Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rotring Art Pens: Getting Them Going


One of my sets of Rotring Artpens, marked with red electrical tape to show they're loaded with permanent ink.

I really love Rotring Artpens, albeit in a Platonic way; I've used them as my main tool for sketching and page layout work for more than twenty years. I like them so much I own two full sets of the drawing nibs (EF, F, M and B) - one set filled with permanent Rotring Artpen ink, the other with ordinary non-permanent fountain-pen ink.

My one bugbear with Artpens (aside from the fact that the caps on the new ones no longer plug onto the end of the barrels, leaving them wandering about to get lost while you're drawing) is their tendency to dry out. I'm not a complusive sketcher by any means, so I can easily go six weeks between sessions, and a common experience on breaking my Artpens out after such a period of inactivity was to find at least one of them hopelessly dried out. Bringing the pen back from the dead would usually mean half a swearing-hour* spent running hot water through the nib and then endlessly blotting to try and get the dried ink out.

Artpen PoolingImagine my delight-crossed-with annoyance when, after twenty years of such tomfoolery, I discovered a simple answer to the problem; just dip the end of the nib in water for a few seconds until ink starts to pool in the water, then scribble on a piece of paper to get the pen going. The ink will come through highly dilute at first, but will soon darken to black. A really recalcitrant nib might take two or three goes, but on the whole, I can get any one of my pens running in under a minute.

You don't even need much water for the operation; old bottle-caps take just the right amount, and are handy to carry if you're sketching on the move.

Originally, I wasn't going to bother publishing this discovery, as it seemed so obvious I assumed I was the only one who had missed it. However, at Bristol I got talking to a group of fellow artists, all of whom had this trouble with Artpens and none of whom knew this method., so I hope it's worth mentioning.

*Swearing-hour: measurement of the time spent trying to get anything to work. Most often applied to new pieces of technology or software. Other units of time may also be employed to describe longer or shorter periods; as in "my first computer took two full swearing-weeks to set up, but the new one took only five swearing-minutes!"

UPDATE: though I haven't reied this myself, an anonymous poster tells me that Noodler's Ink is supposed to be very good for Artpens, being both black and non-clogging.


Unknown said...

That's a great tip, I've got a collection of Rotring Artpens that I've had for more than 15 years. I tried everything to get them flowing smoothly again, even vinegar, and alcohol. I'll try your tip. Maybe I'm not using the right ink. I've tried Rotring, Quink and even Montblanc. The pens work well enough, but it's a bugger to get them started, and often the flow becomes uneven after a while.

In this digital age I still love my Artpens.

Unknown said...

Hi Mark

Yeah, I had real trouble using them with anything except bog-standard ink cartridges (with that not-quite-black non-permanent ink), and even then, they'd dry out quite badly if I left them any length of time. Now I can get them to run smoothly on Rotring's own ink cartridges, even the finicky EF nib (with the warning that, if you're swapping ink types, you REALLY have to make sure you've flushed the old type of ink out first; I hold the nib under a running hot tap till the black stops coming through, then wipe the nibs off and scribble till the line goes COMPLETELY clear. Wait five minutes and then repeat as a bit of undissolved ink always hides away somewhere).

Be aware that if they're really badly clogged, you may have to do this kind of cleaning to get them running before dipping the nibs will help. Dipping the nib is more like ongoing maintenance than repair.

Unknown said...

Hi Matt,

I take the extra step of blowing through the nibs once I've flushed and cleaned them, just to be sure. Those Rotring ink cartridges aren't easy to get in my neck of the woods. I'll have to stock up next time I'm in the big smoke. I thought I was being clever by using a bottle of Rotring ink and the refillable chamber. I think the cartridges are better because once they're sealed at the factory they stay in good condition, but all of the opening and closing of the ink bottle's cap lets air in and that degrades the ink. Poo.

Do you remember that special liquid you could get for cleaning the Rotring rapideographs? You'd let the nibs sit in a bowl of it overnight. I can't remember what it's called, but I think that might do the trick, or maybe some medical alcohol mixed with water. Any thoughts?

I love my artpens and want to get more use from them. A few years ago I was watching a programme about the design and construction of the world's biggest cruise ship and I was delighted to see that the naval architect used artpens for his initial sketching and doodles.

I also have an art pencil, same design as the artpens, very nice, I've got a nice blue lead in it for my roughs. I've never seen another one, ever. My one showed up on eBay, about ten years ago, I bought it right away.

Listen to me, a pen geek... gawd. I can bore some people to tears banging on about artpens, ink, fountain pens etc.

Anyhoo, time to get cracking on some work. When time's of the essence I fall back to my wacom tablet.

All the best.


dave said...

Another wonderfully helpful tip. I started using Rotring Artpens about 6 months ago and didn't realise they had such a problem with clogging. They are great tools though and only seem to use the pen and the brush pen for everything. Nice at last to be able to keep all my tools in one poacket after god knows how many years

Unknown said...

Dave: Cheers!

Mark: The cleaning stuff was called "Reiniger für Tuschefüller," IIRR - when I did my German "O" Level, we had to talk about something to do with a hobby, and I prepared a speech about cleaning out my Rotring pens because all the German vocabulary was supplied on the packaging :-)

Don't worry, it's a pleasure to meet a fellow pen bore :-) My first Rotring pen was a 0.25mm Primus (a sort of starter technical pen with a barrel made of white plastic.) I then graduated to Isographs and the predecessors to Isographs (can't remember their names now but they had black barrels and caps). I never took to Rapidographs because you had to use Rotring ink with them - I preferred Faber Castell technical ink, you got less clogging and leaking.
I remember the Rotring Art Pencil, though I never owned one. My own claim to Rotring obscurity was owning a Rotring Graphos kit - this was a predecessor to the technical pens which consisted of a barrel and reservoir with a series of strange metal nibs in different sizes that plugged in to the barrel. I can see why it never took off - it clogged like a m*th*rf*ck*r.

Unknown said...

Just did some Googling - the black Rotring technical pens I liked so much were called Variants

Unknown said...

Details of the Rotring Graphos pen.

Unknown said...

Bloody hell, the Isograph, I think I've got one of those in my box of pens down in the dungeon. I remember the Graphos, I think my old art teacher was showing them to me when I was a teenager, he was a pen bore too, and I was fascinated and horrified at the same time. They seemed strangely arcane and sinister.

I never tried out the Faber Castell ink, I think it was because I had the Rapidiographs and I stuck to the rotring ink. Do you remember having to clean those kind of pens? What a bugger, trying to get that microscopic needly bit out of the nib. It was harder than field stripping a Kalashnikov.

I've got a set of pens you might be interested in. Yonks ago my dad gave me an old drafting set that he used as a kid. The "nibs" look like the end of a tweezers or thin metal craw claw. I'll take a picture of them tomorrow and send it to you. Great stuff. I tried one out but found it a real bugger to use. You needed a really steady hand and a lot of practice to use those.

I think I'll take some pics of all of my pens, they're not all fancy, but I think they're all great. One of my faves is one of the most basic, an old Russian school dip pen where you pop the nib off the end of the barrel, reverse it and tuck it inside. All nice and neat when not in use.

All the best.


Unknown said...

Reiniger für Tuschefüller. Yikes. Sounds like a hearty German meal.

Unknown said...

Oh, yes, ruling pens I think we used to call them - they look as if a pair of nail tweezers jumped the fence and ravished next door's pair of compasses, the whole kaboodle then mounted on a pen handle. I have a Staedler one that's part of a kit for a pair of compasses, and a really old one given to me by an honorary "auntie," the wonderfully named illustrator Esmé Eve.

When I was working on paper, I used to use them occasionally for colour work, as they're the best, clog-free way of ruling straight lines with opaque coloured paint (thinned gouache or acrylic).

Michael Grant Clark said...

I had a great set of ruling pens I got from my uncle as a kid. He was a retired engineer and had heaps of them. Took a bit of work to use them but they were really smart.

No undo facility so I eventually had to chuck them.

Stan said...


Just saw this blog by accident. I own around a dozen Rotring Art Pens and have spent hours cleaning them by soaking and blowing and rinsing. I found out since that they are designed with removable nibs and reservoirs. Simply pull the nib with a downward wiggling movement, rinse the nib and reservoir then replace. Since I discovered this my pens have never worked better and I save hours.

I am now even more in love with my Art Pens. Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I feel like a dunce reading this!

I don`t know if I`ve said this before,but this blog is a fantastic source of information.I can say truthfully that I`ve learned stuff here that I`m sure would`ve taken me years otherwise!

See you in Derry,Matt?

SiFraser said...

I don't and have never used ArtPens of any kind. I got so tired of cleaning my old Isographs that I foreswore the whole automatic pen nightmare forever. Though now that you make it sound so straightforward ...I might have another go...

Rafiq Raja said...

Another wonderful piece of info, for those who are accustumed to use Art Pens for their drawing.

Remember those good old days, when I had the same trouble with jammed up pens, luckily, my dad did give the similar idea to clean the stuffs.

With the advent on ball pens and refills, and more importantly digital artwork with lightpens, those days are gone and forgotten completely.

Thanks for bringing back those old memories D.


SkuaSeptember said...

I feel old.

I haven't used my ArtPens in at least a decade. No doubt I'm now going home, ditching the mac and spending the rest of the night trying to find them in the repository of old drawing stuff (aka - the cupboard in the garage. Actually, I know exactly where they are, I gaze at them wistfully from time to time, thinking how hard it would be to resurrect them.

Now I have renewed hope. Thanks for a fantastic little piece. Both useful and nostalgic.

Now, as the curve ball - anyone else got them in grey, peach and pale blue - as well as the basic black?

(Oh and I had the ArtPencil too - long since gone...)

r1chard said...

Nice tip by the way.

Elwood H. Smith said...

Thanks, Matt (& others) for the pen tips. I'm an illustrator and I've been using a Pelikan 120 fountain pen for years--with waterproof India ink--and that model has served me well. Ever since FW changed their ink formula, though, I've had problems with clogging and ink flow. I may try a Rotring, but I'm not sure it'll work well with India ink.
-E.H. Smith

rachel said...

I've got 3 artpens and a pencil that I've had for over a decade now. I too had great trouble trying to clean the pens up after a long absence. Then I accidentally found out that the nib comes off as another poster mentioned, I was horrified, thought I'd truly busted it!
They are my favorite pens and I use them daily, the pencil too.
It seems that most people are not familiar with them as I get comments on them fairly often.

oh, I have 2 EF, a F, and the pencil. I'm looking for another pencil currently.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Your comments are very interesting, and they made me decide to buy two Artpens. However, as you are more experienced than me I would like to ask two questions:
1) I tried to refill the cartridges with indian ink, but it seems too "thick" as the ink doesn't flow nicely. So what type of ink do you recommend to refill them?
2) I bought an ExtraFine and a Fine, but the thick doesn't seem too different; in fact, they are quite similar. Is that normal?
Besides, I loved the pens, although I continue using disposable Pigma pens, as the line is thinner.
Thank you, guys, for the answer.
Claudio, Sherbrooke (Canada)

Unknown said...

Claudio -

1) DON'T USE INDIAN INKI! The "permanent" ink I talk about is Rotring's own Artpen ink, which is sold in cartridges and is a BIT more black, waterproof and permanent than the ordinary fountain pen black ink you find in standard cartridges. Artpen ink is NOT completely waterproof like Indian Ink which is GUARANTEED to horribly clog your pens! Don't do it!

(Note: ordinary black cartridge ink also works fine in Artpens, but THOROUGHLY wash the pen out before swapping between ink types as two different inks will react inside the pen and clog the mechanism horribly if you don't. I have buggered up Artpens that way in the past.)

Rotring did also make an Artpen ink that was sold in bottles and which could be loaded into the pens using a reservoir adaptor. I always found it clogged my pens, and I don't even know if it's made any more.

2) I use nibs EF, F, M and B and all of them give distinctly different lines - if you're getting the same sort of line from an EF and an F it may be a sign that the F is a bit clogged and so writing a bit thin (I'm currently having the same issue with my M and B nibs because I haven't used or cleaned them for a bit).

Anonymous said...

I have been using Artpens for 15 years and my cleaning time has been cut way down by using Noodler's ink. I wish I had known about Noodler's in years ago, it is superb in these pens.

Unknown said...

Don't know how long ago these postings were put here but in case the thread is still alive .....
I've spent practically the whole weekend washing my set of isograph pens that have been languishing unused but not forgotten for at least ten years. I've soaked then, I've run them under a running tap, blown through them, filled a cartridge with water and shaken them to the point of developing a repetitive stress injury, and still some of them are clogged. Finding this blog is a god send! A joy to discover that I was not the only pen nerd labouring with love to bring my trusty old tools back to life. Does anyone know if the nibs on isographs are removable? Looks to me like they are not but....
Also, now that I have at least got some of them clean, what ink would you recommend using in them? I was interested to read Mark say that rotring ink deteroriated. I still have a little unopened plastic bottle of the stuff from back in the day (10 years ago perhaps) that I was thinking of using. What does anyone think? It sounds and looks fresh and liquidy but....
All advice most welcome. Anything to keep me company during my long hours at the slowly running tap!

brightbluesea said...

thanks for the info,i just finished cleaning my isograph pens and they're still refusing to work,i just ran then under water etc etc,removed the nibs clened them out well(you can see how the nib can be removed if you google -how to clean isograph/technical pens)they still dont appear to work,im not sure if dipping them in water will dilute the ink further and delay them from working anytime soon.I have also been tapping them gently with their caps on for a while.and keeping them upright-no luck as yet.Any advice on how much longer it my take?

Unknown said...

anjana - Back in the day I used to use a special solution from Rotring. Soaking the disassembled nibs overnight. I think that soaking them in some kind of ordinary cleaning fluid should do the trick.

Anonymous said...

I am looking for replacement cartridges for my set of Rotring Primus No. II, III, and IV, 1970s vintage. Not easy to find with Isographs and Radiographs having taken over!

Marialette said...

I want to use my Rotring for drawing on egg shells. (I copy Dulac, Rackham etc onto them). So far I used very fine brushes for outlining, but now want to try waterproof ink. Will a Rotring pen cope with the unavoidable ultra-fine dust from the eggshell or will it clog up the nib? Any advice welcome.

Unknown said...

Marialette - when you say Rotring pens you don't say if you mean Rotring Art Pens (that look like fountain pens, with a pointed nib) or Rotring technical pens (Isograph/Rapidograph) with cylindrical nibs.

The fountain-pen style Art Pens won't take true waterproof ink, so I'd not recommend them; Isograph or Rapidograph pens will take special waterproof technical pen ink, but the fine nibs would probably clog very easily with shell dust.

If you're used to using fine brushes, why not just use waterproof ink with those? As long as you rinse the brushes thoroughly and wash the hairs with soap at the end of each working session, waterproof ink won't damage them. I used to draw with brushes and waterproof ink all the time.

If you need a fine, steady line, try a Faber-Castell PITT pen; they're a type of fibre-tip loaded with waterproof permanent ink. The fibre tip nib shouldn't clog like a technical pen. The only real drawback is, you can't reload them. They make three sizes of nib, equivalent to about 0.3mm, 0.5mm and the widest is a sort of brush tip.

Quinn said...

Been using the art pens for about 20 years — picked up my first set in Germany and got a second set when i returned to the states. Love them! Tried other pens and none of them give that clean crisp line that my EF does. Running under hot water has always done the job for me, although I've used the bottle-cap quickie method out in the field with good results. I use rotring black cartridges mostly and get the best results. I buy about 20 packs at a time when I can find them. I'm not as happy with the results with a converter. Finding the right ink for them is a problem

printed pens said...

The Rotring Art Pen is a classic pen with a modern design and the insipid writing action of a fine fountain pen. I think that Rotring Sketch Pen has a tapered stainless steel nib, pointed nib is mostly used for sketching and drawing and uses international cartridges or optional convertor.

Anonymous said...

Mine is a metal barrel bluish purple. I bought the bottled ink recommended by the seller. They me that because it is a stainless steel tip it would be slower to get started.
That has been some time ago and it still hasn't started.
I am frustrated. I love fountain pens (mine is not an artpen) and it is driving me crazy that I have been unable to use it!!

Collette said...

I've had a Rotring rapidograph 0,18mm for years and I love it when it works. I don't use it often enough and every time I come back to it I have to unclog it. The cartridges get cloggy too so I end up having to dismantle the whole thing, throw away the cartridge and soak the pen clean. It can take ages. During use I often have to dip the tip in water and shake it several times to get it going again. I've just discovered a cleaning fluid produced by Rotring but there are no directions or instructions for use on the box, in the leaflet or on the bottle. I have got my pen soaking in it now. Does anyone know is it supposed to be diluted or used like a washing up liquid or will it just soak the thing clean on its own? I've read through some of past posts on this site and there is little reference to using it. I have managed with water only for years and thought this would be quicker! it cost me £7 so I hope its worth it!
I still love the pen though. Nothing else gives me so fine a line.

Unknown said...


Collette - I remember using Rotring pen cleaner fluid years ago (I eventually stopped needing it because I swapped over to using the no-longer made Higgins technical pen ink which didn't clog my pens as much).

You don't dilute the fluid at all, just use it as is - pour it into a small container and soak the nib (it helps to remove the plastic collar from the nib and thoroughly wipe off the spiral)

For less badly clogged pens, you can load the cleaner into a reservoir and run it through the pen by shaking, just as you would to get the ink going.

Unknown said...

Awesome. I had the same problem with my Art Pen.
I don't use it in a regular base, so when I try to draw, the ink doesn't flow.
With this method, it starts to work rapidly XD

Gitz said...

Wow, is noone else having problems with their pens?! I cannot trust mine to draw consistent lines as suddenly I'll get a deluge of ink and at times it fires blank for the first part of a first stroke. Anyone else having problems with their Rotring art pen? Any suggestions for more reliable art ink pens?


Unknown said...

Gitz: drying is certainly a common problem with Artpens, but the flooding's not something I've ever encountered. If you're using a reservoir to fill the pen from bottled ink, a bad seal on that might cause flooding... otherwise your pen's either worn out or just a bad 'un.

If you want alternatives... Lamy Safari fountain pens seem pretty good, and apparently available in nib sizes F, M and B (though I've never seen this variety in shops, only online). I've not had clogging problems with the Safaris, though I've only ever used them with Lamy cartridges in red (my girlfriend has several loaded with a variety of other colours, which also perform well), so I couldn't tell you how black their black ink really is, or how waterproof, it that's an issue.

Aside from Fountain pens, Faber-Castell Pitt pens are lovely to use and contain truly waterproof pigmented ink (but they're fibre-tips, and disposable). There are three sizes of standard-type fibre tips - S F and M, plus a B size that's a kind of brush pen. said...

You can use Indian ink with these pens - I have been doing so out of ignorance, you just need to follow all the steps above and also have a wet rag to wipe pen on occasionally. I refill the old ink cartridges with indian ink using a syringe.

Robgprice said...

Lot's of good info here. Just picked up a bag of 8 Rotrings for 2 Euros at a flea market yesterday. Used to use Rotring around 20 years ago and have just recently got back into cartoonistry so I'll be sure to give the Rotrings a go. For stubbornly dried ink, is there a home-made mix that you can soak them in, just in case regular water doesn't cut it?

Unknown said...

Hello everyone. I have unearthed some 27 year old Staedtler rapidographs. I ran them under a very hot tap for a while, I even disassembled them and soaked them overnight in hot water, but I can't get them working again.

Any suggestions?