The BiC Cristal Up set of special coloured ballpoint pens are quirky, cute and part of the bestselling pen series in history. But are they any good? We test out these colourful pens to create ballpoint pen drawings and art, even some graffiti lettering, and we try to figure out if the BiC Cristal pens truly are the work of art which many have declared them to be. Watch the video to see what we found.
Reviewing the BiC Cristal Up Pens
Vishal: Hello and welcome to Stationery Test Drive where every week we take extraordinary tools and today the most ordinary seeming, sounding, ubiquitous tool that you have ever seen – The BiC Ballpoint Pen and we’re going to take it for a test drive. I’m Vishal.
Samir: I’m Samir.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Vishal: And as we said this is probably the most ubiquitous thing you think of when you think of stationery in this day and age and for the last maybe 50 years – The Ballpoint Pen. And especially the ballpoint pens made by BiC who are one of the biggest manufacturers in the world of ballpoint pens and this is one of their best selling products.
Samir: This is not just one of their best selling products, it is the best selling pen in history.
Vishal: We covered very early on in our series the other best-selling classic pen which was the Reynolds 045, so we thought it was only fair that we get its biggest competitor and clearly maybe the front runner in the race.
Samir: Yeah, I mean the the classic design of the Reynolds 045 that we were talking about was very likely a slight lift from this.
Vishal: Oh my God #Drama! Samir why don’t you tell us about that drama!
History of BiC Pens
Samir: So the history of BiC starts with a gentleman named Marcel Bich who started off this company in France in 1947 /1949, or 1942. They started as manufacturers of pencil holders and pen accessories.
Eventually Marcel came across the new invention at the time which was the ballpoint pen by Laszlo Biro and he bought the patent for the ballpoint pen. He got the rights from Laszlo officially, and which was for a huge amount from what I have read. And he brought the ballpoint pen into France and started manufacturing it.
Of course, BiC didn’t just copy something that already existed. They took the technology that Biro had invented, they introduced machinery from Swiss watchmakers so that they could make balls that were like an mm thick, which was very, very fine for the time. So yes, they brought kind of high-end technology and made it into a pen that could go into anyone’s office.
The BiC pen was never an expensive thing when it was introduced in 1952 and eventually in a few years it ended up in the US, it was being sold for 30 cents.
Vishal: Unlike the Reynolds as we talked about almost being the iPhone of its times.
Samir: Yeah, I mean by by comparison when the Reynolds International, the much more premium pen than this was introduced in 1945, it was 12 USD. And by 1955 say when this would have been introduced in America it was 29 cents, so that was a huge dip in the market.
And this particular shape and things were specifically designed by the BiC Company. They came up with this idea of this sort of hexagonal pencil-like body and the cap with a clip. The hole in the body to equalize the pressure so that ink doesn’t get pushed in or out with changes in pressure. This is a classic! And I think people like Reynolds then kind of started off from this point and made things like 045 later on.
Vishal: Enough about history, for now we’ll get back to it more later. Let’s talk about actually using this pen in the here and now. But this is the best pen we’ve ever used in terms of a ballpen?
Samir: It’s the smoothest ballpen that I have ever used.
Vishal: Right? Minjal, what do you think?
Minjal: You don’t expect the brightness of colors that one gets from this. What we’ve used for the test drive is the BiC Cristal Up. I think there is something about the the ink, the composition is very different from the Reynolds or Hauser that we’ve also tested in the past and I completely enjoyed using it.
Vishal: This is your test drive for the week. Minjal you have a background in calligraphy, so tell us more about this one?
Graffiti Lettering with BiC Cristal Up Pens
Minjal: There is an Italian lettering instructor by the name of Silvia Mandelli and I took her online class last year. She specializes in BiC-based lettering. I think everyone must look at her work on Instagram. She creates fantastic pieces using mostly only the BiC Pens. For my test drive, I’ve used the blue and the pink BiC Cristal Up pens to get this really nice purple shade.
I also tried writing with the pen and it writes just as well. You can use it for shading, you can also use it for writing.
Samir: It’s just a very different texture and movement that this pen allows you to do than most ball pens.
Vishal: And is this type of typographical style something you’ve done outside this class?
Minjal: This was the first time ever. I’ve been very apprehensive about using ballpoint pens and pencils for any kind of lettering because I’ve only mostly used the Pilot Parallel Pen or Staedtler markers for calligraphy. So this was a very unique experience.
Samir: Also, it’s great for a style that’s inspired by graffiti and things like that to be taken to such a sort of fine level with something like this.
Vishal: Yeah, there’s so much texture, so much light almost that you’ve gotten just by a light touch of the pen.
Samir: If you’re familiar with art from the 70s and 80s this almost looks airbrushed.
Illustration with BiC Cristal Up Pens
Vishal: The last time we did a ballpoint pen thing, I did this this frog on the pond with the Reynolds 045, so I thought, okay, let me do another frog, another musical frog.
That one was a punk rock frog, this one seems to be in a zen state of just having the best headphones ever. And yeah the best pen ever, ballpoint at least. This was so much fun to do and I just went pretty rough with it.
I didn’t go for the level of precision and texturing that you have got but yeah I enjoyed the process of just laying it down.
Minjal: And really who’d say this is done with a ballpoint pen?
Vishal: No, it looks like we used some kind of ink pen or some kind of marker or something more built for artistry not for general purpose stationery and this is very much general purpose stationery.
Minjal: On that point, the 6 pens, it’s a pack of 6 pens, it costs almost Rs. 1200 (INR), so these are not cheap. I had to get these from a friend in the US. You don’t get these in India where we are, not easily.
Samir: Which in India is quite a lot for ballpoint pens.
Vishal: Yeah, it’s huge. You can get a good, very good ink pen for that price.
Minjal: You can get 3 Poscas!
Vishal: One thing I noticed with the BiC Cristal Up pens and we’ve talked about this before, the ink in the BiC Cristal Up pens is sort of gelatinous and it accumulates on the ball of the pen and can lead to smudging and smearing if you are not careful.
Minjal: A technique to avoid smudging and smearing is that you can keep a tissue paper handy to rub the excess ink, but it’s very difficult to completely avoid that problem.
Vishal: I think of all of us the most finished work is by Mr. Samir today.
Figure Sketch with Bic Cristal Up Pens
Samir: I try. And yes I think with the Reynolds pen I had done a portrait and this time I went for a figure. As Vishal and Minjal were saying the leak and the balling up of the ink, I think that’s unavoidable with a ballpen, it’s just the way the ink and the mechanism works. But, honestly I think that’s just the part of the aesthetic of writing or drawing with the ballpen. You shouldn’t really fight it. It’s just something that you need to be aware of and take care of.
I had a great time doing this and the colors that Vishal and I had on hand when we were testing it out were the yellow-orange, the green and the black. I found all of them to be extremely smooth.
The interesting thing I found was that the different colors had different textures to them. Not in a bad way, they were just different and I think we have come across this with various pens before. I think the inks that go into specific colors just make the character of the pen different.
Like the orange-yellow that we used, which I kind of did, makeshift flesh tone with, I found to be like probably one of the best pens I’ve ever used. It just felt like the smoothest, most easy to put down pen that I had ever used. The green was almost like some sort of fine line paint.
Vishal: I would almost liken it more to an oil pastel or a crayon, but like the finest oil pastel.
Samir: Yeah, the easiest pastel or paint to put down that you could find. And the black was the one that behaved most like a ball pen. The way that you are used to.
But again, as we have been saying over and over again, BiC Cristal Up is probably the smoothest ball pen that we have ever come across.
Minjal: I think for those who are not aware BiC is also equally famous for their disposable lighters.
Vishal: And Shavers.
Samir: I mean the BiC Company is quite a bizarre company in that sense. In that it’s one of those old school companies that got into various things over the years and they didn’t try to break it off into a separate brand, they just kept it all under BiC.
Minjal: Also, incidentally, it’s probably one of the only companies to be listed on the Paris Stock Exchange, so they were obviously sure of what they were doing.
Samir: I’m sure that was very rare, I think it was in the 70s when they went into the stock exchange.
Vishal: Does BiC make erasers?
Samir: And I think over the past several years BiC has also acquired in pieces and now completely the local Indian pen brand – Cello.
Vishal: Right, very popular in India, they are pretty much ubiquitous as well.
Samir: And we haven’t tested one of their pens out yet, so we should. I know that for a period of 5 years I used to have a Cello gel pen in my pocket and it actually worked for 5 years!
Vishal: Oh, fantastic! So yes we will try out the Cello’s next or soon.
Minjal: Also, I read that BiC has this line of temporary tattoo markers called Body Mark.
Samir: I guess, maybe it’s a generalization, but in typical French company fashion, the BiC Company is very adventurous and quirky in the way they choose things in various different fields and just keep it under the same brand. I think it’s a great old school way of working.
So, yes BiC is a classic. And speaking of classics, the BiC pen design is actually such a classic that it is now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
Vishal: And things that as good as art is us at Inky Memo which is the brand that runs this channel and is a website where you can go and read transcripts of these episodes. But also there is a newsletter with articles on stationery stories just like this and many more things to come in the future. And until next time I’m Vishal.
Minjal: This is Minjal.
Samir: I am Samir. And if you enjoyed this video you really should look at our original video on the Reynolds 045 – another classic ball pen and we also covered this very quirky and one of our favorite pens, the 4-in-1 by Hauser, which was four colors in one, can’t go wrong with that!