Print Longevity – the care of inkjet prints

Prints that are kept in archival boxes, in the dark, in low humidity and cool temperatures will last the longest, but let’s face it, we want to enjoy looking at our prints, so many of us will wish to frame and hang them. 

If a few simple precautions are observed, inkjet (giclée) prints can last for many years. By understanding some of the processes which can damage our prints, we can take the necessary measures to avoid them as far as possible.

A summary of some of the things that affect print longevity:
  • Contact with chemical vapours or materials – this includes airborne contaminants, such as spray furniture polish and cigarette smoke and also materials in direct contact with the print such as mounting glues, mounting card and contamination from fingerprints. It is always preferable to use museum quality mounting card wherever possible. At the very least, make sure that the mounting board you are buying is pH balanced; prints suspended in window mounts by tape hinges along the top edge should last longer than prints that are glued down;
  • Temperature and moisture. High temperatures will reduce print life. Avoid hanging pictures in the bathroom or kitchen unless they are well protected from moisture in the air; 
  • Light (more is bad, direct sunlight that also heats the image is worse). UV light is worst of all, and so special UV-filtering glass may be used in your picture frame (at an increased cost, of course). Always hang framed prints out of direct sunlight;
  • Ozone in the air;
  • The use of four or six colour inksets – six-colour inksets contain light magenta and light cyan inks; some manufacturers’ light cyan and light magenta inks have been shown to fade faster than the other colours;
  • Dyes or pigments. The keeping qualities of pigment inks are many times greater than dye inks;
  • The mixing of different inks on the paper, potentially resulting in interaction between them e.g. using a different manufacture of black and colour ink cartridges (more typically associated with dye inks, as pigments tend towards being inert anyhow);
  • Mould – there is an increased risk in more humid and warm conditions; 
  • Paper finish – photographs on gloss finish papers do not last as long as prints on matte papers in general. There are a few papers, such as Epson “Colorlife” paper, which has a semi-gloss finish and which has relatively good keeping qualities under glass. I have found that some of the textured matte finished art papers are lasting very well indeed under display conditions;
  • Inks on an inappropriate paper type; the ink manufacturers own paper products will generally give longer lasting results than compatible papers – certainly the longevity figures quoted by ink manufacturers relate to their own papers