How Promotional Pens and Printed Pens Manufacturing Techniques Traveled to China

The specialist skills required to manufacture promotional pens and promotional products in general has developed very slowly in the west since the early twentieth century. How then have the Chinese managed to master these skills and acquire the knowledge in a relatively short period of time? The following is an overview on how this has happened.

1. Copying: In the early days, Chinese manufacturers concentrated on copying existing promotional pens and other promotional gifts produced in the west, particularly from Germany and Italy. Therefore, as the designs were well thought out by experts it was not difficult to make copies, albeit very poor ones in the early days. Although there was not great acceptance of these poor copies in the west, there was a relatively high take up in their own domestic market where quality was less of an issue. This allowed manufacturers to start on the pen manufacturing learning curve and over a decade this experience gradually grew.

2. Tooling: The most difficult thing to master when making plastic promotional pens is the design and manufacture of the injection mould tools. Typically, tools manufactured in the west would have 16, 25 or 36 cavities, each one being identical to the next. This requires considerable skill and the exploitation of the latest technology. The Chinese initially concentrated on low quality tooling for the domestic market but it became apparent that if they were to attract foreign business a higher level of moulding would be required. In many cases Chinese manufacturers had the tooling made in Europe and this enabled them to study the design, construction, materials and maintenance of the tools. With the help of high technology industrial tool manufacturers they were able after a few years to make reasonably high quality tooling having been taught the latest machining techniques. In recent years many European promotional pen manufacturers have either set up sub-contract manufacturing or have actually opened up their own manufacturing plants to produce promotional pens and printed pens in China. Although every effort is made to guard trade secrets it was always inevitable that key information relating to tool design and manufacturing techniques would leak out. Consequently, the design and manufacturing standard of Chinese injection moulding tools is now almost as good as western tooling.

3. Polymer: The plastics used in the production of promotional pens and business gifts are referred to as polymer. Traditionally, Chinese pens of the past were moulded from styrene, a low quality, ‘home-grown’ polymer. This plastic is acceptable in China, but not really suitable for the promotions industry of the western world. The material is brittle, translucent and light and the printed pens that came to the west from China were of inferior quality. The most acceptable polymer for the moulding of promotional pens is ABS and the Chinese manufacturers quickly adopted this material, using Chinese factories as their source. However, the standard of the material, although it has improved in recent years, is still some way short of European quality. Consequently, Chinese manufacturers import their ABS when high quality promotional items are required. Therefore, the materials are no longer a problem to far eastern manufacturers.

4. Refills: Chinese refills for the domestic market were generally very low quality, using poor quality ink and basic equipment to manufacture the refill tip. Consequently, the quality of writing was very low and not very smooth. Initially, refills were imported from Europe but in recent years China has improved its refill manufacturing knowledge substantially, mainly through the help of refill machinery manufacturers in Europe and America. Most ballpoint refills used in Chinese writing instruments now come from China. However, high quality ink, usually referred to as ‘documental ink’, is still mainly imported from Europe.

There are several other minor reasons how China managed to produce quality promotional pens but the main reasons are listed above. Although the emergence of China as a major producer of printed promotional pens has meant job losses and company closures in the western world, the benefits to the consumer in terms of value for money should be taken into consideration.

Post time: 04-23-2017