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Home | Book Supplements | Archival Quality Printing

Archival Quality Printing

A lively debate is raging over "archival quality printing," primarily because there is no independent standard for judging longevity of images printed on commercial (primarily ink-jet) printers. Vendors who claim "archival quality" results and print image lifespans of 100 years or more have no recognized international standard (either ISO or ANSI) by which to judge those claims.

The primary variables in the archival printing equation include:

  • ink

  • paper

  • environment (intensity levels of visible and UV light, heat, humidity, air quality, etc.)

The following article in PC World provides a good overview of the topic. [More info]

Lack of Standards

In an attempt to fill the standards void, Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. (www.wilhelm-research.com) has established the Wilhelm Certified Testing Program and Seal. Many companies consider this to be a de facto standard for rating image permanence. Wilhelm implements relatively conservative testing methodologies that can yield lifespan estimates that are several times shorter than estimates offered by paper, ink, and printer manufacturers. Take, for example, KODAK Edge Generations and Royal Generations papers used by many digital minilabs. Kodak estimates a lifespan of 162 years, while WIR estimates only 19 years.

Not everyone agrees with Wilhelm's methods, however. Kodak, in particular, criticizes his methods are unrealistically harsh. Given Kodak's century-plus of experience and considerable expertise in imaging technologies, their arguments cannot be disregarded. This excellent whitepaper from Kodak introduces their research on environmental conditions in homes that has a direct impact on image permanence and justify Kodak's approach to estimating image permanence.

Our Recommendations

Given the lack of a universally recognized objective standard, what should you do to maxize the expected lifespan of your printed images? We recommend these strategies:

  • Use name-brand papers and inks. Off-brands generally perform more poorly.

  • Store prints in a dark location, (i.e., closed box or photo album) sealed from air contamination by protective plastic sheets. This improves "darkfastness", which is as important for long life as "lightfastness".

  • If images are displayed, frame them and place them behind glass or plastic to protect from air-borne contaminants and light damage. If possible, use UV-filtering glass or plastic panes. Display your images in areas with reduced light: the more light that falls on the image, the faster it will degrade. Note, however, that UV filtering may cause more rapid color shifts if one ink color is more susceptible to UV light than others!

  • Paper coatings can also significantly affect the rate of "dark fade." Ink-jet paper falls into two broad catagories: swellable and porous. Paper with swellable coatings allow inks to migrate into an ozone-resistant polymer coating; however, these papers take longer to dry. Papers with porous coatings offer "instant drying" – inks get absorbed into the surface and are held there – but they never completely seal. Consequently, porous papers are more vulnerable to airborne contaminants than swellable papers. If you use dye-based ink on porous paper and don't protect the image behind glass or plastic, you should not be surprised to find that it starts to fade in less than a year from ozone contamination. So for longest image endurance, use pigmented inks (rather than dye inks) on non-porous papers.


This information is provided as a supplement to:

Spring into Digital Photography
by Joseph T. Jaynes & Rip Noël
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional
ISBN: 0131853538

If you don't yet have your own copy of this popular book, you can buy it now. [Enjoy the PhotoGain.com preferred discount price & FREE domestic shipping!]

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