Cleaning Rapidograph Pens




About: I've been on Instructables for forever and a day, and I finally posted something!

Rapidograph pens are a fantastic tool for artists to do fine-line drawings. They are expensive, but well worth the investment! If you clean and take care of your pens, they can last for years. Likewise, if you find grandpa's old drafting pen set, you can probably refurbish it.

I both own my own new pens, and have rescued a very neglected set that belonged to my late mother-in-law.

Let's get started!


  • empty yogurt/cottage cheese tub
  • cleaning bulb
  • "key" (this should've come with your pen)
  • cotton swabs
  • toothbrush
  • cleaning fluid (I have an old and a new jar)
  • the kitchen sink (or studio sink whichever)
  • paper towel (keeps ink off the counter)

The cleaning fluid and bulb can be purchased together, likely at your local art supply store. If not, you can get it at a place like Dick Blick online. (Here's one on DB for like $20. You're welcome.)

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Step 1: Examine the Pen

This pen is super-gunky. It's a newer one I had put into storage (without cleaning first, whoops). There's dust, dried ink, and other goobers.

Step 2: Unscrew and Pull.

If you've used these pens before, you know this step: you have to do this to fill up the ink reservoir. Take the pen mechanism out of the sheath. It should just unscrew and slide out.

Then, remove the ink reservoir. To do this, gently pull the cylinder away from the mechanism. It doesn't screw or unscrew, it just slides off.

Watch out, this might be full of goopy, staining ink. Mine was filled with sludgy old India ink. Equally as dangerous, it might be filled with dried ink crumblies, which can fly everywhere and absorb moisture and start staining everything they touch.

Do this step over the sink if you're not sure what goodies the reservoir might hide.

Step 3: The Key

The mechanism is made up of three parts. We need to separate the first two. Take the key and slide it onto the top of the pen. Gently turn, and it should start unscrewing part 1 from part 2.

NOTE: Is the pen you have 5,000 years old and won't turn? You might need to immerse the entire mechanism in some cleaning solution. I've had to leave some parts in the solution for a day or so, periodically wiggling the key around to loosen up some of the dried ink.

Step 4: Rinsey, Scrubby

Give all the parts an initial rinse off in the sink. Gently scrub larger crumbs and gunk off of the outside. Your goal is to get the pen to about 85% clean with rinsing and scrubbing. The water should run clear when you are done.

NOTE: Don't use soap! We're going to use a special cleaning solution that is a bit more effective at removing some inks than soap to get at the harder bits.

Step 5: Squeezy

Hooray! Now you finally get to use the squeezy pressure bulb. Basically what this bulb does, is force water/solution through your pen's innards. You can't get to such tiny spots with a brush. (Ok, well, you can, if you buy special micro-cleaning brushes, which I have done for super-tough jobs, like airbrushes!) But the bulb is good for most cleaning operations.

The pen mechanism just screws right into the bulb. You don't have to wrench it tight with the key, just do it by hand.

I have two jars of solution; I haven't really noticed a drop in efficacy over time. I'm kind of persnickety in that I like to double check myself with the clean jar.

I like to squeeze the bulb into the older, murkier solution first. This gets rid of a lot of the gunk hiding inside. After squeezing/releasing the bulb into the solution about 5-6 times, squeeze the solution out into the jar. Then, squeeze the bulb into your yogurt container, filled with clean water. See all the dirty solution coming out? Keep squeezing about 5-6 times.

After replenishing the clean water, I squeeze the empty bulb into my new cleaning solution. You shouldn't see any ink/ink flakes being squeezed into your clean solution. Repeat about 5-6 times, then squeeze into the water like you before. See how much cleaner the water is? You shouldn't see any ink/ink flakes coming out of the pen anymore.

NOTE: Is the pressure bulb not working? As in, nothing is coming in or going out? You may need to remove the pin. (See step 6 for a photo and removal.)

NOTE 2: It's not necessary to have TWO jars of solution. Just know that your old solution can still have a use when it comes time to buy a second jar. Eventually it will get pretty gross and unusable, though. :)

Step 6: The Pin

This step isn't necessary, but, you may have a pen that is super-crusted up, or, maybe your pen isn't working quite right. You may need to pull out or investigate the pin.

At the end of the pen mechanism you've been cleaning, there is a small plastic cover. Gently ease it off; it doesn't unscrew.

Next, remove the pin. BE CAREFUL. If you bend the pin, ink won't flow correctly! If you remove the pin and it's already bent, this may be why your pen was malfunctioning.

You can see in the last photo here, this is the pen mechanism completely disassembled. At this point, if you like, you can screw the pen part you just removed the pin from back into the bulb and clean it some more. GENTLY wipe off the pin of any ink goobers as well.

Step 7: Final Scrubdown

Now's the time to take your q-ti---I mean cotton swabs and scrub out the ink well, and wipe out anything else that needs it.

I like to give everything one last rinse and make sure that everything has clear water running off of it. Shake off the excess water.

Finally, re-assemble your pen, fill it with your preferred ink and do a few test doodles. There will probably still be water and possible a bit of solution inside, so drawing will help the ink flow, and "rinse" out everything with ink.

Keep your pens happy and you keep your drawings happy!

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    11 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I've had some of mine since the early 70's and use a small ultrasonic with waterto clean most junk


    4 years ago on Step 7

    thank you so much for posting this! I found an old radiograph set at my local recycling center and have been trying to get the pens clean but was afraid of damaging them. super helpful!

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Glad I could help! I wish more art supplies were so long-lasting and repairable. :)


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Wow-- nice 'ible. I never had a squeeze bulb to clean my rapidographs. Great to know about. Excellent explanations of a picky but necessary job.

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago

    Thank you! I was glad when I first found out about squeeze bulbs...I used to just blow with my mouth. Tasted horrible haha! Not a very bright student way back when.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    yeah, but there was no other way that I could figure out. The pros had ultrasonic pen cleaners which were pretty cool. The equivalent are the ultrasonic jewelry cleaners which I have seen in second-hand stores.


    4 years ago

    I found out Windex (glass cleaner) cleans the dried ink as good as the solution and doesn't cost nearly as much

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Good to know! The solution came with the bulb, so I just stuck with it. You could probably use whatever is the best solvent for your drawing medium.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This is an excellent instructable. I've needed some nice pens like this for a long time, and now I know what to get... and how to maintain them!

    Thank you for sharing this--please share more! :)

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you! I've got some airbrushes I lazily put away dirty...maybe they'll get an Instructable next, haha.