Tutorial: DIY Raden Vanishing Point

Hello world!

Today we’re taking a break from our usual reviews for a quick tutorial! This is my first time writing a tutorial, so please let me know if there are any questions or things I could explain to make this more helpful!

Your neighborhood VP modifier,

Katherine

To start with — you pick a pen to modify.

I chose to use a Pilot Vanishing Point. I did this for three reasons — 1. they’re easy to find lightly used, though not terribly cheap (I paid $37 for one with no nib, and $60 for the other, with a nib), 2. the cylindrical shape makes it easier to get an even finish. I don’t have to worry about the curved end of most pens and, 3. the clip is removable — it’s really hard to get UNDER a clip to sand and buff if you can’t remove it. (I guess you could hope no one notices your imperfect finish around the clip, but meh)

Next — remove the clip. If you chose to go with a Vanishing Point, I found Richard Binder’s tutorial here quite helpful. I used a piece of bike inner tube and a normal pair of pliers (I’m a cheapskate who doesn’t own section pliers) to wiggle the clip off.

If you chose to use a VP, you’ll now have the rubber trapdoor exposed — I found it helpful to wrap that in a cylinder of masking tape. This means that you can hold the area and not worry about damaging the trapdoor. During my first modification, I did push the wire that holds the trapdoor in out at some point… and spent 20 minutes squinting with a pair of tweezers to get it back in. Avoid that.

And, before you start, find a way that you can dry your pen so that none of the wet parts of the finish will touch anything. For the VPs, if you find a perfect sized box, it can be balanced on the clicky part and the masking tape cone. For other pens, you may need to take a box, stick some holes in it and have chopsticks hold up the pieces. (Assuming they have closed ends)

(bottom left is abalone shell, top right is glitter nail polish)

Now for the fun part — your new finish! You have a couple of options:

  1. Glitter nail polish (I used Revlon’s discontinued Moon Candy glitter flakes. I went for something with iridescent but not opaque flakes that came in irregular sizes. I’d love suggestions for other options!) Lots of pictures of this finish are in our Decimo review.
  2. Abalone shell (like actual raden!) — I suspect you could use any number of other types of shell that contain nacre, but I don’t know how well they flake, so it’s up to you to try. Oysters and certain mussels are apparently the common sources for mother of pearl. I’m a weirdo who ate a bunch of abalones a few months ago and kept the shells, so I used abalone shell.
  3. Something else — if you do a bunch of Googling and eBaying, you can buy pre-cut mother of pearl sheets that may be actual MOP (nacre) or mica, depending on what you buy. This tutorial should work with either.

(some of the dust from my abalone shell as I flaked it with a dremel… then you get to pick through it with tweezers for the bigger pieces)

How to flake abalone (ymmv with other types of shell, but I suspect it’ll be similar) — I found it easiest to work with a dremel and dremel off pieces of the shell, bit by bit, sometimes straight down, sometimes at an angle. Then, when you have a decent pile of abalone-shell dust (most of it will be dust), pick through the pile with tweezers and put them on a piece of black paper (in my case I used a dark grey plastic dinner plate). You want to separate out as much dust as possible, since you don’t want the dust on your pen. If you don’t have a dremel, you can probabbbbly hammer it into small pieces and pick through the fragments. (I haven’t tried it, but it seems like it should work!)

EDIT: Make sure you wear a respirator while doing this! Otherwise you’re breathing in a lot of icky dust and abalone powder.

And other supplies you’ll want:

  1. Micromesh (I used a lot of 2000 grit sandpaper, but having some variety will help you achieve exactly the look you want)
  2. Tiny brushes (I stole the brushes out of my mom’s Latisse kits, but any small brushes that don’t shed bristles should be good)
  3. Polyurethane and/or Polyacylic (both in gloss finishes)
  4. (optional) Acrylic paint

A quick note on polyacrylic vs polyurethane — polyacrylic is what I initially used for both pens, it’s easy to work with — washes out of brushes with soap and water and sands and buffs quickly. However, it’s not a very hard finish. This is fine on a matte finish pen, since small dings and scratches don’t stand out. However, if you want a high-gloss, glass-like finish, you have to work with polyurethane. It smells worse, is hard to wash out, harder to sand… but is much harder (even then, it’s not as hard as urushi or many other pen finishes, I’m still working on figuring out what my other options are). Also, polyacrylic dries clear, and polyurethane has an “amber” tone — so if you’re layering over a very blue finish, it could look weird.

I found that acrylic paint mixes into polyacrylic fairly well and gives it a nice tint — I used this to hide the blemishes in the base finish of the matte black VP I started with for the abalone-finish pen. This isn’t necessary, but I imagine some cool layering could be done.

Once you have everything… (some general instructions)

  1. Do a quick layer of sanding on the original finish. I used 800 grit sand paper and just did a quick pass.
  2. Apply the first layer of the finish (more on this below)
  3. Apply the second layer of the finish
  4. Apply the first layer of clear polyacrylic/urethane and let it dry for 6-12 hours minimum. I know the can says it’s dry in 2 hours or something, but it’s probably a lie.
  5. Sand lightly
  6. Apply another layer of poly
  7. Sand lightly — does the finish still feel very bumpy? If so, repeat layering and sanding until it’s reasonably smooth, then:
  8. Buff using successively higher grits of micromesh to get a mirror-like shine or be lazy and get lucky with a layer of polyurethane being smooth and glossy
  9. And you’re done!

How to apply the glitter finish:

I used two different “colors” of glitter, one that spanned most of the body (a mostly purple/blue glitter) and a multicolor one that I focused on the middle of the pen, to give it that “gradient” look. I did a layer of the purple glitter first, let it dry, then did the second multicolor layer. Then I let both layers dry and de-gas for a day. I’m not sure if such a long drying period is necessary, but something I read on the internet (and the internet never lies) said that drying nail polish releases gasses, and you want all of that gone before you seal it further. Seems plausible. After those two layers dry, you can start step 4 above. (I think it took me three “top” coats to get the pen more or less smooth)

How to apply a “raden” or abalone-flake finish: (Even getting flakes aside, this one is much more involved)

I first did two layers of tinted polyacrylic to cover up the wear in the finish. That’s totally optional, but gave me a very even base to work with. Then, I used a small brush and painted on a very small thin patch of tinted (you could use clear) poly, then placed flakes one by one using my damp finger and tweezers. You really want just flakes on a dark surface, ideally roughly sorted by size. If you go for the gradient look, you’ll want the larger flakes toward the middle and the thin layer of poly stops being tacky enough to hold a flake in a couple minutes, so work in small areas. I found that my damp fingertip was easier to get the flake on where I wanted it, then if necessary, tweezers could push the flake around. I finished the entire pen (patch by patch) in about an hour of lots of squinting with a bright table lamp. From here, you can go to step 4 above. (I think it took me 4-6 layers to get it smooth)

Tada! You’re done. Let the pen dry for a couple days (unless you’ve actually been spacing out each layer and letting things dry reallly well), reattach your clip (I used a smidge of sac shellac) and enjoy!

 

 

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Comparison: Pilot Vanishing Point vs Pilot Vanishing Point Decimo

pilot-vp-decimo-10

 

This is our first time comparing two pens. As such we’d extra appreciate your feedback! Was this helpful? Did we cover the points of comparison you care about? Let us know!

Hand Over That Pen, please!

Katherine: The two pens look pretty similar — the VP is a little wider, the Decimo is a little more sleek. I suspect, for more people, any aesthetic preferences will come from preferences in the different finishes. The VP is available in solids, wood, raden and a whole bunch of special editions. The Decimo is available in pastels. (I didn’t realize it when I painted mine, but there isn’t even a black Decimo anymore — mine is likely from the 80s. Oops.)

Pam:  I was originally quite biased towards the VP because I enjoyed the added weight and width.   However, the Decimo is actually more comfortable with it’s slimmer clip for longer writing sessions. The VP  comes in more colors which include the drool-worthy Radens (hint hint boyfriend of mine…) and my beloved dark grey. The VP is also known as Capless in other territories.  Typically, the VP/Capless is sold with a gold nib, however, there is a “special alloy” (steel) nib available for about half the price.  I can only find the special alloy nib from retailers in Japan.  Unfortunately, the special alloy nib is only available in a handful of Capless models (black, dark blue, yellow, deep red, and silver).

Franz: The Pilot Vanishing Point has always been a pen that’s admired for its retractable nib and quick one hand deployment. Even though I’ve known about the Vanishing Point since I started using fountain pens in 2012, it was only this year that I learned about the Pilot Vanishing Decimo line. The Vanishing Point pens are inked up either by sticking a cartridge onto the nib unit, or by filling ink with its supplied converter. When bought new, both will have a Con-50 piston converter but you may also use a Con-20 squeeze converter which slightly provides more ink capacity.

The Vanishing Point reviewed and pictured above is the Twilight Limited Edition for 2015 which I was lucky enough to obtain on the day it was released. Katherine’s VP Decimo is a standard black model that she glitterfied and is now an Artist’s Proof 1 of 1 pen. Of course, there are a number of colors, materials, and finishes that are available for both pen models. We will try our best to focus on the size differences of these two models.

In the Hand: Pilot Vanishing Point— from left to right: Katherine, Pam, and Franz
In the Hand: Pilot Vanishing Point — from left to right: Katherine, Pam, and Franz

In the Hand: Pilot Vanishing Point Decimo — from left to right: Katherine, Pam, and Franz
In the Hand: Pilot Vanishing Point Decimo — from left to right: Katherine, Pam, and Franz

The Business End

Katherine: Nib units for the two are interchangable, but the VP is available from Japan in certain finishes with a stainless steel nib. Decimos and most VPs sold in the US have gold nibs.

Pam:  For my VP, I switched with a friend my fine gold nib for the fine special alloy nib since the steel kept a more consistent and finer line with my “iron grip” hand.  I found the original gold F nib scratchy for the line width that it produces.  The special alloy F nib was the perfect pilot nib that we all know an love.  It laid down a consistent line that was just wide enough to show off the beautiful color of Iroshizuku Tsuki-yo, the one true ink pairing (OTIP), for my VP.  Currently, I have a gold EF nib in the Decimo.  Yes, the EF nib can be considered scratchy given the size of the nib but due to the feedback, however, I may be writing with less pressure allowing for a more consistent line.  The EF nib performs wonderfully on Tomoe River paper where as I found the F nibs to shine on Midori paper.

Franz: As Katherine mentioned, both Vanishing Points utilize the same nib units and generally gives you the same paper-to-nib experience. The VP Twilight currently has a broad (B) nib and its line width is very close to a western broad nib as well, which I like! The VP Decimo has a fine (F) nib which writes smoothly and lays down a thin line that’s like a western extra-fine (EF). I loved both writing experiences even if they were different line widths.

Vanishing Point - broad nib
Vanishing Point – broad nib

Decimo - fine nib
Decimo – fine nib

Pilot VP nib unit
Pilot VP nib unit

Write It Up

Katherine: I can write with either pen for 20 minutes with relative comfort. However, and perhaps out of habit, I do prefer the Decimo. It’s a noticeably slimmer and lighter pen, which I overall prefer. That being said, the VP is perfectly usable and I suspect with time (I borrowed Franz’s VP for a week) I would get used to it and no longer notice the difference.

Pam:  I really miss the weight and width of the VP, but I must admit the size of the Decimo is more comfortable for longer writing session for me.  The Decimo also has a slimmer clip profile so it’s less likely to interfere with anyone’s grip.  I would recommend the VP for average to large hand individuals and the Decimo for those with the petite hand persuasion. All in all, both pens are wonderful pens and suitable for all hands.

Franz: I wrote with both pens for fifteen minutes each. I first wrote with the VP Decimo and it felt a bit too thin and I felt my hand cramp a little bit. I switched to the Vanishing Point and the thicker width felt much better and allowed me to write in my journal more comfortably. Pam is spot on that for larger hands, the Vanishing Point is the way to go.

EDC-ness

Katherine: The two are functionally the same to me as EDC pens. I find both very convenient.

Pam:  The click mechanism is just too darn convenient and pen is so well constructed to withstand consistent daily use that it’s practically an EDC must for me.  The VP was in my white coat pocket everyday, up to the day I lost the pen at work.  (Have you ever had such a busy day, you literally have a gap in your memory of that day/afternoon/couple hours?  I literally don’t remember which area of the hospital I was in when I used last used the VP. ARGH!!!)   The VP is, I mean, was, my most used pen in my entire collection.  The Decimo is equally sturdy, but the weight of the VP was reassuring in my pocket.

I don’t have this problem with either model pen, especially since I use F or EF nibs, however, the ink capacity of the VP is pretty small.  Given that it’s a cartridge converter, the ink capacity is typically less than 1 ml.  If you use a wider nib or use the pen for novel writing, it may require multiple fillings in a day.

Franz: For my daily carry purposes, both pens win! Both VP’s easily clips on to my jacket, or shirt pocket and lets me quickly deploy and write with just one hand. All day long it pretty much went like this: Grab VP from pocket, click, scribble-scribble, click, clip back VP in pocket, and repeat.

As for the ink capacity of the Con-50, a full converter lasted about two days for me. Having been spoiled by my piston-filled pens, refilling every two days was something I had to get used to. Not a deal breaker though.

Final Grip-ping Impressions

Katherine: After spending a couple months with a Decimo of my own (and dousing it in glitter) and a week with Franz’s VP… to me the big difference is in the finish you prefer. Everything held equal I prefer the slimness of the Decimo as an EDC or for taking quick notes (and I tend to slightly prefer slightly wider pens for long, lazy journal sessions). But the VP is by no means unusable or uncomfortable for me. If I lost my Decimo tomorrow (I hope not!) I would replace it with whichever I saw first at a price and finish I liked first.

Pam:  I loved the VP enough to buy another variant of the pen, after the appropriate mourning period had passed, of course.  The only caution I would give is to make sure that the VP works well with your grip.  If the VP agrees with you, it will be a GREAT pen and won’t let you down.

Franz: The Pilot Vanishing Point pen is a great pen to have in one’s pen case. My first VP was the Matte Black one that I bought at the 2012 SF Pen Show. This was about a month after I got into fountain pens and I used it at work for almost a year, and I loved it. I have come to appreciate this pen for its versatility, different finishes, and nib sizes. I’m proud to say that I have a couple VP’s in my collection.

Both the VP, and the VP Decimo are fantastic pens for the money. You really just need to hold and write with one to see if it feels right. For some, the clip gets in the way of having a good grip (it does not for me), and because most are lacquered on metal, it can be too heavy for some (not to me). The only drawback as to why I do not use my VP’s on a daily basis anymore is the ink capacity of the supplied converter. But I am always happy when I ink one up for journaling, or doodling purposes.

 

 

Pen Comparisons

pilot-vp-comparisons-1
Closed pens from left to right: Edison Beaumont, Parker 75, Franklin-Christoph Model 20, Pilot Vanishing Point, Pilot Vanishing Point Decimo, Lamy 2000, Pelikan M805, and Lamy Safari

Posted pens from left to right: Edison Beaumont, Parker 75, Franklin-Christoph Model 20, Pilot Vanishing Point, Pilot Vanishing Point Decimo, Lamy 2000, Pelikan M805, and Lamy Safari
Posted pens from left to right: Edison Beaumont, Parker 75, Franklin-Christoph Model 20, Pilot Vanishing Point, Pilot Vanishing Point Decimo, Lamy 2000, Pelikan M805, and Lamy Safari

Unposted pens from left to right: Edison Beaumont, Parker 75, Franklin-Christoph Model 20, Pilot Vanishing Point, Pilot Vanishing Point Decimo, Lamy 2000, Pelikan M805, and Lamy Safari
Unposted pens from left to right: Edison Beaumont, Parker 75, Franklin-Christoph Model 20, Pilot Vanishing Point, Pilot Vanishing Point Decimo, Lamy 2000, Pelikan M805, and Lamy Safari

Pen Comparisons (click to enlarge)

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