Those of you who don't make and/or sign prints must be nearing terminal sufficiency on this topic, but let's face it, if you aspire to be an art photographer in the accepted sense you do need to make physical objects. A few more items:
1. To sign or not to sign, and where: I'm collecting some data on what the art market actually wants and expects with regard to the signing of artwork. I've sent a very short questionnaire to several museum curators, eminent gallerists, and serious collectors. I've already gotten two very useful replies, and if/when I get a few more I'll summarize the findings for you. A foretaste, though: in contrast to what I wrote yesterday, not everyone agrees with Ken that a recto signature isn't necessary.
2. Front-runner emerges: After signing many dozens more prints, it has emerged that my favorite pen of all for Canson Baryta Photographique paper is the Prismacolor Premier Illustration Marker Fine Line .05 black pictured above. This pen is almost always sold in sets of various colors or tips, so I thought I'd offer a direct link for the single pen alone. Here's the single pen and here's the page at Blick Art Supplies where you can find all the pens in the series. Hope this helps someone somewhere.
My endorsement is not a guarantee that the manufacturer's promise that "these markers contain premium, pigmented, acid-free, archival ink that is lightfast, permanent, non-toxic, and water resistant" is absolutely true at face value for your papers and your conditions. Just sayin'.
I'm also finding it's a good general-purpose writing marker, and it's not expensive ($1.61 ea. if you order 12), so I've ordered a dozen to have on hand. More working pens in the house is seldom a bad thing.
3. Ctein's take: Ctein was psyched that a recto signature isn't considered mandatory (we both came up in the era when it was), and he and I had a phone conversation about the various options for the back of the print: a stamp, a plate or label, and a third interesting option—but I'll let him tell you about it.
ADDENDUM from Tech. Ed. Ctein: Personally, I'm delighted to find out that collectors [at least some —Ed.] would prefer that I don't sign and title my prints on the front. Decades of practice have made me very good at that, but it's the most nerve-racking part of the whole printing process. A slip-up can ruin a print. If it's an inkjet print, it's a nuisance and some wasted time and a modest amount of money. If it's a dye transfer print, many, many hours of work go down the drain. It is much easier signing in soft pencil on the back; I've never screwed that up.
Regarding the signing of inkjet prints, stamping with ink raises all sorts of concerns. The inherent archivality of the stamp is the least of mine. Inks are notorious for penetrating, bleeding, or outgassing. You'd want to have an ink that would adhere to the paper, would not smear, would not penetrate if you're printing on fiber-based paper, and won't transfer anything or outgas solvents to a sheet of paper below it (whether or not there is an interleaf sheet between the prints—those are not impermeable barriers). These physical requirements are likely to be very different for fiber-based prints and RC prints.
Signing in soft graphite pencil (e.g., a retouching pencil) is an entirely safe practice. Signing or stamping on the back with ink is an unknown.
With one exception: rather than physically stamp, you can print the information on the back of the paper with your inkjet printer. At least in theory. You can even scan in your chop or your signature and print that as well.
There are two practical issues that arise here:
1. The first is whether the ink would properly adhere to the back of the paper and not smear or transfer to an adjacent sheet—not a problem with fiber-based papers, but it might not work with RC papers. You'd have to try it.
2. The second is that it requires running the paper through the printer face-down. That may or may not scratch the surface of the print. It will depend entirely upon the printer and inkset, the chosen paper path, and the kind of paper: RC vs. fiber base, glossy, semi-matte/gloss, or matte surface. Matte surface papers, in particular, are notoriously easy to scuff and mark. Again, you'd have to give it a try with your particular paper and setup.
For what it's worth, I just ran the experiment on my current setup: Epson 3880 printer, rear paper diagonal feed, and Canson Baryta Photographique paper. I'm delighted to find out that front-side scratching is not a problem. I get an un-marred print whether I print the backside first or the frontside first (allowing a day of blotting and drying after printing the frontside before printing on the back).
I'm pretty sure your mileage will differ, but I'm a happy camper.
Original contents copyright 2014 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Ming Thein: "We must have tested 30+ different pens over the last few months as part of the Ultraprint development process. I've found that either the Faber-Castell pigment markers (grey body, silver clip) or the dark blue bodied Pilot 'Drawing Pen Pigment Ink' pens work best—on both Canson Baryta Photographique and Canson Infinity Platin Fiber Rag (the latter of which is my personal preference)."
Kenneth Tanaka: "Just to be clear...I think people should 'sign' their photo prints any way that makes them happy, including potentially not signing them at all. My earlier remarks were 'observational'; I was reporting what I have observed having had the opportunity to closely inspect many, many prints of many of the most influential photographers of history. That is, I was not attempting to be prescriptive.
"Signatures are, of course, symbols of authentication and authorization. So to the extent that a signature represents an artist's authority it will naturally be desirable to a collector if all other factors are equal. But they often aren't 'equal'; that's the hitch. There are, for example, more than a few situations where a photographer never signed highly-desirable 'vintage' prints of his work, but did sign much later and poorer prints that often go unsold, or bought-in, at auctions.
"Then, of course, there is the whole issue of the authentication of the signature. One of the most famous cases of photo print fraud in our times was the case of the Lewis Hine prints which were signed. I am acquainted with someone who was burned by this incident, having purchased a 'Powerhouse Worker' print from an established dealer. Despite the Hine signature, an expert thought that the print just 'looked too pretty' to be authentic...which it was not. (The collector received a full refund, by the way.)
"But I digress. Few, if any, of us sell into the 'Art' market , so 'Forever Authentication' is not really a major factor for consideration. Marks made by pencils, pens, crayons will all last more than long enough to do the job. (In fact the 'lasting' nature of most marks is what gives conservators headaches.) Our signatures are principally marks of pride of authorship. So again I recommend that you sign your photos wherever and however it makes you happy to do so."
Mike replies: Good points all. Especially the observation that it's unlikely ever to be a serious issue for most if not all of us. What I'm learning from the other experts I'm consulting also seems to indicate that there is considerable latitude for preference—what the photographer prefers, what her or his customers prefer, what the gallery owners prefer. So the best thing is to do it your way—then that will become what is characteristic and expected of your prints, if and when anyone in the future is paying attention.
Terry Letton: "For what it's worth, the prize of my minuscule print collection is a portrait of the Indian poet Rabandrandath Tagore. It is not signed but is stamped on the back Studio of Edward S. Curtis. Good enough for me."
Richard Alan Fox [whose question started all this —Ed.]: "Super thanks Mike."
Clayton Jones: "I make B&W prints, but on matte paper. My favorite paper is Epson's Hot Press Natural, which accepts a signature beautifully with a #2 pencil. This means a light signature can be applied. My favorite pencil for this is the Papermate Sharpwriter #2, an inexpensive mechanical pencil that can be purchased at CVS and Walgreens (just about anywhere).
"During the short period when I used glossy papers, I used a Staedtler Marsmatic 700 refillable pen which was loaded with the same light gray pigment ink I used in the printer, so I knew it would last as long as the print. I have never liked bold, black recto signatures which pull the viewer's eye and compete with the picture. I like the signature to be there, but not draw attention to itself."
David Paterson: "Messing up prints while attempting to sign them is definitely an issue with me, so for some time now it has been my habit to print a digital signiature and abbreviated date in the bottom right-hand margin of each print. I don't sell a huge number of prints but I have never had a complaint since I started doing this."