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Archival Printers

Archival Printers
by Jim Doty, Jr.

What is an "Archival" Print?

We all have seen photos that have faded with time. I have digitally restored a few of these myself. Unfortunately, light fades color photographs.  Black and white prints from a century and more ago look fine while some color prints from 20 or 30 years ago are fading fast. Some traditional print materials such as Fuji Crystal Archival (one of the best), will last for several decades on display without significant fading. Others fade away in only a few years.

Light, heat, and humidity are the enemies of color photographs. A photo in subdued museum lighting will last much longer than one in a brightly lit room and direct sunlight is an absolute no no. The summer heat in the attic is much worse for photos than an air-conditioned living room.

Archival is a relative term. How long do you want your prints to last?  20 years? 60 years? 200 years?  For most of us, the answer is, "The longer the better."  Traditional color prints, produced in the wet darkroom, generally have a "display life" under glass of 20-60 years without significant fading. (There are some special processes for creating color prints that will last 400 years or more but the cost is over $500 per print.)

When I got one of the best, affordable inkjet printers several years ago, the display life of the prints was only 2 to 3 years. If I wanted to sell prints from digital files, I would go to a commercial lab and they would use their digital printer that cost tens of thousands of dollars.

My next digital printer upped the print life to 10 to 25 years, depending on the paper I used.  Much better, but still not long enough to sell the prints.

Only recently have affordable (another relative term), archival printers been available to the general public. The first of these was the Epson 2000, followed by the Epson Stylus Photo 2200. The Epson 2200 is considered by many to be the best, archival  sub-$1000 printer on the market.

The printers that are considered archival, as tested by Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc, are made by Epson and Hewlett-Packard. I confess to a prejudice toward Epson printers since I have owned five and been happy with all of them.  I currently use the Epson 2200 for photographic prints and a pair of Epson 825's for office work.

Here is the short list of inkjet printers that I consider "archival" by today's standards. They produce prints with a display life under glass that is equal to or better than the best traditional, analog (wet darkroom) prints.


ARCHIVAL PRINTERS

PRINTER

MAXIMUM PAPER WIDTH (inches)

STREET PRICE

Epson 2200

13

$620

Epson R800

8.5

$370

Epson R1800

13

$550?

Epson 4000

17

$1650

Epson 7600

24

$3550

Epson 9600

44

$5000

HP Photosmart 8750

13

$500

HP Design Jet 130

24

$1900

Only four of these printers are "affordable" for the average person and one of them is not yet readily available.

Testing

Complete test data is available at Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. I will give a brief summary for the printers below.

Wilhelm does accelerated aging tests (high heat and humidity) to determine how long a photo will last without significant fading under normal conditions. Wilhelm has been at this a long time and he is considered to be one of the leading experts in the field.

"Unframed" means the print is on display in "average room light" conditions but not framed under glass. "Under glass" means the photo is matted and framed under glass (which extends the life of the print) and displayed in average room light conditions.  "Dark storage" means the print is stored in the dark at 73 degrees Fahrenheit and 50% relative humidity.

Hewlett-Packard Printers

Prints from the HP Photosmart 8750 will have a display life  "under glass" of 108-115 years, depending on the particular kind of HP paper. Print life when stored in the dark is over 200 years. Unframed display life is still being tested. You can buy this printer from the links at the bottom of this page.

With several kinds of HP paper, prints from the HP Design Jet 130 will have an "unframed" display life of 45 years. Display life "under glass" is 82 years. Print life when stored in the dark is over 200 years.

I have no personal experience with HP printers. If you use and like HP printers, one of these may be the printer for you.

Epson Printers

Print life with Epson printers varies with the kind of Epson paper that is used. Some tables will illustrate this.


PRINT LIFE IN YEARS
Epson 2200/4000/7600/9600

PAPER

UNFRAMED

UNDER GLASS

DARK STORAGE

Premium Glossy

60

85

>300

Premium Luster

48

71

>200

Premium SemiMatte

47

67

>200

Enhanced Matte

45

76

110

PRINT LIFE IN YEARS
Epson R800

PAPER

UNFRAMED

UNDER GLASS

DARK STORAGE

Premium Glossy

34

104

>200

Premium Luster

34

64

>200

Enhanced Matte

65

110

110

Matter Paper - Heavyweight

70

150

185

PRINT LIFE IN YEARS
Epson R1800

PAPER

UNFRAMED

UNDER GLASS

DARK STORAGE

Premium Glossy

34

104

>300

Premium Luster

34

64

>200

Enhanced Matte

65

110

110

Matte Paper - Heavyweight

70

150

185

After using 5 Epson printers over the last 7 years, I can highly recommend them.

I think the Epson 2200 is an excellent printer and I wrote an Epson 2200 Review over 2 years ago. Print quality is excellent, every bit as good as a print from the traditional darkroom. It will print on paper up to 13x19 inches and do panoramic prints up to 44 inches long. I recently posted an article on Epson 2200 Ink Usage and the ink and paper costs for making prints in various sizes. You can buy the Epson 2200 for less then $620 with free shipping (March 2005) at the Amazon links below. (If you go directly from my site to Amazon.com via the links below and purchase a printer - or books or anything else - Amazon will make a small contribution to the cost of maintaining this site. Thanks!)

For less than $370 you can get the Epson R800. Print life under glass is comparable to the Epson 2200. The primary difference is that the Epson R800 will only take paper up to  letter size in width (8.5 inches). You are limited to prints on 8.5 by 11 inch paper, or panoramic prints about 8 inches by 20 inches in size. Purchase links are below.

The Epson R1800 was recently announced. It should be another excellent printer and it may be the replacement for the Epson 2200 although Epson hasn't said anything about that yet. It will print on paper up to 13 inches wide.

Buy the Epson 2200 from Amazon.com for $620 (March 2005) and get free shipping

Buy the Epson R800 from Amazon.com for $365 (March 2005) and get free shipping

Buy the Epson 4000 from Amazon.com for $1615 (March 2005) and get free shipping

Buy the HP 8750 from Amazon.com for $500 (March 2005) and get free shipping

March 25, 2005

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