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Longevity of Inkjet Prints

I've been going to write something on this for quite awhile. I've accumulated lots of data, just never got around to compiling it.

MY BIAS. Keep in mind, that my wife has a large miniature shop, which no doubt influences my opinion on many subjects, including printing your own wallpaper. Actually I have no problem with you printing your own, if fact I often tell parents of young children not to buy wallpaper, but rather to give their child some paper and colors (crayons, paints, etc) and let them design their own. As their tastes change, they will probably want to redecorate the house anyway. But, if you are building an heirloom, use the correct materials so the walls haven't faded beyond recognition by the time your grandchild gets the house.

Well, the good news: There are ink/paper combinations that will last for over 100 years without decernable fading. The bad news: you probably aren't using them. Wilhelm Research seems to be the best recognized company in doing these studies. They typically test ink/paper combinations under "museum" conditions. This consists of illumination of 450lux. Don't you wish you knew what that means? As far as I calculated it, if you take you 75 watt flood light (not halogen) that goes in your track lighting, and place it about 7 - 9 feet from the picture you will have about 450 lux. They are testing for noticable fading.

Kodak Ektachrome prints will last just over 25 years under this illumination. The typical H-P ink on H-P inkjet paper will last 6 months.

More examples:

desktop Inkjet Printers (newer products)

EPSON STYLUS 3000 PRINTER (IMPROVED 4-ink Lysonic E inks)

Test are currently in progress with various papers including new, improved-stability Lysonic Fine Art Papers.

EPSON STYLUS PRO 5000 PRINTER (6-ink Lysonic E inks)

Lysonic Standard Fine Art Paper

less than 1.0 year

Epson Photo Paper (1998 "Improved" type)

2.0 years

EPSON STYLUS 3000 PRINTER (Lyson 4-ink Fotonic inks)

Arches Cold Press Paper

(tests in progress)

Somerset Velvet Paper

(tests in progress)

Lysonic Standard Fine Art Paper

2-3 years

Epson Photo Paper (1998 "Improved" type)

2-3 years

EPSON STYLUS 3000 PRINTER (Lysonic Neutral Quad monochrome inks)

Somerset Velvet Paper

(tests continuing) less than 75 years

Lysonic Standard Fine Art Paper

(tests continuing) less than 50 years

Epson Photo Paper (improved)

(tests continuing) less than 50 years

You may ask why this always refers to an ink/paper combination. To quote Wilhelm Research, "With a given inkset, the difference in light fading rates between the longest-lasting paper and the least stable paper can exceed 20 to 1. That is, the amount of fading that will take place in 20 years with the best papers can occur in only one year -- or even less -- with the worst!"

Here are some examples of one ink with different papers.

Desktop Inkjet Printers (newer products)

EPSON STYLUS 3000 PRINTER (4-ink Lysonic E inks)

Luminos Lumijet Premium DW Glossy (discon.)

less than 120 years

Luminos Lumijet Premium Tapestry X (tentative)

less than 120 years

Arches Cold Press Paper

50-55 years

Somerset Velvet Paper

less than 25 years

UltraStable Canvas (glossy)

less than 15 years

Lysonic Standard Fine Art Paper

4-6 years

Epson Photo Paper (1998 "Improved type")

4-5 years

***Tentative means the tests are continuing because fading hasn't begun yet.

You probably haven't heard of these brands/trademarks because they seem to only be available for a limited number of high end printers. i.e. The Epson 3000 is a 4 ink printer that will handle paper up to 17" x 22". The ink cartridges are 110ml (about 1" x 4" x 6" each color - yes they are big!). These printers are designed for the "Fine Art Digital Printmakers" Each cartridge goes for about $60. The 5000 has 2 additional ink cartridges (light cyan, and light magenta, as I recall) to increase the gamut.

You probably aren't going to put your printables on display in a museum, but the light from a miniature wall sconce (maybe 1/4" from the wallpaper) can cause fading of some inkjet printer ink/paper combinations to become noticable in 4 months. Yes, that's why I first got interested in the longevity of inkjet prints. I also found that some ink/transparency combinations (stained glass for my church windows) will bleed the colors together over the years, causing the design to become blurry and muddy.

I'm not recommending you all run out and buy the Epson 3000 (mine cost $1300) but I would like you to have a reasonable expectation of the lifetime of things that have been printed by "ordinary ink/paper combinations". If you are buying printed items, you might want to inquire what ink/paper they used, and the expected lifetime, If they don't know, it is not a good indication of heirloom quality longevity.

If you want long life prints, take your designs to some print shop that has the paper and inks that will provide them.