny rotating ball, usually made of tungsten carbide or steel, at the tip to dispense the ink. Rollerballs are also dependent on gravity for ink flow, so there is unlikely to be much residual ink in the end when you use it upside down. The ink flows back into the reservoir pretty quickly and pools at the lowest point of the refill.
At best, the Parker rollerball can only manage a few strokes upside down before the ink supply dries up.
Parker pens are not designed to write upside down. The best performer was the ballpoint which could write around half a dozen words before the ink supply dried up. The fountain pen and rollerball gave up after a few strokes, which makes sense because they have lower viscosity ink than the ballpoint, meaning it runs away faster from the nib.