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.