A friend of mine once referred to a writer as being “author famous.” She has a point. In the full breadth of the entertainment industry, authors rarely garner the kind of attention that actors and musicians do. A discussion about the relative reach of the literary world vs film, tv and music we’ll table for another day. What’s essential to this post is that writers love to meet readers and sign books.
Hearing a reader tell us they were captivated by our words fills our hearts up with joy. While some writers put pen to paper for themselves, authors have put their work out into the world to be read by others. We love to hear that the fruit of our countless hours of effort was appreciated.
This year I’ll be attending Bouchercon for the first time as an author. Traditionally, after authors appear on a panel discussion, they retire to a signing area for this happiest of activities, autographing books. Since my debut book, BROKEN GENIUS, isn’t coming out until June 2020, I won’t have any to sign. Another author friend of mine suggested putting together a bookmark I could sign for folks who wanted to come and connect with me after the panel. Great idea! It was a bit of a rush to pull together the design, but I had the cover and author photo, so it worked out fairly easily.
The issue that became immediately apparent once I got the bookmarks and postcards is the prime real estate for signing is all dark. No problem, I thought, they make silver markers and pens now, right? I’ll just grab one of those!
Not so easy.
As it turns out, science hasn’t completely licked the challenge of writing a light colour on a dark surface. I surfed some articles online, found some recommended pens and picked them up. It went badly. After a second-round, however, I found a happy conclusion. Read on to share the fruits of my laborious research!
In the first round, I picked up the obvious contender: a Sharpie Permanent Marker in Metallic Silver, and a Slicco Gel pen in silver that felt nice in the store on the sample paper.
The Sharpie was terrific right out of the box. But after I practiced signing a half dozen times, the ink was already running out. After a dozen, the marker was dead. I don’t know how many autographs I’ll give, but I had hoped for more longevity than that.
The Slicci Gel pen was terrific on the store paper, but I quickly learned that the type of material you are signing on makes a huge difference. The bookmarks are glossy on the front and semi-gloss on the back. The Gel Pen was useless on the gloss and moderately ok on the semi-gloss. Applying enough pressure for the ball to roll and ink to flow, it was too scratchy on the material and the line too thin. The postcards are a slightly glossy front and matte back. Here the gel pen did better, except for smearing.
I’m left-handed, making it ridiculously easy for the side of my hand to come into contact with the writing. Also, you don’t want to hand something to someone with the instructions to let it dry for a few minutes before they can put it away or let it touch anything. Only movie actors and sports stars can get away with that.
So back I went to the Staples and Michael’s to look for better options, now armed with the type of material I need to sign.
In the second round, I came back with two paint-based markers and two acid-free permanent markers. The paint markers both came from Sharpie, one water-based and one oil-based. The permanent markers were from Recollections and Artist’s Loft, which I think may be Michael’s store brands. In the store, I tried a UniBall Gel pen, but the ink on that hadn’t dried even by the time I left the store, so it was out of the running early.
Paint based markers are a little fussy. You shake them to mix the paint, depress the tip to let the paint flow, and then write. They can leak a little bit if they aren’t stored properly, and they will eventually dry out.
The Sharpie Water Paint marker wrote a thing clear line that looked great…until I tried the others. On its own, I probably would have been satisfied, but the more porous the surface, the more the paint fades as it is absorbed. It was also the most smudgy of the lot. In its favour, it wasn’t difficult to clean up if you got the paint on something you weren’t supposed to, like a finger or the desk.
The Sharpie Oil Paint marker left a much more vibrant and remarkably fine (for paint) line. But be warned, they’re messy. Oh so messy. When I took the cap off to do the smudge test, the nib fell out, and silver paint got on my desk and fingers. It was NOT easy to clean up. I would not want this thing to leak in my bag when traveling or get on me or anybody else at a book signing where there isn’t access to strong cleaning chemicals. In its favour, it was the least smudgy of all. Still, the risk of mess is too high. Pass.
The Recollections Signature permanent marker produced a thicker line than either of the Paint Markers, but that wasn’t surprising as it was a medium tip vs the paint markers’ Extra Fine. It produced a beautiful, solid line with no fading and no bleed. It definitely smudges but needed only 20-ish seconds to fully dry, which I thought was totally acceptable. It also had the highest sheen of the bunch.
The Artist’s Loft Fine Tip permanent marker, oddly, was much thicker than the Recollections’s medium tip. It produced a pleasingly opaque silver line, but the thickness is such that it changes how I sign. It had a very decent drying time of under 20 seconds. The Artist’s Loft markers are half the price of the Recollections marker and a quarter the cost of the Sharpies.
If you’re an author signing on a dark space, or a crafter who wants to get a bright, light line to pop on a dark surface, I’d recommend the Recollections Signature marker in a medium tip. It comes in silver, gold and bronze, and though I only tested the silver, I’d wager the others would work just as well. The Artist’s Loft markers make great, inexpensive backups. The paint based markers were excellent too, especially the oil paint, but the mess factor is just too high if something were to go wrong. They’re also double or more than the price of the permanent markers.
Take a look at the pictures to see the results of my testing. On one bookmark I wrote out their names. On the second, I drew a line, then ran my finger over it at the indicated time to test smudging. In the last, I signed the actual postcard. You’ll notice I also signed the grey area in blue. For that test, I used both a Sharpie and Artist’s Loft marker and the results were largely the same. Both were clear, easy, clean and didn’t smudge at all. The scientists long ago figured out the dark colour on a light page.