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How to Get the PERFECT Autograph on Your Next Sports Card - 5 Tips To Make You a Pro

November 16, 2021 5 min read 2 Comments

How to Get the PERFECT Autograph on Your Next Sports Card - 5 Tips To Make You a Pro


This may seem like an easy item to get autographed, but picking out the right pen and color for your next sports card autograph can be a challenge.  As we all know, getting that perfect autograph on your favorite player’s rookie card is huge.  So how do we do that?  What else should we be thinking about?

Here are 5 things to consider before you get your next card signed.

#1 What’s the best pen color?

This is a big decision; one you don’t want to get wrong.  Fortunately, it is an easy one to make in most cases. 

My go to color is blue.  Whenever the color of the card allows for it that is what I go with.  Shows up in light and dark spots and a solid fade resistant color.  However, you can’t use blue on every card due to the design.

If you are unsure about what color to choose, I recommend getting something clear like a penny sleeve, top loader, or even a sandwich bag, and writing on it in the colors you are considering.  Then take that clear item and lay it over your card.  This will give you a visual of what it might look like in each of those colors.

#2 What pen to go with?

In most cases, my go to pen is a blue sharpie.  Sharpies dry very fast and are consistent on any type of card, paper, chrome finish, it doesn’t matter.  If I am going with a blue color, in most cases I go with the sharpie.  However, if you want a different color of blue, say a lighter color, then going with a paint pen will be your other option.  Deco brand paint pens work well.

If the card is a paper finish (think 1980s Fleer or Topps for example), I generally go with a sharpie.  No need to get all crazy with a paint pen.

However, if the card does have a chrome finish to it, such as Topps Chrome or Prizm, I find a Deco paint pen can have the signature “pop” more, especially if I am going with a silver, gold, or a red color.  Anything outside of the standard black and blue.

Sometimes, you do need to prep your chrome style cards to remove some of the glossiness from it so the paint pen goes on smooth.

You can do this with baby powder or a white eraser.   Essentially cover the card with a light coating of baby powder and wipe off.  You are looking to give some tackiness to the card so the autograph has something to stick to.  With the white eraser you want to rub it light enough to remove some of the finish to it, but not hard enough to damage the card.

If you are still unsure what pen and color to choose, what I like to do is buy some cheap base cards from the same set I am trying to get signed and physically test pens on them.  Take for example these Michael Porter Jr 2018 Prizm rookie cards.  I want to use a yellow paint pen on them, but would like to see what it will look like before getting all 10 signed.

I bought some $2 base cards from that same set of other players and tested out the pens on them.  That way I get an exact look of the pen I will be using and can make changes if needed before getting his cards signed.

#3 Should you get an inscription?

One thing to keep in mind is the size of an athlete’s autograph.  Guys like Mike Tyson and Dennis Rodman have huge, flamboyant autographs.  Getting more than 1 inscription on a small item like a card might not be feasible and might not look good.  Study their autograph size 1st before deciding on an inscription.  I would suggest sticking to 1 inscription if you do get one.  The big inscriptions, such as their Hall of Fame year or nickname are my go-to ones.


#4 Should you get an authenticity hologram on your card?

This one all depends on the collector.  Some prefer to not have anything added to their cards, some like having the authentication on it in the form of a sticker on the back of the card because they don’t plan on getting it slabbed at this time.  Or if they are planning on getting it slabbed, they like having that extra authentication on it for guys who are known to sign with certain companies, like an MLB hologram for Mike Trout, or a UDA hologram for Michael Jordan.

One thing to consider if you do plan on getting the item slabbed by PSA or Beckett and you want to make sure they authenticate the autograph, is how sloppy is the athlete’s autograph.  Is it an easy one to authenticate?

Take Giannis for example.  Very short, sloppy autograph.  Might be tough for PSA or Beckett to authenticate it when slabbing the card.  However, if you had a JSA witness sticker on the back, that will certainly help them in determining their decision.  Always get the sticker on the back of the card, never the front. 


#5 Should you get your card put into a slab?

I prefer to get every card I have signed put into a slab and authenticated by PSA.  I like the look of PSA’s slabs.  Makes it easy to store and sell.  Other company you can use is Beckett.

Whether you are selling your card or want to have it protected, putting it into a slab is the best way to do both.

Keep in mind, if you use PSA, their cheapest price to get it into a slab with the label stating the exact card, such as Derek Jeter 1993 SP Foil, is currently $150.  That’s when PSA determines your card is authentic and PSA DNA authenticates the autograph.

However, if you want their cheapest option and just have PSA DNA authenticate the autograph, they put just TRADING CARD on the label.  Not the best-looking slab at that point, but it’s the cheapest way to get it into one.  The cost of doing this depends on the athlete.  Some athletes can be $20 others can be $100 or more.  Pricing is on PSA’s website.

You can send your cards directly to PSA and pay the price on their website, or you can use a submission group and get a bit of a discount.  However, using a submission group can take 3-5 months to get your cards back.  Sending direct to PSA can be about 1 month in my experience.

Last thing to consider, is do you want an auto grade on your slab?  Meaning do you want PSA DNA to grade the quality of the autograph?  I like having the autograph graded on my higher end cards.  I think it adds value.  It is an additional cost at PSA to have that done.  Also, keep in mind, any autograph where the ink skips, smudges, or touches the side of the card will most likely not receive a 10.  Don’t auto grade cards that have those issues.

2 Responses

mike wheeler
mike wheeler

May 02, 2023

I am going to a card show next week in Wilmington MA. I paid Press Pass and Beckett 1,000.00 to have Magic Johnson sign my 1980 Topps rookie card. They didn’t put the sticker on the card like I asked. The other two signed the card and put their C.O.A’s on the back like I asked. (Larry Bird was with you.) Do you think I should ask them for a sticker at the show?..I want PSA to do the grading of the card not Becket. What do you think?

Thank you

mike wheeler
mike wheeler

May 02, 2023

I have sent some cards to you for autograph’s, and have loved the results. One of my cards I sent to you was my Larry Bird/Magic Johnson/Dr. J. card for Bird’s autograph. You put the PSA sticker on the back like I requested. Then I sent the card out for Dr J’s autograph and Beckett put their sticker on the back like I also requested. Now here is my problem and I was wondering if I could get some help from you on this one.
I sent the card to Press Pass for Magic’s autograph. I was given an invoice on how much the autograph was for the rookie card ($1,000), also I was told that I would receive a Beckett authentic hologram that I requested to be placed on the back of the card. When I received the card back there was no hologram on the back, and I was not given the hologram I was promised. When I got in touch with the salesperson who I was dealing with, he said that they did not want Beckett to put the sticker on the back cause it would hurt the value of the card. I have written to the salesman and asked for my sticker but I have not heard back. Beckett wants me to send the card in for authentication because Press Pass requested no certification on my item. Beckett says I can send the card in for them to provide certification and authenticity. I wanted to sent my card to PSA for grading.
I am not sure what I can do about obtaining my C.O.A. that I was promised when I paid $1,000.
Any input would be appreciated.

Thank you, Mike

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