transform a pilot v5 into a fine art pen by Melissa Carmon

In this DIY tutorial, join me to learn how to do a simple ink-swap to refill one of the world's most fabulous drawing pens

In this DIY tutorial, join me to learn how to do a simple ink-swap to refill one of the world's most fabulous drawing pens

Fill a Pilot V5 with Fine Art Drawing Ink

I had been drawing the a Pilot V5 for years, and consider it one of the world's finest drawing pens.  However, until very recently, Pilot provided no information as to whether it was archival, which would jeopardize its standing as the world's finest fine art pen.  For me, archival quality ink is something that I promise my collectors, and I would expect them to assume nothing less.  In the meantime, Pilot has published that its ink is pH neutral (a real plus) but for artists, full control over the ink you use is a definite bonus.  Besides, it just hurts to throw out a perfectly good V5 when it has run out of ink.  So, if you're up for an adventure, and are handy with a pair of pliers, let's get to work. 

 

The Pilot V5 Meets Bulletproof Black 

The camera was shaking, and so was the flashlight.  Darkness enveloped several figures huddled on the ground around their project, and I listened with bated breath to the resident authority on how to refill the Pilot V5: a group of kids from India had figured it out, and kindly published their findings on YouTube.  By this time, I was considerably invested in my search for the perfect fine art pen, and I had even sought out the professional advice of a pen specialist.  Unfortunately, none of the options, even at the high end of the market, paralleled the Pilot V5 in its handling properties.  And, if you know V5s pretty well, you'll know that they are not refillable, hence the artist is dependent on whatever ink Pilot provides.  In the last post, I sung the praises of Noodler's "Bulletproof" black ink, which boasts an array of incredible properties (including being impervious to lasers).  Naturally, I really wanted to combine the two, and, armed with an attitude that has served me well all these years, I figured, "where there is a will, there is a way." 

So, without further ado, this is how to do it. 

Melissa Carmon Artist How to refill a Pilot V5
Melissa Carmon Artist How to Refill a Pilot V5 Pen
Melissa Carmon Artist How to Refill a Pilot V5
Melissa Carmon Artist How to Refill a Pilot V5 Archival Ink
Melissa Carmon Artist Pilot V5 Archival Ink Option
Melissa Carmon Pilot V5 Archival Ink Refill

How to Make a Pilot V5 into an Archival Fine Art Pen

Step 1: Your Supplies

  • High Quality Fountain Pen Ink (Do not use India Ink!  See below)
  • Pliers
  • A nearly empty Pilot V5 or Pilot V7 Pen 
  • An eye dropper to transfer the ink from the bottle
  • An old t-shirt or paper towels
  • Washi tape (optional)

Note: It's important to perform the ink swap before the original pen's ink dries out completely, since dried ink can clog and ruin the pen tip.  (This means there will also be a small mixture of the original Pilot ink along with the new archival ink unless you clean out the interior after pulling the pen apart in step 4).


Fountain Pen Ink, Not India Ink

The most critical part of this process is to find the inks that suit your purposes (this may take some experimentation).  Each ink behaves differently, and will handle differently on different kinds of papers.   

It's also important to remember that Pilot V5s / Pilot V7s take fountain pen ink, not dipping ink.  If you are lucky enough to have a fine pen store in your city (or an art store), that is a great place to start since their staff can answer questions that are specific to your goals and projects.  

As a place to start, I recommend checking out Noodler's Ink, a company that is dedicated to developing and manufacturing some of the most unique and interesting fountain ink formulations.  

Step 2 and 3: Aesthetic Considerations

Steps 2 and 3 are entirely optional.  If you forego using an old T-shirt to protect the pen, you'll probably end up with little ridges imprinted onto the plastic from the pliers.  Not a really big deal, but it might be nice to keep it looking shiny.  It's up to you. 

Step 4: The Tricky Part

When grasping the pen tip with pliers, aim a little below the true tip-- grasp the cone-shaped plastic piece.  If you're not quite sure where to grip it, there is a picture of the pen tip shown in step one with an arrow pointing to the area where it's best to affix the pliers.  

Step four is the hardest part.  You'll basically pull the top of the pen straight out from the body of the pen.  Once, I grasped the pen tip too high and pulled out the tip of the pen instead of the whole interior, but luckily I was able to replace the tip and try again.  However, even when grasping the right area it can be a bit tricky to pull the pen out.  You can try twisting it a little if it's really stuck-- just be gentle and persistent.

After the interior is removed, fill the insides about 3/4 full of ink (you can gauge this by looking through the "window" on the side of the pen). When you've re-filled the barrel with ink, replace the pen's insides the same way you took them out.  Using the pliers, push the pen's interior back into place.  

Step 5: Test for Fit

Finally, after refilling the body and replacing the interior, test the fit of the pen cap to be sure that it fits snugly.  When you replace the interior, it may look like it's been re-inserted all the way back into the pen body, but it often needs a little extra tap.    

If the pen cap does not fully snap into its proper place, take the pliers and grasp the pen top in the same place you held it to pull out the interior, and push the insert toward the back of the pen until it clicks fully into place.    You'll know it's snugly re-inserted when the pen cap fits naturally. 

 

Finishing touches

When I'm finished retrofitting a new pen, I mark it with a piece of washi tape, so I can keep it separate from pens that still contain the original ink. 

A Word to the Wise: though I've mentioned it in other posts, it probably bears repeating: it's good to be cautious when retrofitting pens. Even the unmodified V5 / V7 is known to have a few upsets (especially, but not limited to airplane trips), and a modified V5 / V7 will have less internal integrity than a new one.  I keep an eye on V5s /V7sin general--but especially modified ones-- and keep them away from things that can stain (for example a lovely vintage couch or favorite outfit).

 

The Fine Art V5: Closing Thoughts

In sum, the Pilot V5s and Pilot V7s are incredible pens, but it is a real shame to throw such a beautiful pen away when it runs out of ink.  With DIY refills you can get a lot more mileage out of that beautiful piece of plastic.  

Pilot recently created a cartridge system for the Pilot V5/V7 (insert applause here).  One major plus to the Pilot cartridge pen is that the refillable pens are supposed to be able to handle airplane trips (hurray for an end to ruined carry-on bags)... but, at the time of this writing, refillable Pilots are not widely available in the USA, and they still do not offer what I would consider to be artist-grade inks.  For example, the ink that comes with the classic Pilot V5 or Pilot V7 is pleasant to use, but an erring drop of water may cause you real heartache. For fine artists selling original drawings and also for writers, or really for anyone who is thoughtful about the longevity (or integrity) of their work, they may opt for the ease and assurance that comes from hand-picking a drawing ink. 

Despite the risk of a modified pen, this pen's amazing ability to handle both the speed of gesture drawings and the slow work of detail makes it well worth the effort.

Have you taken the plunge and modified your pens?  I would love to hear about your experiences, your ink choices, and what's worked for you in the comments below.  

Archival At Last: Introducing Bulletproof Black Ink by Melissa Carmon

Bulletproof Ink for the Pilot V5 Pen.  Prestige pens. refillable inks, and a bottle labeled "Heart of Darkness" all came together to make my pen-and-ink dreams come true. Here's the story of how I was able to combine my favorite pen with "bulletproof ink" to create a match made in heaven. 

Bulletproof Ink for the Pilot V5 Pen.  Prestige pens. refillable inks, and a bottle labeled "Heart of Darkness" all came together to make my pen-and-ink dreams come true. Here's the story of how I was able to combine my favorite pen with "bulletproof ink" to create a match made in heaven. 

Every good art pen should be archival.  

...And most of them are.  I've purchased a lot of pens, but my favorite, far and away, is the Pilot V5.  This pen's handling qualities are unequalled-- supposedly due to the patented tungsten rollerball tip.  (It turns out this tip doesn't quite have an direct equivalent, even in the world of the highest of the high-end pens).  Pilot V5s sing on the curves, whip and sail on the gestures, and are fine enough for the detail lines that one might make when writing or drawing.  However, there was one major drawback.  Until recently, no information was available from Pilot as to whether their ink was archival.  This lead me to a quest for a drawing pen that satisfies both my performance and ink requirements (lightfastness and ph balance) which are essential for fine art use.  Here we'll discuss what led me to putting my own ink into a Pilot V5, and why you, too, might want to dive into the wild world of retrofitting your own.

Prestige Pens, Indelible Inks, and the Heart of Darkness

It was mid-afternoon, and I found myself in the small home-office of a pen specialist.  In every profession there are experts, and it turns out that when it comes to pens, this industry is no exception.  I was serious about finding an answer to my problem, which to find an archival alternative to the Pilot V5.  My search for the right art pen lead me to a consultation with Marie, whose passion for pens led her to start her own company, Sign with Prestige.  I was ready to make a serious investment in a suitable solution, since a drawing pen is a tool that I use daily, and because archival ink (for lasting artwork) is a core value of mine.  I was amazed by selection of both pens and inks, and asked Marie all of my most pressing questions (for example, about finding a true opaque white- a subject for another post).  It turns out that the secret to the V5's performance is the patented tungsten rollerball tip.  While I wasn't able to find a suitable alternative to the V5, Marie introduced me to the world of refillable pens and specialty inks.  The most noteworthy for my purposes was Noodler's Heart of Darkness "Bulletproof" black, which I purchased that afternoon.  

It wasn't until later that I began to experiment with combining the Pilot V5 with the Heart of Darkness Ink.  But before we discuss tearing pens apart (a how-to project for the next post) I'll let you in on what what was going through my head as I assessed the array of fine art pens, and introduce you to refillable inks.

Above is drawing I made with a Pilot v5  (this drawing was featured at the recent Art In Bloom Show).  If you look closely you'll see a mixture of fast, gesture-like lines underlying the more solid, descriptive lines.  The terrible news?  I wasn't sure if this drawing ink was archival.  This sent me on a quest to find an archival option to for the Pilot V5.  Image: Metamorphosis, Ink on Paper, by Melissa Carmon

Above is drawing I made with a Pilot v5  (this drawing was featured at the recent Art In Bloom Show).  If you look closely you'll see a mixture of fast, gesture-like lines underlying the more solid, descriptive lines.  The terrible news?  I wasn't sure if this drawing ink was archival.  This sent me on a quest to find an archival option to for the Pilot V5.  Image: Metamorphosis, Ink on Paper, by Melissa Carmon

A Short Guide to Fine Art Pens

Ok, I'm going to pretend we're sitting down for coffee, and share with you what goes through my head when I'm sizing up an array of fine art pens.  You as the artist are picking an extension of yourself-- something that will translate your thoughts and impressions to the paper.  So, what makes a great fine art pen?  There are two main things to consider: how an pen handles and the quality of its ink.  I'd add bonus points for being able to add your own ink, since it gives an artist more control over the finished product.  

Some of the many pens I've tried in search of a speed-friendly, detail describing, all-purpose art pen (Pilot V5, Copic, and Prismacolor, to name a few).  Here I am holding a refillable pen that came with my Heart of Darkness Ink.

Some of the many pens I've tried in search of a speed-friendly, detail describing, all-purpose art pen (Pilot V5, Copic, and Prismacolor, to name a few).  Here I am holding a refillable pen that came with my Heart of Darkness Ink.

  • Tip Durability: if you draw a lot, durability becomes a factor.  Over time, pen tips wear down, and so the ability to handle frequent use is an important consideration. 
     
  • Tip Handling: Each pen handles differently. Many fine art pens have flat tips, which are infamous for skipping out when drawing with any kind of rapid motion.  Some even require being held perfectly parallel to the paper, which makes capturing quick, gestural lines tricky.  The handling is a combination of the pen construction and the ink flow, which deserves its own section below.  
     
  • Ink Flow for Gesture: Gesture work is fast and fluid.  As mentioned above, if this is part of your process like it is mine, you're going to need a pen that has enough ink flow to make a steady line, and a tip that will allow being held at multiple angles.  
     
  • Ink Flow for Slow Detail Work:  Ideally a pen will be able to handle high output for gesture, but not bleed onto the page during slow, detailed work.  Part of this depends on the paper, but it is nice to have a pen that can handle both speeds. 
     
  • Hand Feel: If it doesn't feel natural in your hand, you'll find yourself fighting your pen the whole way.  Hand-feel is essential, and highly personal, since peoples hand sizes and shapes vary. 
     
  • Ink Quality: This may be the most overlooked but most important feature.  If your ink is not archival, you might be facing an unexpected fade or bleed that creeps over your beautiful handiwork in a matter of a few short years-- in short, it is something you will be paying for later, somewhere along the continuum between unhappy surprise and utter destruction. 
     
  • Ink Refill Option: This is a bonus on a lot of levels.  First, there is the environment to consider-- it is a tragedy to toss out a perfectly good pen (like the Pilot V5) because it is out of ink, but that is part of the master plan on the part of many low-end pen manufacturers.  Second, if the pen you select offers ink cartridges, that is a decent option, but still limits the artist to the available colors and ink properties selected by the company.  There is still a certain amount of unnecessary waste (as the cartridges are tossed out).  A fully refillable pen is ideal, if you can find one that meets your other specifications.  

The drawing sample of mine (above) illustrates these points.  Notice the hair-thin rapid stokes and the controlled detail strokes (which don't bleed).  This drawing was made with a Pilot V5, and I have yet to find a pen that truly equals it.  

An Education in Ink

The main take-away from my meeting with Marie was an education in ink.  As I was a total novice when it came to the world of prestige pens, it was news to me that only certain inks are suitable for use in fountain pens.  Let me say that again: dip pens (think traditional nib pen calligraphy) require a totally different kind of ink.  If you put India Ink (used for a dip pen or painting ink washes) into a fountain pen (think normal pen) it can easily ruin it.  Marie introduced me to Noodler's Inks, an American company committed to creating high-quality, and sometimes unusual ink formulations.  Noodler's also makes pens, some of which come with the bottle of ink.

 

Noodler's is an American company committed to producing high-quality, innovative inks.  Lately, I have been experimenting with a "Bulletproof black" ink called Heart of Darkness. 

Noodler's is an American company committed to producing high-quality, innovative inks.  Lately, I have been experimenting with a "Bulletproof black" ink called Heart of Darkness. 

Bulletproof Black, P.s. impervious to lasers

Noodler's Heart of Darkness Ink is an ink formulated for fountain pens, and has the following qualities: 

  • "Bulletproof" meaning it is UV and Bleach Resistant
  • Archival and fade resistant
  • Forgery resistant, impervious to lasers, alcohols and solvents. (What?!)
  • Waterproof

Here's a bit more explanation on what Noodler's means by "bulletproof", quoted from their site:

  1. “Bulletproof” refers to any Noodler’s Ink that resists all the known tools of a forger, UV light, UV light wands, bleaches, alcohols, solvents, petrochemicals, oven cleaners, carpet cleaners, carpet stain lifters, and of course…they are also waterproof once permitted to dry upon cellulose paper. ...All [colors with this designation] are equally bulletproof with one exception: the resistance to strong industrial bleaches to the point where the paper structure itself decomposes. Reds are prone to more fading when exposed to strong bleaches (sometimes fading to a yellow) than the other colors.

So just so you know, if you're trying to wipe out my drawings with carpet cleaner, it won't work... just telling you ahead of time.  

But seriously, though these positive traits hail from the realm of preventing check forgery, in my opinion, these qualities make for a very attractive fine art drawing ink.  

I would love to read that some other fine art pen brand (insert favorite pen name here) was boasting that its inks were "resistant to strong industrial bleaches to the point where the paper structure itself decomposes."  That's quality!

Plus, Noodler's has a strong commitment to reducing environmental waste.  Part of why they ship a quality pen with each bottle of ink is to cut down on the disposable pens that accumulate in landfills. While that wasn't my primary motivation for looking into Noodler's in the first place, for me a this point there is no turning back. 

Sketch showing the structure of a moonsnail shell, which I made using the Noodler's pen and the Noodler's Heart of Darkness Ink 

Sketch showing the structure of a moonsnail shell, which I made using the Noodler's pen and the Noodler's Heart of Darkness Ink 

In the end, I discovered how to retrofit a (disposable) Pilot V5 with Heart of Darkness ink-- solving both my pen and ink requirements.  I will cover the "how-to" in the next post-- in short, the amendment made to the Pilot V5 involves taking the top part of the pen off with pliers and inserting new ink with an ink dropper.  This is fast and easy (so far as the newly replaced pen insert doesn't leak "bulletproof" ink on things), and opens up the magic of the v5 to a whole world of alternative inks

Have you found a drawing ink that you love?  I would enjoy hearing about it!  Share your experiences in the comments below.