How to Preserve an Autograph on a Shirt or Hat

sports autograph
Tim Clayon / Corbis Sport / Getty Images

The thrill of getting that coveted autograph from your favorite race car driver, sports star, or entertainment icon on a shirt or hat is huge. You can make the autograph last much longer if you handle the fabric correctly and give the signature a bit of care.

Tips for Getting the Best Lasting Autograph on Fabric

The key to making an autograph on a shirt, hat, or any type of fabric last as long as possible is to plan ahead. If you want to ask for an autograph on a shirt or hat you are wearing, choose a 100 percent natural fiber fabric like cotton or linen. A natural fiber fabric will absorb ink better than a synthetic fiber fabric like polyester.

Next tip, take a permanent ink marker like a Sharpie for the signer to use. A marker used to label laundry is even better. The ink is made to be permanent on fabric and stand up to many washings. Take the marker with you (take two in case someone else grabs it) so you'll be prepared. Most "stars" don't carry one around!

How to Preserve an Autograph on Fabric 

Whatever type of pen is used, allow the ink to dry completely and protect the fabric from additional moisture like sweat, rain, or stains. As soon as possible, you should set the ink by using the heat of an iron.

Using an ironing board or firm surface, place a clean white cotton pressing cloth over the signature and iron at the highest temperature acceptable for the fabric type. Use a dry iron-no steam-and press for at least one minute. Do not rub, lift the iron up and down over the signature while applying firm pressure.

If you don't have an iron, toss the signed fabric into the dryer. Set the cycle to the highest temperature recommended for the fabric and tumble for at least fifteen minutes. This will help set the ink into the fabric fibers.

Do not spray with a fabric protector because it can cause the ink to run.

It is best to avoid washing the fabric unless you really want to wear the shirt or hat again. When you are ready to wash the garment, turn it inside out. Use only cold water and a gentle detergent. The clothing can be dried in the dryer or hung to air dry. Hats should be spot cleaned or hand washed.

Preserve an Autograph on Leather Shoes and Clothes

Again, try to get the signature done with permanent ink on the leather. Since you shouldn't iron leather or put it in the dryer, use a soft sponge and add an acrylic leather protector over the entire item if you plan to use or handle the signed item frequently.

If you don't plan to use the item again, skip the leather protector and simply put the autographed item away for display or safekeeping.

How to Exhibit or Store an Autographed Shirt or Accessory

Autographed items can be framed to prevent them from getting dusty and dirty. Have a professional do the framing using non-acid backing papers to prevent discoloration. Or, purchase a display box.

Whether displayed or stored, keep the autograph away from direct sun. Even lamps and overhead lights can cause fading. The piece should be stored or displayed in a room that has consistent humidity and temperature.

If you do not display the item, purchase archival tissue paper to wrap the fabric. The tissue must be both acid-free and lignin free (a chemical compound derived from wood). It is important to use the right type of storage container to prevent yellowing.

One choice is to use storage boxes sold for archival storage. These are usually made of acid-free paper and are perfectly safe to use. However, if you are concerned about the box getting crushed, purchase a plastic storage box. The box must be made of cast polypropylene to be safe for your keepsakes. Look for the number five within the recycling triangle or the letters “PP” to be sure that you have the correct type of plastic that will not emit fabric-damaging chemicals.

With a bit of care, you'll keep the autograph and relive the memories for years to come.