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:
iest Photo Pen Criteria:
- Photo safe
- 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'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.
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
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.