The question How long will my print last? is one that we at Digital Silver Imaging get asked a lot. How long a print will last? is an important question because as a fine art lab many of the prints we make end up in museums, galleries and private collections. We need to provide our customers with prints that are archival and will retain the fidelity of the image for the longest possible time.
To answer the How long will my print last? question we’ve done our best research and compiled data from reputable sources like Wilhelm Research, University of Illinois, and the Getty. We also took information published by Fujifilm and Kodak on their own products as well. The chart we’ve created compares the archival life of our DSI Digital Silver Prints and our Museum Quality Pigment Inkjet Prints to other popular printing media, most notably Kodak Endura and Fuji Crystal Archive prints, home and office dye-based inkjet printers, and HP Indigo Prints which are primarily used to produce photo books. In our chart, link below, we’ve also compared the life of the print when stored and displayed in different conditions.
The only way to accurately asses the archival life of specific type of print is through an accelerated aging test. These tests seek to replicate the effects of a variety of environmental factors on a print over time. For our chart we have primarily drawn on data provided by Wilhelm Research as it is produced with the highest scientific standards, and Henry Wilhelm has been at the forefront of this research for decades. The data sited is all public and footnoted in the chart accompanying this article and on this post.
Please note that our DSI Digital Silver Prints® are almost identical to traditional silver gelatin /silver halide black & white photo prints. In fact the Ilford Galerie Digital Paper that we use in our trademark process is a traditional black & white silver halide black & white photo paper. The only substantive difference is that the Ilford Digital Galerie Paper we use is panchromatic.
We found no accelerated aging data on traditional silver halide/silver gelatin black & white prints. However as this product has been in continuous use for 140 years and there are many examples of those prints in existence, the lack of accelerated aging testing seems inconsequential as actual data exists.
What about “Big Box’” Photo Prints and Photo Services like Shutterfly
Most big box retailers either don’t specify what the media and/or type of print they are providing. Some use mini labs made by companies like Noritsu. These mini labs are usually Digital C-Prints (Kodak Endura or Fuji Crystal Archive Paper) and operation and maintenance of these units depends on the persons in the location running the machine. A variety of other methods are also employed. Not an option that inspires much confidence for a photographer serious about quality.
At the time of this posting, photo services websites like Shutterfly make their “paper prints” using Digital C-Print equipment on Fuji Crystal Archive paper. Websites that offer a variety of services, websites, storage, prints, like Smug Mug also make Digital C-Prints, because they contract with several labs those could be on either Endura of Crystal Archive.
What is the best looking print?
In this post we are doing our very best not to be subjective and “best” is a subjective term. When measuring color gamut it is clear, color prints produced on a professional inkjet printer like the Canon Prograf 6000, 4000 and 1000 used by Digital Silver Imaging can reproduce a wider range of colors than a digital C-Print on Kodak Endura or Fuji Crystal Archive. However inkjet prints are not, in the strict technical sense, continuous tone. Continuous ton prints have a different look than inkjet or transfer media.
Conversely a DSI Digital Silver Print is a continuous tone true black & white print. There are no dyes or ink in a DSI Digital Silver Print and the image is made of silver salts that have been exposed to light. Both types of prints have a distinct look. However, the archival life and stability of both the DSI Digital Silver Print and our Museum Quality Pigment Inkjet Prints make them the most archival print available for black & white and color prints.
So How Long Will My Print Last?
Two types of prints standout as far as longevity, a photo print made with either professional brand name high quality pigment inks, and silver gelatin black & white prints. They show distinct advantages, especially when the print is intended for more than just dark storage. On display these types of prints will maintain their image fidelity much longer than either a Kodak Endura or Fuji Crystal Archive print, although the Fuji Crystal Archive print is far superior to the Kodak product. Professional high quality pigment prints also have the advantage that if you know what printer and ink is used, and the paper the image is printed on, you are virtually guaranteed that you are getting an archival product. A digital C Print depends on how well the equipment to process the print is maintained and the freshness and type of chemistry. HP Indigo prints are intended for mass production printing and do not meet the standards that a museum, gallery or collector should accept. Office and home inkjet prints are fine for documents but should not be used for photo printing.
What’s not included
At the time of this post we feel that there is not enough data to determine the archival life of professional quality dye sublimation prints, such as our Prints on Metal. From the quality of the pigments used, and the substrates they should be very stable but we ae waiting for more testing to be completed. In addition, we have not included Cibachrome prints as those products have not been manufactured in decades. Also not included are analog C Prints, those color prints produced in a darkroom. Analog C Prints should have an archival life similar to digital C prints as the basic paper technology is the same.
Print Permanence Chart
2.Wilhelm Research, The Permanence and care of analog and digital photographs – FotoCoservacion 2011, June 20-23, 2011 3. Deterioration risk as determined by the University of Illinois, https://psap.library.illinois.edu/collection-id-guide/photoprint 4. https://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/pdf_publications/pdf/atlas_silver_gelatin.pdf , Wilhelm Research – HP Indigo Digital Presses – Print and Photobook Page Permanence 5. & 6. A Survey of Print Permanence in 4×6-Inch Consumer Digital Print Market 2004-2007, www.wilhelm-research.com, http://www.wilhelm-research.com/Collected_Papers/The_Wilhelm_Research_Archives_Volume_1_Technnical_Publications_1968-2015_(v4.5_2015-02-15).pdf 7. http://imaging.kodakalaris.com/sites/prod/files/files/resources/paper-endura-techpub-e4070.pdf 7. http://imaging.kodakalaris.com/sites/prod/files/files/resources/paper-endura-techpub-e4070.pdf 8. Kodak uses different permanence testing standards than Wilhelm Research 9. ftp://ftp.hp.com/pub/printers/HP_Exstream/Shutterfly_4AA0-1195ENWrr.pdf, https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2017/08/16/1086575/0/en/HP-wins-five-year-Shutterfly-deal-accelerates-digital-print-momentum.html