The Great Autograph Pen Debate

BY: T.C.

Since I began ‘graphing (getting autographs for the layman), I’ve listened to a constant debate over which pen to use.  Every collector seems to have their favorite “go-to” pen for getting their cards signed.  To help settle the question once and for all (well, at least for me), I decided to do a small controlled experiment.  I began by selecting 5 pens from 3 different manufacturers, which are as follows: (1) blue Staedtler Lumocolor, (2) blue Bic Mark-it, (3) blue Sharpie, (4) black Bic Mark-it, (5) black Sharpie.  The pens are pictured below (click to view full-size image):

pens.jpg

Next, I selected 8 cards that can be considered pains-in-the-ass for autograph collectors.  These cards were (A) 2007 Topps Baseball, (B) 2007-08 UD Artifacts Hockey, (C) 2007 Topps Chrome Baseball, (D) 2005 Fleer Authentix Baseball, (E) 2007 Bowman’s Best, (F) 2005 Upper Deck Past Time Pennants, (G) 2006 TriStar Prospects Plus, and (H) 2007 TriStar Prospects Plus.  I did absolutely no prep work to any of these cards (no baby powder and no eraser-rubbing on the surfaces).  I lined the cards up side-by-side and made a similar mark on each card with each pen.  Pictures and brief results are below (click on each for a larger image):

A) On the 2007 Topps, pens 1,2, and 4 all look pretty good.  Pens 3 & 5 both bubbled.

 07 Topps graph 

B) Autograph collectors that buy 07-08 UD Artifacts hockey cards might as well just find different ones.  While all of the pens bubbled, pens 1 & 4 held up the best (but would still be considered unacceptable by most collectors’ standards).  Pens 2 and 5 bubbled even more, and pen 3 was nearly invisible.

0708 artifacts graph 

C) On the 2007 Topps Chrome, all of the pens bubbled some.  Pens 1 & 2 had the best results and are borderline “passable” autographs.  Pen 4 was thin and bubbly but still visible.  Pen 5 bubbled badly and pen 3 was nearly invisible.

07 Topps Chrome Graph

D) The 2005 Fleer Authentix is a strange card because the surface has both matte (background) and glossy (player) surfaces.  I tried to hit some of both with each marker.  Pen 1 looked the best and didn’t show any signs of bubbling.  Pens 2 and 4 both bubbled slightly on the player, but didn’t look too bad–probably passable.  Pen 5 bubbled a bit more on the player and was less appealing.  Pen 3 bubbled badly and would have yielded a terrible-looking autograph.

05 Authenthix Graph 

E) On the 2007 Bowman’s best, most of the pens looked good.  Pens 1 and 4 both had a sharp, crisp appearance.  Pen 2 looked good, but was a little bit lighter than 1 and 4.  Pen 5 looked decent without much noticible bubbling.  Pen 3 showed some signs of bubbling and didn’t leave a very attractive-looking mark.

07 Bowmans Best Graph

F) On the Upper Deck Past Time Pennants card, pens 1,2, and 4 all looked nice and showed no signs of bubbling.  Pens 3 and 5 both bubbled, with 3 bubbling the worst.

05 UD Past Time Pennants

G, H) BothTriStar cards showed similar results.  Pen 1 made beautiful marks with no signs of bubbling.  Pen 2 and 4 “shrunk” a little bit and pen 2 showed a small amount of bubbling.  Pen 5 bubbled a little bit, but didn’t look terrible.  Pen 3 was a disaster on both cards.

06 TriStar Prospects Plus 07 TriStar Prospects Plus

For my money, I will be sticking with the blue Staedtler Lumocolor pens (and Bic Mark-it products if I run out of the Staedtlers).  The only knock on the Staedtler is that it’s hard to find them (I’ve only been able to find them on the web–here is a link to one of them that shipped very quickly).  The Bic Mark-its are available almost anywhere, including Wal-Mart and Target.  I’ve been a loyal Sharpie-using ‘grapher since I started the hobby, but it appears that the time has come to hang up the ol’ Sharpies.

As a side note, only one of the cards was harmed during this experiment.  When I was finished, I used a paper towel and rubbing alcohol to remove the marks from each card.  Only the 05 Fleer Authentix card was damaged, as some of the matte surface rubbed off (see photo below).

After 2

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17 Responses to “The Great Autograph Pen Debate”


  1. 1 Kevin K February 1, 2008 at 7:07 am

    Great job! Thanks for the insight!

    Now, for “The Great Autograph Pen Debate Part II” you could use different types of ink pens on different types of baseballs!

  2. 2 Tyler M February 2, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    That’s a great experiment! I, too, have been a loyal Sharpie user. Now, I’m going to check out the Staedtler Lumocolor pens.

    Thanks!

  3. 3 d green February 5, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    What do you think is the best autograph pen for fabric (dark blue). We are going to a Columbus Blue Jackets hockey game and my two boys have dark blue jerseys. (We’re trying to make their morning practice and try and get autographs) Let me know what you think. Thank you

    • 4 tcismenotu February 5, 2009 at 10:07 pm

      I’d use a Sakura medium point silver paint pen (this is what I’ve used in the past and had good luck). Here is a link to a product description:

      http://www.shopatron.com/product/part_number=41502/294.0.8783.9967.0.0.0

      You can get them at Michael’s. I would also get a piece of foam core poster board (about 1/2 inch thick) and put it under the jersey so that it gives a nice hard, smooth surface to write on. If you do that, you should have a couple of nice looking jerseys…just don’t wash them!

      You should definitely avoid silver Sharpies, as they tend to dry out very quickly and write very erratically.

      Let me know how you do!

  4. 5 vickie christen April 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    What kind of pen should I use for an autograph on a football helmet?

    • 6 tcismenotu April 16, 2010 at 6:26 pm

      If it’s a light color helmet, you can use a Staedler or a Sharpie. Both work well. For a darker color helmet, I prefer a silver paint pen (not a silver Sharpie-they tend to dry out and fail).

  5. 7 barry December 30, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    If the cards are prepped, this all falls away. The other point behind using blue sharpies is that black sharpie marks in UV tends to fade to a weird yellowish. Has anyone tested those same cards by leaving them in sunlight?

    On the silver side – even paint pens have problems with the thinner separating out and in really cold temps have issues as well. I’ve had the same issues other folks here have had with silver sharpies though…even new ones are often on the dry side and make poor lines.

    What do people use through the mail for silver marking?

  6. 8 Jon April 18, 2011 at 2:44 am

    For the blue Staedtler Lumocolor pens did you get the blue superfine,finepoint or medium on your sportcard experiment?

  7. 10 Jon April 18, 2011 at 2:55 am

    also have you ever used the DecoFabric pen on jerseys? I have heard silver paint pens are the pen of choice for autograph jerseys and I have heard that DecoColor was the pen to use but they have been hard to find. Would you use a DecoFabric pen like this one on a jersey?

  8. 12 Jon April 28, 2011 at 11:13 am

    If you had a card with a dark background, what pen would you use? Would you use a Sakura Silver paint pen fine pint 1.0mm?

    Thanks

  9. 13 tcismenotu April 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    I haven’t tried them on cards, but would assume that they’d work OK. Just make sure that you get the card in a penny sleeve once the paint dries. Because the ink would be thicker/higher on the card surface, it might be more susceptible to scratches.

  10. 14 Daniel Soto May 20, 2011 at 2:17 am

    I am having a sports team autograph a champagne bottle that they popped during one of their celebrations, any idea on what pen to use and where i can find them? any information is greatly appreciated!

  11. 15 Chris August 25, 2011 at 1:21 am

    I have to ask because I had already gotten a ray lewis jersey autographed using a regular black sharpie, is there anything I can do to stop it from fading. And also I am meeting jerry rice sometime this month and I am going to get his jersey signed as well, what pen would you suggest so that I do not have the same problem with it fading?

  12. 16 Steve K. October 6, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I have a question regarding silver water based vs silver oil based Sharpie pens. Which is better for photographs?

  13. 17 RG February 28, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Hi!
    Thanks a lot for this test! Ive only been using sharpies since I started collecting autographies and this bubbling disturbed me. Im glad to find a new pen which seems better than Sharpie. My only question: the pen tip looks too thin on the Staedtler, is it the same quality with a bigger tip?? And does the ink stays forever, I mean I know its permanent but so many inks of markers get kind of orange…
    Thx for the answers!


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