© 2013 photobookgirl

The Best Pen to Use for Signing a Photo Book Guest Book



Please note – this post has been UPDATED. Check out my latest on photo safe pens for guest books. This post is excerpted (and partially edited for readability) from an earlier post I did on my “dream guest book“. I get asked this question pretty frequently, so I thought I’d highlight it. The paper used below is from MyPublisher (more specifics are below). Regardless of the book company you use (except for paper options that are very glossy or printed on real photo paper), the results should be similar. If your guest book is printed on real photo paper, the same pen will work, but you do have to be a bit more mindful about possible smudging.

Which Pen To Use for a Guest Book

What kind of pen works best if you plan to have folks sign your photo book as a guest book?  I recommend Sharpie Ultra Fine Point Permanent Markers.  Other brands of permanent markers may work fine too, but I’ve only personally used Sharpies for signing photo books (and photo canvases for that matter).  A permanent marker is important as you don’t want it to smudge.  They dry so fast that smudging is very unlikely.  For my guest book, I used black backgrounds, so I couldn’t use a black marker.  I used silver, but at the time I couldn’t find that color in the ultra fine point, so I had to go with the Sharpie fine point, which in retrospect was a little too large of a nib.  It made the writing look a bit messy, but lucky for you, you get the benefit of my hindsight.

Although I said this is not a permanent marker review blog, I did test out a number of different pens with the various the paper samples.  When I was putting pen to paper, I was looking for two things: smudging and bleed through.  Smudging is self-explanatory.  Here’s the summary:

1) Sharpie Fine Point

I don’t recommend using this.  There were no issues with smudging as it dried super fast (I rubbed my finger over the writing right after) but the tip is too thick which makes the writing look a little “blobby”.  Also, because it’s so bold, you will see it show through on the reverse which could potentially interfere with the image on the other side.  By the way when I say “bleed through” I don’t mean the ink seeped through to the other side, which would instantly eliminate the pen from consideration, but just that it shows through the page when held up to the light.

MyPublisher Paper Review 2012

This fine point Sharpie is very bold – it shows through on the opposite side a bit. The ink does not seep through, but it’s visible.  This is the (MyPublisher) Superior Matte paper.

MyPublisher Paper Review 2012

You can hardly see any of the writing show through here (it’s very faint above the trees) – this is the (MyPublisher) Deluxe Matte paper.

2) Sharpie Ultra Fine Point  (THE WINNER)

This is the one I recommend.  Like it’s thicker tipped cousin, there were no issues with smudging, but it was much more readable and no bleed through.  As mentioned it comes in lots of colors too if you don’t want to use black.  Black is always a classic “go to” color, but Sharpies come in a myriad of colors.  So you can choose your wedding colors or whatever color you want.

3) Uni-Ball Deluxe Stick Roller Ball Pen, Black Ink, Micro Fine

I don’t recommend using this. It didn’t dry fast enough (it smudged) and it didn’t write as well on the satin finish paper.  I just decided to give it a try for comparison purposes.

4) Sharpie Extra Fine Point Oil-Based Opaque Paint Marker

The tip was perfect, readability was very good and no issues with bleed through because the tip was extra fine, but this is a paint pen so it smudged.  So, I wouldn’t recommend it since it doesn’t dry fast enough.

MyPublisher Paper Review 2012

CAUTION: Smudging! So pens number 3 & 4 (the Uniball and the Sharpie paint pen) are NOT recommended.  It does eventually dry, but I don’t think you’re going to sit there and blow on each page in between guests signing your book!

Here’s a shot of all four on the (MyPublisher) Deluxe Matte 170 lb. paper.  There isn’t much difference as to how the signatures looked on the various papers.

MyPublisher Paper Review 2012

As you can see the fine point Sharpie on the far right is the most bold, but as mentioned the tip is too thick and can make writing look a bit messy and hard to read.

Here’s a close-up.  I still like the bottom one best (the ultra fine point Sharpie).

MyPublisher Paper Review 2012

Notice I picked a very popular recently married couple as a sample!

So there you have it! Besides for weddings, I love photo guest books for all sorts of events – anniversary parties, birthdays, graduation parties, baby showers etc. Unlike typical guest books that may be packed away and never opened again, photo book guest books are meant to be displayed and enjoyed. Check out my wedding guest book here!




Be sure to check out my CANVAS DEALS!


  1. Mariac
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 6:50 pm | #

    Great advice on pens, I will profit from your experience and being a leftie, I have to take extra care when writing or signing a special book.

  2. Cathy
    Posted September 11, 2013 at 12:11 pm | #

    Thank you! Getting married in a couple weeks, and needed quick, clear advice like this! Thanks for doing the research!

  3. Florence
    Posted December 22, 2013 at 10:00 am | #

    This unofficial review is EXACTLY what I was searching for when googling “best pen for writing on guest books”. Thanks for taking the time to write this. 🙂 Now my wedding guest book will be smudge and glob-free!

    • photobookgirl
      Posted December 27, 2013 at 4:40 pm | #

      Thanks for your comment! Since the time I did this post, I also found another marker called the Zig photo marker. I haven’t tried it yet though, but it’s supposed to be photo safe and archival. I’ll probably update this post later. Best of luck on your book. b/t/w Don’t pick anything too glossy and you should be okay.

  4. Brittany
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 1:55 pm | #

    Thank you so much for this post! I was actually trying to figure out what pen would work best on my photo guest book without testing it. I will go purchase some of these at Wal-Mart!

  5. Kj
    Posted July 4, 2014 at 10:31 am | #

    Great, informative post. Thank you! One follow-up question: I’m doing a photo canvas guest book and trying to decide between the ultra fine sharpie and the paint sharpie. I know you did not recommend the paint sharpie for regular photos; does that hold true for canvas photos as well? I am worried about the signatures fading over time and I think they are less likely to do that with the paint sharpie. But, I don’t want to have to worry about long dry times. Any ideas if the paint sharpie dries faster on canvas than on regular photos or should I just stick with the ultra fine sharpie?
    Thanks for the great post!

  6. Talaya
    Posted July 4, 2015 at 12:14 am | #

    Thank you! Getting married July 12, 2015! Doing a photo canvas guest signage. Your post was very informative. I could not decide what would be best. I will definitely be using the Sharpie Ultra Fine. Thank you!

  7. Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:25 am | #

    nice pen, how much it cost now?

  8. Daphne
    Posted March 22, 2016 at 11:58 pm | #

    Hi, just wanted to know whether I can use the sharpie ultra fine point on canvas for signatures. Thank you

  9. Grace
    Posted August 14, 2016 at 11:09 pm | #

    what pen to use to write on a black matte photo ?

    • photobookgirl
      Posted August 18, 2016 at 10:43 am | #

      I’d recommend the Sharpie fine points or Zig photo pens.

  10. Kristen
    Posted August 2, 2017 at 9:35 pm | #

    Thanks for your post! You should link the products to Amazon so you can make a little cash. I’m totally buying the Sharpie Ultra Fine Point Permanent Markers. Thanks!

  11. Rachel
    Posted April 28, 2018 at 4:04 am | #

    Great advice! Can I ask what the paper type was – matte or glossy? As I have a photo book to use as our guest book for our wedding and wanted to make sure the Sharpie Ultra Fine marker wouldn’t smudge on the glossy paper?


    • photobookgirl
      Posted April 28, 2018 at 9:44 pm | #


      I did an update to this post (it’s linked at the top) so I changed my recommendation. It’s better to go with a less glossy finish if possible if you want to be really sure it will not smudge. But, the Zig pen is less likely to smudge than the sharpie in my opinion as it’s made for photos specifically. Congrats on your wedding!

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