Stephen Bay's Photography Blog

Pens for Signing Inkjet Prints

Traditionally prints are signed with a pencil and I prefer to use one whenever I can. Pencils work great on matt paper which has a rough surface that picks up the graphite in the lead. However, I make most of my prints on various types of glossy, luster, or baryta papers which are coated and prevent the pencil from leaving a visible mark.

I’ve tried many different pens and markers and none of them are perfect, but the one that works the best for me are the Tombow Dual Brush Pens.

These have two tips, a flexible brush tip and a fine tip. I use the fine tip for signing. They use water-based acid free ink and dry instantly. I’ve never had problems with smudging and I wasn’t able to smudge my signature even when wiping it with my finger right after signing.

Tombow Dual Brush Pen The Tombow dual brush pen with the fine tip showing. The other end of the pen has a long and tapered flexible brush which can be used to vary the width of the stroke but it is too large to use for signing. It would probably work well for calligraphy.

The Tombow pens come in a variety of colors and many different shades of gray. I find N65 or N75 just about perfect and most similar to a pencil. You can also use black but I think that is too stark. The main drawback of these pens is that they only come in one width – if you want something finer or thicker you are out of luck.

Some people recommend Sakura Pigma micron pens. I have these pens and have used them to sign my photos in the past. But I don’t think they work that well. The tip tends to dry out as I’m signing and leaves a weak line in some parts of my signature. This only happens on coated inkjet papers, not on regular office paper. To avoid that, I have to remember to sign a bit slower than normal and make sure I’m always pressing down. They also only come in black and few other colors, no shades of gray.

Finally do not use a Sharpie as these are notorious for fading.

Tombow dual brush pen sample The Tombow dual brush pen moves over inkjet paper smoothly and leaves an even line.

Sakura pigma micron pen sample The Sakura pigma micron pen tends to dry out while signing and leaves a rough line where the ink isn’t fully deposited on the paper. This usually occurs when I’m moving the pen quickly during my signature.

Finally, if you can’t find a pen that works for you, one alternative is to sign your photos on the back with a pencil. This is called signing on verso and is prefered by some artists to keep the front clean and uncluttered.

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