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Printer Science

Inkjet Photo Print Longevity Lacking 202

Posted by kdawson
from the ghosts-of-digital-photos-past dept.
Yet another Anonymous Coward writes to tell us about a piece up at the NYTimes on the (lack of) longevity of photos printed on inkjet printers. As the article's title says, somewhat alarmingly, "It isn't that images fade, it's that they can vanish." The problem is actually more nuanced than this; it's that no-one has a reliable and standardized way of testing inkjet prints for longevity. From the article: "The life of color inkjet prints has also been hindered by the origins of the technology, which was mainly intended for printing things like pie charts, said Nils Miller, a scientist at Hewlett-Packard. 'The initial emphasis was, how do we get bright colors on plain paper," Dr. Miller said. "Permanence was not really on the radar screen yet.'"
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Inkjet Photo Print Longevity Lacking

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  • by kevlarcoared (1079907) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @02:49AM (#19407699)
    Who ctually expects something they print on a inkjet to last forever? Most people keep a digital copy as it and can just print off another copy if needed.
  • Re:Old School (Score:5, Insightful)

    by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @02:54AM (#19407739)
    So you're keeping your photos and negs in acid free paper in a nitrogen environment?

    This story kind of reminds my of reading about how the platinum & silver emulsion-on-glass negatives of photographers like Mathew Brady ended up as panes in greenhouses. <GACK!!>
  • No big deal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Diomidis Spinellis (661697) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @03:03AM (#19407785) Homepage
    The article starts by presenting the preservation of photo negatives in a storehouse at 0 degrees Celsius and 25% RH, and then moves on discussing the problems of preserving inkjet photos. Photos printed on inkjets come from digital images. It is the bits of these images we want to preserve, not the printed photos. The nice thing with digital photos, is that if the printed photo fades, you can print it again. I was scanning some 20-year old negatives over the weekend, and I realized that they were irreparably scratched and darkened. (And don't get me started on the color distortions of printed 30-year old photos). With my digital photos I am reasonably sure that in 20 years I'll be able to print them in the same, or probably better quality.

    The two real problems are:

    • Digital preservation [wikipedia.org]. Will my files survive 50 years of moving between storage media? Will I be able to view JPEG files in 50 years time?
    • People who print their photos on inkjet printers and then delete (or loose) the digital version of the image. This is happening more often as digital cameras are increasingly bought by less IT-savvy people.
    These are important problems. However, on balance I think that the benefits of digital preservation are more than the risks [spinellis.gr].
  • Re:No big deal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shmlco (594907) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @03:21AM (#19407871) Homepage
    "It is the bits of these images we want to preserve, not the printed photos."

    Agreed, but I have recorded CDRs that can no longer be read. Same for Iomega ZIP and JAZ disks (no drives). I have Apple DOS 5.25 floppies and 3.5 inch ProDos discs. Heck, I even have some tapes and an 8" floppy from a PDP-11. All containing "bits" that can no longer be retrieved by the average person.

    Will your grandson stumble one day on a DVD-R in your attic labeled "family photos", but have no way to retrieve them?
  • Real Permanence? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @03:52AM (#19408019)
    The old silver-based processes last a pretty long time. Same for the copper-based before that. There is a shop nearby that resurrected some very old metal plates used by a photographer in the early 1800s I think to document Indian life - and they are beautiful. But what lasts is that the images are either etched metal or metal deposited on glass or imbedded in the gelatin coating on paper.

    But even conventional color film and photographs are just dyes and are subject to eventual fading. With black and white, you actually reduce silver halide to silver metal. It won't fade. But dyes are organic and will lose color as the dye molecules decompose.

    One way to make inkjet images last longer is to protect them from UV light. A guy I know printed two identical images and hung them in his office. One had no protective cover and the other had a glass cover. The glass protected the dyes from UV degredation and that print still looks great. The one with no cover glass has very much faded.

    People strive for some kind of lasting mark on society or evidence they existed and their lives mattered. The fact is that most evidence of any of us will eventually fade just the way it has for generations before us. Old fil got brittle, cracked, or was water damaged and stuck together. Old prints suffer similar fates. It's just by luck a that a lot of the old images have lasted.

    Digital images have an advantage in that they are lossless and the data can be copied from media to media to keep them current and readable. But it is a maintenance that if you don't do, you will eventually lose the image. You can use a film printer to output images to actual film just like you had taken the image with a regular camera but are limited by the film printer's resolution and now you are back to having a format that can't be copied losslessly.

    For lots of people, the only record they ever existed is either a headstone, or more commonly, just their skeletons. Might as well get used to the idea.
  • Re:No big deal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@@@hotmail...com> on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @04:15AM (#19408091) Journal
    Agreed, but I have recorded CDRs that can no longer be read. Same for Iomega ZIP and JAZ disks (no drives).

    So do I, but the data that was on them now occupies a tiny portion of the hard drives in my current computers. It's been copied onto half a dozen different backup formats, and I expect it'll migrate across a multitude more in the course of my life.

    Preserving digital information takes less effort than storing paper prints.

  • by DJoy (1112125) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @06:52AM (#19408795)

    The article is typical of some hack cranking out an article without understanding the technology or doing a shred of research.

    Firstly there are two main types of inkjet ink, there's dye and then pigment. The difference between them is like watercolour vs oil-paint. Dye inks will soak into the fibres of the paper and change the colour of the paper fibres, pigment inks are the colour, they sit atop the paper as little blobs of colour, like oil paint.

    The inkjet prints we've all seen fading are dye prints, which are prone to fading both by strong light, and by atmospheric contamination. They are also compounded by people buying third party inks and refills based upon the myth that they're "just as good". They might look bright an punchy when you print it, but two weeks later when it's fading maybe you'll realise why the big companies like HP, Canon and particularly Epson spend millions on ink research, and why their inks cost more.

    The Archival inkjet printers we see on sale today pretty much exclusively use pigment inks, which have their own set of problems to overcome ( gloss differential, bronzing & metamerism ). Pigment inks are very stable, and can include other elements like gloss and uv filtering coatings. A lifetime of 75 years can be expected, longer if stored away for archival purposes. B&W prints can last even longer ( it's often the yellow that's the first to fade ).

    Dye inks are becoming increasingly better in the longevity department too, the latest efforts from Epson have a much longer lifespan than previous dye inks.

    The article suggests there is no standardised testing, this is not entirely true, the slightest bit of research would have yielded the standardised tests developed by Henry Wilhelm at the Wilhelm Institute. Virtually all the major manufacturers ( Epson, HP, Canon, Hahnemuhle etc ), with the exception of Kodak who are a bit naughty here, use these same tests for their quoted longevity claims. It's as close to a "standard" as there will ever be, and is widely accepted in the industry.

    The best archival quality in wet-chemistry prints was considered to be Cibachrome, now refered to as Ilfochrome Classic. A good pigment inkjet will last as long or longer than a Cibachrome.

  • by *weasel (174362) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @08:10AM (#19409169)
    Or, and this is a crazy thought: don't rely on printed copies of digital photos.
    Just pass around the bits themselves, and back those bits up.

    I don't understand people's fascination with printing photos.
    And supposing you did really want a printed copy, who cares if it disappears?
    It costs almost nothing to make another.

    I've inherited stacks and stacks of family photos and slides - and I can't get them through the film scanner nearly fast enough. I worry far more about those physical boxes and their handling, than I value their ability to hold up over time compared to inkjet printing.
  • Re:Old School (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lord Apathy (584315) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @08:40AM (#19409339)

    No, not really. You see, unlike film, images digital images have the potential to last forever. It's a myth that film photographs will out last digital images. Who cares how long digital prints from a printer last? Ten years, a hundred years, the life time of a print is irrelevant. What matters is the life span of the original media; that be film or digital image. As long as you have that you can make prints.

    Now here is the kick in the balls. Film degrades. Sooner or later the physical film media will decay into dust. Be it a 100 years or a 1000 years, soon or later that negative will cease to exist. The chemical process of developing the image also speeds that up. You see when you expose a negative the developing solution you start a chemical reaction that starts the process. When you put the negative in the stop bath it is suppose to "stop" the developing process. Well it doesn't. What it does is slows it to a crawl. The image on the negative may last forever to a human but the development process is still going on. One day that image will fade from then negative. The same thing applies to physical prints made from film images.

    This is not true for digital images. They have the potential to last forever. As long as we have computers and networks we will always have the potential to view that image. That digital image has the potential to be as good 10 years, 100 years, even a billion years from now. Yeah, I know dvd degrade, harddrives go bad, and file formats will change. That maybe but physical digital media can be backed up and file formats can be converted. Film images can't. Once that image fades front the negative its gone.

  • by asc99c (938635) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @10:24AM (#19410417) Homepage
    Who would want / need an inkjet print to last forever? Prints of any kind degrade over time. The great thing about digital copies is they remain in perfect condition as long as you keep them.

    Digital photos are much safer because of the ease of copying. The hard disc and CDs my first digital photos were stored on are now long gone - but the data is still there, on three PCs plus backup DVDs.

    I backup my photos and a couple of other bits and pieces onto both my work PC and my parent's PC every few months. It's trivial to keep this many copies of the data - 10 minutes work every few months.
  • Re:Old School (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @11:04AM (#19410953)

    Also, one of the bonus' of SH is it can be used in space - digital cameras can't go there!

    Wow, so NASA regularly conducts shuttle missions to change the film in the Hubble Space Telescope? I didn't know that!

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