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Thursday, 31 October 2013


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I looked at this a little while ago, and ended up with Pigma micron pens. http://www.sakuraofamerica.com/Pen-Archival has more info. Googling "Micron pens for signing photographs" shows lots of suggestions, including http://www.luminous-landscape.com/forum/index.php?topic=69486.0 from Luminous Landscape. Best of all for me, they're pretty cheap and really easy to get on Amazon.

I'd love to hear other suggestions, too!

After many attempts and lots of misses a flawless archival India ink solution is
Faber-Castell PITT® Artist Pen - Black - XS (Extra Super Fine)
It works perfectly without smudging and skipping - permanent, archival and India ink black. I use on both matte and rc paper. I like the xs versus the fine tip as I like to have a small but very well formed signature.

My last purchase was from http://merriartist.com/ $3.05 each - a good deal.

Hey Mike,

Recently,I have just been using a pencil (mechanical pencil that is).

Aaron Britton

I use a gel ink pen from an art supply store, one with a very fine tip, so the signature isn't too big.
Don't know about archival stuff.

Sakura Pigma Micron - http://www.sakuraofamerica.com/Pen-Archival

I've used archival drafting pens from Hobby Lobby or art supply to sign RC prints. They come in various line sizes and even colors, though mostly black. As long as you give the signature time to dry - it can smear if you don't - they seem to be quite permanent, even on the glossy plastic surface of an RC print.

I hope this helps answer your question Mike, good luck....

Sakura Pigma Micron Pen, http://www.sakuraofamerica.com/Pen-Archival . I've only tested on glossy papers.

Blue Sharpie of Delkin Archival Gold - autograph hunters use them, they should work for you.


The best is the PENcil kind.

Lawyers and notaries use a very long lasting permanent ink for signing documents. Here are some examples http://www.jherbin.com/specialty_inks.shtml


You are addressing a very important question. The ink needs to be pigment ink and not indelible. A very good pen to use is made by a company called Pigma Graphic and Sakura color products from Japan. A very good point size is their marking pen #1. With this pen and ink, the signature is permanent and will not fade. These pens can be found in most good art supply stores. I want to reiterate that you should not use an indelible ink marking pen because this ink will fade over time. Hope this helps.

Check these out; recommended by Red River Paper.


I am going to pop popcorn, this is going to be fun.

I am sure Ctein has studied this. Hmm, maybe he has something to say about it in his post on IR shots from airplane windows?

[Sorry for the snark, but I was really looking forward to Ctein's column.]

Sharpie. It's waterproof, smear- and fade-resistant, acid-free, and archival. I prefer black but hey, I'm all for diversity.

Noodlers ink might be the most "archival" ink.:


Mike, this link is from Fred Miranda website and refers to a couple pens for signing prints - http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1249870.


I've always used the Pigma Micron archival pens, but I don't know how they would sign on an ink jet print.

In his book "The Print", and on the Luminous Landscape videos, Jeff Schewe says he uses a "permanent pigment pen" to sign inkjet prints. These are available at art stores, and Amazon seems to have a zillion varieties of 'em.

Try using a Pigma Micron Archival Ink pen. It's what I use. They come in different sizes (03, 05, etc.). I use the 05 size the most. Here's an Amazon link:

Several years ago i used an archival micro pigment ink pen made by Sakura designed for acid free environments; called the Pigma Micron. http://www.sakuraofamerica.com/Pen-Archival and http://www.redrivercatalog.com/infocenter/tips/pens-pencils-for-signing-inkjet-prints.html

I sign my fibre based prints with India ink and a straight pen with a fine nib. Should work on inkjets. The investment to test is low.

Morry Katz

I've always used the Pigma Micron Pens.


I don't have any citations for you...and I'll be watching to see what other folks come up with...but I've been using Ultra Fine Point Sharpies.

I use Sharpie Gel Pens both for appearance and archival quality. I use silver for B&W and black for Color.
I didn't research a citation for you but they claim acid free.
My two pesos.

Among fountain pen devotees (I know a few), these people are very highly regarded: http://www.registrarsink.co.uk/registrars_ink.html

For many years, since way back in my Cibachrome days, and now with ink jet prints, I've used Staedtler pigment liners at an 0.3 thickness.

As stated on the barrel of the pens, they are indelible, waterproof on paper, and lightfast. They dry instantly and don't smudge, and they make a good smooth black line. I believe they're still under $2. I bought a couple boxes of them several years ago and they've lasted a long time. What more could one ask? Give them a try; I think you'll like them.

Coming from a museum background I would say "ask a paper conservator". I have taken a class from a paper conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago, so I would start there (can't remember her name). Pencil is usually the best, but not so much for a glossy or plastic surface. Otherwise, I would look at the various art pens with permanent ink, neutral Ph and so forth. My question to you is where do you plan to sign, front or back or both? If you do sign somewhere on the back, stay in the margins. An artist I know of signed her paintings in Sharpie on the back and the ink is migrating through to the surface.

I don't know if you are contact with Alain Briot but his mastery materials on print making and marketing mention several pens for signing. I'm probably not allowed to forward this material but I'm sure he would respond kindly to a request for advice.

This is what John Paul recommends. http://www.johnpaulcaponigro.com/blog/?s=pens+for+signing+prints

Hi Mike,
For rock and fossil labels I was taught to use "India Ink" or "Carbon Black", as the carbon doesn't fade in sunlight.
A read of this might give some pointers;
If it's from digital files can you add a sig prior to printing?
good luck phil

Good question. I don't have an answer for you (been signing w a graphite pencil) but just wanted to point out that it probably matters what type of paper base and coating, and whether you intend to sign it on the coated or uncoated side, and perhaps also whether the signature will be displayed or under the mat.

My favorite is the Pigma Micron 02 in black. I buy mine a Dick Blick. Works great on Glossy and Semi Gloss papers. I sign Matte paper with Pentel 0.9 mm mechanical pencil

When I researched this a few years ago, I chose the Pigma Micron 08 from Sakura
Color Products Corporation. It makes claims about being archival for acid-free environments (meaning it might NOT be a good choice for dye-transfer prints, but you said inkjet) and got good press at the time.

Decades ago, Kodak actually recommended Sharpies if you needed something bold for the surface of non-fiber printing papers; I found that fairly surprising.

Check these out; recommended by Red River Paper on their site.


I found this which might be usefull: http://inkofpark.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/pens-for-the-backs-of-photographs/

you could try these...


Something I read, but have not tried, which makes sense to me, is to keep your "empty" black printer ink carts and drain what is left behind.

This can then be used to fill a hollow nib technical pen - Rotring or Faber-Castell type of thing, which come in a myriad of nib sizes.

Signature fade rate will then exactly match the print.

You should share the info for traditional darkroom prints. I looked for this information a couple years ago and it was surprising difficult to find for archival standards.

Best I found was a moderately hard pencil (4H I believe) and old school india ink.

Here ya go:



During the years I sold prints, done with the Epson 2200, 7600, and 3800, all pigment ink, on both semi-glossy and matte finish papers, I generally used a 0.1mm fine line marker Helix pen (black, but other colors available) because it was pigment ink, water based and water resistant. I picked them up at a local UW Bookstore in their art department, but these pens should be fairly widely available. One note, though, is I never signed on the actual image, but only on the margin, so am not sure how well this would work if the idea is to sign right on top of the image, as some photographers do.


Did a bit of research on this a while back and came back with the recommendation for pencil. It is carbon after all. :-)

On mat prints I generally use pencil. On luster or gloss I use a small sharpie (although I rarely use luster or gloss anymore). I sure pencil is safe. Sharpies? I haven't had any problems yet.

After considering the same question, I have settled on pigment ink gel pens (e.g. Signo). They write nicely on all the surfaces I favour (mainly Epson Premium Semigloss and Hahnemuhle smooth Phto Rag), dry quickly, and are (allegedly) permanent and reasonably archival. They can bought cheaply, more-or-less anywhere, too. Everything else seemed either hard to use fluently, takes too long to dry, or is not fade-proof.


I use two pens recommended my Alain Briot--a Pigma Micron 02 by Sakura Color Products Corp (Japan) and a Staedtler 924. The Pigma claims to be archival and acid free. It delivers much darker ink than the Staedtler.

Rotring Tikky Graphic. It's a disposable fibre-tip that uses pigment ink (not dye, so it's more resistant to fading). Available in a range of nib sizes: I'd go for 0.3 or 0.4, maybe 0.5 for signing. The pens are obviously designed as a modern replacement for the classic Rotring Isograph and Rapidograph pens -- I wouldn't want to do a lot of signing with those old pens, having done enough drawing with them in the past.

If ts matte paper use pencil, otherwise a gel acid free ink, of which there are myriad, in all sort of different colours. Just go to an art supply store, or even staples with a piece of ink jet paper and try them out to your hearts content.

A pen (calligraphy or technical) filled with the black ink from the printer you are using.

Prismacolor Premire, the label lists Archival, Acid Free, & light fast. Conforms to ASTM D-4236, Non-Toxic.

If you make a conscious effort to sign your name absolutely as slowly as possible you will re-create your grade school signature?

I use pigment pens - same type of ink that is in pigment printers!

Copic pigment markers on Amazon, for instance this one:


Good timing, thanks for the post. I just cleaned up the Rapidograph that I use for signing prints and it's a pain (and also a #00 with a .30 diameter tip)

It might beat the others for longevity, but keeping it clean and working and getting it to put down a line without scuffing the surface of the paper (glossy papers) is a challenge.

I do worry about the longevity of the others, certainly Sharpies are nothing like permanent.

I love pencils for matte papers, but I don't use matte papers very much

Ask Ctein. He signs his prints by dipping an old fashioned ink nib pen into inkjet ink. (Or was it a quill pen?) Anyway, he would have specific instructions. The signature is then exactly as archival as the image, for better or worse, and has no possibility of surprises down the road (e.g., nasty interactions with the paper or image).

Personally, I sign the mat with a black fine point rollerball and then sign the back of the print with #2 pencil. Nothing on the inkjet surface of the print.

The Micron mentioned is what my wife who is a botanist uses for labels in the herbarium, it is a standard for that, nice pens, I'm always stealing hers!

Sharpie markers fade and discolor paper as they age.

Pigma Microns are what I used for drawing, and the few pieces I've kept over the years still look as good as new. Pencil doesn't fade or discolor either...

After too much research, I ended up getting a pair of Uniball Signo 207s. It has gel ink, and it's supposedly one of the best pens for signing prints. We'll know in 50 years whether I made the right choice..

Pencil is not a bad option, but results depend a lot on the paper you're printing on.

I hope Ctein chimes in here, because he has a great idea for signing inkjet prints. I bought a couple of prints from him during the "Space Shuttle" sale a while back, and noticed that the signature and title on the print looked like it had been signed in pencil.

(This is my holy grail for signing prints. I use pencil on matte paper, and would really like to use something that looks like it on glossier prints.)

I emailed Ctein to ask what he used, and he told me that he used one of the Epson Ultrachrome gray inks with a calligraphy pen, basically using the same ink as used for printing the image. Again, I hope he'll post in this thread about the specific pen he uses.

On gloss/lustre/pearl surfaces I use a Copic Multiliner SP size 0.25 black. It's a pigment ink pen, waterproof and copic proof, whatever that means, works well

Dear Keith,

Now, now, don't pick on Mike. My column will appear on Friday this week. The schedule just got a bit muddled what with the print sale launching on Wednesday.

Mike did ask me how I signed prints, some months back. On the back, I use a soft graphite pencil. That's a no-brainer. On the front, though, pencil won't take well to the glossy or semiglossy paper surfaces, so I do the same thing I do on the dye transfer prints: I title and sign them with a quill point pen using the same ink/dye that I use to make the print.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I have no advice, but I always enjoyed the look of graphite (pencil) signatures on photos. They're so obviously not printed or stamped they provide a sense of immediacy and "realness".

I see a few recommendations for Sharpies, and I have to respond by saying absolutely do not use a Sharpie. I used Sharpies on C-prints when I first started printing color, and the signatures faded to almost nothing within 10 years. I wouldn't trust them on inkjet or anything else.

Permit me to express some wait-and-see scepticism about inks which claim to be for archival use and which were invented all of 25 years ago (I'm older than that and I'm not claiming permanence).

Traditional permanent inks chemically alter the paper they are applied to. You want something which does the same to the materials your prints are made from. Ask the paper manufacturers.

Why not have the signature printed also? j/k :)

Given i have ordered two of the Turnley prints and the slip-covered book ask Peter what he
shall be using to sign the prints. Given the price I would think somebody would have solved or found a solution.

My own personal choice for the few prints I do for friends is black India Ink and a quill pen.

I sign the print on the back, at the very bottom edge of the print. My signature is very plain and i also date the print in the year, month, day format.

Like the russian space program... use pencil.

I have staedtler lumocolor pens and a few of the colours are listed as archival. I like the brown myself, but I believe black and red are also archival.

The "Staedler pigment liner 0.7" is what I use, recommended by the photo workshop instructor at Stanford U. The one I have is labeled "Art. No. 308 07-9", "UPC 0 31901 326715", and carries the "AP" trademark, "Art and Creative Materials Institute Certified".

Dear Rick,

The pen I'm using is just some random cheap quill point pen I picked up at an art supply store. The ink that gives the "pencil" look is the light-light-grey in the Epson Ultrachrome inkset. I like it because it' s not too intrusive-- legible but doesn't draw attention away from the photograph too much. If someone likes a darker look, they could go with the light grey or even the photo black ink.

Just break open a near empty cartridge, pour the remainder of the ink into a small dropper bottle and use that to dispense ink to your pen as needed. A little will go a long way-- typically one drop, a twentieth of a milliliter, is enough to title and sign a couple of prints.

pax / Ctein

"A little will go a long way-- typically one drop, a twentieth of a milliliter, is enough to title and sign a couple of prints."

Easy for him to say. He has a rather short name. If your name is G. Fecksworth Chidemore Snobblenosey IV, that drop might not go quite as far.


I spent all day yesterday printing for two places that have asked for some of my prints. I was very interested in this discussion because I have noticed that some of my oldest prints signed with an ultra fine Sharpie have started to show some fading in the signature.

So I decided to do my own "scientific" experiment. I selected a sampling of pens based on the suggestions here and what was available at the local Pat Catan's art supply store. Here are my findings:

Sakura Pigma Micron .005 - Maybe I got a bad sample, but it would not make a solid line. Splotchy ink delivery with big gaps of no ink. A nice fine line when it worked, but no good for signing prints.

Faber-Castell PITT artist pen S (that was the finest point they had)- nice ink flow but much too thick a line.

Uni-ball Vision Elite - too thick a line

Sakura Gelly Roll - cheap pen (only $1) and makes a nice line. Not sure about the archival qualities.

Sakura Pigma Micron 02 (.30mm line) almost perfect. Line is very nice, maybe just slightly thicker than I'd like. Ink flow is flawless (which makes me think the finer line version could be a bad copy). I signed the prints with this one.

I print on Epson Exhibition Fiber paper and sign in the white border on the front of the prints.

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