Tricks of the Trade: Removing Stray Marks

Autograph March 2010

When collecting in-person, you’ll occasionally get stray marks on your items, especially if the celebrity is mobbed. You’ll also find celebrities who insist on personalizing everything to dissuade people from selling their signatures. Personalization is well and good, but on a multiple-signed piece, “To Lou” repeated ten times gets a little crowded.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about when it’s okay to remove part of an inscription. For me, I’ve decided it has to do with intention—if the celebrity intended to write my name, I leave it. But if the celeb accidentally marked my photo as he moved on to the next item, I’ll remove it.

I took some scrap photos, signed them with markers and paint pens, and then tested several methods for removing the writing. The most effective was a white eraser. Gently rubbing the eraser on the mark will eventually remove it completely without damaging the photo underneath. The same was true for paint pen. However, not all white erasers work the same. The best brand I’ve found is the Pentel Clic Eraser ZE22, which is a long round retractable eraser found at any office supply store.

I also tested acetone—nail polish remover, which didn’t work well and smelled horrible. Also hydrogen peroxide, which worked but was messy and smelly as well. I’m concerned about introducing any outside chemicals to the photo paper, so I prefer to stick with the reliable eraser.
One problem to keep in mind, especially with glossy photos, is that the fibers in the tip of the marker will sometimes scratch the photo surface itself. This isn’t very noticeable before removing the writing, but once you remove the ink the scratching is very evident. The scratching is minimized on matte photo paper, so I’ve transitioned to that exclusively.

Bats, Cards & Mini Helmets
For glossy blonde baseball bats, the white eraser works like a charm as well, except you have to rub more vigorously around the grains of the bat if the ink has seeped into them. Also, with glossy sports cards and magazines, the white eraser does the trick. Always test the eraser in an inconspicuous area first to make sure it won’t remove any of the ink from the actual image. If it does, stop! Trying to remove it will noticeably damage the surface.

For plastics, such as helmets and mini-helmets, my test results were a little different. The white eraser worked well; however, I found that it left a light residue on the surface that was hard to remove completely. Trying to get the helmet back to its original gloss could be problematic if there are other signatures nearby as well.

I then tried, believe it or not, peanut butter!  A collector friend of mine, Brian Rodas from San Diego, Calif. recommended this, and sure enough it worked. But it also left a residue that was very difficult to remove. I tested hydrogen peroxide since it worked on photos, but it severely damaged the area I rubbed it on. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide on any plastics!  Finally, I tried regular rubbing alcohol with a soft cloth. It took quite a while, but it eventually worked and didn’t leave any residue like the erasers and peanut butter. Just exercise some patience, as rubbing alcohol takes a long time to work completely.

I sacrificed a Rawlings Official Major League Baseball to my testing. None of the chemicals worked since the ball cover is made of cowhide, and the liquid just smeared the ink or bled it deeper into the grain. The white eraser worked for very light stray marks, but couldn’t remove a full signature or inscription 100 percent. The eraser did work great to clean up some smudging I encountered. The best brand I found for baseballs was the Helix Auto Eraser, which is an electric white eraser. This works a charm on baseballs and glossy blonde bats, but I wouldn’t use it on photos or plastics which require a gentler touch.

Come to Autograph Magazine Live! to give me feedback on your own test results, and suggest ideas for future Tricks of the Trade.

About Steve Cyrkin, Editor

Steve Cyrkin is the editor & publisher of Autograph, and focuses mostly on forgery, market and consumer protection issues.


  1. We have an autographed football (signed with a sharpie) and my young son took a paint pen to trace over the signature “make it last”. Any tips on removing paint pen but not sharpie autograph? Thanks

  2. Tom Sawnor says:

    I have a nice piece of paper signed by Hall of fame boxer Tony Zale (lond deceased). It is in black pen and I just want to remove about a 1 1/2 ” line from above his autograph. Is the pen eraser the best way to go? PS His autograph is very hard to get and i wouldn’t want to damage it. If I don’t feel confident about removng it who can i send it too ? Thanks Tom

  3. Removing inscriptions from photos is easiest with a dry erase pen. Draw on top of the inscription and then wipe with a soft kleenex. Works every time.