Varsity Fountain Pen Makeover

Lately I’ve rekindled my love affair with fountain pens, which has been smoldering quietly in the background while I focus on getting my book Doggitude finished. I recently purchased a Lamy Al-star, which is delightful to write and draw with in my journals and sketchbooks.

But also in my small fountain pen collection are a few of Pilot’s “disposable” Varsity pens, which cost about $3 each. I like the way they write but they are ugly. Their ink is not waterproof so I never use them in my sketchbooks. Still, they are great for taking notes desk-side or marking grocery lists, etc. About what you’d expect from a cheap throwaway, right? And no big loss if you lose them.

Then I read Peninkcillin’s post about how simple it is to refill these pens with the same bottled ink designed for use in more expensive fountain pens. The kind of ink which, for my purposes, is desirable for its water resistance and beautiful colors. Suddenly it meant that not only can these cheap Varsity pens enjoy a much longer useful life, they could also be used in my sketchbooks. I had a brief moment of delirium imagining a mountain of such pens, each filled with one of the many inks I covet. Serious swoon.

Unfortunately even the swoon couldn’t hide the fact that the pens are just plain ugly to look at. But hey, I’m an artist. I can fix that.

Alcohol inks and a copper leafing pen to the rescue. These inks and leafing pens, popular among crafters, are designed to be applied to non-porous surfaces. Once dry (in literally about a half a minute), they are permanent (unless they come into contact with an alcohol-based solvent). I know from experience in using them to decorate small tins for use as watercolor sketch kits that alcohol-inked surfaces are pretty tough and can withstand a lot of regular handling.

So I got busy. I refilled one of my Pilot Varsity pens with Noodler’s Dark Matter ink and then decorated it. In less than half an hour, the ugly duckling was transformed into something much prettier (shown below, with an undoctored Varsity so you can see how ugly they are “out of the box”). My $3 pen suddenly seems worth a whole lot more.

Alcohol inks come in a whole bunch of colors, including metallics. I have a bunch of them already. Can’t wait to give all of my Varsity pens this simple but beautiful makeover!


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