The Multi-Color Pen

Bic introduced the first multi-color pen in April 1970 in France. Soon other manufacturers were making them. While kids, like me, loved the novelty of them, the original purpose was practical: people who needed multiple colors of ink in their work would no longer have to carry around several different pens.

Unlike latter-day fountain pens, which had different colored ink in cartridges that you could swap in and out, the more convenient ballpoint pen was one color. Remembering to carry several different pens of different colors was inconvenient.

For its new multi-color pen, Bic chose four colors designed for specific uses.

  • Red was commonly used in accounting to show financial loss or debt and for editing and proofreading documents. Years later, some schools banned the use of red ink because it was perceived to be aggressive, mean-spirited.
  • In government, green was used by managers for their signatures, or for auditing purposes. And green, I learned, was used for making annotations — but not corrections — when editing.
  • Blue and black were the most commonly used. Blue, in particular, was to be used for signatures on business documents. (In the days before color photocopiers, it made it harder to pass off a copied document as an original.) Authors liked to sign their books in blue so it would stand out from the black and white on the page.