Replacing Pilot Varsity Ink fountain pen

How To Refill A Pilot Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen

John Bosley How To 14 Comments

The Pilot Varsity is sold as a disposable fountain pen, but it seems like such a shame to throw one away once you’re done with it. Instead of tossing it in the garbage, what if you could refill it? Good news… you can! In this article I’ll show you how to refill a Pilot Varsity (or Pilot Vpen as they’re known outside of the United States) with any ink you’d like. For demonstration purposes, I’ll be using a Vpen, but the process is exactly the same with a Varsity.

Why Refill A Pilot Varsity?

You might be wondering, “why would I bother refilling a disposable fountain pen?”. That’s a fair question. They’re not the highest quality pens around. They’re meant to be thrown away. What’s the point in keeping them around? For me, it comes down to a few things. First, I don’t like wasting something that can be used again. Second, there are times when you’ll want a pen that you don’t have to be very careful with, but still might want to use a fun color of ink. There might also be times when you want to use an ink that you wouldn’t normally use in a higher quality fountain pen. For example, maybe you have an ink that is notorious for damaging pens but you still want to try it out. I did this with vintage Parker 51 ink, which is known for damaging pens it is used in. I had some and wanted to write with it, but didn’t want to use it in one of my good pens.

Disassembling The Pen

Disassembling a Pilot Varsity is both extremely simple and slightly complicated. All you have to do is pull hard on the nib and the entire feed section will come out of the pen. The trick is pulling on it and not damaging it, hurting yourself or getting too dirty in the process.

The first thing you’ll want to do is gather the supplies you’ll need. The short list is:

– Something to grab the nib with
– A towel to clean up any spills and wipe your hands on
– A container filled with water to soak the section in

I also like to do all of my pen work on a cooking sheet. This helps protect surfaces, contain spills and lets me easily move my project if I need to.

Replacing Pilot Varsity Ink supplies

Everything you’ll need to replace the ink in a Pilot Varsity or Vpen

To remove the nib and feed, all you need to do is grab the nib firmly and pull. You’ll want to be extremely careful with this step, as it has the highest potential to make a mess. Remember, everything you’re pulling out of the pen is probably covered in ink, so pull gently. If it helps, you might gently twist the nib to help it slide out more easily. You should feel it start to move, so it shouldn’t pop out unexpectedly.

Replacing Pilot Varsity Ink nib removal

Firmly grip the nib and carefully pull it out.

I also like to use something to grab the nib with. This helps me to grip it better and also protects my hands. I prefer a thin piece of rubber that’s meant to help open jars, but you could also use a piece of cloth. The important part is that it helps keep your fingers clean and unharmed, as the nib can be a little sharp on the edges.

Replacing Pilot Varsity Ink removed nib

The removed nib, ready to get soaked.

Cleaning The Pen

Once the nib and feed section is out of the pen, you’ll want to put it in water to soak out the old ink. Before soaking, you might run it under some cool water to rinse of any excess ink. You’ll also want to clean out the barrel of the pen. Again, a quick rinse with some cool water and then an overnight soak should be all it needs.

Replacing Pilot Varsity Ink soaking nib

Soaking will remove most of the ink.

Once the parts have soaked, you’ll want to make sure that all of the old ink is completely out of the pen. Wipe down the nib with a paper towel. Any water that comes out should be clear. If it’s not, you can soak it again or run water through it until it comes out clear. Once you’re happy with how clean the pen is, set it out to dry overnight. If you want to fill it immediately, use a paper towel to dry out any remaining water from inside the barrel and give the nib and feed a good drying as well.

Refilling The Pen

Now that you have a dry pen, it’s time to fill it with the ink of your choice! Since it’s not meant to be refilled, the Pilot Varsity doesn’t have a filling mechanism. Instead, you’ll have to fill it with some sort of dropper or syringe. Personally, I use these pipettes, which can be found at most chemistry supply stores. To fill the pen, simply suck the ink you want to use from the bottle and squirt it into the barrel of the pen. Be sure not to fill the barrel too full, otherwise ink will squirt out when you push the section back into the pen! If you can see the ink in the clear part of the barrel, you’ve filled it too full.

Replacing Pilot Varsity Ink diamine teal

Suck up some of the ink you plan to fill the pen with.

Replacing Pilot Varsity Ink filling

Squirt the ink into the clean, empty barrel of the pen.

Once you have the pen filled, it’s time to replace the nib. To do this, simply push the section back into the barrel. It should push in easily most of the way, but you’ll encounter a bit of resistance right before it goes all the way in. Make sure you feel it “snap” into place, otherwise it might not be fully seated and will leak! It should be seated below the surface of the barrel when you’re finished.

Replacing Pilot Varsity Ink seated nib

Here is how far down the nib will be seated in the barrel.

Replacing Pilot Varsity Ink feed

Now you can see the new ink filling the feed system.

The ink should start flowing fairly quickly. If it’s a little slow, you can encourage it by holding a paper towel on the surface of the nib. This should get the ink flowing via capillary action. Now that your “disposable” Pilot Varsity is filled with brand new ink and is ready to write, the only thing left for you to do is enjoy it!

Replacing Pilot Varsity Ink capillary action

If you need help getting the ink flowing, simply touch the nib to a paper towel.

Replacing Pilot Varsity Ink test

Filled up and writing with brand new ink!

Hi, my name is John. I’m a Colorado-born professional photographer who recently moved back to Denver after spending 3 years in San Francisco. I’ve been using and collecting fountain pens for over 20 years. I got my first one in college when I got bored taking notes with ballpoints and pencils. Since then I’ve bought and sold hundreds of pens, but have consistency in my love of Esterbrooks.

Comments 14

    1. Post
      Author

      You know, I didn’t notice any ill-effects. I’m wondering if all of the bad stuff in the ink evaporated over the 60 years it was sitting around, or maybe the modern plastics stand up to it better? Regardless, I’m not planning on using it in my other pens any time soon.

  1. Thanks for the advice. It’s given me the confidence to try it. You say that the pen is nothing special but I have to disagree. I have two of these pens. I can leave them in a drawer for five years yet they write immediately when I want to use them. A pen that never leaks and is always ready is something special as far as I’m concerned
    To return the favour here’s a tip for you. Forget fountain pen ink and use printer ink instead. It’s a tenth of the price and better, Here in UK I can buy 100 ml for £1. (ebay). The point about printer ink is that it should be slow to dry in air and quick to dry on paper. A sheet of paper just printed must not smudge the previous sheet printed 10 seconds ago.
    I have two fountain pens that suffer from dry nib if I don’t use them for a few days. I used to dip them in water quickly to start them. That worked well and was not a bother, but since I started using printer ink they are “always ready”.

    1. Post
      Author

      You’re welcome, Noel. I don’t think I ever specifically said that the pen is “nothing special”, although I suppose I did infer that they’re not the greatest pens around. I completely agree with you that they are special little pens. I had some that I refilled for an event many years ago (close to 7) that were left capped and forgotten about. When I found them again, I uncapped them and was surprised to see that they wrote immediately after almost 7 years!

      That’s an interesting tip about the printer ink. I’ll have to try it out one of these days. To anyone else reading this, do not ever put printer ink in your fountain pens! If you do want to try using it in a fountain pen, it should be one that you are prepared to ruin and throw away if it does not work the way you expect. You should never use any ink in your pens that is not fountain pen ink.

      1. I understand that you have to protect your reputation. Buy the cheapest Hero from Amazon and try it. I did that and was amazed. Three of my pens now use printer ink and work better for it.

  2. I use the vacuum method to refill my varsity or v pen with a small hose and syringe. No need to disassemble anything and easy when using same ink and no need to clean the barrel or feed.

    1. Post
      Author
      1. See a video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D27CjXwqmjo
        Make sure you don’t try to pump all the ink in at once or it will explode in your face. Do several small pumping motions up and down so the air gets sucked out of the barrel and ink goes in instead. A 2.5 or 3.0 ml syringe usually has the same diameter as the pen section and you just need a short piece of (auqarium) hose in between that fits snugly over the section and syringe on the other side. The video shows how easy it is and this is how I always refill. Good luck refilling your pen.

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          Author
  3. Use extreme caution with the method described in the text of this post above. I did successfully remove the nib and refill, using the removal process described–no problem at all there. BUT the return of the nib assembly into the barrel of the pen is critical, and I frankly don’t trust it. Here’s why: To avoid leaking, that “fit” must be absolutely tight and ink-proof–just as snug as when the pen was assembled. Otherwise, you’ve got a ticking time bomb in the form of a fountain pen that will potential bleed to death wherever it is. That could be in your purse, pocket, briefcase, or anywhere else. When I put the nib assembly into the barrel of a disposable Varsity, it just didn’t pop back into place and “click” securely. I DID manage to get it all reassembled, but I don’t trust it to remain secure and water-tight….so I’ve decided to use that refilled disposable SOLELY as a pen that sits in my desk tray, and never travels. I hope that way I’ll avoid a really big hemorrhage that could really ruin my day, and lots of other things too. Just my two cents’ worth….

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks for the comment Robert. I think it’s smart to not use something that you’re not comfortable with, but I will say that I have refilled many different Varsities, taken them on flights, and had no leaking or evaporation issues, even after some have sat unused for years at a time. I hope you get much enjoyment from pen and never experience a leak!

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