The fading of art prints: In the early days of digital printmaking photographers and artists were concerned about how long their “digital” prints would last. Concerned is perhaps an understatement, there was a lot of dislike and mistrust of anything digital including digital cameras. Unfortunately, early digital prints did not help with this perception as the IRIS printer, which was pretty much the first high quality printer used to make art, produced amazing almost continuous tone and color correct CMYK prints but the inks were fugitive and would only last for the few months without fading dramatically. To be fair that was not their purpose which was to produce pre-press proofs for the commercial print industry and they only needed to last for a few days.
The images on the right are from around the same vintage. The top one is, what was once a very colorful original etching, given to me by a “friend” who knew how some people viewed my prints back in the day. The bottom image is a very early IRIS digital print I made with Lyson inks. Curiously I found this over thanksgiving on display in the house of the same person who gave me the etching back in the late 90’s.
In the mid 90’s an English ink company, Lyson, came out with a set of dye based inks for the IRIS which were considered archival – at 15-20 years without fading – and the whole landscape changed. They were tested under accelerated testing of the equivalent of 12 hours per day under commercial lighting.
Of course there were still naysayers but contemporary articles about film and watercolor paintings were also pretty damning. Most color photographic prints were shown to fade quickly when exposed to light and some films even color shifted when kept in dark storage. Watercolor paintings equally faded and some combinations of watercolor inks and paper were very fugitive and faded quickly.
Fast forward to the early 2000’s when Epson introduced pigment-based inks that were much more stable and would last well over 100 years if framed correctly. Since then most digital printmakers specializing in fine art photography and art have been have known that using the correct ink and paper will produce prints which will not fade or color shift for generations.
Unfortunately, and for a long time it has been easy to buy a printer and produce colorful good-looking prints that will fade within a few short years. This image is of a photograph we took out of one of the Motel rooms, it can’t be that old maybe 10 years or a little more, and it has not been displayed in bright sunlight and yet it has faded terribly. It’s so sad that a photographer or artist would take the time to create a work, have it printed, sign it and have it framed without knowing that in a few short years it would be unrecognizable.
If you are having one of your works printed either use a printer who specialized in art, they may not be any more expensive, or ask the print shop what printer and paper they are using and then check out what information is available on the longevity on the paper and ink being used.
Don’t let your work fade away . . .