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I am looking for a UV tolerant labeling pen. I am using Kinglake (from Amazon) plastic wrap around labels with Sharpie ink. However after just one season, the labels have faded. Is there a better pen available with ink that will hold up to UV exposure? It doesn't have to last forever, I can manage 5 years... Thanks, JohnPlastic plant label with Sharpie ink after one year.

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    Awesome question. I never thought about the importance of this until now. Actually, I have questioned the importance over the years every time I said WTF to myself when trying to understand my faded labels from the previous year(s). Kudos. Many of my tropicals are now arbitrarily named Onceiknewacea yourefnnameeransis. – Brenn Feb 15 '17 at 2:54
  • Not sure if that's UV or water that's the problem here. Black inks are normally a mixture of coloured pigments and UV will not affect each pigment equally. This means that the writing will change colour - blue inks usually degrade first, so the writing ends up with a red tint. You could try putting some sort of weatherproof sealant or varnish over the label once you've written on it. – George of all trades Feb 22 '17 at 23:07
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One of my catalogs was suggesting pencil on vinyl siding scraps. They sell trees, not markers...

Several of the catalogs that sell markers have the "aluminum foil-wrapped cardboard" style - you write on it with a pen, which embosses the foil, which stays embossed without need of ink.

For example: enter image description here Metal Dymo labels are also seen in the trade catalogs. The appropriate labeler to work with the metal tapes is a bit expensive unless you have a lot of use for it.

  • That's a slick trick. Me gusta – J.P.M. Feb 14 '17 at 22:10
  • You can also make these quite easily w soda can and tin snips. Even without the cardboard it's quite easy to "write" on them. – gorav Feb 19 '17 at 14:51
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I think Ecnerwal's answer is pretty cool, but I'll tell you some other things, too, since I've been researching stuff like this lately on forums, Amazon and stuff.

If an ink or writing substance reflects UV rays, it should be fade-resistant (but maybe not water or abrasion resistant).

Here are some ideas (I'm not sure if any of them will last for five years, but many of them should last at least a full growing season):

  • You could use a wood burner to burn labels onto wood.
  • They actually do sell outdoor garden markers specifically for this purpose (search for garden marker or garden marker pen). [It looks like stormy already mentioned this.] I'm not sure how long the markers last, and they're pretty expensive for one marker. There are markers that look like they're probably exactly the same, but they're not marketed as garden markers; these may be more affordable (I forgot what they're called offhand, though).
  • These industrial Sharpies (Sharpie Pro) are said to work better than regular ones. They say they're fade and water resistant.
  • You can try oil markers that are fade and water resistant. I've read they can work well for gardening purposes.
  • I've seen other outdoor markers that should work. Just search for all kinds of stuff, and you may find something.
  • A lot of people just use a pencil, and they claim pencils don't fade. You'll probably want to use a carpenter pencil, though, so it won't be too thin to be very readable. You can get mechanical carpenter pencils, too, if you don't want to sharpen them.
  • You can print labels on paper and put them in plastic bags (the bags can protect the ink on the paper). Sticking the bag to the plant may be the tricky part with this idea. This idea comes from AlittleSalt of tomatoville.com, who says it works.
  • You might try laminating paper for labels. I'm not sure how this works out, but it's an idea that came to mind after I read about AlittleSalt's idea.
  • You might try chalkboard markers. I'm not sure how well they work outdoors with fading (especially if they get wet), but it's an idea that may or may not work. It's supposed to be able to stick semi-permanently with non-porous surfaces (and permanently with porous surfaces).
  • If you can find some writing glue that isn't washable, it might work, due to the bulk of the medium.
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uv marking pen

Every nursery I've worked in always had this problem and sharpies were all that were used. I just tilted my labels or covered them with opaque tape...masking tape. That helped a little, here is a site that actually says UV protection. Maybe this will help. I've never understood why we didn't have markers for plant labels that would last. Forces one to remember what the plant's name was knowing the label would be gone by the next year. Grins! Let us know if this helps or you find something better (such as carving names in stone or metal)!?

  • Good to see. I'll have to check my nursery for that brand as shipping is a bit steep online. ;). Or maybe I'll go the route of engraved stones. Haha! – J.P.M. Feb 14 '17 at 21:41
  • let me know if this stuff works. Always had to redo signs every year even with special markers. The nursery can order them for you but will tack on enough to cover their shipping. It might be worth adding stuff you could use for a larger order. Grins, glad you got my joke! – stormy Feb 15 '17 at 0:48
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On a dark surface, correction fluid (Tippex) works well. On a light surface a dark touch-up paint pen (meant for cars). The latter is also slightly easier to write with.

Pencil has already been mentioned but works well on a white background.

A completely diffrent approach: use a label that sticks into the soil and position it so the writing is in shade (e.g. on the north side in the northern hemisphere, or in the shade of the plant). You could even cover it (with a pot or stone).

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Look on ebay for "Paint Marker". I used these and they do work great. However, the issue I had was they have a nib that goes in and out and you press the pen down to get the paint flowing to the nib. This works great for a season or so and then seems to stop, the result being you press the nib right down and the paint comes flooding out all over your label/fingers.

Another option you may want to look at is Iron Gall Ink. This has been used on parchments since the 5th century and is used as archiving ink because it doesn't fade. Not sure how it would cope with being painted on plastic and subject to UV rays but I like the idea of using this and writing with a small feather or quill pen. :)

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I've tried paint markers over the years for labeling irrigation, and found it worked great AS LONG as it was dry when I was trying to label. Also, be careful because many paint marker tips can dry out fairly quickly. :)

I've also tried the embossed metal labels, and found the weak point to be the thin wire they were attached with.

I am currently using the P-touch labeling system, and have had amazing results. 5+ years in weather (rain, snow, and sun), no peeling, no fading, and they still look as sharp as the day I put them on. There are many forms of this labeler, some that you can take out into the field. I prefer the kind I can attach to my computer, that way I can copy plants from my database and plop them into the label maker software. I haven't figured out how to interface my old labeler with my database, but I wouldn't be surprised if the newer ones were database ready. The other cool thing with these labelers is that the tape comes in various widths so you can decided the best size for the correct label.

On a final note, I have used clear sticky-backed labels (from OfficeMax/OfficeDepot) run through a laser printer as a short term test for spot codes. It worked ok, but I found that the labels didn't last as long. Don't get the paper based one, they fade and peel within a year.

Lastly, if you're interested in more of a display label, let me know.

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Grease Pencil also called China Markers should hold up well outside. They will rub off with too much motion.

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