Make Color Inkjet Prints Last
by Aimee Baldridge – January 22nd, 2013
Yellowing whites and faded colors can be cool effects to apply to Instagram snapshots, but they’re not what you want to see when you open the box of your most treasured family and artistic photographs. When you make color inkjet prints of your favorite images, you want them to retain all of their vibrancy for as long as possible. After all, you can always scan them and apply effects if you want copies with that pulled-from-the-dusty-attic look.
Printing your favorite images can be an excellent way not only to enjoy them as works of art, but to preserve them for future generations. However, you must choose the right tools, materials, and conditions in order to give your inkjet prints—and all of the vibrant colors that go into them—the long life they deserve.
Use a color-managed workflow. The first step to preserving the rich colors you captured in-camera when you create a print is ensuring that the colors are reproduced faithfully and vividly. Using custom camera profiles, calibrating and profiling your monitor, and applying ICC profiles when softproofing and printing your images will ensure that the colors you’ve captured make it onto the paper you choose in their full glory.
Check print permanence ratings. So how do you know which combination of ink and paper will keep the tones in your color inkjet prints vibrant a hundred years from now—or a hundred days? Unless you have a time machine, you can’t know, but you can make a very educated guess by checking the results of accelerated materials testing. The main independent source of test results on photographic print materials is Wilhelm Imaging Research. WIR subjects prints to environmental conditions that mimic what a print would be exposed to over a long period, in order to determine how well the materials can be expected to maintain the integrity of the print over time. Another source of print permanence test results is the Image Permanence Institute, which also offers a wealth of information about how to preserve printed images.
Choose the right storage materials. Storing color inkjet prints of your favorite images is an excellent way to preserve them, but it’s important to use the right storage materials. Choose boxes, albums, and print sleeves that are made of archival materials such as acid-free paper or cardboard, archival polyester or polypropylene, and 100 percent cotton fiber. Any storage materials that touch your prints should be described by the maker as “archival” and should be acid- and lignin-free.
If you want to use an adhesive with your storage materials (to affix photos, photo corners, etc.) be sure to choose one that is made for archival purposes.
Keep in mind that substances don’t always have to be in direct contact with your prints to damage them. If your prints are stored in a box with materials that emit harmful gasses as they age, the prints can be affected.
Choose the right display materials. The same rules apply when you’re selecting materials for putting a photograph on the wall as for putting it in a drawer: Choose archival, acid- and lignin-free materials for matting and framing your images. Protect your framed prints from pollutants that will cause them to fade and deteriorate by covering them with glass. UV-filtering glass will block the ultraviolet light that is one of the main causes of color fading in photographic prints.
Control the lighting and environment. Whether you’re storing your color inkjet prints or displaying them, it’s best to keep them in an environment free of humidity and temperature extremes, and to prevent light from falling directly on them. Protecting prints from airborne pollutants and chemicals is important, too. Archival boxes and frames with glass fronts do a good job of keeping contaminants out. Consider putting your most treasured prints in a fireproof safe, and make sure you don’t store them in an area that could be flooded.