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.
There are times when you’ll want a pen that you don’t have to be very careful with.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Nicely done! Now I’m curious, what was the outcome of the Parker 51 ink experiment? Is it as bad as they say?
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
Interesting! I haven’t heard of or tried that method before. Can you give me an idea of how it works?
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.
That’s a pretty slick method! Thanks for sharing!
Here’s another description for the same method. http://leewm.freeshell.org/penstuff/refill%20pilot%20varsity%20with%20syringe.html
João Soares – would you please describe your method in detail?
There’s several ways, all more or less based on the same
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….
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!
Thanks for posting! Any recommendations on a nice replacement for the beautiful turquoise ink that originally comes with the Varsity?
You’re very welcome! I don’t know how exact they’ll be, but you might look into Waterman Inspired Blue, Lamy Turquoise or Pelikan Turquoise.
I was excited to be able to refill my Varsity pen. When I try to remove the nib from the pen, the silver part of it eventually slips off, but the rest stays firmly in the barrel. I have a good grip on the nib. I’ve tried turning the entire nib gently; it turns, but I’m still unable to remove it from the barrel. I tried running some hot water over the barrel: no luck with that either. Any suggestions? Thanks very much.
Janet, that sounds frustrating. I don’t have any suggestions, as it sounds like you’ve tried pretty much everything I would have tried. I wonder if they changed something in the pen design that prevents it from being taken apart? Sorry I can’t be of more help!
Thanks, John. I ended up inadvertently sliding the silver part off (wasn’t sure at first whether I’d broken it), and then I removed the black plastic piece below it with pliers. It was hard to get it loose, but I figured I had nothing to lose. From there, I was able to refill the pen barrel by following your instructions. I especially appreciated the info on how full to fill it. My pen now writes in beautiful turquoise ink. I’ll be interested to see if I can do the second refill successfully. Many thanks for your video.
Oh good! I’m glad you got it apart, filled up and working again! Happy writing!
I haven’t managed to get the nib and feed out as easily as you describe, John. I wrap a cloth around nib and feed then use pliers.
Good to know, Noel. The pliers don’t damage it?
It’s fine as long as the cloth is wrapped around a few times. Also, there is an art to pulling the pliers without gripping the nib assembly to excess.
I don’t get it. I explained a simple method how to refill with a rubber hose and syringe without the need to take the pen apart and it just takes a minute to do so and still people insist on taking the pen apart with pliers …
João, I think Janet hit the nail on the head. Many people won’t have the correct size of rubber hose, or any hose at all. I don’t doubt your method works, but not everyone will be able to do it. Still, thanks for sharing it!
The answer, for me, at least, is that I have pliers and a dropper on hand, but not a syringe and a hose. It’s easier for me to use what’s readily available. I don’t doubt that the syringe-and-hose method works well, and I’m sure the suggestion will help many people. Thanks for posting it.
You can get a syringe (must be same diameter as section of pen usually 2.5 ml) at any pharmacy and those rubber hoses in any animal shop where they sell filters for aquariums with fish or turtles.
Good to know. Thanks.
I have successfully done this once but now just after trying my second refill (Diamine Eau de Nil, worked great). Not just the nib coming off but the feed has totally come apart with the fibre rod in the feed now detached. It was worth it though! I still got one refill out of it which lasted a long time.
I think I’ll skip buying any more vpens for now in favour of ones which will eyedropper more easily. They are good little pens though. Agree with earlier comments that they never dry out!
Oh wow, David, I have never had that happen before, but I guess even getting one refill makes for some pretty good value! Best of luck with future pens!
If you want inexpensive pens that don’t dry out and can be barrel filled then I recommend the Jinhao 992. I checked the barrel for leakage – 2 out of 20 leaked (they are not designed to be filled), filled 12 of them with different coloured inks and left them in a 12 pen wallet for two years. I tried them two days ago and they worked and still full of ink – unlike some pens I’ve had which were designed to be filled yet the ink dried completely.
The pen costs just over £1. I have read that if the barrel leaks, just use superglue. The problem is caused by the barrel being made of two pieces; a barrel with a little hole at the end, and a stopper to fill the hole. Madness, but a good pen and a lovely writer.
Sounds like a pretty solid pen, Noel. I still need to explore the world of inexpensive Chinese pens. The only ones I’ve tried so far are Wing Sung and I’ve been very pleased!
John, Wing Sung is a legacy shared brand. Any Chinese company can manufacture them for a small fee.
Jihao always have wonderful nibs even if the plastic is fragile. The 992 is great because the plastic is good and there is a metal ring to stop the cap cracking due to excessive tightening. It’s a good pen anyway, but also can be barrel filled. To be safe you may like to smear the inner thread with a slight touch of silicone grease before screwing it into the barrel.
This worked really well – thanks.
Glad to hear it. Happy writing!
How many times have you been able to refill the same Varsity? I’m about to get one in a 5-pen sampler from JetPens.
Also, is a Varsity Med nib like other Meds, or is it a bit smaller (hopefully?)?
To be honest, I think I’ve only filled the same one twice, but imagine it will be good for many more fills. They hold so much ink, they won’t need filled very often. I think I only refilled mine because I was tired of the ink that was in it. The Varsity nib sizes are similar to other Medium nibs… definitely not like a Japanese M.
With vacuum method several times and can repeat infinitely because it doesn’t affect or damage nib and feed at all.
Thank you for the info.
Thank you, sir. I appreciate the info.
Does anyone have any idea of the actual ink used in the Varsity by Pilot? And can it be purchased a la carte?
Very impressed with the ink and don’t know of anything that compares.
I’d assume it’s a Pilot ink, but have never actually compared it to their other ink colors. Might be worth comparing a blue Varsity to their blue ink?
Noel Jealous wrote:
“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.”
There are two kinds of inks sold for the letterpress printing industry: 1) rubber-based and 2) oil-based. (See https://letterpresscommons.com/types-of-inks/)
What kind of ink is the one you used? Rubber-based?
Go on ebay and buy a small quantity of ink for Epson printers – not the genuine Epson ink. I think you’ll find that it’s neither of the two types you mention, although I could be wrong.
You are correct, the ink made for ink jet printers is different. Epson has very high quality standards for the fineness of the grind of the pigments — that is why they assert you will jeopardize your warranty if you use non-Epson brand inks. I’m taking your answer to be that you used ink jet printer ink rather than traditional letterpress rubber-based or oil-based inks.
There are two types of inkjet printer inks, as far as I know. The pigment ink is superior and expensive.
The normal is dye-based. If it is too thick to flow through the pen, then water it down a little at a time until it is flowing.
John, you should never use any type of ink that is not made for fountain pens, especially any that are rubber or oil-based. That’s a sure way to ruin a pen. Of course, some people have used printer ink in fountain pens, but you’re taking your chances by doing so. The money you save on ink may just be transferred to the cost of buying a new pen, so I’d only suggest trying non fountain pen inks in extremely inexpensive pens.
John, I always try this sort of experiment on a sub-dollar Jinhao pen. They are decent pens but very cheap.
Hi John Bosley. I agree with your statement. What brought me to this thread is I’m going to refill my Pilot disposables and focused on the use of the term “printer ink” in Noel’s post. I do letterpress work, so that caused me to inquire further as to what type of ink. We’ve now determined Noel was referring to ink jet printer ink, not inks used in letterpress printing. Thank you.
Finally, I have found the helpful advice to this subject. Greetings from Germany.
Glad you found it helpful, Waldemar!