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4 Simple Ways to Make Your Autograph Collection Awesome

Everything I’m going to say you probably know already. It may seem basic. Maybe it’s common sense. But I still find myself failing to adhere to these principles and I bet, from time to time, you do too.

Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar autographed basketball

Storing your autographs improperly (such as the ball above which is exposed to the elements) will ensure your autograph collection is less than awesome.

Let’s go back to basics. Your collection will be a little more awesome for it.

Use high-quality items
Garbage in, garbage out. Notice I didn’t say “Use premium items”. Building a high-quality collection doesn’t need to be expensive. Sure, a signed authentic jersey can be impressive but so can a nice 11×14 picture. A majority of my graphs are on photos and I make sure to use a professional developer like Adorama rather than the local pharmacy. And guess what, Adorama is cheaper.

Now let’s talk about your balls.

You can get away with replicas, especially in hoops and football—they’ll look great. Maybe even hockey pucks. But don’t skimp on your baseballs. Don’t let this happen to you. There is no substitute for a Rawlings Official Major League Baseball. None.

Use the right pen
While you need to be prepared with the most appropriate pen for your item, understand that often a celebrity will run with a single pen (i.e., whichever they grab first). The lesson? If you’re trying to get something premium signed, have a backup item ready (you don’t want your basketball signed in blue Sharpie). And, unless you’re attending a sit-down signing, use photos with dark backgrounds at your own risk.

Here are the pens I prefer for various items:

Baseballs – Bic Cristal (blue)
Basketballs – DecoColor (silver, broad)
Footballs – DecoColor (silver, broad)
Hockey pucks – DecoColor (silver, fine)
Photos – Sharpie (blue), or DecoColor (silver on dark backgrounds)

Store your autographs properly
Displaying your collection can cost more than the item itself. Anyone who’s had a picture framed (even after using the ubiquitous 50% off coupon) knows how ridiculous the markup can be. That said, it’s a necessary evil. Look at this Julius Erving/Kareem Abdul Jabbar autographed basketball I obtained as a kid and didn’t store properly. I’m welling up.

Know the basics: acid-free matting for pictures, UV-protected glass and acrylic frames and cases. I splurged on this frame for a signed Durant jersey and I couldn’t be happier.

Always be prepared
In a previous post I showed you the two things you should carry to never miss a graphing opportunity. But preparation goes far beyond ensuring you’re always packing pen and paper—especially if you want an awesome collection. Are you monitoring your on- and offline sources to know who’s in town (and when)? Are you keeping an ongoing event calendar? Do you have the right items “in stock”? Are you equipped to deal with the weather forecast?

I carry a folder of about 20 photos of my home team list with me every day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve graphed someone on something generic like an Autograph Card when I had a much nicer item forgotten at home. Take two minutes every morning to think about whom you could possibly run into that day, however remote (photos don’t weigh much).

What would you add to this list? Do you agree/disagree with any of these tips? Leave a comment and let me know.

About the author: is the founder of Autograph University. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and two sons. Connect with him on Twitter at @mattraymond.

49 comments… add one

  • Mike October 25, 2011, 1:57 pm


    Great list. I agree with most everything you have said here. Having an extra sharpie and a couple of those Autograph cards are lifesaving should you unexpectedly run into someone. I never thought about the mini-sharpie on the key chain.

    Couple things: I’ve never used Adorama but if you can create 8x10s then I may start. I’ve used my local pharmacy several times but if I can do it at home, I will. The other thing is I’ve had mixed results with Bic Cristal Blue pens. They seem to smudge or blot up often, so you have to keep cleaning them. I have a group of pens I have picked up along the way (randoms) that don’t blot and dry very quickly. I would suggest people just keep an eye on this – to me blotted or signatures with “clumps” in them are far worse than fades.

    Overall, a great article of things most autographers should know but most take for granted.

  • Matt Raymond October 25, 2011, 2:22 pm

    Thanks for the comments Mike.

    Is there a particular brand among your pens that seems to work better on baseballs? I’ve tried others but haven’t been able to get the bold graph that I get with Cristals. That said, I have seen what you’re talking about in regard to clumping/smearing. Always a good idea to keep experimenting.

    Adorama prints 8x10s and almost every other size you could want (they make getting 11x14s and larger easy) and offer multiple finishesa s well (I prefer ‘Lustre’). From time to time, they have sales where you can get 8x10s for a dollar each!

  • Mike October 25, 2011, 5:22 pm


    Honestly, I have just experimented with pens on baseballs. Most of my collection is sports figures so pens/baseballs are big for me, so after seeing the messy blots from those cristal pens, I tried looking different ones. As long as they are blue ink, I have ones from hotels, restaurants, work things, etc and as long as they are clean signing, I use them. I have literally wiped off the clumps on my hands prior to having a signing for fear it will be messy.

    As for Adorma, I really have to try it. I recently got several college basketball stars on pictures printed on regular bond paper because I didn’t have time for 8x10s or to run to my local CVS. So, nevertheless, those guys go into frames and never come out..lol. I don’t know much about Adorama, but I will research asap.

    Like I said previously, keep up the good work. This Blog is a great read and look forward to hearing more about the adventures. Keep up the auto hunts -nobody is safe!

  • Matt Raymond October 27, 2011, 9:35 pm

    Thanks Mike. You make a good point about printing photos locally – sometimes you need them same day and it’s the only option. I find myself in that situation often.

  • Bob January 14, 2016, 11:15 am

    I have used Bic Cristals and gotten okay results, but for a great autograph I would suggest the Bic Round Stic Grip in blue or the Papermate Kilometrica

  • Matt Raymond January 20, 2016, 8:51 pm

    Thanks for sharing your recommendation, Bob.

  • Bob January 28, 2016, 10:02 am

    I have also had bad results with the Bic Cristals and I have switched over to a wayyyyyyyy better pen which is the Bic Ultra Round Stic Grip. There are two types, a cheaper lower quality one, and a slightly more expensive way higher quality one. Use the higher quality one which has a blue cap and a gray body

  • Laura October 26, 2011, 4:16 pm

    I definately agree with you. It usually does cost me more money to store the items then to get them, mostly because I hate paying for autographs, but it does take lots of time. That being said you are totally right, I ruined a couple of sweet sigs by not getting the good baseballs signed. I also agree with the Adaroma thing, they do a good job, and it’s cheaper if you get a lot and you order them a while before you need them. But if you need something quick, sometimes you have no choice but the Drug Store. My additional tip is: I also like to store most of my 8x10s in toploaders because they are pretty cheap, I haven’t had a problem with them yet, and it helps me store them in a pile because space is limited. My friend kept a whole bunch in a book with the pocket protectors, and they must have gotten wet or something because the autos stuck to the protector, and most of them are ruined. My biggest problem recently is rain. How do you keep photos dry in the rain? I had some sweet Joe Nathan photos, and of course it was raining at the game. Now they look horrible, I think I might resend ttm. I probably could have been more prepared, but I live about 2 hours north of the stadium, and it was beatiful here, so rain had not even crossed my mind. Some things I thought would be helpful for future games would be bring toploaders to put them in after being signed, and a garbage bag to put the toploaders in. Another thing I thought would be helpful is to bring a small towel to wipe of the seats. As far as pucks, you can use generic, but I have had tons of problems with black sharpies on footballs back when I didn’t know better. I’m still working on an acceptable pen for pucks though, I like silver sharpie, but they never seem to work when I need them. I also don’t really know the deal with paint pens because they give me trouble too. Your blog is very helpful, and I enjoy it.

  • Matt Raymond October 27, 2011, 9:47 pm

    Laura, there isn’t much you can do to avoid rain leaving spots on photos. If I have to be out in wet weather I try to use non-paper items. Regarding storage, I keep my photos in plastic sheets with comic book backing boards in D-ring binders. Never had any issues. Thanks for the comments!

  • PeteRose14 October 26, 2011, 11:44 pm

    This is a great article! Its interesting to hear other graphers advice, and views on topics!
    I think one thing that gives collections a bit of extra flare are oddball items, or inscriptions. For example, if you collect ttms, I personally feel that it is cooler to have 5 carl erskine stat balls as he usually does, rather than 15 Bobby doerrs (although we respect both very much).
    With inscriptions, instead of boring ones like hof 2000, or Roy 1989, having more interesting inscriptions, or one that your friend will get a chuckle out of, is a great one. For example, having bill Buckner inscribe “oops!” or “your welcome Mookie” is one that definitely goes up in a frame :)

  • Matt Raymond October 27, 2011, 9:48 pm

    Interesting idea, have you had any luck getting those inscriptions?

  • Chubby Martin H. October 27, 2011, 1:57 pm

    Great post Matt! Thanks for showing links to the silver pens. I’ve been looking everywhere for them, but I didn’t know exactly what brand or title they were called! This really helped a lot. :)

  • Matt Raymond October 27, 2011, 9:49 pm

    Thanks for reading – glad I could help! Let me know how they work out for you.

  • Doug November 11, 2011, 11:03 am

    Matt, as a heavy Adorama user, I couldn’t agree with you more…EXCEPT I recently realized my local Costco does 8×10 for about 1.50 AND the prices for an 8×12 is the same! I had Bruins photos done recently and the girl told me that they cut 8x10s out of the same sheet of paper as 8x12s so that is why the price is the same. I guess the difference in ink usage isn’t that different. So, if you’re not in the mood to fumble around with 11x14s, cheap high quality 8x12s might be a viable option. The Costco quality is on par with Adorama and they don’t gripe about the photos you send when you pick them up. I did a CVS once for pick-up and the guy railed me for printing copyrighted photos.

    Oh! My boss got Bridges the other night too!

  • Matt Raymond November 11, 2011, 12:31 pm

    Thanks for the tip Doug! Haven’t used Costco myself, but from what I hear it’s a great alternative for those who have one nearby.

  • Maggie August 13, 2013, 11:53 pm

    Walgreens and CVS sound similar. Anything that seems like it could be professional requires you to fill out a form saying it wasn’t copyrighted, etc. Had this happen to a picture I took on my cell phone at a game recently. Guess my cell phone’s camera is better quality than I thought. Most of my friends use Costco.

  • Bob January 28, 2016, 10:06 am

    Walgreens and Costco are the best photo printers by far

  • Doug November 11, 2011, 11:08 am

    “the two things you should carry to never miss a graphing opportunity” unless your name is Matt and meet Slema hayek on the Common. Did you cry whey you washed that off? haha!

  • Matt Raymond November 11, 2011, 12:30 pm

    Did you notice that post was dated April 1? :)


  • Ben C. July 18, 2012, 10:13 pm

    Dont know if this was said, but mix it up! Why have all 8×10’s or all balls? Where’s the jazz in that? I feel if you are able to get multiples of a person, it should be on different items, this will also give you an idea of how they sign that item (ex- ball vs card). This will also build it up more overtime, and as I said it’ll make it look better. That’s at least the way I do things.

  • Matt Raymond July 18, 2012, 11:11 pm

    GREAT suggestion! I totally agree – there are many people whom I’ve graphed multiple times and almost never duplicate items.

  • Luis May 20, 2013, 3:35 pm

    Does a decocolor silver or gold paint pen work on a glossy 8X10 photo printed from Wal-Mart?

  • Matt Raymond May 20, 2013, 3:48 pm

    Absolutely, just give it a minute to dry.


  • Luis May 20, 2013, 5:18 pm

    Thanks Matt.
    If ordering from adorama, you recommend the lustre for any photo size to be autographed with a decocolor?

  • Matt Raymond May 20, 2013, 5:37 pm

    It’s my preference for any marker.

  • Ahmed June 27, 2013, 11:36 pm

    Hi Matt, love your site and youtube channel. What do you recommend for signing baseball hats? Sharpies or paint pens?

  • Matt Raymond June 29, 2013, 9:32 pm

    Hi Ahmed, thanks for the feedback. I’d go with a DecoColor paint pen.

  • David August 13, 2013, 7:19 pm

    You mentioned storing autographs properly. Its not autographs, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions on how to store tickets. I like to keep my tickets from sporting events etc., what the best way to store them? Any input would be appreciated! Thanks.

  • Matt Raymond September 5, 2013, 11:19 pm

    Hi David, I think the same principles apply – you just may want to look for UltraPro pages that have several pockets. Something like these 4-pocket pages for postcards:


  • Mike October 18, 2013, 5:54 am

    Why do you recommend blue sharpie for photos? Isn’t black the standard?

  • Matt Raymond October 21, 2013, 11:37 am

    Hi Mike, great question. It’s subjective but for the most part collectors choose blue because the signature tends to pop and look more appealing.


  • Aaron November 1, 2013, 3:39 pm


    Love your site. I noticed comments about 8×10’s from Adorama. Where do people typically select their photos off the net to be printed? Aren’t most of the pix on the net copyrighted? For player autographs, I usually end up buying 8×10’s off of Photo File.


  • Joe Webster February 5, 2014, 7:16 pm

    I use a stadtlyer pen for my signed baseballs (I mainly collect baseball items) and it works amazing! No fading at all and its a consistant ink feed. I love it!

  • Matt Raymond February 5, 2014, 7:32 pm

    Thanks for the tip Joe. I know Staedtler is popular on cards but I wondered how it held up on balls. How long have you had it on a ball?

  • Bob December 31, 2015, 8:18 pm

    This is for the benefit of Matt Raymond… I have been using Staedtlers for years and have used a staedtler on one ball. The ink on that ball bled and I wasn’t able to read the writing, so no do not use Staedtlers on balls

  • Q June 20, 2014, 1:40 pm

    Why not use a Sharpie on a baseball?

  • Matt Raymond June 20, 2014, 1:58 pm

    It will likely fade and bleed. You’re also not going to get as legible a signature.

  • caroline scofield September 2, 2014, 3:09 pm

    im graphing the red soxs via spring training any advise, tips, what to bring, who will mostly sign, or signing habits? instead of commenting back please email me at csautographs@gmail.com

  • Matt Raymond September 2, 2014, 9:30 pm

    Hi Caroline, commenting here for the benefit of other readers. I suggest posting questions like these on boards like SportsGraphing.com or SportsCollectors.net for input from multiple collectors who’ve graphed the Red Sox at Spring Training before. What to bring is so subjective – cards, baseballs, photos – depends on your budget, what you collect and how much you want to haul around.


  • précoce March 4, 2015, 9:04 pm

    Grdat рost however , I was wanting to know іff үou cοuld
    write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very thankful if you could еaboratе
    a little bit further. Cheers!

  • DJ March 16, 2015, 10:52 am

    Would you use a black sharpie or deco paint pen for an orange Candlestick Park stadium seat back? The seat back that I have has a lot of white oxidation on it from being out in the elements for years. I’m wondering if the oxidation will effect the ink.

  • Jes May 23, 2015, 1:48 am

    Hey Matt,

    Can I use a fine point Sharpie on a hockey jersey autograph? Like Gold, Silver and Bronze?

  • Bob December 31, 2015, 8:14 pm

    As far as baseballs go, I would highly recommend the Papermate Kilometrica Plus or the Bic Round Stic Grip, both of which in blue

  • Naushaba Zafar June 23, 2016, 1:48 pm

    Matt you are simply brilliant. I am also a huge collector of signed book. I really appreciate your tips.

  • Kristy August 8, 2016, 11:07 am

    Hi Matt,
    Thanks for all the tips. Would you use a Staedtler or black decocolor paint pen on a white football helmet?

  • kdf podatki niemcy zasiłek rodzinny September 8, 2016, 10:11 am

    Utterly indited content material, Really enjoyed examining.

  • Gael November 6, 2016, 7:45 am

    Hi! Thanks for all your helpful tips. I wonder, what would you use to sign an actual Stephen Curry Authentic Jersey (the white one they use at home)?

    Signing on the white fabric seems kind of dangerous regarding leaks and quality result, but on the other hand, the number on this jersey isn’t the smoothest surface ever.

    I was thinking eventually blue sharpie on the fabric itself (under the numbers?) or silver Deco Paint pen on the number (first time using it so I’ll try to by two in order to get used to it), but not sure what would be best in this situation.

    What do you think? I’m coing from Europe to attend a game next year and really hope to find an opportunity to get this signed by staying around the arena the morning of the game.

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  • Branden July 25, 2017, 5:05 am

    I see people use a board with 4 corner pockets to hold 8×10 photos for autographing. Do you know where to get them or make? Thanks.

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