Quick Tip: Using Sharpie on a Slate and Erasing It

Here's a quick tip another camera assistant taught me: if you're in a hurry to write on the slate and can't find a dry erase marker, use a Sharpie. It's supposed to be permanent but there is a way to erase it completely off the slate without having to worry about leaving any sort of residue...

The trick is to retrace in dry erase marker what was just written using the Sharpie and then erase it away. I’m not sure the science behind it all, but as long as you cover the permanent marker writings with the dry erase’s ink, it will be erasable. Here’s a video below I made proving it:

The only reason the slate appears dirty afterward is that the eraser tip on my marker was a bit  dirty already! As you can see, the permanent marker won’t erase on it’s own, but combined with the dry erase it easily wicks away. Next time you can’t find a dry erase or it’s running low on ink, a Sharpie can do the trick temporarily.

  • http://www.adamrichlin.com/cinematography.html Adam Richlin, DP/1st AC

    Few more good notes on this topic:

    1) Put a piece of packing tape over the TAKE and SCENE slots, so that way as they wear from use you do not damage the white surface below. Also, it guards against accidental sharpie usage on set.

    2) Prep numbers on strips of camera tape (1″ white gaff tape) with tabs on them (fold the tape back 1/4″ on the end to make a tab) Use numbers as follows: 0,1,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, A, B, C, D, and a few blanks. That will cover you for pretty much any situation. (the extra 1 allows you to make a TAKE 11 easily) Stick them to the back of your slate in groupings with the lowest numbers on the top of the stacks.

    3) Tape a backup thin-body dry erase marker to the back of the slate for emergencies (lost your other one, it died and you’re on a mountain, etc). On a Denecke Timecode Slate, this is best attached vertically to the metal box on the back. On a standard dumb slate, drill a 2/3″ hole down the end of the clapper arm (7″ deep) and hide it inside with a small cork or piece of gaff covering the hole.

    4) Clear, strong Acetone (nail polish remover) will take any marks off your slate but not harm the engraving. Even that nasty shadow/fog that appears with bad markers will be removed. Go to a drug store and get the cheap store brand with no scents or oils or anything… just straight nail polish remover. Pour some on a piece of paper towel, scrub slate, try to avoid getting high on fumes. Duane Reede’s generic brand and CVS generic brand nail polish removers work well, from personal experience.

    And thank you sir for an awesome AC blog. Keep it up!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Adam – Thanks for reading and the support!

      This is some great advice. I especially love number 3 with hiding an extra dry erase inside the clapper arm. I probably will be adding that to my slate in the near future. Numbers 1 and 4 are also sound advice for keeping a slate looking new and ones that I should probably heed a little bit better in the future than I have in the past.

      As for prepping numbers on tape, I’ve never been a fan of that, but I have seen other AC’s use it quite well. I think, for me, it’s the aesthetic of it (weird reason, I know). I also have attached to the back of my slate a little tag board for marks, so I don’t have the real estate to add some numbers. But to each his own and it can be helpful, just a matter of preference.

      I’m curious though, Adam, if you prefer to 1st or 2nd AC when you’re not DPing? (cool reel btw!)

    • Jeremy Bernatchez

      Love the sharpie trick. Learned that last year, and pass it along wherever I can! I too usually do it for things that won’t change (like production title, director, DP/Cam, etc)

      Adam, that tip to drill a hole in a dummy slate & tuck a thinner dry-erase in there is AWESOME. I inevitably lose one here and there (usually due to handing off slating duties to a PA because of small crew), and that will most definitely help a ton.

      Eion, I’m totally with you on the makeup powder puffs. A 1st I worked with a few years ago gave me his (which much to my dismay has been recently lost), and is by far the best thing I’ve found to use!

      Evan, thanks for starting this blog! I’m definitely going to come by regularly to learn new things from you and all the commenters!

  • http://twitter.com/nicxjustice nic justice

    I also use the sharpie trick. usually for things that wont change as much like the roll number or sometimes the scene so they don’t rub off. so the dry erase is use on setup A,B,C…and the take.

    just found your blog today. great job.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thanks Nic, I appreciate that and hope you stick around to read a bit more!

      So do you always use the sharpie trick for the roll numbers? I quite like that and will have to start doing that. Nothing is worse than writing the numbers neat and clean and having the sound guy change the slate batteries and smear all the writing… Grrr

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=574116463 Eoin McGuigan

    just ran across this blog via the deakins article. nice stuff.

    some simple slate tips that i’ve ran across are (and sorry if you’ve mentioned them…i might not be able to read?)

    -use MARKS-A-LOT dry erase. even if you’ve got a rotten dirty eraser on your pen it usually never leaves residue. i’ve discovered that these guys are pretty hard to find in any brick and mortar store, so go ahead and order online

    -instead of those erasers that fit to the top of your pen, i prefer a powder makeup applier, you can get them at any drug store for cheap, simple gaff tape to the top of your marker. even when they’re completely black they clean much much better/faster.

    -like the poster above, for things that need to stay on either permanently (director/dp – hopefully! assuming it’s not an engraved slate) or per day (date) or even an hour (ie: roll #, camera, etc). i’ll either use sharpie, if i’m moving fast, or 1 inch white paper tape/p-touch. definitely makes things cleaner

    not a fan of using the taped numbers. i feel it just takes too much time and if you’re not using a smart slate and there’s a lot of backlight, you’ll see the tape marks through it, which is an annoyance and potentially blocks view of the information on the slate!

    anyways, that’s all i could think of at the moment. like the idea of taping a small dry erase to the back, i’ve screwed myself a few times not being able to find my pen!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Hi Eoin! Welcome to the blog, thanks for checking it out. the deakins article has really brought in some great new readers who offer some good suggestions like yours.

      I hadn’t heard of the powder makeup applier suggestion before, do you have a link for something like what you use? I’d love to give it a shot.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=574116463 Eoin McGuigan

        hey evan,

        something like this: http://www.macys.com/catalog/product/index.ognc?ID=504697&cm_mmc=Google_Feed-_-3-_-12-_-MP312 obviously this is from macy’s and an uber expensive version. i grabbed some randoms from a walgreens that cost me maybe 2 bucks for three? wrapped around and ta-da. works great, i’m in the slow season so not a ton of work right now, but i’ve yet to kill off my first pad. i think i may even try washing it out.

  • Daniel Mimura

    Adam, that’s awesome…I thought I was the only one that drilled a hole for the pen…  I just covered it with a piece of tape, which kind of sucks b/c you oven have to keep refreshing it.  The cork idea is much better b/c it’s indefinitely reusable and tidier too.

  • Daniel Mimura

    often, not oven…

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