BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Shennon M. Barnett

print permanence

what is a print whose image has long term permanence?

To love this question, log in above
4/8/2007 12:36:08 PM

John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
John's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
  Hi Shennon,
I have a cyanotype print that is over 100 years old. I have seen platinum and albumen prints that are at least 100 years old. You may want to know about modern prints, frankly we would all like to know for sure about modern prints. Unfortunately tests that take 6 months to do are not the same as leaving something lying around for a century. According to the tests the latest Epson G series ink prints and the HP Vivera ink prints will last more than 50 years if they are printed on the right paper and properly handled. I hope the tests are right. Thanks, John Siskin

To love this comment, log in above
4/8/2007 4:30:31 PM

Christopher A. Vedros
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/14/2005
  John is correct, of course, but I think your teacher may be looking for the word "archival".

To love this comment, log in above
4/9/2007 6:06:05 AM

Alan N. Marcus   Hi Shennon,

When you see conventional photographs at the museum they are usually labeled “gelatin print”. That’s because the conventional (non-digital) print is:
Paper base, usually wood pulp coated with a purified gelatin. The gelatin acts as a glue or binder to hold the image in place. In the case of the black & white print, the image consists of minuscule flakes of nearly pure silver. In the case of the color print the image consists of tiny drops of oily dye.

The conventional black & white print, if properly process and stored has a life that will exceed 100 years or more. However you should know that the black & white print will deteriorate rapidly if improperly stored. The chief enemy is sulfur. Sulfur is a major pollutant in coal burning areas. Back in the days when US cities were heated by burning coal, sulfur fumes hung in the air. Under these conditions black & white prints stained quickly turning brown. Worst, the stain was blotchy ruining the print.

The good news was, if a print was uniformly bathed in a sulfur solution the print took on a pleasant uniform brownish tone. Additionally, having been so treated the print became impervious to future damage due to sulfur. You often see brown or sepia toned prints. These tones are applied to improve the appearance however many greatly extend print longevity. A properly brown toned print will last many hundreds of years perhaps the image will outlast the paper. Many methods of toning have been devised. Most replace the silver image with other metals or compounds. The idea is to produce an image with a unique color tone and to alter image structure to improve the archrival nature.

Conventional color images are not nearly as stable. The dye used is known as fugitive meaning it will fade in time. We don’t expect current color images to last much more than 100 years. Most inkjet pints are highly fugitive. In recent months inks have improved, many have greatly enhanced longevity. Best is the dye sublimation method which uses wax dye and pigments that are highly stable.

Alan Marcus

To love this comment, log in above
4/9/2007 10:46:24 AM

Log in to respond or ask your own question.