In my recent Plus Edition article, What I Use for Long-Term Data Storage, I pointed out the various issues with preserving data electronically. It is possible to preserve electronic data for centuries, although not by simply putting a floppy disk or CD-ROM disk on a shelf. Data preservation requires a more proactive approach, as done by tens of thousands of government agencies, insurance companies, manufacturers, hospitals, and many other corporations.
In a comment at the end of the article, a Plus Edition subscriber wrote:
I agree that paper is readable by everyone. I may quibble about the word "durable," however. Durable for how long? Please keep in mind that:
- Modern paper is acid-based and will last less than 50 years, perhaps less than 25. Make sure you use archival-quality paper for anything you wish to preserve for a long time.
- Toner used in laser printers is not ink. Toner does not become absorbed into the paper. Instead, it “sticks” to the outside of the paper and will flake off over time. Anything created by a laser printer or by a photocopier will probably be faded and unreadable 50 years from now, perhaps in 25 years.
- Ink used by modern inexpensive inkjet printers is water-based and will fade quickly, Ever see a color photograph that has faded over the years? Water-based inks will fade even faster than that. Anything printed today on a typical inkjet printer will be unreadable within 25 years. Archival quality inks are available for some inkjet printers, although typically not for the cheaper units. Archival quality ink for inkjet printers also tends to be very expensive.
- Even the ink used in most ballpoint pens will fade.
In short, don’t use typical office quality paper and don’t print on computer printers. If you want to preserve something on paper, you MUST use archival quality paper and write everything by hand with a fountain pen using archival quality ink.