Best type of ink (and pen) for longevity and clarity over time?
July 2, 2014 10:19 PM   Subscribe

I have a document (parchment) that is going to be signed by many of my friends and family which will then be framed and displayed in our house. I would like to know if there is a specific ink that I should use that is especially resistant to fading over time and exposure to light.

I got Don Mattingly's rookie autographed along with a ball signed by half of the 1995 Yankees. Today, you can't make out a single scribble on either. Lesson learned.

So, regular ball-point pen is a no-go. Should I have them use a Sharpie? A fountain pen with some old-timey lead-based ink? Calligraphy brush and crushed exotic beetle dye?
posted by JimBJ9 to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If going the fountain pen route, go with Noodler's bulletproof inks. Just search for that term, and you'll find a page on their site that explains how durable/resistant their various ink classes are.

Oh, and you don't need to shell out a lot of bucks for a fountain pen. Sounds like in this case it's the ink that matters. Would still have everyone practice writing with the one ahead of time, though.
posted by herrdoktor at 10:30 PM on July 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

A fountain pen with some old-timey lead-based ink?

Carbon works, inks made with lampblack don't fade.

I'd suggest a bottle of Platinum brand Carbon ink, which is waterproof and sun proof, with a Pilot Metropolitan. I suspect $15-$25 Japanese fountain pens tend to be reliable and good value.

Or a pack of their cartridges, which a proprietary size, with one of their desk pens, which should be back in stock soon.

Or Noodler.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:42 PM on July 2, 2014

Fountain pen network user amberleadavis has done some super cool ink fade tests. Noodler's also makes a relatively inexpensive ball point that takes bottled ink if fountain pens make you feel weird.
posted by Gable Oak at 3:16 AM on July 3, 2014

Do you already have document, or are you getting that made? The material you're writing on is just as important as the ink. Info on parchment (parchment is good).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:27 AM on July 3, 2014

Response by poster: I do one version of the document, but we're having another one printed up in a smaller scale.

The material is "parchment" from a print shop. It's the same texture as their uncoated white stock; the main reason I'm printing on that is that the color of the material is on both sides of the poster, rather than printing a parchment-looking background on the front and having a white back.

I LOVE the idea of a fountain pen (especially if it means I can use a high-quality ink), but I'm concerned about the people who would be signing this pretty important/significant document using a fountain pen for the first time of their lives (or the first time in 30+ years). I don't want any accidents on there.
posted by JimBJ9 at 4:56 AM on July 3, 2014

I'd recommend a roller ball like this, filled with the ink of your choice like one of the Noodler's that herrdoktor mentioned above. Also, Goulet Pens people are nice and you can call them up for advice!
posted by zachxman at 5:17 AM on July 3, 2014

Best answer: In the UK, certain legal documents are required to be signed with iron gall inks, also known as ecclesiastical ink or registrar's ink.
Though not in mainstream 21st-century use like dye-based fountain pen inks, modern iron gall inks are still used in fountain pens in applications that require permanence.
In the United Kingdom the use of special blue-black archival quality Registrars' Ink containing ferro gallic compounds is required in register offices for official documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates and on clergy rolls and ships' logbooks.
The chemistry is these inks is specifically designed to last pretty much forever (there are plenty of perfectly readable centuries-old documents written in these inks), and actually become darker and more tightly bonded to the paper over time. Old recipes could tend to be rather acidic, but with modern inks this shouldn't be a problem.

I've no idea where you'd buy it in the US, but your local registrar, solicitor or priest might have some, or at least know a source.
posted by metaBugs at 5:18 AM on July 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

The natural history museum world uses Sukura Micron pens to hand write tags on specimens that are meant to last essentially forever.
posted by rockindata at 6:05 AM on July 3, 2014

Another thing to consider (which you may have already done) is putting this document behind a sheet of museum glass or Denglas to minimize the amount of UV that it's exposed to. Might cost a bit more but will greatly improve the longevity of whatever's inside.
posted by rhooke at 7:17 AM on July 3, 2014

Is the paper you are using for this document of archival quality, and intended to last as long as the ink you will be applying to it? I am not an archivist, but some papers are designed to age better than others.

Here is some information about paper conservation from the Library of Congress.
posted by Lycaste at 7:50 AM on July 3, 2014

Quakers often create documents like this as part of weddings. A marriage certificate, usually written by a calligrapher, is signed by all witnesses and then displayed in the home. You might google for people who create these certificates and inquire about what kinds of pens they recommend; they often include a pen in the price of creating the certificate, specifically so it is the right type for the paper and will last, and can probably advise you.
posted by not that girl at 7:54 AM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

For labelling museum specimens (i.e. you want the numbers to last), the National Park Service recommends Higgins Black Magic Waterproof Ink or Pelikan #17 Drawing Ink. You can find those at an art supply store or online. At my museum we use the Higgins ink. We use a dip pen with that: Speedball #102 Crow Quill Pen Point Holder, #102 Crow quill pen nibs.

If you go with a fiber tipped pen, you want to find one that has carbon based ink. Do not use Sharpies, which fade badly over time. Personally, I prefer the Sakura Identi-pens over the Sakura micron pens, but I would go with a dip pen myself if you can get people comfortable with it.

Whatever you wind up using, be sure to have some paper around for people to practice sign. Fountain pens and dip pens are not that hard to use, but you will want people to do a few test runs prior to signing the actual thing. If you are using any unfamiliar pen at all of whatever kind people probably would benefit from doing practice signing.

rhooke's advice about proper framing to minimize UV exposure is good (and if it is hanging on a wall, keep it out of direct sunlight of course.)
posted by gudrun at 7:56 AM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, one additional thing, a lot of the inks/pens people are recommending do not dry instantly. You want to be careful when several people are signing your paper that the next person does not smear the signature of the previous signers.
posted by gudrun at 7:59 AM on July 3, 2014

Response by poster: You guys are just awesome.

So it sounds like my best bet is to get a roller ball pen and fill it with iron gall ink (or several other types suggested).

Since posting this, I definitely did a little research on UV protected glass. I'll definitely be going down that path as well.

not this girl, that's exactly what this is. Instead of a calligrapher, I had a graphic designer do up a document that looks like an old-timey marriage certificate. We are having a small wedding, so every one of the guests is going to sign as a witness. Needless to say, making sure those signatures are all carefully preserved is very important to me.

Thanks again, everyone!
posted by JimBJ9 at 9:27 AM on July 3, 2014

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