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This inkless pen lets you write forever

uan C. Nguyen

This inkless pen lets you write forever

By: Tuan C. Nguyen, Smithsonianmag.com

May 20, 2021

Certain household items are constant reminders that nothing lasts forever. Examples such as dulled razor blades, ink cartridges that end up costing way more than the printer itself and, of course, pens.

But, that notion may have to be revised thanks to Italian design firm Pininfarina, creators of some of the world's most iconic car designs for companies like Ferrari and Fiat, who debuted a writing tool that supposedly never has to be replaced. On the surface, it looks to be a vanity item for the status conscious. One of the firm's previous models, the Limited Edition Visconti, sells for $1,895. However, for a much more reasonable price point of about $120, buyers can purchase a different hand-crafted writing instrument with an elegant aluminum and wood exterior. The 4.EVER Pininfarina Cambiano's biggest selling point, obviously, is an innovative writing tip that allows users to sketch or handwrite "indefinitely."

The notion of "indefinitely" in this case simply means that since the pen technically doesn't use ink, there aren't any cartridges to refill. Instead, the special material Pininfarina uses is something called ethergraf, a patented metallic alloy developed by Italian household manufacturer Chic Trading. The company, which collaborated with Pininfarina on the project, already showcases the technology in its original Napkin 4.EVER line of pens. 

"The process involved is based on the principle of oxidation," explains Davide Fabi, head of special projects at the Napkin division. "The writing tip oxidizes the paper, a trait that only casually resembles that of a pencil."

You can think of oxidization as the same process that turns newspapers yellow over time. Contact between the pen and paper alters the writing surface, but not the tool. In that sense, the claim that the pen can be used to draw infinite lines is somewhat analogous, at least in principle, to how a touchscreen stylus works. And though the tip does wear out over time, Fabi assures that the effect is so microscopic and gradual that users won't even notice. 

Curiously, there are a number of outlets hawking metal alloy-tipped pens that seem to work similarly. Jac Zagoory Designs, for instance, lists a pen called the Beta Inkless for $27.95. But when pressed about the 4.EVER Pininfarina Cambiano's distinction, Fabi insists that while these other pens can transfer toxic materials such as lead, ethergraf pens don't contain graphite, lead or anything known to be hazardous. 

"Ethergraf is an alloy obtained from different metals that are safe," he points out. "The continuous research of our R&D brings our company to achieve rapid developments and improvements in this regard."

As a bonus, the special edition Pininfarina pen comes with a notebook with paper made from powdered rock rather than wood, so that the pages have better integrity and water-resistance.