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Printer Science

Inkjet Photo Print Longevity Lacking 202

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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  • Re:Old School (Score:5, Informative)

    by hexed_2050 ( 841538 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @02:53AM (#19407731)
    There is no good reason to keep your old film camera unless you can take a better picture on it personally.

    If you have a high quality digital camera that takes great quality pictures, you can send your digital files in to many online digital development stores. They will then develop your digital pictures using traditional methods, instead of just printing them using an inkjet printer like Joe Public.
    The key here is to buy quality cameras. Most cell phone based digital cameras will not take the quality of pictures that most people would be proud to actually get professionally developed; they may be cute and fit in your pocket/purse, but that's about the extent of it unless you're just taking pictures of your buddies in college while out drinking.

  • At these prices (Score:5, Informative)

    by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @03:12AM (#19407831)
    The prints should be archival at the prices they charge. Ink is the biggest scam in computers today. The excuse that we never considered longevity is total BS the issue was how cheap can we make the ink and much can we charge for it to maximize the profits. The real point is they don't care. You can buy archival ink but it's even more expensive.
  • Re:Old School (Score:5, Informative)

    by hexed_2050 ( 841538 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @03:14AM (#19407835)
    I have never heard of a photoshop printing digital using 'traditional methods.'

    I guess the word 'traditional' was a bit too generalized. By using the word 'traditional' I meant that they will print your picture out on proper paper that has a gelatin coating on the surface that protects the ink just like normal photographs when they are developed. The current inkjet photo paper does not offer this type of protection.

  • by yurigoul ( 658468 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @03:14AM (#19407837) Homepage
    There are professional ink jet printers that promise your pictures will last 100 years or more provided you use the right ink and the right paper. It is used for photo archiving - wich isn't such a bad idea because some paper snippets have have been around longer than the western civilization so a paper printout at the right quality certainly will last longer as any of my computers and harddisks - not to mention the brief lifespan of cds and dvds.

    The Epson Photo R1800 comes to mind (but there are no doubt others) - I can use one from a company I work for. It is mainly used to do colour testing for professional print jobs. It can do A3 and also panorama printing on long stretches of paper.

    Does anyone have any experience with one of those professional printers? Do they live up to their promise or is it just bogus because you need to keep them in dark storage below 0 degrees celcius or so?
  • Re:No big deal (Score:3, Informative)

    by VE3OGG ( 1034632 ) <VE3OGG@[ ].ca ['rac' in gap]> on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @03:42AM (#19407977)

    Will my files survive 50 years of moving between storage media? Will I be able to view JPEG files in 50 years time?
    If you are worried about lossy compression and the uncertain nature of JPEG-licensing and popularity, might I suggest the open source alternative?

    PNG [wikipedia.org] -- a lossless (or lossy, if you prefer to skimp on space) image format that is open source, and can handle a variety of effects (the big one that I can think of is transparency, but then that has little berring on photography).

    I made the switch to PNG about two years ago, and really haven't looked back. I just find working with them to be a lot simpler than JPEG. It doesn't hurt that it is open source either...
  • Costco Print dept? (Score:2, Informative)

    by SpzToid ( 869795 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @03:44AM (#19407991)
    Folks, I've heard from a photo pro being interviewed on the Geekspeak radio broadcast, that many pros run into each other at the Costco printing dept. I imagine other similar depts. do a similarly good job. Its outsourcing; but considering the volume and competitive market, who on earth wants to buy into the ink-jet printer/ink mafia if they can avoid it? And apparently with volume, these large depts. manage quality okay.

    Also, using clients such as Google's Picasa, its just as easy to 'print' to the photo shop as it is on a mafia controlled printer.

    - - - - - --
    Have a nice day, if you can manage one.
  • Re:Obviously. (Score:2, Informative)

    by demon driver ( 1046738 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @04:25AM (#19408135) Journal

    I have never understood people's desire to print their photos at home using current technology.
    Two reasons for me. One, instant availability. This is for the occasional small print, which I usually do on heavy glossy paper. But for larger quantities I do indeed order small prints on proper photographic paper through online services. Unfortunately, there's no developer in my neighborhood whose service would be faster than them.

    Reason two, reliable output. This is for larger prints, mostly I do 30x40cm/12x16", which I do on inexpensive 'office photo' type paper. After having tried a couple of online photo services, the last of which came back to me with the same picture looking completely different on a large print than on a small print, I gave up and went back to my old Epson Stylus Photo 1270. The printer sure has its problems, and the colours last only when put behind glass, but that's where they'll be, and, most important, after I've seen the picture on the screen I know what it will look like on paper and that it won't be randomly under- or overexposed, as long as I'm staying with the same brand and type of paper.
  • by stuktongue ( 140376 ) <adam@grenberg.gmail@com> on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @04:56AM (#19408283)
    I suggest you check out this site: http://www.westcoastimaging.com/ [westcoastimaging.com]

    These guys seem to know their stuff, work with top-quality equipment, and provide a lot of information relevant to producing high-quality prints.

    Take it easy.
  • by OS24Ever ( 245667 ) * <trekkie@nomorestars.com> on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @05:03AM (#19408311) Homepage Journal
    I switched to a Kodak 1400 Dye-Sublimation printer and their tiny 4x6 dye sub printer about two years ago now. Before that sunk a lot of money into ink/paper for a Canon S9000.

    I do a non-scientific Fridge Test. That is, I do what most families do with their prints. The put a magnet, stick em to the fridge, and leave them.

    Within 45 days anything from my S9000 printer would fade, even more annoying if the magnet didn't move you'd get the magnet outline because underneath it was ok, but anything exposed to the air vanishes.

    On my Kodak 1400, and my Kodak Printer Dock 3 the same 'fridge test' has them still looking like new (i'll print a new one every six months and compare in regular light) and I've had several on my fridge for two years. To the best of my knoweldge Kodak (and other) DyeSub printers stand up just like silver halide based on what I've read on the web - take that FWIW. Silver Halide printing would last about 20 years exposed to the air.

    That being said, on the Canon S9000 if your print is under glass in a frame - it does not fade. I printed six 4x6s, three dyesub, and three Canon S9000. I put them in a 6 4x6 frame and they've been on my desk at the office now for 18 months. No fading on any of the images.

    I'm now all DyeSub. I have the Kodak 4x6 printer, a Mitsubishi 9550DW that I use for printing 4x6, 5x7, and 6x8 for my Photography business and my Kodak 1400 for printing 8x10s. I know the cost per page exactly, and don't have to guess. That's the other thing I hated about inkjets, you never really now when/why you run out of ink.

    I've not seen an inkjet that can 'out do' the printer at a lower cost. I'm very happy with the dyesubs.
  • Re:No big deal (Score:3, Informative)

    by jez9999 ( 618189 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @05:15AM (#19408373) Homepage Journal
    PNG was developed to replace GIF

    Which phrase I think does it no justice. It has much improved functionality over GIF, not least being 24 bit colour with a variable alpha channel. This means it actually can *replace* JPEG (yeah I know its file sizes are bigger), whereas GIF can't (even with a big filesize) because of its puny 256 colours.
  • Re:Old School (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @05:26AM (#19408417)
    I was under the impression that they used an enlarger just like with film development, but rather than have a negative in there, they have an extremely high resolution LCD (like in a data projector) with the negative image of your picture on it which is then projected onto regular photographic paper. And where I have them done, in the volume that I have them done, it costs 5p a print, which is substantially cheaper than printing it yourself with any inkjet.

    Photographic paper is completely different from any type of ink-on-paper print.
  • by vought ( 160908 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @05:36AM (#19408447)
    I suggest you check out this site: http://www.westcoastimaging.com/ [westcoastimaging.com]

    Unfortunately, the owner and most of the staff are radical Christians with a massive persecution complex. Where they once hired good photographers to work for them, they now recruit from their local church - and the owner has threatened former clients and employees, in addition to "cost cutting techniques" like dumping used fixer into the town sewer system. He is not a nice person.

    The same information and expertise is out there at other businesses. I suggest you patronize them, rather than WCI.
  • by backbyter ( 896397 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @06:04AM (#19408579)
    You have 2 more wishes.

    Costco is/was using a company called Dry Creek Photo for "Professional" printing. You can download ICC profiles from Dry Creek.

    One of your other wishes might be used on logging into Costco.com as a professional photographer. (I don't remember how.)
  • Re:archival inks (Score:3, Informative)

    by sunspot55 ( 305580 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @06:05AM (#19408585)
    The article does a pretty good job of summing this up, but the quick version is this. There are two main types of inkjet colorants, pigments and dyes. Pigments are more costly, and have a slightly smaller gamut, but they can last longer than traditional film prints. Becuase of the cost, inkjet manufacturers have not been targeting the average consumer with these pigment based printer/ink combination. If you are willing to spend some money, you can get a pigment based printer that will last 100+ years. Also, because the ink sits on top of the paper, the paper you use to print also contributes or detracts from the longevity of the print. Willhelm research, the company mentioned in the article that does longevity testing has some very interesting results; I highly recommend checking out the website. Here is an article [wilhelm-research.com] from the reserch firm from the article that compares a couple different different printer/paper combinations.

    If you take a look at a particular printer such as the HP Photosmart 8450 [wilhelm-research.com] you can see that depending on what paper you use the lifetime of the print can last from 9 to 108 years. The method that you keep the printed photo will affect its longevity as well. Most printer manufacturers quote the Wilhelm lifetime when the photo is framed under glass. As you can imagine, when kept under glass the prints last longer.

    Who you get the ink from also affects the lifetime of the print. The first article I linked examines some refiller cartridges. This is where ink refillers are really weak.; their lifetimes are much shorter.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @06:13AM (#19408621)
    You can use archival ink easily enough - all printer manufacturers produce a printer which uses pigmented inks. But they cost. This is a simple list of how printer manufacturers make their money:


    Canon.....High cost.......Medium cost
    Epson.....Low cost........High cost
    HP..........Medium cost...Medium cost

    So what I did was buy Epson printers - low cost for what you are getting, so the top spec ones are a good bargain. But the Epson ink is very overpriced. So I worked out how to get it cheaper. Here is another table, in GBP:

    Epson cartridges........15.0
    Cheaper cartridges...... 6.0
    Fill your own............. 1.60
    Continuous Ink supply.. 0.32

    So the answer is simple - buy Epson, get a CIS from e-bay, and fill with decent archival bulk OCP ink from Germany.

  • Re:Photo labs (Score:3, Informative)

    by NotQuiteInsane ( 981960 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @08:15AM (#19409197) Homepage
    Most of the labs I've seen use the Fuji Frontier machines. Basically a three-laser colour printer (as in 'lasers print straight onto the photo paper') combined with a supply of light-sensitive photo paper and a develop/fix engine on the back end. All the advantages (print longevity, tried-and-tested technology, cheap in quantity) and disadvantages (chemical waste to deal with) of colour print processing, combined with the ability to print from digital.
    Feed a Frontier TIFF images (with no EXIF information, unless you want it to run auto colour correction on your images before it prints them - this applies to JPEG too), in the sRGB colour space, with around 300DPI of resolution and you'll get some pretty good prints. If you want to be fussy, get your local lab to run off a couple of colour check prints, then create a colour profile for that printer from the images. Of course, most people aren't that fussy...
    I challenge you to find an inkjet printer that can match the quality of a Frontier, and at the same speed. That's why you don't see mini-labs using inkjet printers for anything except the while-you-wait services - they're too slow for the volumes involved, and when they are quick enough, the quality is abysmal.
  • image permanence (Score:3, Informative)

    by uncommontime ( 1111655 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @08:55AM (#19409457) Homepage
    Ink jet print CAN last a long time, depending on what you use. Obviously if you're using a home desktop solution to print out your prints, they won't last very long, especially if you want to display them in any light. Supposedly Kodak came out with a solution [gizmodo.com] not too long ago for the personal inkjet printer set, but I really don't think that those prints will last up to 100 years. Epson Ultrachrome K3 pigmented inks will last up to 100 years, depending on what stock you use. Papers with optical brightening agents (OBAs) will not last as long as virgin papers. For example, an Epson Premium Luster contains OBAs in order to make the paper "brighter" (i.e. it reflects more light off of its surface, it's not necessarily "whiter"). OBAs have a tendency to turn yellow over time, and that stock is only rated at about 70 years using the K3 inks. However, Epson's Ultra Smooth Fine Art paper, which has no OBAs, is rated to last 100 or more years using the K3 inks. The truth about it is, as long as you're using the manufacturer's ink (not a refill, because in my opinion, refills are worthless) and a manufacturer's paper, you'll get the desired results. That may not jive with a lot of people, they may not want to believe it, but it's definitely true. At least in this case, Epson has developed an extremely stable product, in the printer, the ink, and the paper. Here at RIT, there's something within my school called the Image Permanence Institute [imageperma...titute.org] where they deal with this stuff day in and day out. I've actually never visited where they're at, but from what I hear, they can simulate putting around 100 years of light on any print to see the effects and rate a paper's or ink's permanence.
  • Re:Old School (Score:3, Informative)

    by RedShoeRider ( 658314 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @10:26AM (#19410447)
    "As opposed to squirting ink on a piece of glossy paper (dye-sub or inkjet printers).

    Compare apples to apples. Inkjet (bubblejet, whatever you fancy) does just that: a jet of ink onto the surface of a piece of paper. Comes with all of the problems we've been talking about. Dye-sub has been the choice for, oh, better than a decade now because it does not put the image on the surface of the paper, but rather into the fibers of a specially treated sheet of paper. By use of a high-temperature heating head, it SUBlimates the DYE from a solid sheet of donor into the paper. Sure, it'll fade in time, but it's just a resistant to most of the elements as traditional wet-processing is.

    There are other technologies out there as well that are dye-sub like, such a the Pictrography process (Fuji Pictrography printers, which is a laser-based sorta-wet chem dye-sub). Pictrography in particular is interesting, being that it's relatively cheap for a wet chemical system (about 7k USD), is self containted, and uses only water (no really nasty waste stream).

  • Re:Old School (Score:3, Informative)

    by Joe Decker ( 3806 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @10:29AM (#19410471) Homepage
    And as a production manager of a newspaper (http://thecatholicrecord.org) I have never heard of a photoshop printing digital using 'traditional methods.'

    I do it all the time, using labs that have the Cymbolic Sciences LightJet, or Chomira-type printers. These printers can really be thought of as digital enlargers, putting digitally controlled light onto traditional materials like Fuji Crystal Archive. Traditional chemistry to develop the result gives you an essentially "traditional print" from digital bits, and if you start from a digital original there's no need to rephotograph anything. (If you start from a slide, which is what I originally did, then a drum scan of the slide is typically your highest-quality option, and then use the above process to produce a result.)

    While it may seem paradoxical to use a digital printing mechanism when you want to start from a slide and end up with a traditional chemistry print, the benefits of doing so in terms of color management and repeatability far outweigh the extra work, at least for fine art prints. This workflow allows you to not suffer with, say, the sorts of necessary contrast increases one typically suffers when printing from slides. If you have a digital original, it's even easier, of course. The only real catch is that these printers are large and expensive, but a large number of top-tier fine art nature photographers use this workflow for their prints today.

  • by TigerPlish ( 174064 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @11:55AM (#19411819)
    I'm a fairly recent convert to digital photography. I never considered for once using an inkjet -- got burned years ago by a series of Epson Stylus printers, and swore I'd never return to inkjet -- monochrome nor color.

    So, when I want hardcopies of my digital images, I send them to Adorama in NYC (Noritsu RGB laser printer / kodak Endura paper / traditional color chemistry)

    A few notes:

    For YEARS now, when you take film to be printed, that film is scanned, and what is printed is a low-rez scan of that film. The days of the one-hour photo guy making optical prints from your negs are *long* gone. I'm sure there are a few labs out there that still do pure optical, but I bet they're "pro" labs like Dale and the like. Hardly what joe sixpack would use.

    Places like Adorama make their ICC profiles available.

    If you're a digital photographer, you MUST CALIBRATE YOUR MONITOR with a device like Heuey, Spyder or EyeOne or similar. I can't stress this enough. If you want the UNCORRECTED print look anything like what you see on the monitor, you must calibrate. With a device. Eyeballing isn't enough.

    If you use a decent online photo printer, they'll offer to "correct" your images. IF you have a calibrated monitor, say NO. Print 'em as-is. Otherwise you'll get nasty surprises.

    Digital printing has given control to the photographer that most people didn't even know existed. In the one-hour-photo era, the machine ops would "guess" at what it is you wanted -- leading to blue susnsets and orange mid-day shots, and worse. With digital YOU are in control, so please make an effort to learn about the art of printing. What applied in the hobbyist darkroom still applies today, only the tools have changed.

    To me this is a no-brainer. Endura is rated by Kodak to 100 years -- this is a big jump from the older papers. Comparing the quality of Endura vs. an Inkjet print it is quickly apparent the ink photoprinters are one of the biggest ripoffs, one of the biggest cashcows to hit the market since the Gilette razor. With most online printers, 4x6 is 19 cents, 10x8 a buck and change, 11x14 about 5 to 7 bucks. Cheap cheap.

    And lastly, food for thought:

    Even "silver" color prints are prone to fading. The only true archival photo medium for physicial prints is a PAPER (not resin, PAPER) black and white silver print. All other technologies fade with time, some faster than others. Kodak claims their Endura Professional paper is good to 100 years in home use. Dunno how true that'll be -- but I hope it lasts longer than the stuff we used in the 70's and 80's -- some of my negatives have noticable color shifts (primarily the old Kodacolor II stuff) and most of my prints from back then have faded -- even in dark storage.

    I've seen inkjet prints on "photo" paper in co-worker's offices and cubes, and let me tell ya.. in 2 years they look like a 20 year old Kodacolor print -- faded, faded....gone.

    There's no way I'll bite into these printers. I'll keep sending my stuff to Adorama and maybe MPix. I favor Adorama because they offer the most flexible interface for the ardent amateur / pro, and I don't think they're as "morally correct" as WalMart. I don't think Adorama will call the cops if you have the temerity of taking a picture of your two year old in their birthday suit. Walmart has been known to do that. There are documented cases of WalMart calling cops and family services because someone had the demented, damaging idea of taking a picture of their kids playing in the tub. Some of these cases have ruined lives. So... say NO to walmart.

    I shun Kodak / Snapfish / Ofoto because in their TOS they have "..will not print blasphemous images." What if I decided to make a photograph of a dog taking a leak on a crucifix? Or something equally or more blasphemous? I dont want some "morally concious" printer denying me the ability to print my work... so to hell with the Moralist printers.. of which Kodak / Ofoto seems to be the worst of, with WalMart
  • Re:Old School (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ced_Ex ( 789138 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2007 @12:29PM (#19412421)
    I take digital photos, but I usually have a few select ones that I like to print. I organize them into layouts like you would see in a photo magazine and send them off to print.

    It comes back in a leather bound book with pages exactly the same as you would see in any good quality book.

    Black's Photography does photobooks.
    http://blacksmemorables.com/albums.html [blacksmemorables.com]

When you make your mark in the world, watch out for guys with erasers. -- The Wall Street Journal