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Permanent Apparently Doesn't Mean Forever – Sharpies Fade

Regular readers know that we're big fans of Sharpies – I even carry a Sharpie mini on my keychain – so it was with some disappointment that we recently came across a blog post explaining how transient that supposedly permanent ink can be.

Shellie Lewis wrote on her art blog that she discovered work she had done years ago as a student had faded from crisp black to a sickly green-brown. She was surprised and curious enough that she went straight to the company more information.

I spoke with Beth at Newell Rubbermaid Office Products [800-346-3278] the parent company of Sharpie markers in Oak Brook, Illinois.  She advised me that Sharpies are alcohol based and are not archival in any way. The same is true for the oil-based Sharpie paint pens; those will rapidly decay and discolor also.

Unfortunately, Shellie's experience seems to be the norm. Scrapbookers have also discovered that Sharpies aren't made for preserving memories. And, as Shellie lamented in her post, apparently sports memorabilia collectors have had the same problems with Sharpie autographs (which is a shame, since many celebs and athletes use Sharpies).

One common complaint is that as the Sharpie ink fades, it develops an ugly yellowish 'halo' around it.

Azizah, over at Gourmet Pens, also received a shock earlier this year when she was seeking advice on the best pens or markers for signing wedding guestbooks. A commenter pointed out to her that Sharpies fade over time, estimating they can become illegible in as little as five years.

That's really too bad because Sharpies are so versatile and available in such a wide range of colors – at least 40 – that they would otherwise seem perfect for...well, everything. Guess the lesson here is that if you are creating something for the relative short-term, feel free to use Sharpies. But if you want it to last a lifetime, look for something a little more permanent.

Oh, one little bit of good news, though: Sharpie pens ARE acid-free and archival quality.

3 thoughts on “Permanent Apparently Doesn't Mean Forever – Sharpies Fade”

  • Shellie Lewis

    The over 20 year old Sharpie drawings had dramatic degradation in 5-6 years time. I've just had them and have been able to follow the decay of the ink over time. I called the Sharpie parent company because I wanted to make sure their current product, being marketed as art supplies, was not going to decay the same and learned that the product has not changed at all from two decades ago. They were very responsive to my inquiries and complaints and I am happy they refunded the money for the markers and paint markers.

  • Will Nettles

    Sharpies definitely fade. I've got a Rauschenberg suitcase (Hoarfrost series) from the 1970s with his name (no signature) and studio address written all over it in wide Sharpie. It's been in the dark for the past 25 years and yet it's almost completely unreadable. It's just a quirky collectable, but at this point it's just an old box.
    I've got some photo prints that I signed with Sakura Micros; after ten years they are fading badly. B&W toned sepia archivally washed photos:no sign of fading, most are also behind UV plex--but the writing and signatures are going away. (At least I'm still alive to resign them)
    All those Sharpie autographed baseballs are temporarily autographed.

  • Carrie

    I have used sharpies for years, let say roughly 25 or more, all my notes and doodles are with a black extra fine point sharpie, all of my sketch books, sharpies, they haven't faded at all! Not one bit.

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