Will all prints last 100+ yrs?


By: Charly

March 2018

There is quite a bit of misinformation that exists in the photography world regarding print longevity. Upon extensive research and wanting to produce the best prints that have archival and longevity properties, I found some interesting information.


Inkjet Prints introduced in the late 1980’s

Depending on inkjet printer, paper and inks, a print can last 6 mo. up to what they think will last over 100 yrs before one sees deterioration of any sort. Actually, we really don’t know because none of these inkjet prints have been around very long. So until 100 yrs have passed, only speculation on print longevity or what “may” happen to the print exists. Direct sunlight is their worst enemy!

As with anything else, not all printers, paper and inks are created equal. Dye inks are not as good as pigment inks for instance. Another thing to keep in mind is an inkjet printer sprays or spurts ink on to the paper (also known as gicleé), whereas silver gelatin uses a far superior way of putting the image in a top layer of paper itself. Also a cheap printer will not produce the quality print as an expensive printer will.

Light and ozone is very damaging to these prints. This gets very technical here, but I attempted to make it simpler to understand. And as they say, ‘You get what they pay for.’ Meaning one cannot expect to pay a low price for something that claims to be museum quality. Nor can one expect that print to last 100+ yrs. since the proof is not available as of yet. Their proven longevity simply doesn’t exist.


Proven Longevity from late 1880’s

On the other hand, fiber gelatin silver prints have been around for over 130 yrs and many are still in great condition today; proven longevity. If these prints were properly created, there’s really no telling how long they will last. Some believe over 500 yrs, but again until that time comes no one really knows. Albeit gelatin silver prints do have a proven longevity record to date, whereas inkjet prints do not just 30 yrs later. Furthermore, fiber gelatin silver was introduced in the late 1880’s and the first RC (resin coated) silver gelatin paper in the late 1970’s. That is nearly 100 yrs between them. Alhough inkjet printers and their inks continue to improve each year. As has RC paper.

When it comes to museum quality and conservation, only fiber based (FB) gelatin silver prints are recognized as archival. Providing certain things are not present; like paper is fiber based; acid and lignin free and is absent of OBA’s (Optical Brightening Agents) for example. To date, RC (resin coated) gelatin silver paper is not considered to have the same longevity as FB (fiber based).

Very few inkjet papers can claim that fact, though today there are a few and they are only Fine Art paper. Not just any old paper you buy at a store or camera shop and they cost way more. Read the box to see if it is acid, lignin and OBA free, that way you’ll know for sure what you are getting. Or look online, as most photographic paper manufacturers list technical details on their papers.


There’s more to it than just paper

Of course it goes without saying that there are other things to consider also. Like how the print is matted and framed. It is believed that light plays less of a part when it comes to gelatin silver prints deteriorating. Reason being a gelatin silver print is created by using light. Pollutants and moisture are far worse, as are acid and lignin also.

Thus what is used to mat and frame a print is also vitally important. The mat and mounting board also need to be free of acid and lignin. All mat boards available are not created equal i.e. a $10 mat board is not equivalent to a $100 one nor is a standard mat compared to a RagMat of 100% cotton.

How the matted print is framed is important as well. UV protective glass or TruVue acrylic make a difference and of course are much more costly. A cheap frame you buy at a big box store will not protect a collectable print nor will it be recognized as archival. Collectable, museum quality prints should be framed by a knowledgeable framer who understands museum conservator guidelines. These frames are in the hundreds of dollars, if not $1,000 or more.


Refusing to settle for Less

Suffice to say, while I believe no photographer would intentionally mislead a client, it does happen because they simply are unaware or ill-informed. What it takes to make a print truly archival is a museum conservator’s priority. While gelatin silver prints are recognized as archival, they too are not created equal. RC (resin coated) gelatin silver paper is not FB paper, some have OBA’s while others do not, some have acid / lignin and so on.

One way to know for sure is to do your own research. Ask the proper questions and understand chances are if you’re paying a hundred or two for a framed print, it probably isn’t museum quality. A framed archival fiber gelatin silver print actually costs more than that for the photographer to produce in most cases. Especially if it’s from a digital file and/or a master printer is creating it. In all fairness, not all photographers have the resources to put out an exorbitant amount on creating a museum quality framed print.


CMP Limited Editions

I certify all my framed prints, available on this site, to be masterfully handmade under my watchful eye, museum quality and archival in every aspect by today’s standards. Meaning paper is high quality and FB (fiber based) w/o OBA’s, acid or lignin. The matting and mount board are 100% cotton, acid and lignin free. Only linen tape is used to mount print. Framing is done to conservation specs to prevent any pollutants, etc from touching the silver gelatin print.

How to properly care for your framed Limited Edition, please continue reading […]


On a side note: Soon I will be offering Platinum-Palladium prints which are said to have a longevity of over 3,000 yrs. P&P Limited Edition prints will not be the same images, as those offered in FB gelatin silver prints. More on that later, when the time comes.