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The Ultimate Autograph University Reader FAQ

I will update this FAQ periodically with more Q&A. Need to get a quick answer? Best bet is to hit me up on Twitter: @mattraymond

Since turning the lights on at Autograph University in September 2010, I’ve received hundreds of emails from readers. I appreciate them all and especially enjoy reading about your graphing adventures, your experiences sharing the hobby with family members, and how AU has helped improve your collection.Judd-Apatow-Matt-Raymond

But the vast majority of messages are direct requests for requesting advice or information. Which hotels do visiting teams stay in Charlotte? Which marker do you recommend for signing a motorcycle? What would be the best way to send a butter dish TTM to Jordy Nelson?

Yes, these are all real.

I want to publish my answers to frequently asked questions for three reasons. First, I get many questions repeatedly and a public FAQ will give readers a chance to get feedback instantly on a variety of topics. Second, the comments section allows other readers to chime in to share their opinions and experience. Everyone benefits from multiple perspectives. And third, I’m focused on other things which have impacted my response time to emails and the quality of information I can give you. Five months ago we welcomed our second son, and our oldest boy is almost four. I’m building a portrait photography side hustle. And I have plans to launch a new site dedicated to the memorabilia and stories I’ve collected of my great-grandfather, Eddie “Doc” Farrell. Is graphing still a passion of mine? It always will be—but it’s currently in a reduced role behind other interests and priorities. Do I look forward to sharing the hobby with my boys when they’re older? Absolutely.

On to your questions.

Which hotel does [insert sports team] stay at in [insert city]?
This is by far the most frequently asked question I receive. Hotel info is gold and no one should be surprised why it’s so closely guarded. I can understand the frustration of collectors who get stonewalled when trying to get intel, but you have to understand the perspective of those informed graphers who have put in work. Here’s what I’ll say—and I promise this is the only question which I’ll skirt around. Hotel info tends to pass by word of mouth and the best way to connect with other graphers is to be active out there in the field and build relationships. I’ve rarely run into someone who is unwilling to share a bit of info once they see me putting the time in and open to reciprocating.

Teams tend to stay at the same hotel each time they come in, so once you find out where they are staying you’re in good shape.

Which marker do you recommend for signing an [insert item here]?
Part of your decision is a technical—you don’t want to use a ballpoint on a basketball or a paint pen on a baseball because the integrity of the signature will be negatively affected. The other component is subjective. You may collect full-signed basketballs and prefer signatures in silver paint pen. Others may prefer black Sharpie on balls. The only person who can determine what is best for your collection is you. As I always say, collect what you enjoy.

My workhorses? A blue Sharpie, a silver DecoColor paint marker, and a blue Bic Cristal pen.

Wait, so does that mean Autograph University won’t be updated?
Autograph U will absolutely remain online and will be updated opportunistically. I’ve said just about everything I wanted to say over the last 100+ posts but there are always new graphing-related issues to discuss and interview possibilities. I’m proud of the resource we’ve built here and I hope the five years of archived content here continues to help collectors.

Which marker would you use on a full-sized football helmet for multiple signatures?
I’d go with a silver SRX or a handful of brand new fine point silver Sharpies (it’s so hard for me to confidently recommend these because they tend to dry out incredibly quickly). A DecoColor paint pen would look best, but I really worry about smudging with multiple graphs.

If you’re getting signatures with enough time for each to dry (or just getting a single signature on the helmet), I’d go with a broad tip Deco.

Which marker would you use to sign a replica NBA jersey with screened numbers?
I think the safest bet is Sharpie. While a paint pen will give you a bolder graph, I worry about smearing on the screened numbers. On official jerseys with stitched numbers I’d go Sharpie or paint pen.

How do you clean up a smudged autograph?
On many types of items the go-to tool is a white pen eraser which allows you to be a bit more finesse with the small tip.

You want to try to erase the smudge as soon after it’s signed as possible and you run the risk at any time of affecting the surface of the item (and obviously if it’s on matte paper, you’re out of luck). Word of warning—a smudge can add character, and you may not like the end result. I had an 8×10 signed by Shaq which he smudged with his thumb. I erased the smudge and the signature just didn’t look right which I now regret.

How do you prep an basketball/football to be signed?
No prep needed. Use a DecoColor silver paint marker.

How are [insert athlete or celebrity name here]’s signing habits?
I recommend becoming a member of the sportsgraphing.com and sportscollectors.net communities and posing that question to active members. You’ll also find an archive of in person (and TTM) experiences which will allow you to track how someone’s signings habits have changed–and what they are most recently.

How do I purchase international stamps to send TTM requests overseas?
I don’t collect TTM but I found a video on how to send international TTM requests that I think will be helpful.

From this video and what I found online, it seems better to send local (to your recipient) currency to cover the cost of postage back to you. In other words, if you’re sending to the U.S., better to send a few American dollars with your request than stamping your SASE.

Which display cases do you recommend for basketballs? Jerseys?
If you’re on a budget, an acrylic display with UV protection is your best bet. I personally have a BCW jersey display case which I like a lot.

How do you carry around/store 11x14s?
I use an Atoya Art Profolio Evolution Presentation/Display Book. That is a mouthful. And a handful, for that matter.

What do you use to sign CD booklets with a dark background?
The Infinity silver marker would look great. A brand new silver Sharpie would get you ok results but forget about trying to use it again a week from now. Here’s my post on the best silver markers for autographs.

What is the best way to get autographs at the ballpark? Basketball arena?
The Best Time to Get MLB Autographs on Game Day

The Best Time to Get NBA Autographs on Game Day

How do you track down athletes and celebrities using Twitter?
Follow them and monitor their posts—from time to time you’ll see them mention what they’re doing or where they’re going. Do they all give you a real-time play by play of their lives? Of course not, but it’s a tool and every bit of info helps.

Which marker would you use to sign a volleyball?
Uh. Black sharpie?

What bag do you recommend for graphing?
Check out this video to see the type of bag I found works best for autograph collecting. You may need one slightly bigger to accommodate the 11x14s and keep them flat. In short, I prefer something that can zip open, has multiple pockets that run the length of the bag (e.g., to keep signed and unsigned items separate), and doesn’t have a flap (just got in the way for me).

What advice do you have for getting autographs at All-Star Weekend/Super Bowl?
I don’t have any personal experience with these events but I’m sure you are aware there are myriad signing events as well as opportunities at the team hotel (though everywhere will be a madhouse). It really depends on who you are targeting. Get all the public info you can on signings and plan your schedule, then perhaps you invest a few hours at the team hotel—I can’t help you there but I’m sure it will travel by word of mouth before long—and see if you can get anything, particularly on the day before the game/arrival. The best opportunities are often the athletes and celebrities attending these events.

Do you suggest spraying an autographed item with shellack/hairspray to prevent an autograph from fading or bleeding?
It’s hard for me to ever recommend spraying an item with any substance.

How do you carry cards? I see a lot of collectors using a flipbook with multiple cards on each page.
The Best Way to Carry Your Cards When Getting Autographs

Which marker would you recommend on a jersey itself (not the numbers)?
I would recommend a Sharpie if you are getting the actual fabric signed. A Deco paint pen would be ideal for the numbers but there will be a high risk of bleeding/smearing on the fabric itself. I’ve seen collectors stretch the fabric tight with an embroidery hoop (yes, really).

Where do you find photos to get printed?
The Best Way to Find and Print Photos for Autographs

What tips do you have for getting autographs at spring training?
Check out this episode of the Autograph University Master Class, we talk about graphing spring training:
Spring Training Autograph Tips with Mark Cooper

Also, here’s a post I did on how to carry multiple cards, I think it will help with graphing players at Spring Training:

How much does it costs to send an 8×10 to [insert destination here]? How much postage should I include on the SASE?
Take the 8×10 with the envelope and SASE to the post office and they can weigh it to give you exact postage both ways.

Which pen do you recommend for baseballs?
If you ask ten people you may get ten favorite brands of blue ballpoint—I use Bic Cristal, I find it gives a thicker, bolder signature. I’ve also heard of some collectors using Staedtlers though I’ve never tried them. I always advise people to test—don’t take my word for it. More importantly is the type of baseball you use. If you don’t have the budget to get Rawlings Official Major League Baseballs (ROMLBs), choose a different item. I’ve had too many signatures on unofficial baseballs fade beyond recognition in only a few years.

How do you store signed books?
I’m not an expert of storing books—I have to admit, I just have mine on a bookcase I keep clean and in a room that isn’t too humid (which I think is more important than the temperature). I’ve seen Brodart book covers mentioned in articles but admittedly I’ve never used them.

If I frame a signed photo will the autograph stick to the glass?
Always use an acid-free mat. You do not want the picture to contact the glass. Check out my video, How to Frame Your Autographed Photos and Jerseys: An Expert’s Guide.

How do you graph NFL teams on game day?
Game day is tougher than the day/night before, you may want to reconsider your timing if possible. Teams tend to come all out at once and don’t typically sign much boarding the buses—better bet when they go out Saturday night. Every hotel setup is different – I’ve had the best luck in the lobby upon arrival and then later that evening.

What would you use to sign a motorcycle?
I would absolutely go with a DecoColor Liquid Silver paint pen, just make sure you prep it and test it (e.g., on a piece of paper so you know the paint is flowing) right up until you hand it over celebrity. As for what to coat it with and/or the effect of the sun—it’s always dicey when you add any elements like the weather. I can’t give you any firsthand advice from experience because my graphs rarely see the sun, nevermind dirt, wind, etc. I always say to get what you enjoy signed, so my advice is to use the paint pen, take some awesome pics of your bike so you’ll have a memento and reminder of what it looked like originally, and then whatever happens, happens.

Do you have a list of which Hall of Famers charge for autographs?
I recommend checking out sportscollectors.net—they have a very good database of TTM successes with details on how much HOFers are charging (you can sort by Hall of Famers, making your search easier). Also, check out Harvey Meiselman’s lists.

What is the best item to get signed?
Are you going to sell it? A premium item like a jersey or helmet would likely have the most resale value.

How meaningful is the signature to you? Perhaps a book would be more sentimental and afford you the room to add a personalization (which I like, but not everyone does). A photo would also give you some extra space.

Do you want to display the signature? A signed book is a tough item to display. Photos are less expensive than a jersey but lack the wow factor.

I could go on but hope you get the idea. If you’re just collecting, it all comes down to one question: what would you enjoy most?

How do you find out about autograph signings?
Cravetheauto.com is a great free resource for signings around the United States. I also suggest checking out SigningsHotline.com and this website which lists celebrity book signings.

How can you make your TTM request stand out? Do I really need to send a self-addressed stamped enveloped (SASE)? Celebrities and athletes make so much money, they can spring for a couple stamps.
Think of when you get a stack of mail—the business-size letters all look the same but if there is a 9×12 manila envelope or a padded envelope with a handwritten address on it, you’re going to go for that first (at least I would). Send a box. These “premium” containers are going to cost you a bit extra but you’re investing more than the guy who sends a plain envelope. Or use a regular envelope but decorate it, add a sketch, use Sharpie to color it in that team’s colors or the movie title. Corny? Maybe, but you’re just trying to get them to open yours first and it shows you put in the effort.

Regarding SASEs, I’ll keep this brief—a self-addressed stamped envelope is MANDATORY. They may make big bucks but it’s your job to make it as easy as possible to respond to you.

Why do current celebrities/athletes have such lousy signing habits?
The commercialization of autographs, the greed of dealers (and collectors who supplement their income/pay for hobby by eBaying items—it’s all the same to the celeb), and the volume of requests that celebs get hit with are all affecting signing habits. The best thing you can do is be a courteous fan and show them there are still appreciative collectors out there.

How do you keep autographed photos flat when storing them?
I use a D-ring binder with magazine backing boards.

For more on the supplies I use/recommend, check out the Store.

What marker is best for a white panel autograph ball?
White panel balls cause a lot of problems—ironic since they’re marketed for autographs. Black is far better than blue but they often end up fading. I’d suggest trying a black DecoColor paint pen, just make sure you give it a LOT of time to dry and if you’re going for a team when players will sign once after another you run the risk of them smudging.

My advice—stick with a Spalding replica basketball and use a silver Deco or thick black Sharpie.

Autograph collecting is a passion of mine and my mission is to help collectors—those graphing for the love of the hobby, not those who treat it as a business—get more enjoyment out of it. That said, I’m sensitive to the value of intel like hotel locations and you won’t find that information on this site. (Also, I love these emails. You don’t get them unless you’re providing value to readers.)

What do you suggest I use to get an autograph on a butter dish?
I’d guess a DecoColor paint pen would be the best marker to use though I don’t have any first-hand experience on that kind of surface. I have seen people use it on commemorative plates, which seems comparable.

I’ll have a chance to get a katana signed by a celebrity. I was thinking to have it signed on the metal blade. What pen should I use? Should I have it signed on the blade AND the scabbard?
Very interesting question. I’ve never had anything made of metal signed but my gut says a black DecoColor paint pen would be the best choice (just give it A LOT of time to dry). Anything ink-based like a Sharpie probably wouldn’t stick well to the metal.

As for whether you should get the scabbard signed, that’s purely subjective and may depend how you’d like to display it. On one hand the more the merrier, but it may look like overkill if you display them together. It’s really your call and what you’d most enjoy.

What would you use to sign a Mitchell & Ness jersey with felt numbers?
I’ve never personally had one signed but collectors seem to either use a very fine silver Deco or a big Sharpie autograph on the jersey itself. There’s risk with the paint pen because it has to be signed slowly and the jersey needs to be pulled tight so the surface is as hard and flat as possible. It’s really up to your personal preference and level of risk you’re willing to take.


2013-autograph-university-year-in-review-600x450I encourage you to check out John Stillman’s fantastic essay on graphing for Vice Sports, “Inside the Weird, Noble World of Autograph Collectors“. It was a pleasure to speak to John for the article which also features Brian Flam, co-founder of The Autograph Card and friend of Autograph University (check out the episode of the Autograph University Master Class featuring Brian here).

Read my 10 Rules of Autograph Etiquette mentioned in the article

It’s refreshing to read an article that gives readers a perspective on pure collecting when so much media coverage is focused on the hobby’s commercialization and its negative symptoms (e.g., college players accepting money for signing memorabilia). And I even learned something—who knew Cicero was a collector?!

What did you think of the article? Leave a comment and let me know.

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My 11-second interview with Julian Edelman

Matt Raymond interviews Julian EdelmanAs part of a Dunkin Donuts promotion with Julian Edelman I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the New England Patriots wide receiver and ask him anything.

The catch? I had only 11 seconds.

Naturally, I wanted to talk autographs. In this case, I asked him to tell me about the first time someone asked for his autograph and how it made him feel.

Watch the video below to see his response (and don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance in our giveaway).

Win this Julian Edelman autographed mini helmet

Julian Edelman autographed mini helmet
UPDATE: The winner has been contacted. Thanks to everyone who left a comment – awesome questions. Now let’s try to get a real Autograph U interview with Edelman so he can answer them!

What question would you have asked Edelman? Leave a comment with your answer for a chance to win this mini helmet Julian signed for me as he was leaving the set of the video shoot! I will randomly choose a winner on Wednesday, October 1 at 10 p.m. ET. One comment per person and please use a valid email address so I can contact you if you win.

Thanks for participating and good luck!


Autograph Adventures – Tom Hanks

The following tale appears in the 2014 Autograph University Yearbook – a collection of stories written by the autograph community. Get your free copy of the Yearbook.

March 7, 2008
Boston, Massachusetts

I’ve never been so disappointed to see an NBA team outside a hotel.

Chicago Bulls players were streaming out of the Four Seasons and across its horseshoe driveway toward the game time buses. Over a dozen collectors and I shuffled back and forth between them, ready with Sharpies and photos in our hands. But these towering athletes weren’t our targets—they were in the way.

Our eyes were trained on the revolving door at the hotel entrance, waiting to catch a glimpse of a man with more star power than the entire NBA team combined. He wouldn’t stand out like the basketball players—he had no superhuman physique to give him away. White male, average height, dark suit. There are a heck of a lot of those walking out of the Four Seasons.

The black SUV pulled up around 6 p.m., obscuring the doorway. We scrambled for a better view but we all knew it would be only moments until we saw him. Odds were good we weren’t even going to get close but he had a reputation of being a friendly guy. Maybe we’d get lucky.

The door spun and Tom Hanks walked out into a cacophony of shouting collectors who surged toward him.

“Sorry guys, I’m late,” he said with a wave and stepped into the backseat of the SUV behind the driver. The door slammed shut.

We saw him for five seconds.

Hanks was in town for a screening of the John Adams HBO mini-series he co-executive produced. The event was being hosted at the Boston Public Library four blocks away in Copley Square. It was a straight shot down Boylston Street from the hotel…on foot. Due to a number of one-way streets I knew Hanks’ car would have to zigzag its way back through a number of side streets and traffic lights. I just might make it in time if I hurried. I watched as the vehicle rumbled out of the driveway and sped past the hotel. I had no time to calculate. I ran.

Coming straight from work I wasn’t well-dressed for a half-mile sprint. It wasn’t the leather-soled shoes clacking sharply on the sidewalk that caused me problems, it was the heavy corporate-issue laptop clanging violently off my hip bone. I wasn’t the only one who was stressed by the situation. I projected my anxiety onto every pedestrian I passed/weaved through/cut off. It’s always a bit unsettling to see someone running full bore at you, particularly when they are not wearing exercise clothes. In those moments of madness there is one thing abundantly clear. Something is wrong.

Down the sidewalk I chased a car I couldn’t see, praying Hanks and Co. were held up at red lights and traffic on the adjacent side streets. I sped by the Arlington T stop then passed Berkley and Clarendon. Copley Square came into view, the library’s façade and its rows of arcaded windows in the distance. Hundreds of people were already lined up along a red carpet. Even if I beat the livery vehicle it would still be a challenge to get a favorable spot. My chest was heaving and my forehead and armpits were dripping sweat as I made a quick turn past Trinity Church and the skateboarders practicing kick-flips by the fountain. So close.
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I am pleased to present the third annual edition of the Autograph University Yearbook, a collection of stories penned by members of the autograph community. This year’s issue includes 12 new tales (including one never before published from me). You’ll read about attempts to graph icons like Bob Dylan, Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks; parents and their children sharing unforgettable moments; mistaken identities and chance encounters. It was months in the making and I couldn’t be more proud of the work we’ve done. It’s one example of what we can do when we come together as a community.2014 Autograph University Yearbook

The Yearbook is the most meaningful project we do each year at Autograph University, and I encourage you to share it with your fellow graphers and help us spread the word.

Click here to download your FREE copy of the 2014 Autograph University Yearbook (PDF eBook).


To help his son track TTM and IP successes, computer programmer Eric Jacobowitz created Catalog It – a software program designed to help collectors manage their autograph inventory. In this episode of the Master Class we discuss the story behind creating the software and how his son helped rekindle his interest in collecting.

Interested in a free trial of Catalog It? Download it here. If you want to get the full version, use coupon code autographu for $5 off. (Disclosure: I received an evaluation copy of Catalog It – and dig it.)

Let me know what you think of this episode, leave a comment below.

Cool stuff to check out


Over 90% of the autographed items in my collection are photos. They’re inexpensive to print, lightweight to carry (or ship, for you TTM collectors) and display well. And if you find yourself needing an item in a hurry, you can send a file down to the local photo shop for pickup in an hour. Easy, right? So how do I explain all the blurry photos, weird print sizes and illegible signatures that plagued my early collecting years? I’ll do my best so you don’t make the same mistakes—because sometimes you only get one shot.


David Ortiz autographed photo

This photo shows terrible pixelation because the resolution was too low for a print this size – and it was only a 5×7! (Click to enlarge.)

The number one error I made when printing photos was choosing images with a resolution too low for the desired print size (I typically print 8×10). I’m not going to spend a lot of time breaking resolution down technically (you can check out Wikipedia for that) but it’s basically how much information and detail is contained in your image. A low-res image may look ok as a 4×6 print but blow it up to 8×10 or 11×14 and you’re going to see jagged lines and blur as all those tiny pixels are being magnified. You don’t want your image to look like a screenshot from an old Nintendo game (or Minecraft for you younger collectors). As a rule of thumb, you want to use the highest resolution image you can find.

You’ll see resolution displayed in a width x height format (e.g., 2400×1600), meaning the image contains 2,400 pixels across and 1,600 pixels in height. So we know bigger is better, but usually I’m challenged with an image that falls in a middle range of resolution. Is 800×600 enough for a high-quality 8×10? Is 1200×800 enough for an 11×14? In almost all cases, I don’t have time to wait for the print to come back and make adjustments (and trial and error is costly).

The folks at Adorama (home to Adoramapix.com, my favorite online printer) wrote a post on Pixels and Printing and I pulled out their size guide which I think is a great reference point (I added the 16×20 specs).

Size (“)
File size required for Print (MP = megapixels)
180ppi (good) 240ppi (better) 300ppi (best)
4×6 720×1080 – 0.75MP 960×1440 – 1.4MP 1200×1800 – 2.2MP
5×7 900×1260 – 1.2MP 1200×1680 – 2MP 1500×2100 – 3.15MP
8×10 1440×1800 – 2.6MP 1920×2400 – 4.6MP 2400×3000 – 7.2MP
11×14 1980×2520 – 5MP 2640×3360 – 8.9MP 3300×4200 – 13.8MP
16×20 2880×3600 – 10.4 MP 3840×4800 – 18.4MP 4800×6000 – 28.8 MP

Do the specs in the first column mean you won’t see any pixelation in an 8×10 print using 1440×1800? No, but it will probably look pretty good. If you’re going after a coveted signer and/or paying for a signature, using the best resolution will ensure you won’t have any regrets.

Ok, so now you’ve got a better understanding of what size images you need. How do you find them?


There are a number of online resources for locating that perfect image. Let’s start with the legal ones.
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Last week I joined Rob Bertrand and David Wright over on Cardboard Connection Radio to discuss the 2014 Autograph University Yearbook and how easy it is to get involved. This was my second appearance on the show and I had a blast. If you’re a card collector (or even if you’re like me and just curious to check in on what’s going on in the hobby) I encourage you to check out all the great content over at Cardboard Connection.

If you missed my interview, check out the clip below and SEND ME YOUR STORY BY MAY 31!


If you’ve been hanging around Autograph University you know our annual yearbook is the project nearest to my heart. It’s a collection of stories from collectors just like you (and I hope this year we can include one from YOU). The past two issues have featured works that touch on every emotion, from suspenseful pieces to ones that have you reaching for Kleenex.

I Want Your Story for the Autograph University YearbookI need your help to make the 2014 Yearbook the best and biggest yet. Can we best last year’s 15 submissions? I know we can. (If you haven’t already, check out our fantastic 2013 edition.)

We all have a favorite autograph story, whether it’s a memorable celebrity encounter or a multi-signed piece you spent years finishing. To be a part of our Yearbook all you have to do is email me your story. That’s it—you’re published!

The 2014 Yearbook will be distributed in June as an eBook and will be free to download.


  • Stories will be accepted until May 31. Email your submission to matt@autographu.com.
  • Your story should be as long as it needs to be (although 200 – 500 words is recommended).
  • Have a picture? Send it along and I’ll include it.
  • Include your Name and the Contact Information you’d like to appear with your entry (e.g., email, Twitter handle, website URL).

For 15 years Tim Henderson graphed athletes and celebrities in Atlanta, but when his daughter was born he needed to modify his collecting habits. In this episode of the Master Class, we discuss his transition from in person collecting to TTM, his proven tips on filling your mailbox with returns, and how he got Sir Paul McCartney IP and through the mail.

Let me know what you think of this episode, leave a comment below.

Cool stuff to check out