The Everlasting Power of Print
by Greg Scoblete
February 11, 2016 —
As WPPI gears up to unveil its Power of Print program next month, we present insight on longevity, framing options, paper selection and working with a master printer.
Smartphones, Snapchat and Instagram may be habituating the general public to thinking of photography as a disposable medium, but advances in photo-printing technology are radically reshaping expectations for what you can print on and how long those prints can last.
“We tell our customers that they can expect a print to last at least until their grandkids grow up,” says Jonathan Penney, master printmaker and owner of Jonathan Penney, Inc. in Center Moriches, New York.
It may not feel like it, but we’re living in something of a golden age of photo print technology, adds Henry Wilhelm, print permanence expert and founder of Wilhelm Imaging Research in Grinnell, Iowa. In the span of the last few months, Epson rolled out the most fundamental revision of its ink chemistry in a decade and Canon unveiled its own new ink set that will trickle its way into a brand new line of large-format inkjet printers. And printing technologies, such as metallic heat transfers and UV-curable inks that were initially developed for other industries, have hit the photo market in force, opening the doors to exotic materials like metal and glass.
From Pixels To Lasting Art
The least stable prints Wilhelm has ever tested were printed with third-party dye-based inks, with some having WIR Display Permanence Ratings of less than three months. Third-party dye inks also typically have very poor ozone resistance. For these reasons, Wilhelm advises that third-party inks be strictly avoided.
Modern silver-halide prints made from Kodak Endura, Kodak Edge and Fujifilm Crystal Archive papers have very good dark storage stability and ozone resistance, but when exposed to light on display, their stability is poor. The WIR Display Permanence Ratings for Kodak Endura papers are generally less than 20 years. Framing the prints under UV-absorbing glass or acrylic offers relatively little protection for silver-halide color prints.
ChromaLuxe “metal prints” made with the newest versions of Sawgrass 8-color and Epson F-Series 4-color sublimation inks have achieved WIR Display Permanence Ratings on the order of 50 years—more than twice that of Kodak and Fuji silver-halide color prints, says Wilhelm. ChromaLuxe prints are also extremely abrasion-resistant and are generally displayed with neither glass nor acrylic glazing.
All In The Ink
Wilhelm tells us that prints made with the newest UV-curable inks also have the potential for producing very long-lasting images. Just how long depends upon both the particular inkset and the materials they are printed on. UV-curable printing traces its lineage to, of all things, the paint used on roadways to demarcate lanes and parking spaces. UV-curable technology was built from the ground up to absorb the worst punishment nature can dish out but it’s only recently been refined for the more demanding color needs of the photography and fine-art market. UV prints can be made directly on a wide range of material, including glass, metal and acrylic. (UV-curable output can resist tough environmental conditions better than many competing processes.)
As with ChromaLuxe metal prints, not all UV printers can deliver the highest quality and longevity—many are intended for commercial signage applications. Wilhelm says that while there are over 60 different models of UV printers (with multiple ink systems available) in circulation, only a small subset of these can actually deliver top quality photo output. He says that models from swissQprint, for instance, deliver some of the best image quality on the market. However, he cautions, much more testing will be required to sort out the best, longest-lasting systems, inks and the very wide range of substrates that can be used.
Of course, creating a long-lasting print is no guarantee it will last. “We always advise our customers to treat their print as they would a work of art," Penney says.
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