Itoya Art Profolio Marker — Photo Safe Archival Pen Review

Itoya Art Profolio Photo Marker Capped
Itoya’s Art Profolio Photo Marker  [Item# FM-100BK].
When I first started scanning my photo collection, I starting out writing on the back of my prints with a fairly dull pencil. However, I pushed down extremely lightly though as to not etch through to the other side!

But, you know, I just really hate using pencils now.

I’m an adult now. I already had my fair share of NFL pencil sets in the 1980’s. I feel like I have moved past pencils in my life.

What I really wanted was a decent ink pen that I could feel safe using on photos and slides. And if I had to make a list of the qualities I was looking for in particular, it would look something like this:

My Dreamiest  Photo Pen Criteria:

  • Photo safe 
  • Non-toxic
  • Permanent ink
  • Fade resistant
  • Dries quickly
  • Will not smear once dry
  • Won’t bleed through
  • Passes PAT (Photographic Activity Test)

Why a Special Pen?

I know it might seem silly to some of you to go out of your way to find a fancy pen just to write filename numbers and captions on your photos with.

I’m no Walter White, but if he knew as much about photo processing chemicals as he does crystal meth, he could tell us in great scientific detail why it’s important to choose a photo safe pen.

I do know enough to know I wanted to find a “non-toxic” pen. You never know how these photo chemicals that were used to produce your paper prints, slides and negatives are going to hold up once you write on them with the wrong type of ink and then close them up again in (near) airtight storage containers (photo pages, envelopes, ziplock bags etc.)

I mean, our photos are already breaking down fast enough on their own!

Additionally, you might find the wrong type of pen might seem to have written just fine on your photos at first. But, what if you checked them months later and you realize the ink continued to leach into the porous paper stock and its bled through to the front of your photo! (Yeah that’s the really important side)

I feel it’s worth a few bucks to not have to worry about all of this.

Archival Pen Scarcity

I was surprised to find there really are very few photo safe pens out there. It seemed like every time I thought I had found one I liked from an online retailer, I discovered they were no longer making them.

Itoya Art Profolio Photo Marker UncappedI actually ended up finding what I was really happy with at a nearby location of the major photography company  Samy’s Camera.

It’s called an Art Profolio Photo Marker by Itoya. And no, that’s not a typo — it’s really Profolio not Portfolio like I immediately assumed.

In fine print on the side of the pen it reads:

Permanent Ink: Great for autographing and for marking photos, film, transparencies, plastic, glass and metal.

And then I checked out Itoya’s website. Their page on this pen is very limited, but they do highlight some additional features:

  • Acid Free
  • Non Toxic
  • Photo Safe
  • Dark, bold lines
  • Bullet tip for precision lines
  • CD safe ink technology

Perfect!

So as long as the ink dries quickly, it doesn’t smear or bleed through, I think my wish list could be completely checked off.

How the Art Profolio Looks & Feels

For an inexpensive disposable style pen, I was pleasantly surprised the almost “pearlesque” shiny off-white lightweight plastic had a really nice dense and smooth feel to it. Knowing how much I was going to be holding this thing over the next year, this just might be a pleasant inessential.

Near the tip where the tips of your fingers will rest there’s also a really nice rubbery horizontally grooved grip. It makes it really easy to hold onto.

A marvelous touch.

 

Itoya Art Profolio Marker next to 2 Permanent Sharpie Markers
Art Profolio compared to the Sharpie Fine Point (top) and Ultra Fine Point (middle) Permanent Markers.

Because of toxicity issues and the possibility of bleeding in many of their models, I personally wouldn’t recommend using most if not all Sharpies to write on your photographs. But, just for comparison sake, here’s a shot that shows how they compare in size.

Its diameter is definitely less than the Sharpie’s Fine point model, and just a tad smaller than the Ultra Fine Point — but probably very close.

My pen came with a barcoded sales sticker that easily came right off after I took these photos (if you were wondering).

Itoya Art Profolio Marker uncapped next to 2 Permanent Sharpie Markers
Art Profolio’s tip (bottom) after 2 months of use compared to those of the Sharpie Fine Point (top) and Ultra Fine Point (middle) Permanent Markers (also quite used).

After Actual Use

I’ve really enjoyed using this pen. It writes really well and even.

But, of course at a modest price around $2.99 a piece, you certainly couldn’t compare the heft and prestige of this little scriber to one from the Montblanc stable of fountain pens. But, it feels quite a bit better than a cheap commercially-printed ballpoint we might pick up from a hotel nightstand.

You pocket those too — right?

For the past 6 months, I have used it exclusively to write 5-digit numbers on the backs of my paper prints and slides before I scanned them.

If my math is correct, I have used this single pen to write out over 23,130 numbers!

Here I was writing an ID number on this photograph using my 5-digit numbering system for filenames. This footage was about 3 months after I started using the Art Profolio so the tip was still fairly sharp.

If this numbering system intrigues you, you should check out my post called: “If You Don’t Add This to the Filename of Your Scanned Photos, You’ll Probably Hate Yourself Later.” Especially if you are about to start scanning your photo collection. This could really save you a lot of headache later.

I have had very few occasions where the ink hasn’t dried quick enough and it’s smeared. With this marker, I have really only noticed it when I was writing on really slick and smooth photo paper stock and on really smooth and shiny plastic slide mounts. In either occasion, I just am careful to let it sit for a few more seconds than normal to let it air dry.

Under normal circumstances, I was very pleased with the quick drying times. And I have yet to see any bleed through.

Any Negatives?

For the price, it’s pretty hard to complain too much about this pen. But, if I had to come up with a few negatives, even if a couple are small and almost insignificant, here they are.

Cap It!

One time, shortly after I started using it, I accidentally left the cap off for a short period of time — maybe 10 minutes.

Well, I found out if you leave the cap off long enough, the tip seems to dry up. I thought maybe I had ruined it. But, thankfully, once I started writing with it again on a scratch piece of paper for about 15 seconds, the ink started to flow again. It was as good as new.

Lesson though, if you left the cap off overnight, I’m not sure that it wouldn’t completely dry out.

Anyone want to test this out for us?

Even the Mightiest Wear Down

Over the period of 6 months since I started using it, my Profolio Photo Marker’s pointed tip has worn down to a semi-rounded little nub.

Yeah it doesn’t stay needle sharp forever.

Comparing tip damage of used vs. new iToya Art Profolio Photo Marker
After 6 months of use, my original markers’ tip (top) now looks more like the head of a match than the sharp point of a brand new one (bottom).

I wouldn’t consider this unusual at all though. My Sharpie Fine Points do the same. It’s just seems to be part of the lifespan for any pen like this.

To give you an idea how this will affect your writing, here’s some handwriting samples from these four separate pens. You can use this to get an idea how fine you can still write with one of these even after months of use.

Itoya Art Profolio Photo Marker's handwriting sample next to 2 Sharpies' samples

If you plan on doing a lot of writing and the lack of the sharpest tip over time worries you, I would suggest you pick up a few of these pens and save a sharp one or 2 for the times when you need to write very small and neat.

Ink Consistency

And finally, I’ve noticed that recently, and only occasionally, the ink doesn’t flow out evenly on some “areas” of the marker tip. You know, like what happens with any old felt marker.

When this happens, and my writing is a bit faint, I’ve learned if I slightly rotate the pen ever so slightly to a different “portion” of the tip, then the ink comes out dark and even again.

Comparing thinness of handwriting with used vs new tip of itoya art pro folio photo marker
The slide on the left was made with my 6-month old used marker. Notice how the ink came out a bit faint and uneven. The slide on the right is made with a brand “spankin” new Itoya Portfolio marker.

And again, I don’t think this is necessarily the sign of a bad marker. I’ve used this thing pretty hard for 6 months now and it’s very possible the ink well is probably starting to become a little dry and empty.

Heck, many of us probably lose pens before they hit their 6 month anniversary or 23,000+ characters of use! So we should probably keep this in mind.

Where You Can Buy the Art Profolio Marker

Itoya Art Profolio Photo Marker FM-100BK (Amazon)Even after taking into consideration these minor criticisms — if you want to call them that, I would still highly recommend this photo safe pen.

It’s very possible your local photography or scrapbooking store might carry them if you are so lucky as to have one nearby. Brick and mortar “hobby” stores seem to almost be a thing of the past.

My advice though if you don’t immediately find one on the shelves is to ask for help. That’s how I found mine. I can only assume Samy’s had them behind the counter for reasons of easy theft because they weren’t packaged individual in cardboard and some kind of wrapping.

And if you are having problems finding them locally, here are some online stores (affiliates) that I know carry them and can probably also ship to you internationally if needed:

If you know of any other “photo safe” markers you use or have used and would recommend, I would love for you to let me know in the comments below. I’m always looking out for the newest and greatest, so let me know what you’ve found.

Or, after reading this you decide to give one of these Profolios a try, let me know how it worked out for you. I’d love to know.

Cheers!

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26 Comments on "Itoya Art Profolio Marker — Photo Safe Archival Pen Review"

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Art Taylor
Guest

Hi Curtis,

I’d read your post and was Googling other photo-safe pens. Guess what? This post appeared near the top of page 2 in the Google results! Way to go!

Art

Art Taylor
Guest

Hi Curtis,

Glad to see you DON’T suggest using the Sharpie brand of markers for writing on photos. While there are conflicting views and reports about their safety for archival photos in various forums at http://www.photo.net, with some people reporting no problems but more reporting various problems, the brand seems to be avoided by professional archivists. There’s also some debate about their use for labeling CDs/DVDs used for data backups and archives. Professionals usually suggest writing only on the clear, center hub area of either CD or DVD, and then only on the label side of the disk. NEVER write on the data side with any marker, and never use any hard-tipped marker on any CD or DVD since these disks are easily damaged physically and chemically. At least one forum user claims to write on the non-clear portion of the disk and reports no problems after several years. I realize this has little, if anything to do with Curtis’s use for the Itoya pens for writing on photos but it is relevant for anyone who uses CD/DVD as part of an archive/backup strategy.

While I have no personal experience with the Itoya pens, a search on Google for appropriate alternatives showed the Pigma Micron brand by Sakura of America (www.sakuraofamerica.com) as being used by archivists and others, partly because of their archival pigment ink, resistance to smearing, fade resistance, waterproof and chemical proof qualities, non-toxicity, and choice of six point sizes and several colors. See http://www.sakuraofamerica.com/Pen-Archival for more details. Another brand that is reportedly archival-safe is the ZIG line of markers used by scrap-bookers. See http://store.scrapbook.com/allwritonepe.html for more information about these markers. Another reputable brand worth checking out is the Staedtler line (see http://www.staedtler.ca) for details. According to the Staedtler site, these pens can be left uncapped for days without drying up but the writing dries within seconds. I have used some of the Staedtler pens and had no problems with them. Some of the finer-tipped sizes are excellent for writing on the limited surface area of a 35 mm slide mount or on the rebate strip (the area outside the sprocket holes of 35 mm, 126, and other negatives) if you’re trying to add information to small format negatives.

Regardless of which brand you might choose, be sure to let the writing completely dry before stacking prints, slides, or negatives or inserting them into storage pages or boxes so there’s no chance of the ink from one smearing onto another.

As Curtis mentions in his ‘want list’, be sure to look for PAT approval for any marker you might be considering. This Photographic Activity Test is an industry standard and only products that meet this standard receive it. It provides assurance that a product labeled as meeting the PAT will be safe for use on photographs.

While thinking of writing on photos, don’t forget to scan the back side of any prints that have any writing there. Scan the entire page of a photo album if there are labels, captions, or descriptions beside, above, or below the individual photos. This will help tie the descriptive information to the individual original photo and will help ensure photos are returned to their correct locations after scanning. Also, if your slide mounts have writing on them, scan them with a flatbed scanner so you have a digital copy of the original writing. By adjusting the exposure levels, you can do one scan to expose for the notes on the mount, then a second pass to expose for a recognizable copy of the image to help with cataloging, although the quality is unlikely to be acceptable for other uses.

Certainly, people’s names and other identifying information from such labels can be typed into the IPTC data fields in a cataloging program, but it’s sometimes helpful to have a digital copy of the original handwriting available also. The original writing might not be particularly legible and thus typos can easily be introduced in transcribing to typed data fields. As a digital image, it’s relatively easy to increase the magnification to help decipher poor writing and to compare the writing on one photo to that on others. This can sometimes help to identify who might have added the label originally, especially if other samples of handwriting are available on post cards, correspondence, or other paper documents. Future users of your collection, especially anyone interested in your family’s history and genealogy, will likely greatly appreciate this extra effort on your part.

Art Taylor

Vic
Guest

For the holidays I purchased a Canon PowerShot SX50 HS digital camera and the Canon PIXMA Pro9000 Mark II photo printer (along with various sizes of their semi-gloss photo paper). I was looking for a marker to write on the backs of my prints and did a Google search. Your article popped up and I ordered the pen on Amazon. Thanks for the great write-up and I’m looking forward to seeing how it performs.

Jorgen Hedlund
Guest

I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now and I’m just about to get started and was checking out this page about pens. Unfortunately I’m in Sweden and I’m trying to find a suitable (local) substitution.
So far I didn’t find it but I stumbled upon this Swedish governmental branch that certifies different archival stuff — http://www.sp.se/en/index/services/cert/Sidor/default.aspx — I’m guessing you could have similar services in your countries?

Ashley
Guest

I have a pretty similar, if not identical, list of wants for a pen I can use to sign the backs of my prints; thank you for providing your insight on this pen — I’ll be looking for it in store later today smile

– Ashley

John
Guest

Most of the prints I am scanning have no writing on the back. Where there is no writing, I am entering the relevant information into an Avery label template in MS Word, then printing the label, and peel & stick to the back of the print. The information I put on the label is the same info that I have entered into the relevant IPTC fields in IrfanView, so I copy & paste. I can easily change the type size on the label if I want more information. These are Avery # 5105, 1″ x 2 5/8″ labels, five to a sheet. I work five at a time and print the whole sheet. Each label will have the unique info for a particular print. My idea is to link the print photo label with its digital equivalent. My essential info is usually: who, when, where, what. This seems to work ok so far.

Patrick
Guest

Let me mention a non-ink alternative: the Stabilo archival pencil. Gaylord carries it: http://www.gaylord.com/adblock.asp?abid=16722 and so does Archival Methods http://www.archivalmethods.com/product/stabilo-all-pencils I work as a curator for a historical museum, and museum people are very concerned about putting catalog numbers on artifacts (including photographs) in ways that will not permanently mark the objects — that is, the numbers can be removed if necessary without damaging the object. There are lots of reasons for leaving open that possibility: mistakes can be made, corrected information can come to light, some future curator 50 years from now may have a different and better system, etc., etc. You can get a pretty fine point with this pencil, but not as fine as with an archival ink pen.

Love your site, by the way! We recently did a workshop on “preserving your family keepsakes” that had a small segment on digitization, and I pointed people to this site as a wonderful guide. I’ve learned a lot from it, and am still learning.

upsidedownjim
Guest

Hey,

I’m finding your site really useful! Thanks for all the hard work that you’ve put into it!

The Itoya pens are hard to find but I came across the Bic ‘Markit’ line of markers at Wal Mart for $3 (2 pk)

http://www.bicmarkit.com/products/fine.aspx

Their website says that:

Bic Markit Permanent Markers in Fine provide limitless possibilities and is the most preferred tip size for all types of projects.

Permanent Markers offer long-lasting color and durable nibs that are great for marking on surfaces such as plastic, metal, glass, cardboard, wood, photos, oily and damp surfaces. All markers contain acid-free ink, no added acid; no measurable pH. And with 36 colors, the creative possibilities are endless!

==

Q. Are the new BIC Mark-Its alcohol ink? I bought some and was told by the retailer that they are an alcohol ink marker.

A. Thank you for your question and interest in BIC Mark-It™ Permanent Markers. Yes the markers are made from an alcohol-based ink and are acid free, meaning there is no added acid or measurable p.H. Furthermore, The inks used in the BIC® Mark-It Permanent Markers have undergone a toxicological review by Duke University Medical Center Occupational Health Service under the ACMI (Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc.) certification program for art and creative materials

==

The marker doesn’t have the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) seal but does have the ACMI’s approval.

Thoughts?

I don’t want to label every photo I have and find out that act ruined the things I am trying to preserve. I appreciate the advice about using an archival pencil. My reasoning for continuing to look at using a marker is that I want the number I assign to the digital file match with the photo. So, I want it to be permanent. If someone has another system in the future, there is still space on photos to add to it.

Sorry – one more question:

Should the marker writing on the back be kept to a minimum? Would it be useful to include names, place, date of subjects in the photo? If the digital files get lost and the original photos are all that remain it would be nice to have that info on the photo. However, if too much marker ink will start to show through or cause damage then it isn’t worth it.

Thanks for any insight you can provide!
Adam

sara
Guest

This is super helpful! Thank you for taking the time to write it all out : )

Vee
Guest

This is in response to John’s post February 9, 2014 which was
Most of the prints I am scanning have no writing on the back. Where there is no writing, I am entering the relevant information into an Avery label template in MS Word, then printing the label, and peel & stick to the back of the print.

I don’t know if the same is true about the Avery labels, BUT my mother used address labels like you receive free in the mail
and they have caused a LOT of problems!!!! Sometimes they stick together if they are stacked. They peel off easily and leave a sticky residue. She even put them on some old tintypes, God rest her soul! Just thought I would warn John and anyone else who wants to use his method.

John Hanley
Guest

Vee — thanks for the warning. In my case I have placed the labeled prints in clear plastic pocket envelopes, one to a pocket. They will not be stacked. The labels I am using are Avery permanent labels. Avery also makes removable labels, but I am not using those. The Avery permanent labels adhere very strongly and are actually very difficult to take off. So I think I am ok.

Patrick
Guest

I’ve worked for many years as a curator at a small historical museum, and among our holdings is a collection of some 12,000 photos. In my opinion, the use of an adhesive label of any kind is unwise; over time — admittedly, in many cases, a long time — all commercial adhesives are either acidic or caustic and gradually eat away at the paper that the photo is printed on. The bane of my existence are old photos that have been pasted into albums; even when they’ve come loose, the adhesive residue on them can do awful things to the photo. Avery labels, or any other kind, are going to affect the print in ways that can never be reversed. A control number on the edge with a soft pencil is the better option, I believe, from the point of view of preservation.

Vee
Guest

BTW, Curtis, I thoroughly enjoy your website! I just discovered it shopping for a photo quality marker.

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Mrs Mendoza
Guest

Thank you for the information, very helpful.

Robin
Guest

These are out-of-stock everywhere that I tried. Have they been discontinued?

Alan
Guest
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