Pilot Parallel Hacking: The Unofficial Parallel Owner’s Guide

The Pilot Parallel is my favorite writing instrument in the entire world (in fact, I have over two-dozen Parallels). Perhaps it’s yours too. If you’re into Blackletter or any other type of flat-pen pen calligraphy, you already know that this tool is a staple in your writing arsenal. Ever since I picked up my first blue 6MM Parallel, I’ve sought out ways to push the boundaries of what this incredible tool is capable of. And that’s what this article is about.

Over the years, I’ve written a handful of posts about the Pilot Parallel. As of this post, I’ve redirected them all to here so the information contained in those posts (as well as a bunch of new information!) can live in one place. If you’re enthusiastic about this topic, bookmark this article and let it serve as your comprehensive handbook. I plan on updating it periodically with new information.

A collection of Pilot Parallel pens

Before we dive in, allow me to make quick disclaimer. Some of these operations require permanent modifications to your Parallel, which could result in the permanent demise of your Parallel if not done right. While I encourage exploration and experimentation, please proceed carefully at your own risk.

Purchasing a Pilot Parallel

Pilot Parallels are inexpensive (especially considering how powerful they are!) and come in a variety of four different nib sizes.

The four different sizes of Pilot Parallel pens
The 4 sizes of Pilot Parallels


Each pen comes with two ink cartridges (typically red and black), a nib cleaner, and a flushing bulb (also for cleaning). More details on these items can be found in the cleaning section.

A brand new packaged Pilot Parallel pen
A packaged Pilot Parallel

Pilot Parallel Anatomy

First and foremost, your best performance with a writing instrument will be the result of understanding how it works on an intimate level. Let’s explore all of the bits and pieces of a Parallel to see how it operates. This will allow you to troubleshoot ink-flow issues and perform thorough cleaning and general maintenance.

In essence, the Parallel is a relatively simple fountain-pen. It is comprised of the following detachable parts:

Anatomy diagram of a Pilot Parallel pen
The anatomy of a Pilot Parallel
  1. Nib: This is the stainless steel tip that feeds your ink. Basically, it is two fused parallel (get it?!) pieces of stainless steel that the ink seeps into. As you press the nib on to the surface, they flex and feed the ink in an evenly distributed manner.
  2. Reservoir: This is the heart of the Parallel. The reservoir is the thick tube in your Parallel that takes ink and disperses it through a set of stepped plastic rings. Think of these rings as mini dams that slow the flow of ink so that it can be gradually fed to the nib without flooding it with ink, which would otherwise make a mess. The reservoir is actually comprised of two parts; the outer tube and the internal ink feed. More details on these items can be found in the cleaning section.
  3. Ink Cartridge: This is the thin plastic tube where the ink lives. It is a simple cylinder that has a small metal ball (for mixing the ink when the pen is shaken) and a plastic stopper (to further regulate the flow of ink in addition to the reservoir).
  4. Pen Body: This is the hollow shell that screws onto the reservoir and encapsulates the cartridge feed.
  5. Pen Cap: This is the colored plastic that screws onto the body to cover the nib. It might not seem important, but seal it tight to avoid drying out your nib! The color is also a useful indicator for the size of the nib when you have more than one size of a Parallel.

Cleaning Your Pilot Parallel

Pilot Parallels can take a good amount of abuse and sustain a ton of wear and tear! But eventually, you’ll want to clean it to ensure it’s operating at its full potential.

Quick Cleaning

The Pilot Parallel comes with two useful little tools. One of them is the flushing bulb. This is a simple piece of plastic that allows you to flush water through the reservoir. Here’s how to do it:

Cleaning the Pilot Parallel
Use the flushing bulb to clean ink from the Pilot Parallels’ reservoir
  1. Remove the pen body, the pen cap, and the ink cartridge so that you’re left with the just the reservoir.
  2. Insert the flushing bulb’s open end into the opening where the cartridge is normally inserted.
  3. Submerge the tip of the pen into a water vessel (cup or drinking glass).
  4. Squeeze the flushing bulb continuously. This will create a vacuum that sucks water up through the reservoir and pushes it back out through the tip.
  5. Empty the water vessel, refill it, and repeat steps 3 and 4 until the water runs clear.

At this point, you’ve flushed the majority of the ink in the reservoir out of the pen, effectively cleaning it.

However, there’s still water in the reservoir, which can potentially dilute the ink for the first few minutes of writing with the pen. So one more optional step you can take is to dissemble the reservoir and dry the reservoir tube and internal ink feed. More details on this can be found in the next section.

Deep Cleaning

Sometimes, a more thorough cleaning needs to happen to get your pen in working order. This scenario is almost always the result of using an ink that might be too heavy for the Parallel to handle. If you’re experimenting with non-Parallel inks and you can’t get it to write (more on using different inks below), you’ll need to give then pen a deep clean before you can write with it again.

Before you clean the pen using the following instructions, remove the pen body and ink cartridge (if it’s not empty).

Cleaning the Nib

The nib of the Pilot Parallel can be removed from the reservoir by pulling it straight out. You can use your fingers to do this, or if you can’t get a good grip, give it a gentle tug with some pliers.

Once the nib has been removed, be very careful not to bend it too much. Too much stress can cause it to warp undesirably, which can impact its performance.

Dirty Pilot Parallel nibs
Dirty nibs!

Next, run it under warm water with a soaked paper towel. Be gentle here. The goal is to get any dried ink off of the inner and outer edges of the parallel slabs. If the paper towel isn’t working, user your fingernail to scrape any leftover dried ink.

Place the cleaned nib off to the side to dry.

What’s That Little Plastic Flappy Thing?

You might have wondered what the little black film that came with your Parallel is. Hold on to it! It’s quite useful.

Simply put, if your pen nib gets a little dry or crusty, OR if you’re picking up paper particles with the edges of your nib, this thing is simply meant to be inserted between the two slabs of your Parallel’s nib to remove excess junk.

Using the black film to clean the Pilot Parallel nib
Use the black film to clean debris out of the Pilot Parallel’s nib

Cleaning the Reservoir

While cleaning the reservoir with the flushing bulb is effective, I actually prefer to dissemble the reservoir and clean it manually. Most people don’t know that you can actually take this piece apart.

To dissemble, pull on the piece of plastic that contains the slot the nib is inserted into. Holding the tube of the reservoir with the other hand, twist and pull to separate the two pieces. If it’s really stuck from dried ink, you can also use pliers.

A dissembled Pilot Parallel reservoir and nib
A dissembled Pilot Parallel reservoir and nib

Using a sponge or brillo pad, scrub the internal ink feed part of reservoir with soap and warm water. This will remove any residual ink (wet or dry). Then give the reservoir tube a clean as well.

Cleaning an Ink Cartridge

If your cartridge is empty, or if you want to remove the remaining ink and refill it with a different ink, it’s quite simple!

  1. Take a toothpick or unfolded paper clip and poke the plastic stopper down so that it spins upward, leaving space on the sides of the stopper for liquid to enter and exit the cartridge.
  2. Run the cartridge under a light stream of warm water from the faucet (a light stream will prevent the stopper from spinning back to a closed position).
  3. Once the cartridge is filled up, flip it over and shake the water out.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until the reservoir looks clean and is empty of water.
  5. Refill with the ink of your choice (more details on refilling and using third party inks below).

Reassemble.

That’s all there is to cleaning your Pilot Parallel. Before you put it back together, make sure all of the parts are dry. Otherwise, the ink you put into the cartridge might come out diluted until it has run its course through the pen while you’re writing.

Manually Refilling Pilot Parallel Ink Cartridges

No, you don’t have to keep buying refill cartridges. I’d be broke otherwise!

Yes, Pilot tells you not to use other inks. I’ve also seen other calligraphy artists also explicitly say not to use other inks. Don’t listen to them. Your results may vary and you may need to clean your pen more frequently, but as long as you’re not putting heavy acrylic inks into your Parallel, you’ll be just fine!

Use a toothpick/paperclip to swivel the stopper
Use a toothpick/paperclip to swivel the stopper
Squeeze ink past the stopper to fill
Squeeze ink past the stopper to fill

To refill your cartridge:

  1. Make sure your ink is fully mixed!
  2. Take a toothpick or unfolded paper clip and poke the plastic stopper down so that it spins upward, leaving space on the sides of the stopper for liquid to enter and exit the cartridge.
  3. Using an eyedropper, drop ink into the top of the cartridge until it’s full. Do this slowly so you don’t accidentally overfill it and make a mess.
  4. I almost ALWAYS make a mess though. If you do too, put your finger on top of the cartridge to plug it so no more ink can spill out, and run the cartridge under warm water to rinse the ink off.
  5. Insert the cartridge back into the pen reservoir.

Pro Tip: Many inks come in bottles that have a dropper built into the lid. Be sure to save these for when another ink you’re using does not have a dropper. If you use these standalone droppers, be sure to also clean them after you refill ink with them so you don’t tint another ink by accident.

After several manual fills, you might find the stopper starting to recede into the body of the cartridge. You can easily pull it back up with small tweezers to allow for maximal refill space.

Inks NOT to Use

Like I said, you can use almost any ink within the Pilot Parallel. The only inks you should not bother experimenting with are non-water-based acrylics and anything that has any sort of shellac in it. Some Sumi inks are safe (and wonderful to use because there’s nothing blacker than Sumi ink), but you should absolutely do some research on the ink to make sure it doesn’t have any waterproof shellacs mixed in.

Likewise, be careful with metallic inks — particularly cheap ones. Because of the quantity of metallic particles (many use aluminum, bronze, copper, and zinc) in these metallic inks, it can be easy to run into ink-flow issues. If the ink is flowing good, then you should be fine (as long as it’s not acrylic).

If you end up adding an ink that does not work, give your pen a thorough clean immediately so it doesn’t dry up in the pen’s reservoir. This can definitely ruin your pen.

My Go-To Inks

If you ask 10 artists what ink they like to use (and you should!), you’ll probably get 10 different answers. And none of them will be wrong. It’s all a matter of personal preference.

With that said, here are my favorite inks:

  • Chartpak’s Higgins Black: This is my go-to black. It might not be the blackest of blacks, but I love the consistency of the ink. It allows for near-perfect ink-flow and the ability to create crisp, sharp lines.
  • Chartpak’s Higgins White: I’ll go into more detail in the section about using white and inks, but the Higgins White is now the only white ink that I use in my Pilot Parallel. Give it a good shake before use.
  • Jaques Herbin’s 1670 Ink Line: These inks are a little pricey, but their quality and color brilliance is absolutely superior to any other ink I’ve used. Some colors in this line (like the Émeraude de Chivor and the Rouge Hematite) have metallic specks that create lovely golden sheens in your work. And depending on how the ink pools, you’ll get interesting mixtures of tone and color.
  • Ecoline Watercolor Inks: Wonderful colors with amazing blending capabilities. I tend to dip these ink rather than filling my cartridge. More details on this below. I also enjoy countless other inks, but it would take me forever to go through all of them. However, this small selection comprises my favorite arsenal for the Pilot Parallel.
My personal go-to inks for the Pilot Parallel
My personal go-to inks for the Pilot Parallel

Pilot Parallel Eyedropper & Ink Expansion

I’ve received several inquiries about how to convert the Pilot Parallel into an eyedropper.

When you convert a pen to an eyedropper, your essentially omitting the cartridge altogether and instead, using the pen’s body as the ink cartridge. As a result, the pen is able to hold significantly more ink, which allows you to refill it way less.

This can be done with a Parallel pretty easily. However, I’d challenge your inclination to do this by asking if you really need that much ink on hand? I ask because this expansion can get messy and lead to a big waste of ink. Personally, I don’t find changing refilling my cartridge annoying enough to warrant eye-dropper conversion, but that’s just me.

In any case, the process is pretty easy. However, make sure you have some silicone grease and a plastic o-ring that can fit snug around the threads of the reservoir. Both of these are absolutely necessary! Together, they’ll create a liquid-tight seal that will prevent the ink from leaking out of the pen body.

Use the Pilot Parallel as an eyedropper by filling the pen body with ink
Use the Pilot Parallel as an eyedropper by filling the pen body with ink
  1. Unscrew the pen body and remove the plastic ink cartridge (you won’t be needing that anymore).
  2. Apply a liberal coat of silicon grease around the outer threads of the reservoir as well as the inner threads of the pen body. This will ensure a tight seal.
  3. Slip the o-ring on to the reservoir threads and push it to the bottom of the threads (where the threads meet the reservoir tube).
  4. Using a dropper, fill up the pen body with the ink of your choice. Fill it most of the way up, but not all the way. Leave about a centimeter of space before the threads.
  5. Holding the pen’s body (now filled with ink) vertical so that it doesn’t spill, screw the reservoir on to the pen body all the way down to the o-ring, giving it a nice tight seal.
  6. Using a wet paper towel, wipe away the excess silicone grease from he outside of the body.
  7. Optional: Wrap a couple layers of tape around the seal as an extra guard against leaking ink.

That’s it!

Using the Flushing Bulb as an Ink Cartridge

If you like the idea of an eyedropper conversion, but are hesitant to take the plunge, give this technique a shot. This is a very cool idea that I saw my friend Maya (Calligraphy by Maya) use. She told me she got the idea from Edbert Wahjudi. Regardless, they’re both incredible calligraphy artists so be sure to check them out and show some love!

This technique involves filling the flushing bulb that comes with the Pilot Parallel with ink and using it as a cartridge (since it fits perfectly on to the pen reservoir).

Use the flushing bulb as an expanded Pilot Parallel ink reservoir
Use the flushing bulb as an expanded Pilot Parallel ink reservoir

This technique comes in handy if you’ve gone through the trouble of mixing a unique ink color and you don’t want to run out in the middle of the piece (in which you might risk not being able to mix the exact same color tone).

There a couple factors you should keep in mind if you choose to try this technique:

  1. While the flushing bulb will stay on the pen reservoir by itself, it is too big to fit the pen body over, so the makeshift cartridge will always be exposed. It does fit snug, but you still run the risk of it falling off and making a mess if it gets knocked the wrong way. For this reason, I would not recommend traveling with it in this state. If you don’t dissemble and clean between uses, make sure you store it in a secure manner.
  2. Be careful not to accidentally squeeze the bulb while you’re writing. A gentle squeeze can prime the ink-flow, but if you squeeze too hard, ink will come out of the tip and could potentially ruin your work.

Color Blending with a Pilot Parallel

There’s certainly nothing wrong with working in black and white, but the Pilot Parallel also has amazing capabilities when it comes to working with color.

Try out some of these techniques to bring some colorful excitement to your work.

Cartridge Blending

I discovered this by accident (and perhaps you have to). Let’s say you have a cartridge filled with black ink. You’ve written a fair amount and the cartridge is about empty. Time for a new cartridge! Perhaps you reach for a red cartridge and insert it without cleaning out the ink reservoir.

When you start writing again, the ink will still be black. But as you progress through more ink, you’ll notice the color slowly start to change to dark shades of red, which continue to get lighter until all of the leftover black ink in the reservoir has worked its way through the pen.

Slow gradation of color from blending two Pilot Parallel cartridges
Slow gradation of color from blending two Pilot Parallel cartridges

The result is a gradual gradation from the previous color to the next.

Nib Blending

The effect you can achieve from cartridge blending is very cool, but you don’t have a ton of control over how fast the ink changes. And because of this, you’ll have to rely on timing and a little bit of luck if you’re after a specific effect.

Luckily, there’s a more controlled alternative! For this technique, you’ll need at least two Pilot Parallels (any size will do), each loaded with a different color cartridge. The more the merrier. As you begin experimenting with different colors, you’ll be sure to find combinations that work together nicely.

Touch the nibs of  two Pilot Parallels to blend their colors
Touch the nibs of two Pilot Parallels to blend their colors

Before you jump into a piece, grab a piece of scrap paper for some experimentation.

  1. Designate one of your Pilot Parallels as your “primary” pen (the one you’ll be using to write throughout this process).
  2. Draw a couple of strokes with your primary pen to get the ink flowing. Then do the same with your secondary pens.
  3. Now take one of your secondary pens and touch the nib of this pen to the the nib of your main pen for a couple of seconds.
  4. It probably doesn’t seem like anything happened… but now write with your primary pen. The strokes should start with the color of the secondary pen, and gradually gradate back to the color of the primary pen.
Nib blending with yellow and orange
Nib blending with yellow and orange

This works much in the same way as cartridge blending, except the secondary color isn’t working its way through the pen reservoir. Instead, it’s bleeding into the tip of the nib, and as it gets further back into the nib, it’s mixing with the color coming from the reservoir.

Experiment with touching the nibs together in different places, positions, and for different lengths of time. Once you develop a sense of how the colors work together and how they blend into the nib, you’ll be able to achieve a much more controlled application of color blending.

Dipping Rather than Refilling the Cartridge

One of the Pilot Parallel’s greatest qualities is that it’s a fountain pen. You fill it up with ink and you’re good to go. However, it works just as good as a quill-based pen with a dip-nib.

This technique is most well-suited when it comes to working with two or more colors. It can also be a good way to test an ink that you might be hesitant to fill your cartridge before you commit to doing so.

Dip the Pilot Parallel into different inks to blend colors on the fly
Dip the Pilot Parallel into different inks to blend colors on the fly

There’s not much to it. Dip your pen’s nib into one color, start writing, and then dip the nib into another color and write some more! My go-to inks for this technique are the Ecoline Watercolor inks. Each color comes self-contained in a screw-top vessel which makes setup and teardown quick and painless. The colors are extremely vibrant and since they’re watercolor, they way they blend is excellent.

Beyond that, here are a couple of tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep a cup of water and a paper towel handy. Sometimes, you may not want to cross dip two inks together, so it’s worth cleaning the nib off and drying it before moving to the next color.
  • If you are cross-dipping inks, you might run the risk of inadvertently tinting inks in an undesirable manner depending on the colors. If you’re working with red and orange, this won’t happen. But if you’re with black and yellow, you might damage the yellow when you dip a nib that has black in it. To avoid tainting your colors, you can put a couple of dropper fulls into a smaller vessel that you later just discard. This helps ensure that your main inkwells are always in their original color.

Using White Ink in Your Pilot Parallel

Calligraphy piece using a Pilot Parallel filled with white ink
A calligraphy piece by Jake Rainis using a Pilot Parallel filled with white ink

“What white ink do you use?”

This is the question that I’ve received more than any other question about my calligraphy. And it’s not a secret; Higgins White.

Higgins White Ink by Chartpak
Higgins White Ink by Chartpak

Over the years, I’ve experimented with countless white inks. There are quite a few of them out there… and unfortunately, many of them are not safe to put into your Parallel. This is because the majority of them are acrylic based, and as you now know, acrylic inks will dry inside of your pen and negatively impact your pen’s ink-flow.

With the inks I’ve experimented with, I’ve had some mixed results. Some of the acrylics I’ve tried actually work quite well as far as ink-flow, but they dry in the pen. Other non-acrylics work great for a couple of strokes, but they’re a little too thick to flow fluidly through the pen. So I’d try diluting a with a little water, but even just a couple drops makes the ink too translucent. Others have had fantastic ink-flow, but were hardly opaque. When writing on a black surface, it just bleeds into the black and is barely visible.

Inconsistent shades of translucent white
Inconsistent shades of translucent white

I wasn’t completely unsatisfied. This can actually create some neat and desirably effects depending on the style you’re after.

Eventually, I discovered Higgins White, and I haven’t gone back since. Higgins white is an incredible ink with great vibrancy on a dark surface. It can however, be a little finicky. Here are the steps I would recommend taking when putting white ink in your Parallel.

  1. Take your bottle of Higgins and shake the living shit out of it. Not just a quick sake — I’m talking 60-90 seconds of intense agitation.
  2. Refill a clean, empty cartridge using the steps detailed in the section about manually refilling cartridges.
  3. Squeeze the cartridge gently a couple of times to push ink from the cartridge into the reservoir, and subsequently into the nib. Higgins White is a little thicker than other calligraphy inks, so it takes a little more effort to get the ink to flow with regularity.
  4. Reassemble the pen.
  5. On a scrap piece of black paper, write with the pen until you’re getting consistent strokes. The strokes might not look perfectly opaque, but give them a minute to dry (the vibrancy will increase).
  6. If you’re still not getting the desired result, give the pen a good shake for 30 seconds and repeat steps 3-5.

When you’re done writing, make sure you screw the cap of the pen on all of the way. The next time you go to use the pen, some of the white ink on the nib will be dry and you might need to clean the nib up with the black plastic film that comes with the Parallel and perhaps a wet paper towel. Before using, give the pen a good 30 second shake and prime it on some scrap paper. It shouldn’t take as long to get writing as it did the first time around, though.

The Best Black Paper

Black artist paper is a relatively new thing. Sure, you’ve seen black construction paper (stay away — too many fibers), but black artist paper is different in that it behaves very similar to mixed-media paper. There aren’t nearly as many options out there, but here are two that I swear by.

OOLY DIY Sketchbook
OOLY DIY Sketchbook
Canson Colorline Black Sketchbook
Canson Colorline Black Sketchbook

OOLY DIY Sketchbook

OOLY is a brand that used to be called International Arrivals. OOLY’s DIY Black Notebooks are fantastic. They come in a small (5″x7.5″) and large (8″x11″) size and both contain 75 sheets.

The sheets are somewhat thin, which is a double-edged sword. They don’t actually bleed like other thin paper which is great, but they do warp and bend a little. On the other hand, their thin nature gives the ink less space to seep into so the ink ends up being more vibrant.

I enjoy working in white so I keep some OOLYs on hand for practice.

Canson Colorline Black

Canson recently released its Colorline Black Drawing Notebook, which is excellent! At 92lb (150g/m), the 9″x12″ paper warps far less than the OOLY which makes it perfect for finished pieces for sale or display.

Just be sure not to use an overly-diluted pigment, otherwise it will be tough to get fully opaque lines. Even if you can’t, the textured strokes still make for a nice effect!

Tinting White Ink to Mix Opaque Colors

When it comes to working with opaque colors (in other words, using a solid color on top of another color like you might with paint), the major drawback of the Pilot Parallel is the thin distribution of pigment through its compact parallel nib slabs.

Due to the design, not much can be done to change this. A wider distribution would result in too rapid of ink flow and imprecise strokes. If you try to thicken the pigment, it won’t flow. If you try to thin the pigment, it becomes transparent.

However, we know Higgins White ink works quite well when it comes to opaqueness. So while you might no be able to achieve a perfectly opaque effect in every shade of color, we can use this ink as a base and introduce additional pigment to give it tone.

Tinted white and orange ink
Tinted white and orange ink

Start with the following supplies:

  • Higgins White ink
  • Colored ink and/or highly viscous gouache (any color of your choosing)
  • Mixing cup/jar
  • Toothpick for mixing
  • A Pilot Parallel
Prepare your mix in a separate vessel
Prepare your mix in a separate vessel

With a couple drops of just about any color, you’ll find you can make beautiful pastels. These nice, milky tints look beautiful on dark surfaces. I particularly enjoy the way pastel blues and oranges look on a dark surface.

If you’re looking for deeper hues, continue adding ink to the white base. Be careful to add a little bit at a time. It’s important to keep in mind that you’re mixing non-opaque ink with opaque ink, which results in not-quite-opaque.

Consider a bright fire-engine red. The problem here is that if you add too much red to the white, it will either end up being pink, or too transparent (this is because the base becomes too thinned down).

Too thin
Too pink

There are two approaches you can take in this scenario.

  1. Minimize the amount of colored pigment you’re diluting the white with by darkening it with black first (or just counterbalancing with an already-darker shade).
  2. Thicken the mixture back up by introducing some gouache. You wouldn’t ever want to put gouache into the Parallel by itself as it will dry up and ruin the pen’s internals. However, it should be fine when mixed in with a combination of inks.

Dipping Your Pilot Parallel (As an Alternative)

In full transparency (no pun intended), mixing opaque ink is quite tedious and will inevitably require some trial an error depending on the types of colors you’re using to mix, and the final tone you’re after. But with some patience, it is possible.

If this is too much fuss for you, you can always dip the pen straight into a well of ink While you might not get a consistent shade of color, you can still achieve some very neat color effects.

Dipping a Pilot Parallel filled with white ink into other colors
Dipping a Pilot Parallel filled with white ink into other colors

Pilot Parallel Ink Flow and Reservoir Modification

I’ll be honest — I have a Pilot Parallel graveyard. It’s full of broken pens from failed experiments. Some work out and some don’t. But as a result of my successes, I have a number of modified pens that each perform contextually to my liking. If you only have one Parallel Pen, I wouldn’t recommend making this modification. On the other hand, if you have a bunch and you’d like to dedicate one for use with thicker, heavier inks, then give it a go!

Once again, the nib is comprised of two thin pieces of metal that are pressed together. As ink is fed from the body of the pen, it fills the tiny gap of space between these two pieces. Holding those two pieces together in place are two plastic anchors. This hack involves removing one of those plastic anchors.

Diagram of a Pilot Parallel reservoir

If you’ve ever used an automatic pen, you’ll notice that the nib (also comprised of 2 pieces of metal) has a “downside” (the side side with the scores) and the “upside” (the smooth side with no scores). You write with the scored side down because it helps the ink flow through the two metal pieces of the nib.

Write with the non-slotted side of the pen facing upward
Write with the non-slotted side of the pen facing upward
Write with the slotted side of the pen facing downward
Write with the slotted side of the pen facing downward

In other words, the ink would not flow through an automatic pen as smoothly if it were not for these scores. This is what inspired me to remove one of the plastic anchors from the Parallel. Even though the mechanics are a little different than that of an automatic pen, I figured that the metal pieces would not be pressed together as hard if only one anchor was present. And likewise, once one of these plastic bits are removed, you’ll write with the remaining side facing up. This will still serve the purpose of anchoring your nib and preventing it from being too far while still allowing for some additional flex action between the two slabs of the nib, resulting in increased in flow.

Before you get started, see the below visuals. This is we’re after. The Parallel on the left does not have the modification, and the one on the right does (note the missing anchor). The second image is with the nib re-inserted.

Before and after without nib inserted
Before and after without nib inserted
Before and after with nib inserted
Before and after with nib inserted

Follow these steps:

  1. Remove the ink cartridge to avoid making a mess.
  2. With two fingers, carefully pull the nib away from the body of the pen to remove it and set aside
  3. Using small pliers, grasp on of the plastic anchors and wiggle it back and forth until it snaps off.
  4. Reinsert the nib.
Diagram of a modified Pilot Parallel reservoir

That’s it! Now you can load thicker inks (try Higgins White for sure) and they’ll flow much smoother in a slightly higher quantity which will produce less transparent lines. As a final note on this one, I would strongly recommend against removing both anchors. I’ve tried and it does not work well.

Pilot Parallel Nib Modification

If you’re feeling a little crafty and have a Dremel-like tool handy, you can modify the Pilot Parallel’s metal nib to achieve some interesting lines.
For example, if you cut a slit (or multiple evenly-spaced slits) into the nib, the ink will only flow to where the edges of the nib, resulting in strokes comprised of multiple lines that write in parallel (this is called a “scroll” style).

A calligraphy piece by Jake Rainis using a modified Pilot Parallel scroll nib
A calligraphy piece by Jake Rainis using a modified Pilot Parallel scroll nib

Alternatively, you could round off one side of that chisel to create a ruling-style nib. This can be a fun technique to create more wild and free-styled letters. Or, if you want to add some texture to the nib, you could create some weathered edges on the nib so the ink is unevenly distributed, resulting in more of a distressed look (similar to how the pen writes when the ink is almost empty).

A variety of Pilot Parallels with modified nibs
A variety of Pilot Parallels with modified nibs

I’d recommend getting a couple of extra pens if you’re looking to try this out. For me, it took a little trial and error, and I’ve found that each pen behaves a little differently. My best advice is to be patient, and as precise as possible. When you’re done, make sure you use some very fine grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough edges.

I created a tutorial video so you can see the process that I went through to modify my pens.

Parallel Pen Modification Tutorial

In short, you’ll want to anchor your pen so that it doesn’t move when you take to it with your tool. I’ve only used a Dremel with sanding disc, but any sort of rotating tool that can deliver the application should work fine. After you’re finished, be sure to use some fine-grain sandpaper to sand off any burrs or sharp edges left behind.

Before you go ahead and do this, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure to wear safety glasses. Sharp metal bits that come off during the drilling process will not feel good in your eyes!
  • Make sure your pen is empty and the nib is clean, otherwise you can make quite a mess with all of that flying ink!
  • Make sure the pen is secured during the process. A vice grip is ideal, but if you don’t have one, you might want to consider asking someone to hold the pen down while you drill.

Modifying my Parallel pens has opened up a whole new world in terms of the kinds of letters I can create. I hope it can do the same for you!

Creating Grunge and Texture with Your Pilot Parallel

Aside from writing the letters themselves, one of my favorite aspects of calligraphy is muddling it up to give it a grunge style texture. Not only is it fun and easy, but it also gives a unique life and texture to your work. And if you’re into blackletter like me, there’s nothing better than making a tough-looking script even grittier!

The Pilot Parallel allows for two excellent ways to tastefully muddle your work. Just be sure you try these on scrap paper to get a feel for the result before you apply it to finished work.

Blowing

This is probably going to sound a little weird, but I promise it works. Hold the pen upright in front of your work with the nib perpendicular to your lips. Bring your mouth as close to the nib as possible (unless you really like the taste of ink) and give it a quick, forceful blow of wind. If you’ve done this correctly, the paper should be loaded with a bunch of tiny speckles.

Grunge texture achieved by blowing at the Pilot Parallel's nib
Grunge texture achieved by blowing at the Pilot Parallel’s nib

Some inks (like white) will require a little more force since they’re thicker. Likewise, thinner inks will require less. Experiment with the angle in which you’re blowing, how hard you’re blowing, how close your mouth is to your nib, and how close the nib is to the paper. This might take a little practice to get right, but once you have a feel for it, it’s quite easy.

If you’re getting inconsistent results after a couple of blows, it’s probably because you’ve blown most of the ink out of the nib. Write with the pen on scrap paper to re-prime the nib. Alternatively, you can experiment with holding the pen downward so there’s a more continuous ink flow.

Flicking

The flicking technique is also quite easy and will result in bigger drops of ink than the blowing technique.

Holding your pen over the paper, use a flick of your wrist to crack the pen like a whip. It might take a couple of consecutive flicks to get the ink to come out (this will depend on the consistency of the ink). The result should be bigger drops of ink that randomly scatter the page.

Flicking technique
Flicking technique

Another variation of this technique is to hold your finger over the page and bat the pen’s body into that finger (nib facing up). The impact of the pen against your finger will cause a jolt, which will send the ink flying on to the paper.

Additional Experimentation

Using one of these techniques (or a combination of both!) will result in a nice variety of texture on the page.

You can also add this texture with other colors. For example, a faux “blood splatter” where you project red ink on to a white page that contains black writing is a cool look.

One of my favorite effects is to blow and flick white and black ink to black and white work (either black ink on white paper or white ink on black paper). This will result in a reductive weathered look.

Adding grunge with black and white inks to achieve a distressed texture
Adding grunge with black and white inks to achieve a distressed texture

Organization Your Pilot Parallel Collection

At first, you might think you’ll only need a Parallel or two (and you might be right — nothing wrong with that!). But if/when you become an addict (don’t worry — you’re certainly not alone), you’ll likely have accumulated many Pilot Parallels.

Personally, I like having a bunch on hand so that I don’t have to do any work when it comes to sitting down for a writing session. For example, this is what I generally have on hand and ready to go at any given time:

  • All four sizes loaded with black ink.
  • All four sizes in a variety of colors.
  • Three larger sizes loaded with white ink.
  • Two larger sizes loaded with diluted black ink (for those nice gray tones).
  • Two larger sizes clean and empty (for dipping).
  • A random variety of modified tips that might include any combination of inks.

As you can see, that’s quite a few pens. And if they’re organized in a smart way, it’s a substantial waste of time uncapping to see which pen you might be dealing with.

Pilot Parallels organized by labels
Pilot Parallels organized by labels

There’s no right or wrong way to organize your pens. It’s really a matter of what works best for you. But here are a couple of ideas that you might find helpful:

  • Stick/wrap a small piece of masking tape to/around the cap or pen body with a written label or color swatch of the ink mixture of the pen.
  • Categorize your pens in a way that makes the most sense for your use case and bunch them with a rubber band. You can also label the rubber band accordingly.
  • Get a pen organizer or Artbin carrying case that has divided sections where you can group your pens accordingly.* When the pen’s nib has been modified, mark the pen cap with Sharpie as an indicator of how the nib has been modified.

Another nifty organization technique is to drill holes in the pen body so you can see the ink cartridge (as well as its filled capacity). This can give you a quick sense of the ink you’re working with.

Conclusion

I’ve been working with the Pilot Parallel for years now and it’s been an ongoing journey of constant discovery and personal innovation. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from other calligraphy artists as well as share my own personal experiences with aspiring calligraphy artists — and that’s why I decided to pool all of this knowledge in one place.

From here on out, I’ll continue to update this post with new findings and information. If you have any ideas or discoveries of your own, please share them with me!

Signup to receive exclusive content and a weekly post every Thursday.