Introduction: Refill Your Fountain Pen Cartridges and Save

Picture of Refill Your Fountain Pen Cartridges and Save

Most newer fountain pens use plastic ink cartridges. You can refill your own and save a lot of money. Refilling also eliminates the problem of finding the cartridge you need in stores.

Bottled ink is easy to find when fountain pens are popular, but harder to find when they are less popular. Their popularity seems to ascend every few years and then fade after a few more years. If you live near a store that specializes in fountain pens, there is no problem. Otherwise, you can order bottled ink from several suppliers on the Internet. Do not use calligraphy ink in a fountain pen.

Fountain pens have come full circle. A very early fountain pen used a glass cartridge fitted onto a rubber cone behind the nib. The user filled the glass cartridge and pushed it onto the rubber cone. Later rubber bladders and piston systems came along. Some of these got to be quite elaborate mechanically, while others were quite simple. Almost fifty years ago the plastic cartridge became popular and pens now use cartridges.

Step 1: Suitable Implements for Refilling

Picture of Suitable Implements for Refilling

If you know someone who is a nurse, he or she may agree to bring you an unused hypodermic needle. They make a good tool for filling a cartridge, but you need to be very careful about sticking yourself. You could dull the needle and reduce the danger by dragging the tip of the needle on a light abrasive, like the unglazed part on the bottom of a ceramic coffee cup.

You can also get a plastic syringe with no sharp needle at a pharmacy. This have a curved end and are for washing a baby's mouth with a solution when the baby is teething.

You can also use a glass eyedropper. These are also available in a pharmacy.

All but the hypodermic needle require some modification. See the next step.

Step 2: Modify Your Implement

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The plastic syringe for flushing a baby's mouth is the easiest implement to modify. You will need some thin brass hobby tubing from a hobby store. Cut it by rolling it under a knife blade as shown. You will need a piece about one inch long.

Drill into the end of the plastic syringe. Put some epoxy glue on the hobby tubing near one end and slide it up into the hole at the end of the syringe. The problem with a plastic syringe is that the rubber piston hardens in time and it becomes harder to squeeze just the right amount of ink into the cartridge.

That is why I prefer an eye dropper. But, modifying it is a little more difficult. Score around the tip of the glass eyedropper far enough from the end that you will be able to insert a piece of brass hobby tubing after the tip has been broken off of the eyedropper. I used a Dremel tool with a "green wheel" grinding stone. Hopefully, not too much glass will break away from the end of the eyedropper. Insert a piece of hobby tubing and glue with epoxy.

After a couple of years, the eyedropper may not suck ink from the bottle like it should. The rubber bulb loses its fit in time. Buy some extra eyedroppers and rob the rubber bulb from a new one.

Step 3: Filling the Cartridge

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I use two hands for this task, but I also had to hold the camera for making the photo.

Do this over a sink away from dishcloths and anything that could be stained by the ink. There will likely be some small spatters, even if you are careful. They fly through the air farther than you would imagine, too. If you are married, your wife will not be pleased--not at all.

Draw some ink into your implement from the bottle. Place the thin tube into the cartridge and gently squeeze ink from the implement to the cartridge. You do not need to fill the cartridge quite all of the way to the top.

Squeeze any excess ink from the implement back into the bottle. I like to cup one hand under a running faucet and draw water into the dropper. Flush the implement out well until no signs of ink are apparent.

Step 4: Storing an Eyedropper

Picture of Storing an Eyedropper

If you choose to use an eyedropper, you will need protected storage for it. I drilled a hole in a block of wood and insert the eyedropper. I drilled a larger hole for a short distance so part of the squeeze bulb can fit down into the block.

Step 5: A Strange Phenomenon

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I got some ink cartridges at a yard sale. This Schaeffer cartridge has never been opened, yet more than half of the ink is gone. Plastic cartridges are actually porous. In time water evaporates through their walls. When you place one of these into your pen and puncture the end, remove it and fill it with water.

Some cartridge companies place a small plastic ball inside the cartridge. This can roll around and break the surface tension to keep the ink from hanging at the far end of the cartridge. They can also help to mix ink and water when the cartridge partially dried out over many years. If you want to add something to a cartridge to do this job, just cut about 1/8 inch from the end of your hobby tubing. Drop it into the end of your cartridge.

An ink cartridge will not last forever, but you can use one for a year or two before you need to replace it. You will also save a lot of money on refills for your pen or pens.


drwilloliver made it! (author)2016-05-12

Great advice. I tried an eye dropper...too fat. No hypodermic available. I found a great tool: a syringe used for applying resin to fiberglass. Available at marine supply such as, $4 for a two-pack. Perfect fit. Works wonderfully.

Phil B (author)drwilloliver2016-05-17

Thank you for making me aware of this. I have noticed the plunger in a syringe of any type becomes harder over a few years and does not slide as smoothly, which makes it more difficult to use.

tixrus (author)2015-07-23

Easy. I used a USED hypo from my dog's Adequan shots and I had India ink which may or may not be ideal. I think it might be a bit viscous so I thinned it a bit. And BTW I *am* the wife. There is kind of an unstated implication here that only the husband in a typical gender partnership would ever do this DIY. And yes, the first time it sprayed ink everywhere. And like a typical guy I left that for the wife to clean up. Except I am the wife. So I had to clean it up.

DavidJ152 (author)tixrus2016-01-10

Most women I know do DIY projects.

Even thinned, India Ink is a bad idea. Once the water evaporates, the ink becomes a thick sludge inside the feed. As it's hard and flaky in drawing, it is in the feed as it dries.

Phil B (author)tixrus2015-07-23

I am glad you tried this, and had an available syringe. As for using India ink, I have used that with a set of drafting instruments, which very few do currently. It dries in flakes on drafting pens. I would not want to risk a good fountain pen on it. Makers of fine pens make their own inks formulated expressly for their own pens. I have switched back and forth between Schaeffer and Parker inks on my pens with no problems, but mixing them has its own very real problems to be avoided. You may need to order bottled in on-line. Assuming you are in the USA, go to Colorado Pen or Fountain Pen Hospital or Levenger for bottled ink.

I tried to write this Instructable as if the reader may be male or female. Yes, there is one reference to staining a wife's dish towels. That is based on my personal experiences. She cringes when I reload an ink cartridge any where near the kitchen sink. If I happen to get a spatter on a dishrag or towel, I really hear about it.

DavidJ152 (author)2016-01-10

The eye dropper is a good idea, but plastic eyedroppers are cheap, plentiful, safer to modify, and they won't chip or crack.

Hypodermic syringes with blunted metal needles are available from Goulet Pens.

dstand (author)2014-04-12

Great instructable.

They make plastic eye droppers too, and in my case this worked out very well.

For the tubing, all I had lying around was an extra air inflation needle. So I cut off a long section of it and stuck it in the plastic eye dropper, and it was ready to go. It was a snug fit so no epoxy or other adhesive was necessary.

Phil B (author)dstand2014-04-17

Good idea! I like the use of the air inflation needle. A lot depends on what a person has available. Bottled ink is much less expensive than ink cartridges.

emeraude (author)2013-07-15

Hello, I collect lots of fountain and I love using them. today, I found Parker Quink Mini cartridges in the store today and bought as they were on sale. when I got home, I discovered that the tip of the cartridges do not have the same form and size as the regular cartridges and it's so hard to put them in the fountain pens. Can anyone please help me?

Phil B (author)emeraude2013-07-15

I am not familiar with Parker mini-refills. I doubt you can make them fit on a regular Parker pen.

mslaynie (author)2011-03-25

Actually, you could do the same with the syringe- just replace the plunger with a new one periodically. It would be easier than modifying the eye dropper. :D

Phil B (author)mslaynie2013-07-02

I apologize that I missed your comment until now. Yes, replacing the plunger in a syringe with a new one would be very useful. My mother was a registered nurse and we kids in the family could get new or used disposable syringes very easily through her. But, syringes eventually became dangerous, highly guarded, and difficult to obtain lest someone use them as a weapon or for ingesting illicit narcotics. If you are in the medical field or know someone who is, getting a syringe is easier.

Armchair Pyro (author)2010-07-07

just make your own

Phil B (author)Armchair Pyro2010-07-09

That ink may be fine for a dipping pen or a quill pen. Fountain pens are usually more fussy than a quill pen. In fact, each pen manufacturer usually makes its own ink specifically tailored to the design and materials used in their pens. This ink may work in some pens, perhaps all pens, but it also could cause clogs if everything is not compatible.

knektek (author)2010-02-26

fountain pens are a blast! i like messing up peoples work by splattering ink all over it. recently it was raining heavily and a huge river-like stream was made, so i decided i could splat ink on that too. nut not with my pen, with about 15 cartriges (spelling#) i turned the whole thing BLUE! thats right i just opened them up and threw 'em in. the swirls were awesome!

MikeHungerford (author)2009-08-12

Lots of good information here; thank you.

I've refilled cartridges and also used converters. In spite of their limited capacities, they do give you more frequent opportunity to change inks and ink colors.

If you want maximum ink capacity, you need either a piston-filled pen such as the Pakistani "Dollar" brand pens sold for abotu $10 by Swisher:

Or an eyedropper-filled pen; those will hold the most ink.

Phil B (author)MikeHungerford2009-08-13

Thank you. I almost never change colors. I have a very fine point inexpensive cartridge pen I now use exclusively with red ink for underlining and making notes in books with very thin paper, like a Bible. I carry it in my shirt pocket with the pen I use for general writing. I do have a good pen with a large barrel of brass. I found I could make it leak proof with a little paraffin and a hair dryer. I was excited about filling the barrel with ink, but it did not work. The pen was leakproof, but the ink warmed too much from my body heat and the pen did not write properly. An ink cartridge or bladder needs a little air space around it to insulate the ink from body heat. I learned that the hard way and later read about it in an article on fountain pens. You might be interested in an Instructable I did on replacing a universal or Mont Blanc cartridge with a cut down Waterman cartridge. That allows quite a bit more ink in the pen, if your pen uses those cartridges.

MikeHungerford (author)Phil B2009-08-13

The current "standard" method of sealing pens, or at least their threads, is pure silicone grease. Paraffin is petroleum-based, and can damage parts of older pens especially. I had considered beeswax as an alternative. I should have remembered the body heat issue with eyedropper pens; metal-bodied pens are particularly susceptible to this, while plastic-bodied pens are somewhat less so. The Platinum Preppy pen is a popular one for this conversion; some on-line dealers offer a converted Preppy with certain bottles of Noodler's ink. Keeping the barrel nearly full of ink apparently helps as it's the air inside that reacts to temperature changes rather than the ink. Bladder type pens generally have non-airtight barrels which allow the air to expand and contract freely without pressing on the bladder, and cartridges are stiff enough to resist it. I did see your article on modified long international cartridges, and may give that a try. One of my favorite pens is so short, though, that I wouldn't gain much at all from the method; there's only 11mm depth to the barrel past the end of the short cartridge. Isn't this fun?

Phil B (author)MikeHungerford2009-08-13

I have read that paraffin is oily and keeps ink from flowing properly, especially if it gets into the nib or the feeder. The paraffin I used was to seal a tiny leak between the barrel and the decorative plug on the end of the barrel. This pen has a rubber "O" ring on the section threads. I have been pleased lately to find some younger people who also like fountain pens. People have given me pens (old and new) over the years. I know I will never use all of them up. I have given a few away to people I thought would appreciate them.

MikeHungerford (author)Phil B2009-08-13

If the o-ring is against the section end of the threads, it won't keep ink out of the threads; a little silicone grease on those threads will protect them. Flushing your nib and feed, and the barrel for that matter, with just one or two drops of dishwashing liquid in a cup of cool water will help clear the oils out; use a converter or a syringe to force the water through the feed. Then flush again with plain, cool water. From what I've been reading, the recommended sealant for pens is shellac, as it doesn't react with any of the materials used, and won't contaminate the ink once it's dry. FPN has a "Pay It Forward" thread; I've seen quite a few nice pens pass through there. One of these days I'll have something worthy to pass long myself, but most of what I have are low-end pens; I'm not really a collector.

sharlston (author)2009-04-26

i love your ideas

Phil B (author)sharlston2009-08-09

Thank you.

sharlston (author)Phil B2009-08-10

thank you for the ideas

CapnTac (author)2009-08-09

Will this work on my calligraphy pen? It also uses plastic cartridges, and is essentially a cheap fountain pen with a fancy nib.

Phil B (author)CapnTac2009-08-09

I am confident it would. I would be sure to use ink close to the kind specified by the pen maker. If fountain pen ink is specified, I would not use the calligraphy ink often found in craft stores.

vitruvian8807 (author)2009-03-20

I also use a converter. For some reason I find that using plastic cartridges "cheapens" the pen.

Phil B (author)vitruvian88072009-03-21

The converters I have used hold less ink than a comparable plastic cartridge. I have usually been interested in more ink rather than avoiding cheap plastic. Originally fountain pens used a small glass tube open on one end. Ink was placed into it with an eyedropper. Then the glass tube was pushed onto a cone shaped rubber stopper behind the nib. The assembly was then inserted into the barrel. I like to think fountain pens have come full circle after years of rubber bladders with compression levers and piston filled chambers.

vitruvian8807 (author)Phil B2009-03-21

That's interesting, yes, I've seen some of the more expensive and complex fountain pens. Maybe some day I'll buy one. If I had money, I'd start a collection of fountain pens. But I meant that if felt like it was cheaping it, even if it does hold less ink. I'll try your 'ible though.

Phil B (author)vitruvian88072009-03-21

After the first couple of hundred dollars, the nib and feeder system do not change too much. Extra money from that point and up generally buys you more and fancier decorations on the pen. If you want to begin a collection of fountain pens let your family and friends know you like fountain pens. You will be amazed at how many people have one or two at home in a drawer and would be very happy to give them to you. Often they are old. Pieces may or may not be missing. They may be full of dried ink. They may be leaky. But, you can often get them working pretty well again and some of them are a joy to write with. Often they will have very interesting stories about the original owners connected to them. There are sites on the Internet where you can get new latex bladders made on original equipment. I have never replaced a bladder, but it does not sound too difficult. Places like Fountain Pen Hospital in New York offer some tools and supplies in their catalog.

Phil B (author)Phil B2009-03-21

Take a look at my Instructable on "Fountain Pen Problems." It has some information on fixing common fountain pen problems. There are also some good sites on all aspects of fountain pens on the Internet.

Shadowfury (author)2009-02-27

Thank you! I needed this so badly. I go through a cartridge every 1-2 days, which is very annoying, and you just saved me a whole bunch of money. 4.5/5+faved.

TreeFrog (author)2008-10-10

Or you could just spend a fiver on a converter, and use bottled ink. I'd personally prefer to use something a smidge more expensive and not risk ruining my nice pen...

Phil B (author)TreeFrog2008-10-10

I was in high school when I got my first fountain pen. It used Schaeffer cartridges. My mother was a nurse. In those days no one went apoplectic if old syringes were not destroyed. I used an old syringe to fill my ink cartridges and never tried to compress a cartridge so I could suck ink into them. Years later I decided to use an eye dropper, in part because I did not have enough friends who are nurses. I have used converters. I found they do not hold as much ink as a cartridge. I can also see through most cartridges (if they are not opaque, anyway) and that tells me if I need to refill before leaving home. With a converter I have to refill just to be safe. (Most of the converters I have seen use a black rubber or plastic sack. I know some are clear plastic.)

TreeFrog (author)Phil B2008-10-10

Fair enough, you do have a point about the amount of ink a converter holds. (though if you've got a bottle of the stuff it's slightly less important - I'd be surprised if you go through a whole converter full before you can get back to the bottle.) I'd certainly back your option over the "suck up ink in an old cartridge" system - not least because you stand less chance of gumming everything up if you wash out the cartridge I think I'll stick to my standard waterman converter though (which is also transparent...)

Phil B (author)TreeFrog2008-10-10

For quite a few years I used a Parker 45 pen. Most of the time I used a converter, but it was not transparent. I was secretary for a committee and had to travel several hours to the meeting site. I used my Parker 45, but took a bottle of ink along. What I have been thinking about is a way to refill a cartridge and seal it so it would not leak on an airplane, etc. I have not yet come to an idea I like. I usually take two pens or one pen and a new cartridge.

PKM (author)2008-10-10

When I used fountain pens in school I used to squeeze an empty cartridge and suck up ink straight from the bottle. It was occasionally hideously messy (washable ink FTW) but it was simple, quick and worked well. It doesn't work so well with the long Parker cartridges, but with those I would transplant the ink from two small cartridges into an empty one :)

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Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
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