An ongoing account of one artist's process.

How to Clean a Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph Pen (And Revive A Completely Dead Pen)

While this will probably only be interesting to anyone who is actively searching for “How to Clean a Rapidograph Pen” or “Can you save a Rapidograph Pen with dried ink in it?” – I feel compelled to create this post because if you are one of these sad and frustrated people, there’s not a lot on the net that really goes into how to rescue so-called irreparable Rapidograph Pens.

So, before you stop reading because this is of no interest to you – at least know this – Rapidograph pens are expensive but exquisite. They’re a pain in the ass to most because they are not the typical “one-use” experience most people are used to. They’re worth it though…. hence why I just spent 4 hours reviving 3 “dead” pens.

If you just want to find some basic information about normal cleaning (video) or a copy of the instruction sheet that came with the pens just click on the links. I would also advise picking up a copy of “The Technical Pen” by Gary Simmons if you’re serious about pen care because he’s got an excellent “manual” of sorts in the front of this book.

So – those of you who are searching for the following information – you’re probably thinking “Well, but just how dead is dead?” and “Can I really save my pen?“.

Short answer: I left a 0x3/.25 Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph with ink in it (absolutely no cleaning what-so-ever AND a bent freaking cleansing wire – yep, that’s right – BENT WIRE!) alone for 8+ years and my 0/.35 and 2/.60 pens with a “half-ass” external and ink-cartridge cleaning for 5+ years. And yes, there is a chance to save them. So if you’ve just picked up some pens on eBay that were not as great as thought or you’ve been squirreling away your shame for the past 8 years like me – there’s hope.

I’m not making promises and I take no responsibility for anything you encounter BUT – the following details my process of saving (yes, SAVING) all three of my pens and if there was hope for my incredibly abused pens there might be for yours too… and what have you really got to lose?

Long Answer (with Pictures!)

What you need to clean Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph Pens:

  • The Koh-I-Noor Syringe Cleaner Kit with Point Starter and Nib Key (between $10-15 alone w/out Rapido-Eze cleaner)
  • Rapido-eze cleaner OR Isopropyl Alcohol (91% or higher) – I used the alcohol throughout all of this. Also – do NOT use nail-polish remover – you WILL ruin your pens if you do.
  • Small Container (preferrably with lid) if only using alcohol
  • Q-Tips… lots and lots of them…
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Tweasers
  • Paper Towels
  • Patience

Supplies

First things first – take your pen apart.

Parts

Even if you think the ink is completely dried up it will still have some life in it – mine did even after 8 years of dry-time. Put the gloves on before you ever go in and you’ll thank me.  Make sure that you have all of the above parts separated if you’re trying to salvage a dead or really bad pen.

You do NOT need to go into all of this if you’re just trying to maintain an already good pen (see the links provided above and run… run away while you still can!).

So – what will you probably find?

Here’s what I found:

Damage to 2

My 2/.60 pen had been “cleaned” 5 or so years ago (after sitting dried for 3 years) but I only cleaned it externally because I was to intimidated by all the instructions which said to do so was certain death for your pen… well… nothing to lose now.

Damage to 3x0

My 0x3..25 pen had been left untouched for over 8 years – it even smelled bad when I took it apart… I was CERTAIN that this pen was a goner especially because the smaller pens have a much lower success rate overall.

Damage to 0

My 0/.35 pen (my favorite) had been “cleaned” 5 or so years ago (after sitting dried for 3 years) but I only cleaned it a little more carefully (but still only externally) than the 2/.60. It was noticeably a bit better when taken apart. I could even see a bit of light through the pen point.

I would recommend only doing one pen at a time (as I did) so that you don’t confuse parts or risk to many fragile parts colliding or getting damaged. It’s easier to keep all the parts straight at this point too – you’ll become VERY familiar with the way you pen works by the end of all of this though.

I used alcohol during all of this – not Rapido-eze. I save the more pricey Rapido-eze for maintenance cleaning.

Once you get the parts all good to go, dump them in the container of alcohol (I used an old Rapido-Eze container least there be any confusion) and let them soak a bit. You can take one part out at a time to scour gently with q-tips.

Soaking Parts 2

When you initially start soaking your parts you’ll need to change out the alcohol a lot. I just kept filling up the lid of my container. See the part with the wire – that wire is UBER-important so be gentle with it. It will bend really easily but you will have to clean it so get it over with first and set it aside so it won’t get damaged accidentally. You can clean the wire gently with a q-tip until it’s shiny but make sure that you don’t apply any real pressure while doing so.

Cleaning Barrel

You will go though a lot of q-tips at first. Keep going until it comes out clean. I found I’d get it almost all the way clean then would soak it only to find it had boundless new layers of dried ink. Be diligent if you really want to save that pen!

Finally Coming Clean

Once it’s really clean, you’ll pull out a q-tip that looks as great as when it went it. Once this happens a couple of q-tips and soaks in a row you know you’re good. By the way – this pen tip part is a bitch because it has threads INSIDE of it which help the ink flow and the the gravity feed to work appropriately. If it’s not clean your pen will not work and will skip and get clogged before you blink.

Gunk in Ribs

These threads are super important – they’re not just screw-parts that hold on the pen body, they create an air channel that’s central to the way that a technical pen works (and part of what makes them so freaking amazing). Make sure this part is super shiny if you want the pen to work.

Soaking Parts

If you want to get some of the caked on parts our of the threads you can put your parts in a small container with a lid and gently shake them. DO NOT leave your weighted cleansing wire component in the container! It will get ruined!

Soaking Nib

If you gently shake a container of alcohol with your pen tip inside you’ll be able to get off some of the ink from the threads. I’ve found that this does not simply get removed by q-tip no matter how diligent I thought I was. Perhaps an over-night soak would dissolve it but I didn’t feel comfortable doing this with alcohol.

Tweasers

Occasionally you’ll get one of the q-tip ends stuck in the pen tip – you can get them out with tweasers. Be careful to only put in a q-tip that’s already been soaked with alcohol and spin it gently in and out rather than shove it in and out quickly… (that’s what she said).

At this point you’re probably going to feel like you want to poke yourself in the eye because you’ve been cleaning forever and still have traces (or gobs) of ink coming off every time you swab or soak the parts. Keep going – it’s worth it!

Once you’re pretty good on the basic cleaning level of all the parts you can try to unclog the pin tip – this is really important because if you don’t do this before you try to put the cleansing wire back in you’re going to bend the wire.

I know, because this is exactly what I did with my 3×0/.25 pen. I straightened the little bugger as best I could and tried to stave off the exhausted tears that threatened to overtake me but now I will NEVER not clean this part before reassembly again. Lesson learned.

So… you can use the Syringe Cleaner and Point Starter now with more clear results. If you did it when there was still so much ink coating everything you wouldn’t know if it was actually clean or not.

The Syringe Cleaner has a special adapter that allows you to screw in the pen body to the bulb – normally you’d use this with the whole little nib assembled to clean your pen between fill ups (see the you tube video link at beginning of post). If you want to clean your pin point as suggested by me BEFORE you put the whole thing back together you’ll need to use the Point Starter that comes with the kit. It’s a bit backward so here’s how it works:

Cleaning Point with Bulb 4

You’ll slide the Point Starter over the end of the pen point like so – it’s snug but it has to be for the suction to work. It will not slide on all the way so don’t force it or you’ll risk breaking the pen point.

Cleaning Point with Bulb 3

You can then attach the pen body to the threads on the Point Starter…

Cleaning Point with Bulb 2

…. and the Pen Body to the Syringe adapter.

Cleaning Point with Bulb

Then, only putting the bottom of the Pen Point in the water (around the air chamber) squeeze the bulb in and out. You’ll start to see a lot of light ribbons of ink and some harder (tiny) pieces come out. You can clean the alcohol as needed until it runs clear.

rethreading cleaning wire

Then, you’ll be able to reinsert the cleaning wire into the barrel of the Pen Point. This is tricky as hell and you really REALLY have to remember to not push AT ALL in this stage. Once you feel the cleansing wire find its spot you’ll know it. Then, it will be able to be eased into the pen tip. This is by far the most delicate and sensitive part of the entire operation so take your time!

Note: The end of the weight on the cleansing wire will stick out the end of the pen point barrel – you can actually look at the point. Despite using the Point Starter adapter you’ll still probably see a bit of ink come out that was pushed by the wire.

Reinserting the cleaning wire is what got me my first time but after that it wasn’t hard and I didn’t damage the wire. I even kept working on my 0x3 in spite of slightly bending it’s wire because I didn’t think I had anything to lose at that point. I simply used my nail against my gloved finger to coax it back to “straight” and then went from there. I have read that it is easy to pull this wire out or break it off so be careful!

Desired Result

Clean as a bean!

Cleaned 2

Once you get the Nib reassembled, I’d recommend using the Syringe the usual way (sans Point Starter adapter) to make sure the whole thing is super clean. For this part – I really do recommend the youtube video by Dick Blick if you haven’t already watched it.

So, now the tricky part – getting the pens filled and started. I would recommend following the instructions on the linked instruction sheet for this part.

When I started my pens, the 2/.60 (red) pen started fairly quickly. I was thrilled. It seems to almost let too much ink out but I feel like I remember it doing this before – it’s a large pen tip. It doesn’t skip now and doesn’t send out a blob of ink though at all. No leaking ink either. It’s great! What a relief!

Results with 2

The 0/.35 (grey) pen started after a few seconds of mark making but was spotty. I realized that I needed a bit more ink. It stopped working entirely for a bit there but then I realized that the ink-refill had created a bubble cap. A few brisk taps with the butt of the pen to the table cleared this up and it started to flow much more reliably.

Results with 0

The 0x3/.25 (tan) pen was another story altogether. It was the first pen I worked with throughout all of this – and was the least hopeful of the three. It refused to work the first time at all. I took it apart (cleaned it again) and worked more on the pen point but was afraid that the bent wire was the real issue. I tried to make sure the wire and pen point were clean but did not use the pen starter yet (not sure why this didn’t dawn on me). … nothing… I tried using the Syringe normally… nothing…

And, when I was trying to get it started I gave it a good downward shake that was forceful (but not hard) and ink came out of the nib in unexpected places. This was online advice… I didn’t find it helpful…

Leaking Nib

I finally re-soaked the heck out of every part for about 20 minutes and (finally) used the Point Starter. I noticed an almost immediate difference in the flow of alcohol out of the tip with the Point Starter and sure enough – this time when I refilled the dang thing it worked. It skipped a bunch at first but finally started and has been going fine since.

Skipping 3x0

And there you have it…. three 8 year old disasters saved with 4 hours of elbow grease, the Koh-I-Noor Syringe kit, about 100 q-tips, and 8+ ounces of rubbing alcohol.

Results(squee)

And now to draw… Squee!!!

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22 responses

  1. THANK YOU FOR THIS SET OF INSTRUCTIONS!!! You helped me save two pens, and I can now sell the whole set! :)

    August 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    • So glad it worked! My pens haven’t given me any trouble since I cleaned them out and I haven’t had to clean them again since I’ve just refilled and went with it each time but I don’t let more than 4-5 days go by without using all of them. Hope they don’t give you any more trouble. :)

      August 15, 2013 at 3:14 pm

  2. Marie

    I haven’t tried this yet but I’m thanking you in advance! Once my cleaning kit arrives, I’m going to get to work salvaging my 20+ year-old pens. Thanks again!

    January 2, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    • Hope they turn out well! Good luck. :)

      January 27, 2014 at 8:59 pm

  3. Terri

    Thanks so much! My pens are working great now!

    January 11, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    • That’s good news – glad my walk-through helped. :)

      January 27, 2014 at 8:59 pm

  4. I just got 8 pens for about three dollars at a fantastic estate sale. 3 of them are blocked with dried ink. The other 5 have never been used! I appreciate your instructions! I had a couple Rapidographs back in the day but I had forgotten how to clean them. Thanks so much! And, great photos!

    January 27, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    • That’s an awesome find! Enjoy. :)

      January 27, 2014 at 9:00 pm

  5. Dave

    Thank You!!! I have a set of Staedler Mars pens that have den in my closet for 30 years. Going to give it a go!

    February 7, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    • Hope the instructions helped. :)

      July 10, 2014 at 9:10 am

  6. Harvey

    no alcohol…only used water (my well water)…soak overnight…change water to “see” …not adverse to using lips to blow ink out of nib and other parts…paper towels…mess easy to wash away…when inserting needle slowly rotate weight-end and it will slide in quick as Bob’s your uncle…slow stroke to push old ink out.
    my 3×0/.25 had been sadly dormant a VERY long time
    Great photos…great text…
    THX

    February 13, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    • Glad this stuff helped. :)

      July 10, 2014 at 9:10 am

  7. Ana

    Te amo, de verdaaaad. En mi país no se consiguen estos rapidografs desde hace veinte años… pensé que había perdido mi 0.1 mm.

    February 18, 2014 at 6:12 pm

  8. Paula

    Thank you for writing such a detailed step by step cleaning procedure. I got an eight pen set as a gift from my ex-mother in law from the time that she went to school. (I’m sure more than 20 years ago) and I was able to clean them well. however, I used alcohol to soak them first for a couple of hours before opening them and later with the help of some delicate pliers I opened them and washed the inside pieces with water and liquid dish-washing soap. I used a soft sponge on the plastic outer parts and a pipe cleaner for the inside. the pipe cleaner is better than the Q-tips because it is a thin wire covered with thin soft material like a brush. After that I just left them soaking again in alcohol for a few more hours. I don’t own a syringe cleaner. For now, I cleaned them up to this point and tomorrow I will buy the syringe to finish cleaning them. Unfortunately, before finding your page I started using “Goo Gone” and I ruined one of my pens. It melted the plastic :(
    But thanks to you I saved the rest oft hem.

    March 3, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    • Oh goodness! That sucks about the Goo Gone – that’s crazy! I’ve read that using detergents are also bad because of their chemicals and such but then we use them to clean plastic things that we eat on so I’m not exactly sure what the chemical danger is there – I say if it works, it works – when the alternative is to lose the pen entirely sometimes it’s worth it just to try, even if the attempt is unsuccessful. I’m glad that the other pens worked out.

      July 10, 2014 at 9:09 am

  9. Mark

    So hoping this works.. I haven’t used my pens since 2001, and I’m hoping I can save them with some TLC and skills I learned from cleaning weapons after BRM. I don’t want to buy a new set, when I have a clogged set sitting right here.. and since I have a line drawing that desperately needs inking I can’t wait for my pens to work again…

    May 3, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    • I hope these instructions helped – I had absolutely no previous experience so I’m sure you got them cleaned up. Happy drawing.

      July 10, 2014 at 9:06 am

  10. Peter

    I picked up a 7 pen set (missing the .5 of course) at a yard sale for $4. A quick run about google and the post came to the top of my radar as the most useful. I was able to get all 6 of the pens flowing using the steps you have listed here. The one thing that I did not expect was for the printing on the barrel of the pen to wipe off (they were quite messy with dried ink) when I cleaned them. It doesn’t affect the operation so it’s not critical. The trick of rotating as inserting worked great. Thanks for the great post.

    Later,
    1PM

    May 16, 2014 at 8:01 am

    • So glad it worked and what a steal! I was shocked when a magic eraser completely cleaned the logo off of the barrel of mine – melamine can be a menace! :) Enjoy the pens.

      July 10, 2014 at 9:05 am

  11. Donna Robins

    Where can I purchase a cleansing wire for the nibs

    June 17, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    • I’m not sure what a cleansing wire is – I didn’t use one but I think it’s a great idea. The wire that is part of the pen itself is so fragile that a sturdier one to help clean out the gunk would be so helpful. If I ever see one I’ll post another reply.

      July 10, 2014 at 9:03 am

  12. Wendy

    This just saved my 20 year old set from high school. THANK YOU!

    October 23, 2014 at 3:19 pm

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