Archival Digital Prints

Q: What kind of longevity can I expect from digital ink-jet, giclee, and laser toner prints? Are these prints archival if they are printed on acid-free paper?

A: The dyes used in most ink-jet printers, including Epson’s, HP’s, etc. and Iris/giclee as well, are inherently unstable, according to everything I’ve read on the subject.

Even if kept in total darkness, they will apparently degrade in time, although not as quickly as if exposed to light. That said, I have some of my own, printed on an Epson, that haven’t shown any fading in two years, although I haven’t had them in the sun either. After receiving complaints, Iris withdrew their “archival” inks from the market. Anti-UV coatings have not been shown to be effective, either.

But this does not mean that digital art itself is unstable, just the ink or dye-sets usually used to print it out. It is possible to generate a slide or negative from the digital file and produce an archival photograph, or a silkscreen print, or an etching using stable pigment based inks. One can even use the digital image to produce a stencil and blast it into the surface of a stone. So it really comes down to the specific method of reproduction used.

The color toners used in laser printers and copiers were better than the ink-jet’s, but were still short of archival in quality. It never hurts to get good paper, and acid-free is a start; some of the newer home printers with a straight paper path will accept thick rag stock.

by Andrew Werby