Which Type of Pen Should You Use For Your Autographs?

  10/08/2021 at 15:08 pm

Which pen type and / or color is right for you and your autographed items?

This is a question we get asked every day, and a question that is on everyone's mind before they send in an item to be autographed or attend a signing: "What should I get this item signed in?"


Let's start by saying this: there are often times not only 1 right answer. In fact, with most items, there are multiple different pen types and colors that will work just fine for your item. The "best" pen type and color is subjective. What one person likes may not be what another person likes. I will start by listing the two most common pen types used for autographs (Sharpies and Paint Pens) and some pro's and con's to each.

Sharpies VS Paint Pens - Which is the right choice for you and your item?

Sharpies   custom image


Sharpies are the first thing most everyone thinks of when it comes to getting an autograph, as they are very popular, have been around for a long time, and come in numerous colors, sizes, etc. Specifically in a pinch, if you need to get an autograph, the first thing you think to use is a sharpie.

Some pros of sharpies include:

  • Sharpies are very versatile.
  • Sharpies write well on most surfaces.
  • Sharpies dry almost instantly.
  • Sharpies are relatively cheap and most stores carry them.
  • Sharpies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Some cons of sharpies include:

  • Sharpies do not always "pop" when signing autographs. They can look basic nowadays.
  • Sharpies can and will likely fade eventually, depending on where and how the item is stored and displayed.

Sharpies really are a good tool and can always work for autographs, but in a lot of cases, I try to avoid them if I have a better option available to me. Here is why:

We have been in business for over 22 years and I cannot tell you how many sharpie autographs we have seen fade. The lifespan and severity of fading of sharpie autographs can vary a lot, and there are several ways you can help prolong the life of sharpie autographs. We will have a separate blog post about how to help avoid the fading of autographs. I will note that certain sharpies (like gold and silver) seem to be far less prone to fading. 


Paint Pens  custom image

Paint pens have been becoming more and more common over the last several years, and there is a reason for that. As a business, if we can help it, we will get most items signed in a paint pen.

Some pros of paint pens include:

  • Paint pens will almost always give you a bigger and bolder autograph that pops more.
  • Paint pens not only write, but stand out more on most surfaces.
  • Paint pens, for the most part, will not fade.

Some cons of paint pens include:

  • Paint pens are more expensive than sharpies
  • Paint pens can come out runny, streaky or have issues malfunctioning.
  • Paint pens take longer to dry.

Essentially, paint pens can be more of a hassle for customers, promotors or companies hosting the autograph signings, and for the person signing the autographs. That being said, if you can get past all of that, paint pens will give some of the most outstanding autographs you will see. Paint pens also come in a several different brands, the most common (but not all) being:

  • Decocolor
    • Decocolor paint pens are the most common and most recommended as far as paint pens go.
  • Uni Paint
    • Uni Paint pens, in my experience, are just as good as Deco, but not quite as common.
  • Molotow
    • Molotow paint pens, while being the most expensive generally, give some great autographs (specifically the white color.) If you need a white paint pen, Molotow is the one for you.
  • Prismacolor
    • Prisma paint pens pop really well (especially their silver ones, which might be the best silver paint pen)


With that general information about pen types, lets talk about some of the most common items to get autographed and review the best options on these numerous different items.

Helmets   custom image

Helmets are a versatile item to get signed, as sharpies and paint pens will work. We try and get all of our helmets signed in paint pen. Paint pen signatures (pictured above on the Cowboys helmet) come out big and bold on helmets, and you dont have the fading issue that you do with sharpies. The best color used will depend heavily on the helmet/team colors. Sharpies will work on most helmets, but I recommend staying away from using black or blue sharpies on helmets.


Photos/Canvas   custom image

Photos are perhaps the most versatile item to sign. Often times, there are numerous different pen types and colors that will go with any photo. We have seen photos signed in every different type and color of pen so there is certainly not just one right answer for this.

While there are a couple different types of photos (glossy or matte finish) this does not affect the autograph type I would suggest using too much. Matte photos are prefered as they are typically higher quality and allow for slightly faster drying of ink, but there is nothing wrong with glossy photos. Just like with most every item, paint pens are my go-to for photos, but sharpies will get the job done just fine as well. Just keep in mind the potential of the autograph fading quicker if you get a photo signed in a shaprie that isnt silver or gold.

If you are getting a canvas signed, paint pen is by far the preferred pen type on these. Most of the time you want a thick, bold autograph on your canvas and a broad paint pen will more times than not nail your desired look.


Jerseys   custom image

There are lots of different types of jerseys and lots of different types of materials to get signed on jerseys. Black and silver are the most common 2 colors of pen used to sign jerseys in the industry. Since most of the time you are getting the jersey numbers signed, this comes down to whether it is a dark or light number. If the number is black, green, red, etc. silver will be the best color to sign in. If you are getting a white, gray, etc. number signed, black is the safest bet there.

Just like the number color affects the pen color used to sign, the material can affect the pen type used. Most jerseys have a sort of twill number, and these are the better material for autographs. These are typically sewn on the jersey. Twill numbers will hold an autograph better, allow for quicker drying, and may not fade as quick. Again, paint pen is my preferred pen type on these (whether black or silver) although sharpie will work too.

The other common number type are screen-printed numbers. These do not hold autographs as well and can be more inconsistent when signing. With these, again, you can use either sharpie or paint pen, but in this case I recommend Sharpie. Sharpie could at least add some consistentcy to an already inconsistent item to sign.


Basketballs  custom image


Getting a basketball signed in the right pen can produce some of the nicest autographs that can be produced. A silver paint pen is the most common pen to use on basketballs, because they look amazing. Although you can use a black paint pen too if that is your preference, just make sure that the paint pen is a broad paint pen. Basketballs give a ton of room to sign, and the best way to take advantage of that is to use a broad paint pen. Note: If you are getting a white panel baskeball signed, use a black sharpie! Paint pens will not dry on the white panel balls.


Footballs  custom image

Just like basketballs, footballs that are signed in the right pen type and color can look just perfect. Silver paint pens are the go-to with footballs. If you have the room, use a broad silver paint pen as they give the perfect autograph on footballs. Allow plenty of time for these to dry after using a silver paint pen. The paint can and will smear even after it is dried, so be careful to not have anything rub against the signatures. Note: If you are getting a white panel football signed, use a black sharpie! Paint pens will not dry on the white panel balls.


Bats  custom image

For most bats (except the blonde bats) I always recommend a silver paint pen. This will give you the optimal signature for the black replica bats and most pro model bats. If you have a blonde bat, I see blue sharpie on these a lot. While a blue sharpie is consistent and safe on these bats, blue sharpie will fade quickest and eventually your bat could get to the point where it barely has an autograph on it. I have seen these signed in black sharpie and they look just as good to me, and the signature tends to last a little longer.


Pucks  custom image

Pucks are pretty simple. I would use a paint pen with the thickness (fine or broad) depending on if you are getting an inscription or not. Pucks are almost always signed in a silver paint pen, but don't be afraid to be different here! I have gotten several pucks signed in a red or a green paint pen and they turn out great!


Cards  custom image

Cards have been some of the post popular send-in items lately to be signed. There is a reason you see most cards signed in blue sharpie. Blue sharpies will almost always stand out somewhere on a card to some extend, and they dry quickly no matter the finish of the card. Most people don't have to worry about their sharpie signatures fading on these cards either because they do not keep them out on display like some other memorabilia that gets exposed to harmful lights.


Boxing Gloves / UFC Gloves  custom image

Boxing gloves come in 2 common colors: black and red. Red boxing gloves can be signed in black or silver sharpie or paint pen. Paint pens don't always write or dry well on boxing gloves, and aren't worth the risk most of the time. Silver and black sharpies always look pretty good on these. To me, a silver sharpie looks gorgeous on a red boxing glove.

UFC Gloves are not too different, as most of the time they are signed in a silver sharpie. Although I have seen UFC gloves signed in gold sharpies and several different paint pen colors. The materials on UFC gloves typically have more of a mat finish, opening it up to different pen types like that.


Baseballs  custom image

Baseballs are the most simple answer to the question. You really should only get these signed in a blue ballpoint pen. Sharpies on baseballs don't give you a quality autograph, and will heavily discolor and ruin a baseball.


Hopefully this information can help you make an informed decision on not only your next autographed item, but for the rest of your collection!

By Corey Durham