Artists and photographers always ask me… “How long will my print last?” The honest answer is “We don’t know!” We then go on to talk about why we don’t know. It’s not that we don’t care, or haven’t tried to find out, it’s simply that the life expectancy of anything, be it a reproduction we make, or an original the artist creates, is beyond our control once it leaves our hands, regardless of how well we’ve prepared it.
It’s like asking “How long will my new car last?” You pay a heck of a lot more for a car than an art reproduction but have you ever asked the car salesman that question? What sort of answer do you think you would get? What factors determine how long a car will last? Many of those same factors affect your reproductions.
Archival; archivally sound – A non-technical term that suggests that a material or product is permanent, durable, or chemically stable, and that it can therefore safely be used for preservation purposes. the phrase is not quantifiable; no standards exist that describe how long an “archival” or “archivally sound” material will last.
Organizations like the Wilhelm Research Institute attempt to address this issue by strenuous and controlled testing of various combinations of printers, inks and papers. But they each caution that to truly define a specific print’s ability to survive requires an in-depth understanding of the many contributing factors that impact ink jet print permanency:
- the printer
- the ink set
- the paper
- the profiles being used
- How the print is framed
- the print’s exhibit conditions (temperature, light levels/intensity, humidity, pollution etc.)
Each of these factors has a dramatic impact on how any reproduction will endure over time. Imagine a single digital image made into 4 identical reproductions, and each hung on a wall in 4 different locations within a home. Even though the reproductions are identical in all ways, the reproduction hung in a cupboard, the one hung in a dark hallway, one hung in an average lounge room and one hung on a sunny verandah will all demonstrate different rates of fade and deterioration. In many cases, dramatically different. Throw into this mix the characteristics of different printer, paper, ink and printer profiles, and you soon have so many variables as to make determining the lifespan of areproduction impossible.
The term “archival print” is vague at best but is used by both print suppliers and artists to imply quality. An archival print is one that should last a long time. How long “a long time” is can be the hard part to put a figure on because of the reasons outlined above. The only way you can be sure you are providing a quality reproduction to your clients is to ensure your printing company uses good quality materials, genuine inks and proper methods of framing to give your print the best chance of lasting a long time. Once it leaves your hands, it’s lifespan is dependent on how the new owner cares for it and you have no control over that.