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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).