18 December 2006

Photo pen? Talk amongst yourselves.

Rona asks:

It is the holiday season again and of course, we get pictures taken of my almost three year-old. As I am sending out the pictures to relatives, I want to put the year or how old she is on the back of the photo. I have not found a good pen to do that with. Either it is too bold (like a thin Sharpie) and bleeds through the photo from the back, or too hard (like a ballpoint) and it makes bumps from the letters I write. I have not been able to find the perfect pen. I know this is not a big deal or anything life threatening... but, it would be great to have something cool to write with on them this year.

We are so digital-centric around here that I have no good suggestions to offer. You?



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Here's some tricks from an archivist.

Try a Bic GripPermanent marker. It writes on anything, dries in seconds and stays on forever. I use it at work to mark CDs and photos with. It doesn't bleed through either.

You can also try a grease pencil and use that to write on the back. This will wipe off, though, so be warned.

But a ballpoint will work AS LONG AS YOU HAVE THE PHOTO ON A HARD SURFACE. If you're using a soft surface like a book or something it'll make impression marks on the emulsion side of the photo.

Best of all, you could use labels. Set up your printer and do all of them at once, then stick those to the backs of your photos. Don't stick them to the front - this damages the photo. Labels won't stick forever - eventually the glue wears off - but they'll last for years anyway. If you want super-sticky ones, get labels that have a metal backing on them. These will last for years.

My best suggestion is to go to a camera shop (Wolf Camera, Ritz Camera, or whichever is in your area). There are special archival pens made specifically for writing on the backs of photographs. A good camera shop should carry this type of product. Good luck.

When having prints made at Costco they offer the option of having 30 characters of text printed across the back. It is not as personal as hand-written, but it is convenient.

Here's the Google search results for a pen that one of our local camera franchises offers:

I have horrible handwriting, so I try to print everything I can (I figure that legible is better than personal). When I got my first set of nice pictures of my daughter, I used the address labels that I use for mass mailings (Avery 5660). Using a decent size font, I can put on her full name, the date the photo was taken, her age, and a short message. They fit perfectly on wallets.

I use the ultra-fine point Sharpies and they work great. No pressure needed and no bleed through.


I get mine from a scrapbooking store to ensure that they're archival quality, so if that's important to you then that's what I'd recommend.

Michael's carries a lot of scrapbooking supplies including very thin black permanent markers that are archival quality.

You can go into any scrapbook store and they will have pens that are made specifically for writing on photos! They are acid free and will not ruin the photo. They are also not ball point so they glide on the photo. This helps to cut down on the bumps that can be caused by writing with a ball point pen! You shoud stay away from sharpies because they are not acid free and can ruin your photo in the long run.

Creative Memories has a soft pencil specifically designed for this purpose. I've used them for 6 years now and never had a problem with marking the front or bleeding through.

I've got a pen called a Slick Writer - works for vellum as well as photos.


I sent out over 90 family portraits and individual portraits of our daughter. No way in heck I'd write info on the back of all the photos. I've always used Avery mailing labels 5660. I include her name, age, and month/year of photo. I used a text color that matches the photo and sometimes add a piece of clipart. I do the same thing for our return address labels. Quick and easy!

any acid-free or "archival" felt tip will work -- they are easy to find in art, hobby, or scrapbooking shops, or a quick google (as has been mentioned). shopping for pens is one of life's little pleasures ... or perhaps i am just a strange one.

I usually print it out on address labels. Makes it so simple.

I print out labels for the backs of portraits I share with family. I print them with my child's name, the date, and her age. Then I stick one on the back of each photo.

When I took photography classes (oh so long ago) we used something that I believe is called a "grease pencil."

Don't think it would be archival, necessarily, but I'm not sure.

I got a Sakura Pigma Micron at the art supply store that was formulated for non-porous surfaces. Sakura pens are archival and I love their products. You can probably find something similar at your local art supply, scrapbooking or university book store.

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