Monday, June 05, 2006

Fading away

I must admit I have been mighty puzzled about photo fading. I have a hp photosmart printer and in general I am very pleased with the quality of my prints. Yet some prints have faded terribly!

The two prints at the back on the photo above where printed on the same day, on the same printer, on the same paper The top one which had faded badly was on display in a well lit room for about 18 months, the other was in a photo album. So sunlight fades inkjet printed photos just like it does curtains, carpets, funiture fabrics etc. However other photos in similar locations haven’t noticeably faded after 3 years. What is going on? Since the only variable can be the paper (I have used the same HP printer and recommended HP inks but not always the same papers) I figured I should do some investigation.

  • My first observation is the “premium” paper I use have brand marking on the back but the “everyday” picture papers do not. All the badly faded photo don’t have brand marking. Interesting! Maybe the paper manufacturers know something about their budget papers, and wish to leave no evidence!

  • My second observation is that the most faded photos were printed on Kodak matt photo paper. My HP photosmart printer automatically moves up to a higher ink usage (from normal to best) when I select glossy papers. So maybe the amount of ink is also an important part of the equation.

  • None of the badly faded photos where displayed under glass. (The glass may filter out the most damaging UV wavelength)

Looking on the web about fading of inkjet printed photos has largely drawn a blank from the big boys (well maybe with the exception of Epson) but I did find a great set of tests carried out by Ted Felix.  Which lead me to the Wilhelm Imaging Research, and their wonderfully informative book on “The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs” (downloadable free in PDF format, but it is 758 pages/79MB so be patient and if you don’t have broadband  just don’t click on this link) The book doesn’t really cover much about inkjet printing as it was written in 1992 but it does comprehensively cover the handling mounting and storage of photos, and negatives. The most honest summary of this apparently “taboo” fading subject comes from a PC world article "How long inkjet-printed photos last depends on who you ask." says Cathy Martin, an analyst for InfoTrends.
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