Yesterday, Richard Alan Fox asked me what pen I'm using to sign my prints.
You might recall that some time ago I told you that I'd some online research and bought a handful of different pens to try. I was after something that wouldn't damage prints, was considered permanent, and didn't smudge.
I then did various trials with the six or seven types of pens I bought from various sources. The one I ended up using the most is labeled "Kaiser CD/DVD Pen." I bought two of these, from different sources, one of which (if memory serves) was just advertised and sold as an archival marker for negatives and film.
Rather incredibly, I can no longer find this pen online at all—there's a different pen that comes up under that name, but it doesn't look like the two I bought. C'mon now! That was only six months ago. But the product I have seems either to have changed skins or gone extinct.
The Kaiser pens I have are probably made by Staedtler. They seem very similar to the Staedtler Lumocolor permanent CD/DVD 310. (Note that the pen at the link comes only in a .4 mm width. The ones I'm using are not marked, but have at least .6 and probably 1 mm tips. You might want to check out this one as well, which comes in three widths.)
This Pilot pen seemed to have the best writing properties on Canson Infinity Baryta Photographique fiber-base paper—although as you can see at the link, the performance information provided is neither very exhaustive nor very reassuring—closely followed by the Prismacolor Premier Illustration markers. The Sakura Pigma Micron pens smudged the most of all the ones I have, so I eliminated those early on.
So, can I recommend any of these?
I mean, not necessarily. I don't have the ability to do adequate tests—I can't guarantee to you that they'll work the way the manufacturers say they do. All I did was try out their writing properties, evaluate the way they look, and test that they were smudge-proof on the papers I'm signing. That's all. I picked the pen I used to sign most of the prints (the Kaiser) because it was the most smudge-proof (I'm left-handed, so smudging can be a problem). Beyond that, I'm trusting that I wouldn't have bought these if the online description (which, in the case of the Kaisers, as I said, I can't even track back to, it turns out) didn't look appropriate, and I'm simply trusting that those descriptions were accurate and truthful.
That's not good enough for me to make a recommendation to others.
Good luck. When it comes to pens, it's truly a dense forest out there.
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:
robert e: "Thanks for the report. Timely for me, as I mean to try out Canson Baryta in the near future, and I'm wondering if graphite will work on that. I'll report back in the event I have to try pens and find something interesting, but I'm hoping I can stick with graphite. I feel (don't actually know for sure) that it's the most benign option, and we know it's stable. Yes, it can be erased, but who's going to do that to a signed print they bought and framed? Plus, it's cheap. I just came across this: apparently archival standards for pens are covered by ISO 11798. Googling turns up at least a couple of European pen makers with certified inks. (ISO 18916 covers general imaging materials.) FEI, Mike's original pen hunt article is here."
Mike replies: Pencil doesn't work on the Canson paper Ctein used for my prints (a particularly beautiful paper, by the way—I think it looks as good as any light-sensitive paper I ever used in the darkroom).
I should have referred back to that original article myself. It appears my Kaiser pens were the "Kaiser-Schreiber film marking pen" recommended (but not endorsed, n.b.) by the Library of Congress Preservation Department that I referred to in that post. It also turned out that the "Hollinger non-fading black Pigma pen" that I got from Hollinger Metal Edge was the same pen. That pen now looks different: here it is from Hollinger. If you buy it from Amazon or B&H Photo you either have to buy a set of four colors or, if you want just the black color, a box of 40 pens.
Frank Petronio: "If it's an inkjet, I just add my name in small but contrasting type, a nice sans-serif like Frutiger Roman or Bold, over the image at whichever corner it is the least distracting. I adjust the translucency to be legible but quiet. Sacrilegious I know but it suits the medium and never smudges or gets cut off. For years I tried various pens and none of them were ideal."
Mike replies: That's too non-standard for the art world, but, interestingly, I used to do the same thing to add photographer's names to magazine covers. (Hey, a photo magazine should give the cover photographer credit on the cover itself, don't you think? It's what I thought, anyway.)