Best Marker / Pen for Signing Photographic Prints

What marker will I use for the signature on my canvas print?  Let's find out...

What marker will I use for the signature on my canvas print? Let’s find out…

Yesterday, I received in the mail a huge canvas gallery wrap of a photo I took a few weeks ago in Tuscany.  It was an expensive print ($200), so I wanted to be sure I was using the very best pen or marker on the print to put my signature on it.

Trouble was, I wasn’t sure which to pick, so I went to the store and bought over a dozen pens and markers to test.

Ultra-fine point (top) vs fine point (bottom).  Almost all of the companies tested make their pens and markers in both tips.  I personally prefer ultra-fine but some people like the fatter fine point.

Ultra-fine point (top) vs fine point (bottom). I personally prefer ultra-fine but some people like the fatter fine point.

The Quick Cut-to-the-Chase Answer

Go buy this marker on Amazon.com right now.  Seriously, the rest of this post isn’t even worth your time.  Just trust me–that’s the marker you want for signing photographic prints of any kind on any medium (canvas, paper, metal, acrylic–you name it!).

Buy the silver one linked to above for most prints (most photos have darker edges, which is where you sign).  For prints with lighter colors, get this black version of the same pen.

Most photographers will prefer the ultra fine point of the two above listed pens, but if you’re signing an extremely large print or just prefer the fatter writing of a fine point, then this is the one to get.

signature-glass-print

I had never signed this glass print because I couldn’t find a marker that I knew for sure wouldn’t smudge. But the Uchida was perfect!

Why I Chose the DecoColor As the Best Pen for Photographers

The Uchida DecoColor liquid paint pen was–by far–my favorite pen in the test for signing all kinds of prints.  It works on canvas, photo paper prints (even glossy!), glass prints, metal prints, and just about anything else you throw at it.  Most of the pens in the test didn’t stand a chance on glossy surfaces.

Aside from that, this marker is one of few that explicitly states that it uses only acid-free ink, which is essential for preserving your heirloom artwork.

The Uchida uses a glossy, oil-based paint, so you have to shake the pen before use and it has a metal ball inside it that mixes the paint (very similar to how spray paint cans).  The silver color (most popular for signing photos) really stands out nicely on a dark or medium background, but the pen also comes in black if you’ll be signing a light-colored print.

How I Tested the Pens

I bought 13 markers and pens to use in testing.  Each of the pens went through 5 different tests and was subjected in a blind test to a “jury” of three people.  (Yes, that’s a ridiculous amount of effort for marker testing.  No, I’m not ashamed of how in love I am with anything even remotely related to photography).

The pens were tested according to quality of the ink, smudge test after 30 seconds, smudge test after 10 minutes of drying, torture test (soaked in water and then scrubbed hard), as well as looking at things like whether or not it has acid-free ink.

marker-torture-test

The results of the “torture test” to simulate how the markers withstand intense smudging, moisture, and heat. Lesson learned? ONLY SIGN PHOTOGRAPHY WITH LIQUID PAINT PENS! DO NOT USE MARKERS!

Torture Test

I wanted to give the pens and markers the ultimate test to really push them to the limits.  After giving all of the pens an hour to dry, I put them in soapy hot water and then cold water for about 5 minutes.  Then I took them out in the hot sun and scrubbed the heck out of them with my finger.

It took only two wipes for the Bic Mark It markers to almost completely erase.  Similarly, the Case Mate Markers were mostly erased.  The Sharpie markers did better for sure, but still couldn’t be classified as performing “well.”

“Prettiest Signature” Test

I had expected before the test that I would prefer the fine point markers, but after the “prettiest signature” test, but two out of the three judges had a strong preference for the ultra fine point.

Smudge Tests

Here, the liquid paint pens really shined.  While all of the markers smudged to some extent, the liquid paint pens dried very quickly and withstood both the 60 second and 10 minute smudge tests the best.

We did two types of smudge tests because some inks dry quickly but can smudge later, and others are very durable but only once left to thoroughly dry.

 


About the Author

Jim Harmer

Facebook Twitter Google+

Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. Jim travels the world to shoot with readers of Improve Photography in his series of free photography workshops. See his portfolio here.

Comments

  1. So was that just the nerdiest photo post ever, or what?

    1. Not at all. I found it in a Google search I did for the best acid free pens for signing canvas. You answered my question. I bought 6 pens. Three ultra fine in silver, gold, and black. Same colors in fine point. You saved me money brother.

    2. Not at all. I found it extremely helpful. I’m wondering if the signature would change at all if the top pens were used to sign a photo that underwent drymounting before framing. Thanks for the post! Really great

  2. This is valuable information — having tried several types of pens but never decided conclusively. I really appreciate your quality testing. (Not nerdy at all.)

  3. How do you address all of the negative reviews on amazon? I followed the link to the silver to take a look with the thought of using it to sign some of my own prints and there are almost as many one star reviews as five star ones. Have you had any issues since writing this article?

    1. None at all. The reviews don’t appear to be for people signing prints. Other artists may not have as much luck but it’s perfect for photography.

  4. That is cool Jim. Thanks for a practical test that we can take action on. I like these types of hands on and informed recommendations.

  5. Very interesting article, as always Jim we can trust to do the nerdy but practice tests.

    Fyi, the Amazon link for an Aussie off a mobile doesn’t get to right spot. I’m guessing it is because the Aussie Amazon site doesn’t have this product, or maybe mobile. Wonder if it happens to other localised Amazons,

  6. That is great work Jim. Thanks for showing practically, it would be very helpful to us. Learn from here a lot.

  7. Thanks for the tip, Jim. Do you have a favorite resource for canvas printing?

  8. Plenty nerdy Jim, I bought the fine point – worked great – but wish I had bought the extra fine as you suggested. Fine point in this marker is pretty wide.

  9. How does black look when sign on back of print in the print area? Can it be seen on print side?

  10. Was your canvas photo print bumpy at all or was it more smooth? The reason I’m asking is because my fiancé and I were thinking about using a canvas print as our guest book for our wedding, but I’m so worried that signatures won’t look fluid and that the pen might smear. I searched all over the web and your article was the most promising answer I could have found! So thank you for sharing 🙂 I’d appreciate any feedback! Thanks!

    1. Did you get a good one? I’m searching for the same reason. I’d appreciate any feedback! Thanks! 😉

    2. Hi Christina–my fiance and I are doing the same thing and I wondered if you had luck with one. Any info would help 🙂

      Thank you!

  11. I second the above comment. I am using canvas ( printed canvas) to use as a wedding guestbook and need something that dries extremely fast…within seconds fast so that the next guest can come right along and sign their name without smudging or smearing. I’ve heard the prismacolor dries well along with some sort of pigmented pen I would greatly appreciate any advice for a guestbook that people will have their hands all over.

    1. Did you get a good one? I’m searching for the same reason. I’d appreciate any feedback! Thanks! 😉

      1. Hi there! My fiance and I are trying to do the same thing…did you find a good one? Any advice will help 🙂

        Thanks!

  12. If that is a nerdy post then we need more of them-lol!
    Kidding aside, I found your extremely informative post after doing a Google and you really helped me out.
    In almost 50 years of doing photography I have always tried to share whatever knowledge I’ve gained through trial and error – or learned from bright minds like yours – onto the next enthusiast no matter their age or expertise or lack thereof or paying it forward as they call it now.
    Thank you for your time and painstaking efforts on this one and helping an old dog learn a new trick!
    Best regards,
    Richard Meseroll
    Co-owner Eastern Surf Magazine

  13. Thanks for this, it’s really helpful! I’ve been postponing finding a pen that’s archival, but now I can sign my prints 🙂

Leave a Comment