If you do any significant amount of pen buying you’ll see the phrase “sign pen” sooner or later. But what is a sign pen? How is a sign pen different from say, a gel pen or a marker… or whatever other kind of pen a sign pen might be like?
Simply put, a sign pen is a felt-tipped pen. These are more accurately described as “porous point” or “fiber-tipped” pens as it’s unlikely that the writing section is felt any longer. These pens are know for bright, water-based inks
The most famous sign pen is from Pentel, known as the Pentel Sign Pen. It’s been in production for over 50 years. Pentel is the inventor of the sign pen, and it’s been produced since the 1960s.
So why is it called a “sign” pen? That’s not because it’s used for making signs but rather because they are very good for signing your name (as in making a signature). In fact in Japan these pens are sometimes called “name pens.” The pens were popular in Japan for name writing partially because the felt tips resembled a brush, which is how Japanese characters would classically be drawn. The fiber tip is also useful for quickly signing your name on something — think of a professional baseball player signing a baseball.
While the Pentel Sign Pen is the original, other popular sign pens are the Paper Mate Flair and the Pilot V Sign pen.
Sign Pen History
The Pentel Sign pen was first sold in 1963, having taken 8 years to develop the technology for this innovative new writing instrument. Previously brushes and brush-style pens were popular in Japan for writing characters, particularly of one’s name, but writing brushes were sensitive and not ideal for transporting from place to place. Similarly, fountain pens were used, but they too had sensitive tips and problems with ink leaks that modern plastic pens do not.
The pen was famously used by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who loved the pen. The pen was also sent to space with the Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 missions. By the mid-1960s the pen was not only popular in Japan but was being imported to the United States were it grew a considerable following, not just for signing your name but for note-taking and other tasks were a marker-like pen was easier to use than the rollerballs and fountain pens of the day.