Printing for durability

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June 2014, I visited the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Image Permanence Institute (IPI). The visit was a part of our ongoing research into providing the most useful long-term prints. Looking at long term usefulness is a good idea. After all, if we are not printing archivally, why are we printing at all? The supply of images that will vanish is well handled by folks leaving their photos in unstable digital storage!

So we want something that is light fast for 100 to 200 years. Agreed. What if when you touched it, the image is easilly damaged? What if the surface felt beautiful and textured, like watercolour paper, but this made it absorb pollutants at a great rate? What if it came out of a photocopy style digital press, like all of the dry-lab companies are offering? How can we ‘hand down’ our prints without touching them?

The lab industry is moving over to dry printing, and these challenges have not been properly addressed. Dry is attractive because it uses less electricity and water, generally the machines run faster, but it places the colour on the surface, not in the surface like traditional photo printing.

It is a nasty conundrum that the most light fast, archival pigment ink printing, is also the most delicate.

But the fact is when it comes to all other forms of printing, they are less durable than wet process printing. Well processed, photographic silver-halide prints can survive relentless handling, heavily polluted atmospheres and even extensive flooding. It may only have an lightfast ceiling of 100 years, but it may be more likely to make 100 years.

So next time you are thinking about making a print, and you expect it to last. Think about how you are going to help it to last, storage, handling and display is equally as important as the choice of print type.

Paul Atkins

All the printing at Atkins is made on the best materials for their purpose, we purchase independently tested materials, we do testing ourselves. We are in business for the long term, so you can hand down your prints to future generations.

As an update to this article, our supplier of traditional photographic products, Kodak, have issued a statement of their commitment to these materials to allay and fears that the proverbial plug is being pulled, you can read that letter at this link.