Roll-on Printing

The Process Behind the Blackwing 1138

Last week, we unveiled the Blackwing 1138. If you haven’t already checked it out, read the scoop here. This post will make a lot more sense if you do.

With the reveal, the focus was on what was on the pencil; how we took the entirety of Georges Mélies’ A Trip to the Moon and fit it on a pencil. Today, we’re going to look at how we got it on the pencil.

Pencils that feature a full graphic image are usually created using a process called “wrapping.” Using this process, the graphic is printed onto a thin plastic material, and that material is wrapped around the barrel of the wood pencil. The result is a pencil with a tangible seam where the two ends of the wrap meet, and a graphic that is prone to flaking and lifting. The wrapping material can also damage some pencil sharpeners. In other words, wrapped pencils just aren’t our style.

Instead, we opted for a process known as roll-on printing to get the movie on each pencil. Roll-on printing has been around for a while (in fact, a similar process was used to achieve the gradient in Volume 725), but the thin bands of grays and blacks in the movie barcode demanded a level of precision that is difficult to achieve with a roll on printing machine. It took a bit of trial and error, but the result is a pencil we’re proud to put the Blackwing name on.

In the first step of this process, the unfinished pencils are coated with a white lacquer. This acts as a primer, making the pencil receptive to the final image. In fact, as you sharpen your 1138, you may notice a thin white line peaking out towards the tip of the pencil. After the white pencils dry for 24 hours, they are thoroughly cleaned to remove any dust or debris.
Blackwing 1138 Primer

Then, the magic happens. The lacquered pencils are placed into a hopper, which feeds into the roll-on printer. One by one, the pencils pass through the print boards. As the pencil passes by each print board, the pencil is rotated and ink is applied directly to the barrel. While the pencil rotates, print board rotates in the opposite direction at the exact same speed, allowing us to print a continuous image all the way around the barrel of the pencil.

Blackwing 1138 Print Process

Roll-on printers are adept at printing large swatches of color and bold, isolated images and text.  The image on the Blackwing 1138 doesn’t fall into either of those categories so, every 500 pencils, we stopped the machine, cleaned the print boards, and adjusted the feed to ensure everything was lined up properly.

Blackwing 1138 Printed

Once the image is printed, the pencils are arranged in a single layer and allowed to dry for another full 24 hours. Even after this drying period, however, the ink is not fully set. To lock the image in place, a clear-coat lacquer is applied, and the pencils are allowed to dry for yet another 24 hours. That’s 72+ hours per pencil.

Once the clear-coat is dry, the pencils are sent off to receive their foil imprint, and prepared for finishing.

Blackwing 1138

Blackwing 1138

Introducing Volume 1138

It’s here, our third Volumes release, the Blackwing 1138. We’re calling this one “the sci-fi pencil.” Movie and science-fiction buffs probably already have an idea why. This pencil has a story to tell. Literally.

Any “Intro to Film” student can tell you how simplistic movies were at the turn of the twentieth century. Some of the earliest examples like “Roundhay Garden Scene,” “Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory” and “The Arrival of a Train,” were motion pictures in the most literal sense: single frame movies shot with a stationary camera. They were a far cry from the works of art we see in theaters today. That all changed when a director named Georges Méliès decided to take his audience to the moon.  

Clocking in at 13 minutes, Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon was groundbreaking due to its length, intricate sets, elaborate costumes, and coherent story of six astronomers’ voyage dans la lune. It is not only the earliest example of science fiction film, it also laid the foundation for narrative films of all genres. The way Méliès seamlessly transitioned from one scene to another was revolutionary. His use of special effects, while rudimentary by today’s standards, was groundbreaking. If you haven’t seen the film, you can check it out and download a public domain digital copy here.

The Blackwing 1138 salutes A Trip to the Moon and all things sci-fi. The pencil’s striped barrel may appear random at first glance, but the sequence of blacks and grays is very deliberate.


Using a process known as movie barcoding, we condensed A Trip to the Moon into individual bands of color (shout out to Melvyn over at Arcane Sanctum for his awesome open source movie barcoding program). We then set out to put that onto a pencil. 

The easy answer would have been to create a wrapped pencil. Using this process, the image of the condensed film would have been printed onto a wrapping material and that material would have been wrapped around the barrel of the pencil. Instead, we opted for a more intricate method that would better meet the expectations of Blackwing fans. This method is called roll-on printing, and we’ll go into a bit more detail about that in a later post.

The result is the Blackwing 1138. We put a movie on a pencil, and we had a blast doing it. 

The Blackwing 1138 features the soft and smooth graphite also found in the Palomino Blackwing. This rich, dark graphite reminded us of space, and that seemed like the perfect fit for a sci-fi pencil. Long-time Blackwing fans will notice that the 1138 also sports the first-ever silver ferrule on a Blackwing. 

Subscribers will once again find a little something extra in their subscription boxes. We don’t want to spoil the surprise, so we’ll talk more about that once the cat’s out of the bag. 

Dig this edition? Subscribe here!