transform a pilot v5 into a fine art pen

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.  

Melissa Carmon