This article was written by Gary W. Clark, owner of PhotoTree.com, and is used here with his permission.
Note #1: Photography expert and fellow genealogy enthusiast Gary Clark kindly provided the following article after reading the EOGN Plus Edition article, Your Photos May Disappear, which is available at http://eogn.com/wp/?p=26285. You can read more of Gary’s insights on his website, www.PhotoTree.com.
Note #2: You can click on the images in this article to view larger versions of each.
Being an avid collector of old photos and a professional photographer, I continually have the need or want to reproduce photographic prints from scanned images that are anywhere from one to 150 years old.
I read with great interest Dick Eastman’s recent posting, titled “Your Photos May Disappear,” and concur with his message and examples of faded photographs.
Like many of you, I have experienced the precise problems Mr. Eastman has described. The following two pictures were printed from the same file. The one on the left was printed for this article on July 29, 2013; the one on the right was printed in 2011 – from the same HP PhotoSmart inkjet printer.
I scanned both of them for this article to illustrate the disappearing problem. The one on the right has been on my office bulletin board for two years. While documenting my photo collection, I make a ‘baseball’ card of the image along with information about the photo and use them for research and reference. Many are fading away as this collage illustrates.
Freshly printed image on left (7/29/2013) and same file printed two years ago.
For those of us who do want printed photographs, what is a good solution for long-lasting prints?
Well, the solution is just down the street or on the internet. Warehouse and discount stores do a booming business of printing photographs from digital files, both from online uploads and files brought into the store. The prints they produce last significantly longer than any print you can make on a home printer.
The current breed of photographs made by these stores and professional labs use a technology that is much like the traditional darkroom process–it is a chemical process that relies on silver-infused photographic paper.
The modern process uses silver-halide paper, where the image is essentially developed in the paper, not printed on the paper like your home printer. Mr. Eastman pointed out that home printers deposit ink on top of paper, where it is susceptible to direct and environmental damage.
The machines that produce these long-lasting images are very large and expensive from manufacturers such as, Fuji, Noritsu, and Kodak. You will find them in Walmart (Fuji), Costco (Noritsu) and many other stores offering photographic services.
To be clear, some do-it-yourself or instant machines in small kiosks found in stores use a dye-sublimation process, which produce prints that will fade sooner than you want. If you print it yourself and it pops out of the machine you are using, this is not the permanent silver-halide photograph you want.
But how do you know you are getting the long-lasting prints? Well, if you ask the person behind the counter if their prints are silver-halide you will most likely get a very blank stare as most of the store employees may not know.
The printers are usually in plain sight, about the size of a large chest type freezer. See what the name is. If it is one of the Noritsu, Fuji, or Kodak machines, it is most likely a silver-halide printer. Most, if not all, high volume producers are using the silver-halide process because of the cost advantage. If it is a small, independent store, the people on duty should be able to answer your questions. They could even be the store owners.
In addition, online photo services such as SnapFish, Shutterfly, and other high volume services use the silver-halide process. It is much faster and cheaper than inkjet or dye-sublimation processes.
So how much longer-lasting are silver-halide prints? A paper co-authored by Henry Wilhelm, (a respected researcher referenced by Mr. Eastman) titled An overview of the Permanence of Inkjet Prints Compared with Traditional Color Prints lists the useful life of Fuji’s paper as 60 years. Your mileage may vary, depending on display conditions, temperature, and humidity. Yet this author feels this is dramatically longer than common home printers could ever reach.
Having silver-halide prints made, whether local or online, may actually be cheaper than printing them on your home printer. Have you bought ink cartridges lately? Printing good color images on photo paper takes a lot of ink.
One of the benefits of archiving digital images outlined in Mr. Eastman’s article is applicable to prints also. Even if you have your photographs printed with the best long-lasting process, you can have them printed again should any catastrophic damage happen.
As we say at PhotoTree.com, “Let your ancestors out of the box.” We like prints, whether to pass around at family gatherings, place in albums or scrapbooks, or frame as beautiful artwork. So create your prints using the most lasting method.
Decorating the home with lasting photographs – all silver-halide prints© 2013 Gary Clark, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.phototree.com