Friday, March 27, 2009

IR Pen Product Review

Please visit my updated review of IR Pens featuring Penteractive, IRPensOnline, Whalebone, and Infrawow.

The infrared (IR) light pen is one of the essential pieces of hardware for the Wiiboard. The evolution of the IR Pen has progressed rapidly as the Wiiboard technology has taken off. Throughout the school year I have used my Wiiboard regularly and have been able to experiment with several different light pens. Here are my thoughts about the products that I have tested.

1. The "MacGyver Pen"
When Johnny Lee introduced the world to the Wiiboard, it was necessary to construct your own IR pen from components readily available at your local RadioShack. I have no experience with electronics yet I was able to construct my home made IR pen in a couple of hours. Altogether it costs me about $20 by the time I bought a soldering iron and a spool of wire. The results were acceptable, but not outstanding. The two biggest challenges are battery replacement (requires dissembling the whole thing) and weak light intensity from the LED.

You are certainly welcome to tackle creating your own IR pen, but I honestly wouldn't recommend it because your product will be inferior to the commercial products that are now available.

The first commercial IR pen that I purchased was from John Mitchel, a full time middle school math teacher, who runs His $8 pens are simple and effective. They run on two hearing aid style batteries. Through extensive testing, John has identified the absolute best IR LED which he has incorporated into the pen. These LED's are considerably brighter than the ones available at your local electronics parts store.

The IR pens from Penteractive are my personal favorite. The pens are operated by a switch near the end of the pen. The diameter of the pen is similar to that of a small highlighter which makes it easy to grip. The durability of these pens is awesome. They have been dropped countless times with any adverse affects. My students prefer these pens over all of the others.

Not only is the quality of the IR pens from Penteractive excellent, John provides excellent customer service. To start, every pen that you purchase comes with an extra set of batteries. Orders are filled quickly and if certain colors are back-ordered you will receive a personal e-mail from John letting you know the holdup.

I would highly recommend the IR pens from Penteractive. They are my clear favorite!

3. The Groove
When looking through posts on the wiimote project I stumbled across which was developing an IR pen that was touch sensitive. Named "The Groove" this pen looked awesome and promised to provide a more intuitive way of interacting with the Wiiboard. The Groove has a stylish case which houses 1 AA battery and all of the electronic components. The IR LED in the tip of the pen is sensitive to pressure. When pressed gently against any surface the light source is activated.

I was so excited about the new features of The Groove that I preordered the pen in January. The cost of his pen ($30 + shipping) was considerably more than either my home made pen or the pens from Penteractive, but I justified this by the touch-sensitive feature. January passed as did much of February before my Groove arrived. According to posts on, manufacturing issues delayed the release of the Groove longer than expected.

In testing the Groove with my students (who named the pen "the fish"), I concluded that the touch sensitive feature is not as amazing and useful as I had expected. Part of the issue is that my screen is mounted above my chalk board. When pulled down, the ledge of the chalk board prevents the screen from laying flat against the wall. This gap makes the screen "soft" so that it is difficult to obtain enough pressure to activate the LED on the Groove. Additionally, I had already trained my students how to use the pens from Penteractive which require pushing a button to activate the LED. They were very confused as the Groove didn't have a button!

While the Groove isn't as great as I though it would be, it is a fine product and others with a different setup may find it very useful. If you are willing to wait a while for your order to be fulfilled and are willing to pay $30, give the Groove a try!

Well, there you have it, my take on three flavors of IR pens that you can use with your Wiiboard. If you have sampled other versions that I am not aware of please post your review as a comment. If you are a manufacturer of an IR pen, send me one and I would be glad to try it out and write a review for you!


  1. John, I am honored by your glowing review. I am just days away from releasing my newest pens that are much better when it comes to replacing the batteries as well as making available a power solution that could allow a pen to potentially operate for several months without changing batteries. Continued success and I hope to see you around again some time!
    --John Mitchell

  2. Great write up, John. I may be investing in some pens based on your recommendations.

  3. John do you know of any programs that can be downloaded and use on the wiimote interactive whiteboard?? I can't use the smart board software but would love to be able to do some of the same things.

  4. and international shipping...

  5. It is now June of 2009 and I just purchased the groove. I wanted to mention that the new version of the groove seems to have a button as well as the pressure sensitive tip! I haven't received the pen yet, but when I do I intend to let everyone know how it goes!

  6. Hi John. I just spent a bit of time trying out the setup here at SAU. I went to 3 classrooms (including good old WG19 and WG109) to try it out. I was using the Groove.

    First comment - height! It hadn't occurred to me how high our screens are mounted until I tried stretching my 6' frame (not a giant, but not short either) to reach the menus. How do you K-12 folks cope with this, especially in high schools? Are your screens just lower?

    Second comment - when the Wiimote is fixed-mounted, how do you replace batteries, or do you use some sort of DC-AC converter that lets you keep it powered all the time?

    Third comment - I agree with your observation of the Groove. We have the same issue, and sometimes the bulk of the whiteboard (as in WG109 especially) is hard to work with as it does not allow for flatness.

    Fourth comment - using Uwe's mac software, there was definitely a delay. Is that typical? It reminded me of talking with someone overseas.

    Fifth comment/first question - is there any software (Mac or PC) that captures the screen?

  7. Professor Rubio, good to hear from you! I have the same problem with my screen-- it's really tall! Fortunately, I don't use the top of the screen very much.

    Second, my wiimote isn't fixed, so changing the batteries is easy. There are some power adapters available. Check the posts on the

    The delay you are experiencing may be due to your tracking resolution. Smoothboard (the program that I use) shows the resolution. It has to be above 50% for the board to be functional.

    I'm sure there are lots of screen capture programs out there, I just use the built-in screen capture capabilities (ctrl + Prnt Scrn on the PC) for still images. If you're looking to record screencasts, the best program available is Camtasia studio ($200). There is a free web-based version caled Jing.

  8. I want to thank you John for this webpage. This was one of the first webpages I came across that educated me about this project. I have now my own Wiimote Whiteboard to use for my classroom. I bought and recieved a very cool set of pens and a ceiling mount from and am very happy with them. I just had one question. Does having 2 Wii remotes help in any way? Thanks again John!

  9. I'm glad to have made an impact! I did a quick search through the to see if anyone posted about using two wiimotes. The most logical reason this would be useful would be to improve the tracking resolution however the software programs aren't supporting this function yet. Thanks for your comment.

  10. Two wiimotes in Smoothboard are great for both redundancy and you can use one as a "remote control" in presenter mode (you have to set up an ir source, you can use this idea, (closing it)

    Or you can just put a candle under (or between the wiimote and...) the image, because it emits IR light.

    good functionality and good at leaving the IWB with the student at the front while you are out of the way...

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Please disregard my last post. It was accidently posted to this blog instead of being sent as an answer to a product question.

    What I meant to say was:

    Hello, my name is James McLain. I am also a maker of commercial IR pens, and I would love to send you a unit of one of my proudest models: "the gum box" for you to try and review, free of charge.

    Please, let me know if you would be interested and send your mailing address to me at

    Warmest regards, and very sorry for the completely unrelated post.

    James McLain
    Whalebone IR and Software

  13. Would you like to try
    Would like to see a review of this when and if you can.

  14. Irb:

    I would be happy to test your IR pen. I looked at your website and was very impressed by your schematic of the wiiboard. It was very clear and easy to understand. I am currently testing several IR pens and other related products. I plan to post my conclusions by the end of the year. You can e-mail me at jsowash at

  15. Hi John, is s actually not Irb's website, but mine. It's great to see other people express interest though! I'm currently working on discounts for educational purposes / bulk discounts - and a better video too :)
    Before that's in place, contact me at or on twitter (@lafeber) if you want to order the penciil.

  16. has an infrared pen that solves many of the problems of the 1st generation pens. It has an easy-to-push switch and uses two triple A batteries for months of continuous use. We use the pens every day and find they are a dream to use. John has graciously agreed to test the infrawow pens. Head-to-head testing helps assure the public that they aren't getting an inferior product. . . kind of like an on-line Consumer Reports!

  17. I'd also like to add that in addition to testing the infrawow pens at our school, we stumbled upon some cool, simple, glitch-free annotation software which allows you to overwrite any document. Download it for free at It has a set of colored markers, shape-makers, and an eraser, so it covers the basics. We've tested a ton of annotation software - some quite pricey- but this is free and it does most of what I need it to do!

  18. hi.
    I made a irpen with a AAA battery and a switch that gives it a longer live. Visit on

  19. great blog

  20. Great, great blog! We send you our heartfelt greetings from across the 'pond' in the UK. I'm a South African chap who co-runs a UK based IR pen making business at

    I am so amazed at how fantastic the community is internationally with assisting each other with blogs and the like and how this technology has grown.

    I was just over in the US and was so impressed with the level of patriotism and friendliness of the people(was there just before Memorial Day). Well done USA.
    Take care all. Don

  21. We have found that the genuine or official wii remote controllers from Nintendo work best when compared to third party controllers. I say this because we tested quite a few and found that the official wii remote worked better at a greater distance from the board than the other controllers. This was especiialy important when fitting controllers next to 'long throw' projectors a distance from the whiteboard.
    Can anyone confirm this?

  22. John,
    Have you tried the penteractive touch ir pen yet?


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