Should You Sign Prints & Canvases

If you purchased a painting, you would never question the piece being signed by the artist. In fact, greater value derives within the piece thanks to that signature… But as photographers? Should we sign our prints or not and if we do, how does one go about doing so.

I use to have a stronger opinion but I really don’t anymore. For some, I think that signing their work solidifies them as artists. Writing your signature on a beautiful canvas that you’re about to present to a client can feel a little like the finale of a wonderful opera. It’s a bit magical. Seeing your own signature can make you feel good, identifies that this is your masterpiece, and quite simply just make you feel happy. If you can relate to that then yes, you should absolutely sign it!

Others don’t care either way. They’re worried that their signature could take away from the image. That they won’t even do it right… Well then, leave your signature off. Simple as that.

For the sake of this article though, let’s say that you do want to sign your prints but you’re just not exactly confident putting the pen to the canvas, here are some ideas to help you master the art of signing your portraits.

  • Sign your samples. Clients may be a little surprised to see your signature adorning their new canvas, but if you’ve made a point to sign your samples this will ensure that they know what to expect.
  • Photoshop it. I like the finishing touch of a handwritten signature but you could also drop your signature in via photoshop before sending the print to lab.
  • Don’t sign to scale. If the image is large that doesn’t mean your signature has to be. Keep it small and it will help enhance the perceived size of the print.
  • Cluster or Groupings. Be aware that your signature over and over on a cluster of images may stand out and take away from the desired effect. In such a case it may be better to sign the back of the canvas.
  • Make sure you use archival safe pens. It’s important that what you use does not effect the chemical properties of the image so you want to make sure you use acid free archival safe pens. (Found at any craft or art store).
  • Keep your signature understated. When looking at a great painting, the signature is not evident but instead you think to look for it. The same should be the case for our photography as well.
  • Signing the back. For smaller prints, it may be a good idea to sign the back of the print.
  • Once you establish what you want your signature to be, stay consistent.
  • If a print is going to be framed you need to be aware of where your signature is written. I remember years ago, the owner of a framing store telling me how photographers often sign to close to the edge and that it gets partially covered when being framed.
  • Add the year. Adding the year to your signature will be very helpful years from now when the image becomes a part of family history.
There are a few ideas I have for you on signing prints. If you have your own tips, tricks or question, leave a comment. I’d love to hear it!
This post was especially for Kym but I hope it was helpful to many!
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  1. Christy says:

    I sell lots of canvas gallery wraps and I love that my pro lab prints the name of my studio on the back of all my canvas’. Most pro labs also print the name on the back of traditional prints too so that there’s never a question of remembering who took those photos. I personally wouldn’t sign the front of a canvas unless asked to by the subject or buyer but I like that my name is always on the back.

  2. Stephanie says:

    We “sign” the front in one of the corners with a custom photoshop brush. That way you can change the color and opacity as to not detract from the image.

    Great tips! Thanks Leah!

  3. Jenika says:

    I really like the idea of adding the year to the back – that would definitely help down the road! I’m glad my grandma dated most of her photos, but never thought about applying that in my business. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Lesley says:

    I agree with Christy, and I don’t sign the front. it reminds me too much of Olan Mills, the 80’s and 90’s…

  5. Stephanie Gagnon says:

    I have a question. I have always loved the idea of signing my prints, but my business (Green Tree Media) doesn’t have my name in it. So I never knew how to sign my prints and ended up just putting my logo on them… What are your thoughts on my little dilemma?

    • Let’s see…. I wouldn’t put my logo on the front of the image, a discreet signature can be nice… I feel like a logo is like watermarking for the web. But if the logo was on the back, I think that would be just fine. Even with a business name different from your own, you can still sign your name as you are the owner and identity behind the business! 🙂 Hope that helps you!

  6. Kym Boswell says:

    Thank you Leah! It was very reassuring for both sides. I have always struggled with this. I just keep asking myself if I was the customer would I want someone singing my canvas. And I keeping thinking, I understand why photographers would do it, but do I want to look at there name every time I look at the image. I think I will sign the back with the date…that sounds like a great compromise for the arguing I’m doing with myself! 🙂

  7. Maggie says:

    I’ve struggled with deciding whether to sign or the front of my work too. I had an old sample I kept signing over and over trying to get my signature they way I wanted it, yet I never loved it. So instead, I have a logo sticker (MOO cards) that I put on the back of canvases, then put ©year signature. I am also going to start adding a certificate of authenticity stating that the piece is a one-of-a kind work of art.

    Great suggestions Leah!

  8. Eric says:

    Very well put Leah! I completely agree. If you do want to sign your prints try to develop a relationship with the company printing your canvas or photos. I have done several prints with Canvas Press (http://www.canvaspress.com) and their customer service has been amazing and have always been a great resource for me as an artist on issues like this.

  9. Leah M says:

    The high-end boutique studio I worked for back in the 80’s and 90’s always hand signed wall portraits (we mounted on textured masonite back then as stretched canvas wasn’t an option yet). They used a heated pen to bond a thin sheet of gold leaf into the emulsion in the signature. The artist signed the name, date and © and the studio’s clients expected it.

    • I think that is the main point. If you always do it, if you always show it… It would be expected and no one would think twice and I think it can be a very nice touch when done classy! Thanks for your comment, I really like that idea.

  10. Degas did it so why shouldn’t we, we’re artist after all.

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