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Tricks of the Trade: Prep Glossy Items for Signing


Featured in Autograph January 2010

High gloss cover shows bubbling in Jessica Burciaga's signature

Two years ago, Tony Gwynn had just been voted into the MLB Hall of Fame Class of 2007, and Sports Illustrated generated a commemorative edition on his behalf. I bought a copy and headed for Gwynn’s scheduled public appearance nearby. I was thrilled at the thought of having the magazine signed by one of my all-time favorite baseball heroes.

Gwynn gladly signed with the nicely charged blue Sharpie marker I handed him and even added his new “HOF 2007” inscription. He handed the magazine back and I almost fainted. The signature bubbled up on the glossy cover, rendering it virtually unrecognizable!

A friend of mine winced when he saw it. “Should have rubbed the magazine down beforehand,” he said. I couldn’t help thinking, “Gee, thanks! That advice would have been helpful a few minutes ago.” I was a seasoned collector and I’d just made a rookie mistake.

There are many collectibles that can be signed without preparation, but some items must have some of the gloss removed so that the ink can be absorbed and not bubble-up like it did in my Gwynn disaster. Here’s to the Rookies of Class 2010: get an eraser and some baby powder and resolve to fill the New Year with flawless autographs.

Sports Cards

Sports cards are a favorite for autograph hounds, but many brands of the modern cards are produced with a heavy glossy luster. Sure these cards tend to be sturdier, but the coating can be a serious obstacle for autographs.

I like to remove some of the gloss by rubbing the card down with a white eraser. You can use your thumb to rub the card down, but it won’t be as effective. Generic white erasers work well and I also like the Pentel Clie Eraser Series.

Baby powder is another secret. On Autograph Magazine Live! Tim Henderson posted: “I use baby powder and spread it over the item then wipe it off…” I tried Tim’s suggestion, sprinkling a little bit of powder on a glossy sports card and then rubbing it down gently with my thumb, followed with a soft cloth to wipe off the powder. I tested it with a Sharpie and it worked like a charm.


Some magazine such as Playboy, Cosmopolitan and some issues of Sports Illustrated have high gloss covers, and you’ll get bubbling or streaking 95 percent of the time if you don’t prep them. Other magazines, such as Time, Newsweek or Beckett, are fine without preparation.

If you’re not sure whether a magazine needs prepping, take the white eraser to a small, inconspicuous section of the cover and rub it gently. If some of the ink comes off, then the magazine doesn’t require any additional preparation.

For high gloss covers rub the entire surface with a white eraser, using a soft cloth to remove eraser remnants. Then, do it again. The gloss reduces friction for the eraser. When the gloss is heavy, you won’t see many eraser fragments. As the gloss wears down, more friction creates more eraser remnants. Two or three repetitions should do the trick. Obviously, stop erasing when you can see any impact on the underlying ink.

Other Items

I’ve seem some collectors rub down plastic helmets and mini-helmets with erasers, but I haven’t noticed any difference in how the ink adheres to the surface. I just wipe plastic surfaces with a soft cloth to remove any streaks or fingerprints before signing. I also haven’t noticed any difference in prepping blonde baseball bats with a glossy lacquer finish, and I’d worry that some of the eraser remnants could get lodged in the grain, compromising the integrity of the autograph over time.

My final tip? You can never be sure that your athlete or celebrity will sign on the exact spot you’ve prepped. Jessica Burciaga signed her cover for me, but the bottom line slid into glossy territory with bubbles and streaks.

Bottom line: Add a box of white erasers to your autograph collecting arsenal.

Come to Autograph Magazine Live! Tricks of the Trade forum and tell me your tips for getting baseballs signed.

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