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Saturday, 17 May 2014


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FWIW, when I print on the back I always print the back first - that way I have not wasted the ink and time to do the photo if anything goes wrong.

I've never printed the back as an artist's signature, but have printed contact info on commercial prints.

Thanks, Mike, for putting together this info. I'll be watching for the results of your survey. And will order a few pens as well.

FYI running a print through the printer to print on the back cost me about $3500 last year.

American Express extended warranty covered a couple thousand dollars of out of warranty repairs on my printer, then I had to buy a new one for $2500 out of pocket and throw away a thousand dollars worth of ink and a pair of perfectly good $450 printheads since the printer writes its info to the printhead when you install it and then no other printer can use it.

Roll fed large format printers really don't like any reverse curl in the paper. at least the Canon IPF series.

While I agree that the printer ink on the back is not very likely to lead to a bad outcome (other than transfer to other sheets if they touch before it's dry), from what little I think I understand about the complex system of layers on the front of modern printing paper, I'd have to say that the interaction of ink with those layers could conceivably have different archival properties than the ink standing more alone on the backing paper.

It's amazing that pencil is acceptable. In legal and financial contexts I've been taught all my life that pencil is never acceptable, because it's not permanent (too easily altered). And I never felt they wrote well on the back of RC paper. (Mostly one wouldn't use RC for art prints, but I was marking commercial prints where RC was perfectly fine.)

I have been thinking for some time that a thumbprint with permanent ink on the back would be a better solution to the signature issue. A bit of dna would guarantee authenticity, hopefully.

You should change the title of this post to:
"After Much Consideration, I've Decided on The Best Pen for Signing Prints and Photographs"

And also link to the previous posts on this discussion. I'm sure lots of people could use, and will use the information in these posts. I will be much easier to find them on the "internets"

After years of trying different things I sign and date my prints on the back with a B or HB pencil. I also sign in the lower margin on the face, again with pencil, if the surface of the paper will accept it. Many years ago (wet darkroom days) when I was shooting news photos I used to rubber stamp the back and the old stamped images still in my possession do not show any problems from the stamping them. I have not however tried stamps on digital prints. If I were to try it I would do so on the back in the margin, not on the back of the print area.

I was always under the impression that signing a photograph on the front was a tad... tacky. Don't rightly know since I'm not exactly versed in that... experience. It certainly would seem odd to view an exhibition of "signed" photographs- as opposed to paintings.

I like the solution that Ken Tanaka came up with. With the print, he sent a separate sheet describing the printing process. It was from a TOP sale, so I was happy to assist both Ken and Mike.

Thanks for the great work guys. The information you are passing along is appreciated. I tried to come up with a new variation of "The Pen is mightier than the Sword" but could not. Sigh.

I once inadvertently put a sheet of RC paper through my Epson 3800 the wrong way up. There was no absorption of inks into the surface and the image took on a surreal appearance due to the different colours bleeding into each other. Much to my wife's dismay, I left the print out to see how long it would take to dry, which was around six months.

I like the idea of not signing at all. After a similar quest for a suitable pen when I switched to a baryta paper (because my ancient Epson 2200 has gotten very cranky about changing PK to MK) I almost ruined one finished print making a very sloppy signature! I'm all for soft pencil. And while on this whole subject, do we really need titles? Either the image speaks for itself or it doesn't...

I’m not sure why collectors would care if the print was signed on the front, artists signing their work predates photography by several centuries. But from a practical perspective, the vast majority of photographers trying to earn income from their work are not being “collected”, and the buyers know little else other than they really like the piece. So the signature really is intended to identify the work to all who view it, and some part of that is hoping it will entice others to consider purchasing, or at least googling the name and looking at the work. (in other words, marketing).

I would suggest that incorporating the signature by scanning an actual signature and then adding it to the file so it is produced during the inkjet printing process seems quite acceptable. Not much different than stamping it, and most likely the most archival and least hazardous method. OK, maybe that isn’t “hand signed”, but the signature is accurate and identifies the artist. I use “archival pens” as mentioned in this post, but as stated, I’m not really sure how archival they really are, so I’ve resigned my self to the scan/print method.

OK, if we are going to go with verso pencil (Hooray as my hand writing is truly horrible), what is the best pencil? Is 3B about right or should we be looking at 6-7B?

I realise that there is no standard for pencil hardness but guess that one 3B is pretty similar to another if you buy a reputable brand.

It would seem embossing could be a good way to go instead of signing. No ink or other fluid, and not easily copied. Embossing machines with your presonal seal are relatively cheap these days. The seal can even be your signature.

Regarding pens:
I create art prints for weddings (wedding contracts called ketubahs) which the bride and groom sign at the ceremony. I always recommend that they use the Sakura or Zig pigment ink pens to sign. As long as they are "pigment ink" (and therefore roughly akin the Ultrachrome inks), I feel they are as good and archival as we can get. In over 10 years, this has worked well for my customers.

For my fine art prints:
my standard practice has bee to sign my name on the front in pencil (I print on cotton-rag matte papers). I am careful when signing to leave a gap between the signature and the print, so that they can mat the signature out (or in) as they wish. Then on the back I write (again in pencil) title, date, name, signature. Canvas prints only get signed and titled on the back.

But I'll be very interested in hearing the results of your survey!

Not that anybody wants or cares about my prints, but I've taken to printing my impressive right thumb print on the back (verso) in addition to signing in pencil. I use a small ink pad to ink the thumb. I got the idea thinking of Japanese printmakers red signature blocks and of course living in Wisconsin of FL Wright's adaption of that as a red signature tile on his buildings. (So why don't I use red ink for the thumb print? I don't have it around)

I would be concerned with a stamp bleeding through the paper especially as I mostly use matte finish paper. I usually sign on the front with a #2 pencil, but i made a label to use on the back of a matted print. Hard to find archival label paper and i wonder about labels bleeding through through on front of the print. Any thoughts?

Great idea Ctein - however rather than printing on the back AFTER the image is print on the front, perhaps try printing on the back BEFORE printing the image on the front. This way if a smudge occurs you are only out the cost of paper, and not much ink or time.

Just a thought.

On one occassion I accidentally printed on the wrong side of a glossy photo sheet. My Epson 3880 pigment certainly made a mess as it just sat on the surface and smeared around. That said, it's certainly one very expensive way of making a source of ink for a rubber stamp.

Thanks again, Mike, for the tips on pens (pun unintended) and on this particular paper. Assuming the paper and I get along, what a great excuse to go pen shopping!

I obviously have a special interest in this topic, but I have to say that in general I both expect and welcome TOP's occasional geekings out over an obscure nook or cranny of photography. Besides, we were due for a post about gear.

FWIW, my favorite paper so far is Canson Infinity Rag Photographique, a textured matte paper. Besides good weight, feel and texture, it's the brightest of all the non-chemically-brightened papers that I've sampled. I'm also a fan of their drawing and watercolor papers. But I think some photographs call for something a bit punchier, and I'm hoping the Baryta is it.

I have just visited the Demarchelier exhibition at camera work in Berlin.
Prices up to 88000 Euros per print (don't worry, the cheapest ones are only 4500).
He signs recto, apparently with pencil.
His BW prints are silver gelatin, often selenium treated, or platinum print.
The colour prints are inkjets, called "archival pigment prints".

Embossing is an interesting idea. Doesn't, as Julius said, add additional chemistry to the already complex mix.

The embossers I know seem to be intended for 20 to 24 pound paper, though. Does anybody who has one (for other purposes, presumably) want to try it on the weight paper we use for collectible prints, something around 300GSM (sorry for mixed unit systems, but writing paper is normally speced one way and serious inkjet print paper the other) and report how it goes?

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