I was chatting with my trusted partener in time wasting friend, Mr Scalzi, in a fairly desultory manner when we made the startling discovery that both of us hates signing books with a Sharpie. And yet that is what we most often are given when we do signings.

What gives?

Sharpies bleed all over the page and their line is way too thick. They’re pretty much useless for signing books. Great for graffiting toilets and making posters but for book signing? Hopeless!

Why do we keep being given them to sign with? Anyone know? Care to venture a theory?

Are there writers who actually like signing with Sharpies?

For those wondering we both deal with the problem by bringing our own trusted signing pens. Scalzi swears by ballpoints with gel ink and I bring whatever pens I have that work. I don’t know the fancy-pants names for pens. I simply have a dual classification system:

  • pens that are crap,
  • pens that aren’t.

Sharpies are solidly in the second category when it comes to signing. As are any pen that tends to bleed or explode or write too thickly or thinly or invisibly or was made from the bones of a homicidal maniac.

Youse lot know what I mean. The pen that is crap is the very worst thing in the world.


  1. Ben Payne on #

    What on earth is a sharpie??

  2. Lori S. on #

    The ultra fine point Sharpies are OK for signing and have the advantage of being permanent ink (vs. water-soluble). But usually people use the thicker “fine” point Sharpies, and those are just nasty. Also, it depends on the paper you’re signing. Mass-market paperbacks? I’d use a gel ink pen, too. The glossier the paper, the more smeary gel ink gets, though. It’s all so complicated!

  3. Margo on #

    We have Sharpies here, Ben – my local Aus. Post Office has a tub of them for sale on the counter. You can get them in normal pen size, or in tiny size (but which still writes like a Giant Texta).

    I’ve been using Staedtler Sticks (Medium) for a long time, but I think they may have changed manufacturer, because they’ve recently (well, in the last 3 years) made the ink reservoir opaque so you never know how much you’ve got left and have to take 3 instead of 1 with you everywhere. Also they’ve changed the alloy they make the ball point from, so that the merest tap with anything other than paper puts a ding in it, and it forever after jumps and skips and annoys the crap out of you.

    I was in despair (just low-grade, but constant, you know), until Melbourne Writers Festival, when as part of their goodie bag they gave authors (as well as a Moleskine with a small rip in the cover) a red Papermate Profile 1.4B. Well, my life changed – I wrote in red for days, it felt so smooth and gave such a thick line. I hied me to Officeworks and bought a four-pack of them – they advertise them as ‘World’s Smoothest Pen’. And they are.

    Try them, Justine. You will be happy forever.

  4. robin on #

    I actually love signing with sharpies. My handwriting is such crap that when I sign with a normal pen, it looks like a monkey wrote it. But things written in sharpie are supposed to look messy. And somehow the thick line seems to give me the authority of a Real Live Writer. Even if it’s only in my head. (These days, most things are.)

  5. Stepehanie Elliott on #

    Hi Justine,

    Another Wesleyan author loves the ultra fine point sharpie, but it does seem the “normal” sharpie would be a poor choice. Gel ink does seem like a nice choice.


  6. Julia Rios on #

    I think sharpies are good for writing on cds, but I wouldn’t want to sign books with them. I would probably use something similar to Scalzi’s choice. I think the reasoning behind sharpies might be:

    1) permanent ink
    2) thicker body means less hand cramping
    3) thicker lines mean not having to try for neatness at all
    4) felt tip means not having to press hard

    But I still wouldn’t want to use one.

  7. Kelly McCullough on #

    I lurves the Sharpie ultra-fine micro, enough that I carry a couple with me whenever I’m likely to do any signing. I get a nice clean permanent line and they’re only a bit over three inches long so they fit comfortably in a pocket. The big sloppy ones? Not so much.

  8. Caroline on #

    I have a book allegedly signed by the author in what looks like one of those huge dry erase markers for writing on white boards. It just looks like a black smear and I secretly suspect the person who gave it to me had some kind of accident with a marker and said “Oh, yeah, uh, that’s a signarure.”

  9. Pauline on #

    This sounds a lot like a yearbook signing.

    Perhaps you should write:

    Have a great summer! Hope to see you next tour!

  10. sara z. on #

    I, too, love the fine-point Sharpies. However, I also like a good Pilot Razor, or a gel like a Pilot G7. Blank ink. Regular Sharpies are worse than useless for signing, IMHO.

  11. sara z. on #

    Um, that’s BLACK ink, not blank ink, which would be cool but kind of annoying for the signee.

  12. Amber on #

    I think there are two machinations at work here:

    1. Bookstore and library people are just trying to give you a posh pen because they want to show how much they value you. Biros (ball points) are ordinary and functional and they’re what you write your shopping list in. An autograph is a bit special. However, the special-est pen the bookstore or library has is a sharpie.

    2. You have to press quite hard with a biro. This is bad news for the tennis elbow and also means your autograph will appear indented on the first seventy pages of the book.

    You know you can ask the bookstore people if they’ve got a different pen, right? They are unlikely to ignite into a roaring bonfire of indignant rage. They will probably just say, ‘sure’, and, you know, get you a different pen.

    And then talk about what a high-maintenance and demanding author you were after you’ve gone, and how they never had anything _like_ this sort of trouble with (insert another author’s name here).

  13. susan wassel on #

    I am the PR manager for Sharpie and I just wanted to weigh in on your comments. I think you’re right. Not everybody who signs autographs wants to leave a big, bold mark. I think it’s a matter of personal preference. Some of the reasons authors and celebrities, sports figures and politicians use Sharpies to sign autographs is because of the bold mark it makes – and because Sharpies are permanent. And as one of you already commented, Sharpie just introduced the Sharpie Pen – and it doesn’t bleed through paper. I don’t want to sound like an advertisement here but when it comes to autographs, Sharpie has lots of options, but again, everybody has their own style and own way of making their mark, so whatever works best for you is the right choice!

  14. Christie on #

    I am only speculating, but a couple of reasons for Sharpies might be:

    1. Permanence – if the page gets wet (from the reader’s tears of joy at having met you, or a Coffee Catastrophe) the signature won’t run
    2. Little pressure needed, as someone mentioned above — you can sign without leaving an imprint from the pressure of the tip
    3. People sometimes want other stuff signed, (t-shirts, posters, skin — Neil Gaiman gets skin doodle requests, the owners then head straight to the tattoo parlor and make it permanent) and it’s the only thing that can reliably sign *everything.*

  15. Christie on #

    Wow, I really should have proofread that. Sorry.

  16. Chris Lawson on #

    Don’t like Sharpies, eh? Bleedin’ Mod.

  17. capt. cockatiel on #

    I don’t think I would bring a sharpie to a book signing (but to a concert? Yes) — I mean, who wants pen ink all over the pages behind what’s signed?
    I did get my books signed once and the author had HIS OWN sharpie to sign with and it bled through (thankfully not onto the next page with something on it, just through the back of the page that was signed) and is also sort of hard-ish to read… (Then again, he had specific things he was signing in each specific book of the series… which was also odd. So maybe he’s just crazy.)

  18. Ann on #


    I have a pack I got for school. Four colors, and I swear by it. World’s smoothest pen indeed.

  19. Serafina Zane on #

    I agree with those categories.

    On the other hand, because I have never been asked to sign any books and because I graffitti toilets in my spare time, I love Sharpie. I’ve got a keyring of the mini ones I bring everywhere. *hugs ring of sharpies*

  20. Laini Taylor on #

    I’m okay with the fine-point Sharpies, but my pen o-choice is the Pilot Precise roller balls in extra fine. They’re all I’ve bought for years, but the problem is they burst on planes. I don’t fly that often, so usually this is not a problem. But it was a problem a few months ago at the Mexico City airport when a red one burst and made a red explosion mark bullseye-center on my left breast. That was charming.

  21. jazz tigan on #

    The decorative metallic ink pens make a surprisingly nice choice for sigs. These are the ones that often have an agitator ball bearing inside you must shake to mix the ink and metal flake (some don’t need this) or the ones you have to depress the tip into the body a couple times to start the flow. They have silver or gold ink that is thick and sits up on the paper a bit till it’s dry. Once they are going, they tend to flow OK but perhaps not as beautifully as a great fountain pen or even a gel. What makes them appealing is the ink looks great against any background, especially a dark background or glossy surface, so they are fantastic on posters or book jackets and you can sign in the shadowy areas without covering up a picture. And if you have to cross the changing colors of a picture, clarity is preserved. Intended for decorative crafts and found in craft stores, they are well suited to autographing.

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