Let me start by saying I am not a scientist. I have been collecting for decades, in that time I have purchased autographs, done TTM requests, traveled to conventions, and hit the streets in search of every possible signature that I wanted. I consider myself to be pretty successful at this hobby, and for years my answer to one question has been the same.

What's the best pen to use for an autograph? For 2 decades my answer has been a blue permanent overhead transparency marker called Vis-A-Vis by the Sanford Company, the same company that makes Sharpie brand markers. The problem is that the Sanford company discontinued the Vis-A-Vis permanent blue marker about 10 years ago. Sure you can find some "new" old stock here and there, but the prices can get pretty crazy.

Yes, I have a box or two in reserve for those events, special enough to get me out of my comfy chair, but that isn't going to help me in telling people that the best option for them doesn't exist anymore. So I decided to do a little experiment. Did the results shock me? Absolutely, but I should add that I have been out of wall space for 10+ years. My collection now is mostly all stored away, and my answer remains the same. It is still 100% Blue Vis-A-Vis for me, but there is a really good possibility that it shouldn't be for you.

I grabbed an acid free white cardboard backer-board, the type you will find sealed away behind a comicbook or magazine in a polybag, then I grabbed some brand new Sharpies, Vis-A-Vis, paint pens, a ballpoint, and even a dry-erase marker, in a variety of colors.

Next, I used each pen and initialed the board repeatedly in four columns. One column for the baseline, the second for display under filtered fluorescent overhead light, column three was for display in a sunlit room (through modern UV protective window,) and of course column four for display near a regular 60 watt incandescent lamp.   

Here are the results.......

10 days of exposure

30 days of exposure

60 days of exposure

So, the way I see it is if you plan on displaying your signed items in any light source at all, blue Vis-A-Vis may not be for you. Black Vis or black sharpie may be the way to go if you are collecting in the streets, if you are at a show, you may consider one of the paint pens,(just be sure togive it time enough to dry, before storing it in yor bag or poster tube.)

I still believe that blue is the way to go for me because of how wonderfully it pops on both color and b&w images. It's just not the best for long term display in a well lighted area.

I really hope this helps some of you, and I hope you and your families have a safe and happy holiday season.



Views: 1225

Tags: paint, pens, sharpie, vis-a-vis

Comment by Rich on February 2, 2017 at 8:24pm

Thanks for doing that. For some reason, I'd thought that blue lasted longer than black, but that doesn't seem to be the case at all. Really surprised about the results for red, green and dry erase.

That being said, I'm not among those who think blue looks better than black for autographs, so I guess that works out for me. 

Comment by Steve Viola on February 10, 2017 at 7:35am

One question.  Your heading column is sunlight thru a window.  Is this sunlight directly on the autograph piece or simply coming into the room? BTW, amazing that a silver sharpie outlasted a blue Vis  !

Comment by Pete Bendu on February 11, 2017 at 4:52am

The strip is set up so that sunlight hits it thru the window for the entire day at different angles as it moves thru the sky. I have seen pieces hung on a wall with the only window in the room, but the sunlight bouncing off a bright wall opposite the window still fades the signature, if that is what you mean. 

For more than a decade I have worked in a shop with fluorescent overhead lights, we carried a large selection of sports memorabilia (lots of Steiner stuff.) Within the first year, my recommendation to the sports department manager was to only order prints signed in silver, gold or paint pen. Black and blue both saw significant fading within months of being on display.


Comment by Steve Viola on February 12, 2017 at 7:46am

Thanks. Interesting.  Ive had albums and other things in blue and black and silver framed and hanging in my den for 10 years now, and havent noticed any fading. There is no direct sunlight on them , but sun does come in and mostly hits  well below the height of the stuff hanging.  Not sure if I should be concerned or not.

Comment by Pete Bendu on February 12, 2017 at 8:41am

That is the worst part of fading, if you see it every day, you don't notice it until it is too far gone. My best suggestion is to photograph or scan the item before hanging it. Check the item intermittently by taking more photos or scans after it has been up on the wall. Side by side comparisons are always best.  

I had this piece framed with the highest end UV protective Museum glass, hanging in the a fore mentioned shop.

This is what it looked like after 2 months...


Comment by Steve Zarelli on February 12, 2017 at 9:14am

A few thoughts:

* Fluorescent lights are the absolute worst for UV damage. Almost as bad as direct sunlight. I would never expose anything signed to fluorescent light no matter how much UV protection is supposedly in place.

* Steiner has historically used terrible ballpoint pens. They start a razor thin light blue and get worse FAST even when stored under optimal conditions. I have seen many credible reports of Steiner signatures literally evaporating after a year or two. I prefer using  Papermate ballpoint pens, which drop a really strong dark blue signature. Never had a problem with them.

Comment by Steve Zarelli on February 12, 2017 at 9:17am

After writing the comment about florescent light, I referred to the chart above. It really puzzles me. Everything I have ever read is that the UV from fluorescent is very high and exceeds incandescent lighting. The test above seems contrary to that. 


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