A pen for readers, not writers

A pen for readers, not writers

The Stabilo Boss is an unusual pen and an unusual success story. 

It’s a pen designed to help the reader, not the writer.

It’s the world’s best-selling highlighter pen, yet it was wasn’t the first highlighter on the market.

Its unique design was the result of an act of frustration. 


In 1962 Japanese inventor Yukio Horie created a felt-tip pen that used water-based ink. It had a capillary action that pulled the ink through a filter — similar to the one in a cigarette — onto the paper’s surface when a writer pressed the highlighter to paper

The following year, the Massachusetts based Carter’s Ink developed a similar water-based marker but theirs emitted an eye-catching translucent ink. They called it the Hi-Liter because the see-through yellow and pink inks drew the eye to the text without obscuring what it said. The water- based ink, unlike alcohol-based inks, meant the colour didn’t seep through paper.

It wasn’t until 1971 that German pen and pencil manufacturer Schwan Stabilo launched its Stabilo Boss highlighter.

Finding the right design however proved to be far from easy. With a brief to find something both practical and revolutionary the in-house designers had design prototype after design prototype rejected. Until one day, after yet another disappointing presentation, one of the designers in a fit of anger and frustration smashed his latest round-bodied clay prototype into his desk, creating an unusual squat trapezium shape.


Luckily the designer had calmed down enough to recognise that he might now be onto something.

A pen with a round body lets the pen roll and the angle of writing vary according to the writer’s grip. The newly flattened body and squared off nib of the prototype pen encouraged the ‘reader’ to place it flush to the book or desk’s surface. The grip you are ‘forced’ to use is ergonomically conducive to the sideways swipe that characterises the act of highlighting. 

The shape topped with a bold black lid created the desired revolutionary look setting it apart from other pens and making it instantly recognisable. Originally intended for use in the office to highlight important words, the name ‘boss’ seems obvious, though nowadays the highlighter’s use is  much wider and especially strong in education where students of all ages use it to highlight key passages in texts.

Today 60,000,000 units are produced every year and two are sold every second.


One creative thinking prisoner decided he would try and exchange his prison cell for a hospital bed, at least for a few days, so he ‘highlighted’ himself in yellow using a Stablio Boss pen hoping it would give him the appearance of having an attack of jaundice. Unfortunately for him his guards weren’t fooled and all he got was a trip to the showers and not the hospital. “If he had really had such a bad case of jaundice, he would probably have been dead” a prison spokesperson said.


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