The Tombow story: The Japanese family company has supported creative people all over the world since 1913
Tombow is a Japanese family company that manufactures high-quality and reliable writing instruments and therefore supports creative people in their work. Ever since it was founded by pencil manufacturer Harunosuke Ogawa more than 100 years ago, the company has been and remains in family hands and currently employs approximately 2.509 (as of June 2020) employees across the world.
As a family company, Tombow also stands for values such as consistency and tradition. Product lines are developed and maintained with care and new developments planned with a high degree of precision before manufacture is commenced. As a family company, Tombow has a keen eye on the long-term development of the company and long-lasting business relationships as well as the welfare of its employees.
From Japanese pencil manufacturer to stationery supplier for the creative world
When Japanese entrepreneur Harunosuke Ogawa founded his company in 1913, he could not have imagined that one day Tombow Pencil would become a world-leading Japanese family company for high-quality writing tools. The company founder, who was then aged 28, learnt everything about the four treasures of writing tools (ink, brush, inkstone and paper) while working as a wholesaler in Nihonbashi, Tokyo. He initially sold a mix of traditional Japanese stationery and Western pencils and gained the reputation of being a knowledgeable dealer. His idea comes at the right time:
At the start of the 20th century, Japan is quickly becoming a modern state and there is huge demand for writing implements from dealers, authorities and households. But a modern country also needs to offer educational opportunities to its citizens. Compulsory schooling is introduced in Japan, which means that Japanese students need pencils in addition to traditional brushes and ink.
The interest in good pencils in Japan leads to Tombow enjoying huge sales success right from the start. When English becomes a compulsory language on the curriculum, demand increases rapidly. There’s a simple reason for this: traditional brushes are not suited to producing Latin characters.
The individual parts for the pencils were initially supplied by various manufacturers. However, Tombow began the integrated production of pencils in as early as 1927. The company built a new factory in Toshima and increased its vertical range of manufacture. Since then, Tombow has produced both refills and wooden shafts for pencils, and also painted and embossed them in-house. This ensures that Tombow has a greater influence on the quality of the pencils.
From the very first pencils to the current range, Tombow has always developed new products – including many innovative ideas that Tombow was the first to bring to the market.
- In 1958 Tombow diversified its product line for the first time and started producing ballpoint pens. Buyers associate the name Tombow with the high quality that they are used to from the pencil range. They were immediately well received by users and have become a permanent element of the product range.
- In 1964 the first felt-tip pens were added to the range: Tombow Sign Pens, which were exported mainly to Europe and the USA.
- In 1969, Tombow included a free eraser called the MONO Eraser in every 12-pack of MONO 100 pencils. It was immediately very well received by customers and therefore integrated into the regular production process. Today, the MONO eraser product line is one of the most popular erasers in the world. It is offered in various sizes, shapes and colours.
The name of the sub-brand "MONO" has its origin in the Greek word "monos", which means "unique". MONO was first used for the MONO 100 pencils, its uniqueness was expressed in the then slogan "8 billion particles per cubic millimetre". Today, the Tombow sub-brand MONO includes pencils, erasers, fineliners, correction tapes and, in Europe, glues. All MONO products have the task to support creative people in their studies as well as at work or in their leisure time. The fear of making mistakes or of a bad result, but also of delays and loss of time can inhibit. MONO products should help you to give your best - to simplify your life. They should help you to stay in control and feel comfortable. They are functional, reliable tools. They stand for professionalism, highest quality and highest precision.
By the way: There are only two registered color trademarks in Japan: the supermarket chain 7-Eleven and the MONO tricolor! This means that no other company is allowed to use this color combination.
The MONO line stands for functional, reliable quality, which also enables the highest precision for professional use. It is perfect for any kind of creative or artistic activity and convinces with a variety of applications.
- In 1971, Tombow manufactured the first glue stick Made in Japan: the PIT glue stick. Customers value the fact that the PIT is easy to work with and liked that it kept their hands clean compared to the use of liquid adhesives popular at the time. In Europe, the glue stick is marketed under the name MONO. Tombow still includes glue sticks in its product range that enable the convenient gluing of paper without waves forming in the paper.
In 1986 Tombow launched the ZOOM series, a line of writing instruments that combines a special design with the highest perfection in terms of its function. This series was also a response to the changes that were taking place in the world of office work at the time. In a computer-driven era, writing by hand started to become a more conscious process. Products in the ZOOM series therefore stand for individual artistic expression and a unique design. They have received numerous awards, including the Red Dot Award, the Design Prize from the Design Center Stuttgart and the Design Plus Award.
The ZOOM series appeals to those who have high expectations of design and who appreciate high-quality writing tools. ZOOM stands for the unique expression of originality combined with excellent quality. Whether for private or business use, with ZOOM people can express their individuality.
Why a dragonfly? The meaning of the Tombow logo
The Japanese word Tonbō translates as dragonfly. The company adapted the spelling to make the pronunciation and type more international, which is how the brand name Tombow came about.
Customers often ask why a dragonfly adorns the Tombow logo. In addition to it being the element that gives the company its name, it is closely related to the importance of the dragonfly in Japanese culture. In Japan, the dragonfly is regarded as an insect that brings luck and stands for courage, bravery and success. The ancient name for Japan is in fact aketushima, or dragonfly island, because the islands that form Japan are grouped like an elongated dragonfly body. The importance of the dragonfly to Japanese culture is also shown in an old custom of the samurai leaders: in battle they often wore a helmet in the shape of a dragonfly in order to be recognisable on the battlefield.
Today the dragonfly has another meaning: It stands above all for intact nature where humans, plants and animals alike can enjoy a permanent, unpolluted and healthy habitat. For Tombow, the dragonfly is therefore a reminder of the company’s proven traditions and values, and at the same time indicates its commitment to the future.
Just as compulsory education in Japan created a huge demand for pencils, so new technologies also brought new applications. The company developed into a supplier of stationery offering a large product range. Overhead projectors, which at the time were mainly used in US bowling alleys for point scoring purposes, needed a new type of pen that could be wiped off the film. Tombow produced the world's first overhead projector marker. When schools discovered the equipment and started using it for teaching, Tombow experienced a spike in demand for these overhead markers and gradually opened up this new market.
Due to growing demand on other continents, Tombow Pen & Pencil GmbH was founded in 1979 in Cologne as a sales office for the European market, and later moved to Mörfelden-Walldorf. 35 countries are now served from Mörfelden-Walldorf. In many of these countries Tombow cooperates with long-time partners partners. Starting in 2021, Tombow has taken over responsibility for sales and marketing in France and Benelux. In France, the market and customers are served directly by a newly established branch, in Marcq-en-Baroeul near Lille. The Benelux countries are served by a bigger team. The Tombow business partners will continue to be supplied with goods from the central warehouse in Mörfelden-Walldorf.
The first product on the European market was scented pencils, which were particularly popular in France. In 1982, the Tombow Prograph Sketchmarker was launched in both Japan and Germany at the same time. The pen became a huge success in Germany because it combined the feel of writing using a technical pen with an unbeatable price. It quickly became popular across Europe. For a long time, the MONO YT4 correction tape accounted for a large part of the turnover. However, the product range was continuously expanded and today comprises a wide spectrum of creative products. With the current handlettering trend and the ABT Dual Brush Pens, Tombow has also strengthened its presence in the creative sector and has been able to build up a large network of collaborations with artists.
In 1983, the American company Tombow Inc. was founded as a sales subsidiary for the North American market. The American headquarters were located in Westlake Village, a suburb of Los Angeles. The superior quality of the MONO 100 quickly earned the brand great renown in the USA, especially in the art and cartoon worlds. In 1990, the company moved its headquarters to Atlanta. When the MONO White Tape Correction Tape came onto the market shortly afterwards, companies were hugely enthusiastic about the new product, and a long success story began for American Tombow Inc.
In the Japanese tradition of craftsmanship, quality, precision and perfection are traditional values. These values are deeply rooted in the Tombow corporate culture. It has the valuable mindset of always delivering the best for the customer to suit their respective needs right from the start. Whether professionally or for personal pleasure, artists and creatives appreciate good tools.
With innovative ideas, Tombow keeps up with the latest trends and develops, produces and distributes in accordance with the latest processes. This can sometimes involve small but important details. Some might call it an obsession with detail. For Tombow however, that is high praise indeed. After all, our writing instruments should inspire creative minds and help them progress a step further. Our Japanese product developers are really into details: the Tombow MONO erasers, for example, have small recesses cut into the corners of the protective cardboard cover. These recesses help the eraser to bend during erasing without tearing the cover. Quality control is still sometimes done by hand to ensure that the customer receives a product that is guaranteed to be flawless. One example of this is that every Tombow correction roller is tested by hand after production.
Manufacture, product improvement and the optimisation of company structures are integrated into the development process at Tombow. And this also applies to design. But for Tombow “beautiful” is not an ultimate aim in itself. The company views its task as to strive for the perfect harmony of design and functionality. With this in mind, Tombow develops new products according to design characteristics that are consistently in line with contemporary trends but at the same time forward-looking. The fact that many Tombow products have been part of the product range for a very long time serves as confirmation for Tombow employees that they have chosen the right path and also suggest that the products are wonderfully timeless.
Today, the name Tombow stands for award-winning designer writing instruments, among other things. Numerous classics are valued by people all over the world, such as the slim writing instrument collection Zoom 707 or the ergonomic MONO YT4 correction roller with lateral dispensing technology. Many Tombow products have been awarded renowned design prizes, such as the iF Product Design Award, the Red Dot Award and the Design Plus Award.
In Japan, writing by hand carries a special meaning. Calligraphy has been a prized writing culture for centuries and even has its own name: Shodō, the way of writing. With Shodō, it is more about the purposeful noting down of thoughts. Through the meditative writing down of the characters, the writer simultaneously finds harmony and tension, peace and concentration, freedom and discipline.
Tombow's approach: support creative people
Tombow has set itself the explicit goal of acting in harmony with the environment in all its activities as best it can. The company wants to make a positive contribution on behalf of people around the world through the development of stationery and office products, and in production and distribution.
Tombow therefore regularly reviews its entire value creation and supply chain. At the same time, each and every Tombow employee places great importance on the company contributing to the harmonious coexistence of humans and nature. Tombow has therefore defined the following environmental guidelines as a binding element of Tombow’s business policy:
- Tombow strives on a daily basis to develop, manufacture, and market ecologically friendly products world-wide.
- Tombow dedicates itself to the improvement of product safety in order to meet ever-changing global standards.
- Tombow endeavors to wisely use resources and energy in all parts of our global business activities.
- Tombow commits to recycle materials throughout our business operations in order to eliminate waste whenever and wherever possible.
- Tombow promises to conduct our operations in accordance with all applicable local, regional and global regulations as well as to honor all contractual requirements agreed to by the company.
Tombow, in cooperation with recognized global environmental organizations, is committed to continuous improvement of our environment and the elimination of pollution.
Further details about the recycling percentages of individual Tombow products can be found in the following PDF.
The first correction tape by Tombow is launched.
Tombow develops the correction tape MONO YT4 – as a pioneer of sideway dispensing technology.
A new logo is introduced worldwide, consisting solely of the lettering without the dragonfly.
Tombow Pen & Pencil GmbH moves from Cologne to Kelsterbach in the Rhine-Main region.
Tombow Pencil (Dalian) Co. Ltd is established as a sales subsidiary for the Chinese market.
Tombow commemorates its 100th anniversary by intoducing a new worldwinde logo reintegrating the dragonfly.
Tombow Pen & Pencil GmbH relocates to Mörfelden-Walldorf.
Tombow Europe gets its first online store, following the relaunch of its website.
As a one of the first manufacturers to adopt the handlettering trend, Tombow Europe launches a campaign based on ABT Dual Brush Pens with the famous lettering artist Frau Hölle.
With the new MONO air 4, Tombow launches a correction tape with sophisticated air technology for extremely easy and convenient correcting.
Launch of the ABT PRO, an alcohol-based marker with two tips for professional use.
Tombow Pen & Pencil GmbH celebrates its 40th anniversary.
Tombow launches a new website to offer extensive information about the company, the brand, and the products. The websiteis is intended to be a source of inspiration and information on the latest trends for professional artists and hobby creatives.
The collaboration with well-known artists for the development of joint sets is expanded. Tombow launches two more sets with Frau Hölle, this time for blended lettering. For the first time, application sets for illustration (@missniceday) and bullet journaling (@bujotrulla; @mylittlejournalblog) are created together with artists.
Tombow takes over the handling of the French and Benelux markets itself. In France, a Tombow branch office in Marcq-en-Baroeul near Lille was opened. In the Benelux countries, the local marketing and sales team was enlarged.