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Your Digital Photos

Inkjets—Archival Issues

 
 
 
To give you a better idea of how just two elements temperature and relative humidity affect print longevity, the Image Permanence Institute offers a downloadable Preservation Calculator for Photo Storage.

Epson reports that a recent study showed that 72% of consumers think a photograph should last forever. That's not possible, but after all of the effort you put into capturing your photos, you want them and the materials they are printed or stored on electronically to last as long as possible. The two major problems to avoid are physical and chemical damage. Physical damage is prevented by storing prints and discs in sleeves or between interleave sheets, and then storing those in albums, boxes, or drawers. The real problem is chemical. When choosing papers, inks, storage envelopes, mats, boxes, CD/DVD labeling pens and the like, you are actually choosing and combining various chemical recipes. How these chemicals interact when in contact or close proximity affect how long your images will last. The interactions are so complex, and occur over such a long span of time, that no one knows all of the answers. The best you can do is avoid some products altogether, and adopt only the safest alternatives. To begin, avoid all printing papers, mats, sleeves, and boxes that aren't acid free (having a neutral pH). These papers, like those used for newspapers, change color and become brittle with age. Also, never store materials in PVC (polyvinyl chloride) sleeves. Instead use those made of polyethylene and polypropylene. All of your materials should be archival quality so they affect your images as little as possible. The problem is that marketing people are fond of the word "archival" and use it where it isn't warranted or hasn't been proven.

In addition to your choice of papers and inks, here are some things that affect longevity.

  • Storage and display. Prints last longer when stored in archival boxes and albums because they are protected from light, gasses, and mechanical damage. Conservators recommend that even for short-term display, it is always best to frame images behind glass. This provides protection against accidental spills, fingerprints and exposure to a wide variety of airborne pollutants such as cigarette smoke and cooking vapors.
  • Heat and humidity extremes should be avoided. Prolonged storage in high humidity can encourage mold and mildew on all types of prints. Humidity also causes inkjet prints, especially those printed with dyes on swellable papers, to lose sharpness and have changes in color balance and density due to dye migration. Temperature affects chemical interactions and the higher the temperature, the more quickly reactions take place. Inkjet prints made with pigment-based inks are usually much less sensitive to high temperature and high humidity than traditional silver-halide prints and dye-based inkjet prints. The Image Permanence Institute recommends that photos be stored at a relative humidity between 20 and 50% and a temperature of 77 F (25C) or below. The greatest extremes in humidity and temperature are often found in basements and attics so avoid storing images in those locations.
  • Oxidants that harm images can be emitted from papers, inks, glues, tape, labeling inks, and other elements that may be stored together in albums and boxes. In the open air ozone attacks inks and papers, especially microporous papers printed with dye inks. Keep prints away from sources of ozone such as monitors, TV sets, air cleaners, or other high-voltage appliances. For long term display, framing prints behind glass or storing them in albums prevents ozone damage. Traditional silver-halide color prints are not specifically affected by ozone, but may be vulnerable to other atmospheric contaminants such as smoke.
Kodak used to bend the rules when describing the resolution of their digital cameras. Now it's been pointed out that they are basing their longevity claims on a very low 120 lux level, about 25% of the 450 lux or higher light level used by reputable testing companies. They are making predictions for their papers that are up to 5 times longer than if they relied on the more rigorous industry accepted tests. Using these standards, Epson could claim 1000 year lives for their products.
 


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