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<Pigments for writing instruments> GE Material Report by ACTIVON GE Lab Vol.02

1. Domestic Market Trends of Writing Supplies

Figure 1. Monami’s FX 153

- The domestic stationery market is currently estimated to be 4 trillion won, representing an increase of about 1 trillion won compared to 3 trillion won in the early 2000s. At least 70% of the market is estimated to be occupied by Japanese products, including Jetstream, Hi-Tec-C, Signo, and Sarasa. These products are quite popular in Korea; 80% or more of the total sales of Hi-Tec-C pens are said to be recorded in Korea. However, the manufacturer of the pens has been embroiled in controversy in terms of distortion of history by producing an electronic billboard ad wherein Dokdo is described as “Takeshima.” Mitsubishi, the manufacturer of Jetstream pens, operated a mine on Hashima Island and executed compulsory drafts of around 100,000 Koreans. On the other hand, Monami, a Korean manufacturer of writing supplies, has carried out patriotic marketing such as the Poet Yun Dong-ju edition or the limited edition of the 100th anniversary of Samiljeol. Due to the boycott of Japanese goods in Korea caused by such atrocious acts of Japanese manufacturers, sales of Japanese pens plummeted whereas those of domestic brands such as Java, Monami, and Morning Glory soared.

However, a domestic stationery company reported that its annual sales between July 2019 and June 2020 dropped 10.3% to 46.6 billion won from 51.4 billion won in the same period of the previous year. The development of digital devices and changes in entertainment culture require the stationery industry to grow and evolve toward a new orientation.


Although the use of digital devices increases and the necessity of writing supplies consequently decreases, the need for stationery has not been completely eliminated. In fact, modern people are likely to be willing to invest a certain amount of money or more when they determine that a piece of stationery has value. This trend contributes to an increase in premium pens, products that let consumers express their own tastes and personalities. A typical example is the limited-edition series of ballpoint pens by a domestic manufacturer. The company launched limited editions when it shifted from simple pens to high-quality ballpoint pens. Despite the price being 100 times higher than that of other ballpoint pens, the limited-edition ones were sold out immediately after release. The promotional pens were sold out within a day of release owing to their quality and the luxurious designs that used famous paintings by world masters.

[Entering Overseas Markets]

As of 2020, a general stationery company of Korea has entered countries including Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Mongolia. With its franchise of “Korean-style stationery,” it is currently targeting the Vietnamese market, a key region of the government's New Southern Policy. The company opened its first Vietnamese store in Ho Chi Minh City in 2018 and the second one in Hanoi, the capital city, in 2019. A person concerned said, “Vietnam's stationery market is expected to grow considerably because its middle class is increasing rapidly. The company plans to use Vietnam as an outpost for finding overseas markets.”

[Analog Sensibility]

The recent domestic stationery market is showing an increase in sales of products with which people in their 20s to 40s can relax or recall their childhood memories. The most popular product is coloring books. These are books for adults who can forget worldly thoughts and relax while coloring detailed sketches. According to a person concerned in the publishing industry, “With the coloring books that cater to the healing desires of modern people, colored pencils with various colors or characters added increasingly sell.”

Decorating journals is also popular. The spread of smartphones has made people manage their schedules on their phones, but many people enjoy using paper journals by recording daily events on them with various forms and contents and decorating them with a variety of pens, stickers, and masking tapes.

2. Overseas Market Trends of Writing Supplies


Figure 2. OfficExpoAsia

Singapore has annually held the Office Expo Asia, an event that includes a present & premium exhibition, and the Printpack+Sign exhibition and displays a variety of stationery such as products for group gifts, printing, packaging, writing supplies, and office supplies.

The event was held on an online platform in 2020 due to COVID-19, including an online Korean pavilion co-hosted by KOTRA and participated in by 10 Korean companies. Originally planned as a premium booth, the virtual booth posted the names, introduction, and websites of the companies on its main page. The booth also posted the product catalogs, images, and promotional videos of the participating companies to provide sufficient information about their products.

The Korean pavilion was the only national pavilion in the exhibition visited by about 2.5 times more buyers, showing that not only Singapore but also neighboring Southeast Asian countries, Hong Kong, and Japan were highly interested in Korean products.


The school supplies market of Austria was expected to show steady growth despite external adverse factors including COVID-19. According to a report by Reigo Data Research, a market research company commissioned by the Austrian Economic Chamber (WKO), the Austrian school supplies market in 2020 was valued at 270 million euros. This figure indicates that the market recorded an 8% increase compared to the 250 million euros in 2016 and continued to grow at an average annual rate of 2 to 3%.

The most noteworthy trend in the Austrian school supplies market is the rapid growth of eco-friendly and energy-saving products. The trend is attributable to the active policies and efforts of the Austrian government, which recently hosted “Clever einkaufen für die Schule,” a campaign for buying eco-friendly school supplies. The government allowed school supplies selected as eco-friendly products to be attached with green markers bearing the words “Umwelt Tip!’ in stores. Those marked products are popular even though their prices are around 6% higher than competitors.’


The Thai market for writing supplies is about 16 billion baht (500 million USD). Although the growth rate is decreasing compared to the past because of the increasing use of online devices, the market continues to grow. According to global market research institute Euromonitor, the size of the Thai market for writing supplies in 2019 is estimated to be 16 billion baht (494.13 million dollars), representing a 4.5% increase from the previous year. Pens accounted for 43.6% of the total sales of writing supplies; markers and highlighters recorded the highest rate of growth, with sales increasing by 26.1% over the past four years.

Thailand's import of ballpoint pens peaked at $33.3 million in 2018 but fell to $32.36 million in 2019, recording a 2.8% decrease compared to the previous years. Its import of felt-tip pens and markers has increased for the past three consecutive years, reaching $586.64 million in 2019. The import from China increased from 19.2% in 2017 to 25.9% in 2019; import from Vietnam, Japan, and Germany ranked second to fourth. Import from South Korea has increased for three consecutive years, ranking fifth in 2019 with $60.25 million or an 18.9% increase from the previous year.

Entering the Thai market for writing supplies requires recognizing that Thais are highly “price sensitive.” In this context, the recent release of PB products by large-scale stationery distributors can act as a factor weakening the competitiveness of imported brands, which are relatively expensive. Therefore, it is important for imported brands that have difficulty competing in terms of price to raise their brand awareness and promote their products actively, not for necessary consumption but for “value consumption” or “experience consumption.”

3. Types of Pens

- A pen is a tool for writing or drawing with ink on paper. The word “pen” comes from “penna,“ meaning feather in Latin, and it is also called gyeongpil (硬筆). The pens used today can be classified according to the types of tip.

[Ballpoint Pens]

The ballpoint pen was a revolution in writing tools: its body filled with ink forms a full-fledged structure. Ballpoint pens have fascinated people as a perfect, disposable product that does not require dipping in or refilling ink. The mechanism of a ballpoint pen begins with the “ball.” Drill a hole into a well-polished metal rod and insert a small, hard ball made of chrome or stainless steel. When the ball into the tip of the rod rotates, the ink sticks to the surface and then moves onto the paper. Because the ball rotates on the paper, the ballpoint pen has the merit of being able to write smoothly even on slightly poor-quality paper. Ballpoint pens require precision that does not allow an error of 1/1,000 during manufacturing. When their shelf life (15 months according to the Korean Industrial Standard) has lapsed, the ink may harden, or the balls may oxidize and stop moving. The effective writing length of a ballpoint pen is 500 to 1,500 meters.

[Fountain Pen]

A fountain pen is a tool containing an ink reservoir inside the pen to store ink. It is a developed form of a quill pen, a pen made of goose feathers and used since the ancient times around 5000 BC. Unlike the quill pen that requires dipping the tip in ink continuously, a fountain pen can contain ink in its cartridge so it can be used for a long time without dipping in ink, making it comfortable to handle and carry. Fountain pens can cause much less hand fatigue than ballpoint pens whose balls are rotated or pencils with graphite worn.

The writing feel of a fountain pen is considerably affected by the quality of paper. Gray recycled paper (coarse paper) is the worst choice for writing with a fountain pen. The ink will bleed into the paper, and the fibers of the paper will get caught into the nib, shortening the pen’s life.


A marker is a pen with its own ink source and felt or nylon nib. It is also called Magic Marker, marker pen, marking pen, or felt pen. Markers can be divided into oil-based and water-based types according to the ink composition. Water-based markers are smooth in use with no oily smell but poorly waterproof and difficult to use on materials other than paper (color pens, computer markers, water-based OHP pens, etc.). Oil-based markers are good in terms of adhesion so they can be used on plastics and glass as well as on paper; they dry quickly and have strong waterproofing (Magics, Name Pens, board markers, etc.).

Unlike common markers, highlighters contain fluorescent materials in their ink. Fluorescent materials emit light by absorbing external light and changing it to its own color. The highlighter’s ink looks bright because the light increases with the levels of fluorescence.

4. Types of ballpoint pen ink

5. New Trends: Erasable Pens with Microcapsules

- Erasable ballpoint pens supplement the biggest weakness of the ballpoint pen.

When you rub the writing with an erasable ballpoint pen, the special ink reacts to the frictional heat, and the ink disappears. The ink of erasable ballpoint pens contains microcapsules with leuco dyes, color developers, and agents for conditioning discoloration. Originally colorless, the leuco dyes are combined with the color developers in the capsules to develop color. When the temperature reaches 60 degrees or more by friction, the leuco dyes and the color developer disconnects so that the leuco dyes return to their original colorless state.

When the temperature goes down to -10 degrees, the leuco dyes are combined with the developers to develop colors again. This is how the ink of the erasable ballpoint pens appears and disappears.

“MemoriON” by ActivON has the microcapsules described above. MemoriON is currently applied to erasable ballpoint pens, markers, and highlighters, which are slated to be released at the CSF Exhibition in China in June 2021.

Left Pilot_Frixion Ball Right ActivON_MemoriON Ink

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6. References

- “Let’s change to Monami”∙∙∙”70% domestic market share” Boycott Japanese stationery, MoneyS, Kim Kyung-Eun, July 4, 2019

- Active “Patriotic Marketing” before the National Liberation Day by distributors, Shin-A Ilbo, Kim So-Hee, August 5, 2019

- Adding trend, Transformation of the Stationery industry, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Lee Eui-Jin, March 24, 2021

- Office Expo Asia 2020 in Singapore, KOTRA’s Overseas Market News, Cho Myung-Sik from Singapore Trade Network, November 19, 2020

- Austria’s School Supplies Market with Steady Growth, KOTRA’s Overseas Market News, Kim Hyun-Jun from Vienna Trade Network, November 17, 2020

- Thailand’s Writing Supplies Market, Where Domestic and Foreign Brands are Equally Liked, KOTRA’s Overseas Market News, Kim Min-Soo from Bangkok Trade Network, May 12, 2020

- Science of Writing Supplies by Wakui Yoshiyuki and Wakui Sadami

- Monami

- Dong-A Pen

- Morning Glory

- Zebra

- Bic

- Uniball

- Pilot

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