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Not all pens are equal: a look inside the Senator factory

A pen is a pen, right? Probably the world’s most popular promotional product, there’s actually a huge difference between an entry level pen, and the next grade up.

Senator pens being printed

This is the first of a series looking behind the scenes at how merchandise is made, and you’ll start to realise that many products are made in a two-step process.

These pens are no exception - the initial ‘blank’ product is made, then stored ready for your branding to be applied when you place your order.

The Senator story starts in Germany, at their factory complex south-east of Frankfurt. Here, the whole pen, including the metal spring and ink refill, is manufactured and assembled.

The refill is one of the most important parts of a pen. Although most refills look the same physical size, the actual volume of ink contained within can vary.

Your average entry level promotional pen, typically made in the far east, is likely to contain about 300m of ink. 

When you bear in mind that the majority of the material that goes into a pen is used to create the physical pen casing, which most people will throw away, it makes sense you want a good amount of ink to maximise the life of the product.

Senator’s entry level pen refills contain 2000m of ink, enough to cover the distance of 166 double deckers in a row - with fancier versions including 4500m - that’s the length of 40 Olympic sized swimming pools.

That means that your pen could last six times longer on the desk of one of your customers than the entry level option - reducing environmental impact too, as that casing has a longer life.

Now a great refill is all well and good, but that pen casing is quite important - it’s easier to write with, and it gives a great place to put your branding.

Senator manufacture very specific styles of plastic pen, and all casings start their life as pellets whether the end product is a polished, clear, eco friendly or soft touch pen.

These pellets are generally supplied in the final colour your pen will be - from a range of stock colour options. If you order more than 10,000 at once - they can even Pantone match for you.

Over recent years, demand for sustainable products has driven subtle changes in products - with the introduction of bio-based plastics, made using sugar cane, and recycled plastics, made from waste materials such as old office furniture, used car parts and shopping baskets.

All waste mouldings are recycled back into the start of the process too, so no plastic goes to landfill, and in effect, Senator pens have included recycled content for a long time.

Now the pen is made, it’s time to apply your branding.

Most of Senator’s pens in circulation in the UK will have been printed here, in Essex. The company holds more than a million pens in stock, in almost every colour of the rainbow.

Once a week, a truckload of pens makes its way over to this country by road, helping to reduce the carbon footprint by avoiding air travel.

Here, the bit you care about happens - your logo and message is applied!

There are three main print positions you can opt for that are produced in the UK - clip print, barrel print, or a 360-degree ‘colour wrap’. 

If it’s a traditional one, two or colour print, a ‘screen’ is made from your artwork - this is a bit like a stencil, and will allow the ink to be applied to your pen.

Then, your exact ink colour will be mixed, and matched using a Pantone colour book. If it’s a popular colour, it may already be on the multi-coloured shelf!

The final step is printing - your screen will be locked in to the machine, the ink will be poured in, and we’re off, one colour at a time. Your pens will be with you before you know it. 

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