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[BKARTS] Lack of Standards Sparks Inkjet Photo Fade Debate
Lack of Standards Sparks Inkjet Photo Fade Debate
How long inkjet-printed photos last depends on who you ask, experts say.
Tom Spring, PC World
Friday, July 08, 2005
How long can you expect your inkjet-printed photos to last? More and
more photo inkjet papers are being touted as "fade resistant" and
"archival safe," but experts say these marketing pitches don't always
provide good information on how long it will take for skin tones to
turn green and paper to yellow on precious family photos.
Because there's no standard for measuring inkjet print longevity,
it's difficult for consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons of
photo papers. Consequently, experts say, people may find that some
photos expected to last for decades will start to fade in just a few
"How long a photo printed with an inkjet printer will last depends on
who you ask," says Cathy Martin, an analyst for InfoTrends. She says
there are no clear answers for consumers looking for the best, and
longest-lasting, photo inkjet paper. Photo paper is considered one of
the crucial archival elements for photographs.
The fade debate is growing louder as companies like International
Paper, Eastman Kodak, and Staples have begun more heavily marketing
their photo inkjet paper for use with printers made by manufacuturers
like Canon, Seiko-Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and Lexmark.
Claims and Counterclaims
The latest salvo in the longstanding debate comes from HP and Epson;
the companies dismiss claims by third-party paper vendors such as
International Paper, Kodak, and Staples that their papers will
produce archival-quality prints on any inkjet printer.
Specifically, Epson and HP strongly dispute Kodak's claim that prints
made on their printers with Kodak's special paper will last 120 years
before fading. Similarly, the printer vendors dispute International
Paper's claims that prints made on the company's recently introduced
National Geographic Premium Paper High Gloss will last "more than 100
years." (Staples, while claiming that photos printed on its papers
"resist fading," makes no specific claims as to how many years a
photo printed on its paper will last before showing signs of fading.)
"We've heard a lot of promises from our competitors," says Nils
Miller, HP's ink and media senior scientist. But so far he says he
hasn't seen a "miracle paper" from a third-party supplier that can
deliver the same print longevity and quality with all printers.
Epson says users of its paper, in combination with Epson premium
inks, can expect images to last up to 104 years before showing signs
of fading. HP says its premium inks used with HP photo paper will
last 115 years. These claims are based on internal testing by Epson
and HP and on tests by Wilhelm Imaging Research, an independent
laboratory based in Grinell, Iowa.
At the heart of the inkjet photo paper debate are conflicting
opinions on how best to test printed photographs in order to project
how long an image will last before it begins to fade.
For years, under the auspices of the International Standards
Organization (ISO), printer makers and third-party providers of
digital imaging products have been trying to settle on a mutually
agreeable way to predict image longevity. But with no standard in
sight, Wilhelm Imaging Research earlier this year announced that it
would begin certifying digital imaging products for print longevity
in order to assist consumers in making buying decisions. Wilhelm
ratings, which will project print longevity for specific printer and
paper combinations, are expected to begin appearing on product
packages sometime this summer.
Major printer vendors regularly hire WIR, which is run by print
longevity expert Henry Wilhelm, to test photo papers, inks, and
printers for longevity. (Full disclosure: PC World has never hired or
paid Wilhelm, but he has supplied test results for some of our
articles about print longevity.) Rob Rosson, an imaging supplies
analyst for Current Analysis, says WIR testing methodology has become
the industry's de facto standard.
WIR has also tested Kodak and Staples papers, and Wilhelm's print
longevity projections for those products fall far short of those
achieved by HP and Epson papers. For example, WIR projects that
images printed with Kodak photo paper using HP Photosmart 145 and 245
printers will last only 11 years--or 109 fewer years than Kodak is
In 2002 WIR tested Staples Premium Glossy Ink Jet Photo paper and
rated the print life at 1 to 3 years with most printers. Since then,
Staples points out, it uses a more advanced paper technology.
Longevity for National Geographic Premium Paper High Gloss are not
yet available from WIR.
However, some third-party photo paper vendors aren't buying into
WIR's testing as a de facto standard. Critics say WIR testing is not
only time-consuming but costly: Companies that wish to participate in
the WIR seal of longevity program must ante up $15,000 for testing
one type of paper with one specific printer and ink. Vendors also
contend that WIR tests don't reflect how prints will fare in a
real-world display environment.
All labs, including WIR, project image longevity based on tests
involving exposure to light, heat, humidity and air pollution. And
all labs use a procedure called accelerated fading to test for
resistance to light exposure. Basically, accelerated fading involves
exposing images to intense light and using mathematical formulas on
the results in order to project when the picture might degrade to an
But WIR and others don't see eye to eye on how to test for light
fading. Kodak, for example, says its tests assume the room where the
photos will be displayed is much darker than the brightly lit room on
which WIR tests are predicated. Kodak and Staples say WIR's
methodology places too much weight on fading due to exposure to
light. They argue that WIR doesn't sufficiently factor in the
importance of an image's resistance to heat, humidity, and ozone
Wilhelm counters that Kodak's tests aren't sufficiently stringent,
and that Staples has provided no scientific data whatsoever to back
its claim that its photo paper is "fade resistant." In general,
Wilhelm says, consumers should be wary of vendor claims that aren't
explained in detail or supported by independent testing.
"If every manufacturer was responsible for making their own longevity
claims, those claims would mean nothing," he says. Third-party inkjet
paper suppliers counter that, if an international standard existed,
they would gladly base their claims on that standard.
"It's an industry-wide problem we did not create," says Tim Whelan,
director of marketing for coated digital papers at International
Paper. Whelan says International Paper has made a significant
investment in testing its paper for quality and longevity.
Packaging for International Paper's National Geographic Premium Paper
High Gloss states that the projected 100-plus years of print
longevity applies to images displayed "under glass with the latest
But International Paper officials say the claim only applies to
prints made using the HP 8700 series printer and HP Vivera inks. The
claim is based on the company's own testing. International Paper says
more comprehensive testing of its paper with a larger selection of
printers is in the works.
"Longevity is not the most important reason our customers buy
Staples' photo paper," says Jevin Eagle, senior vice president of
Staples brand group. He says the quality of the image, how quickly
the image dries after printing, and price are what Staples customers
value in its brand-name inkjet photo paper. Eagle wouldn't comment on
Staples' "fade resistant" claim or the testing processes it bases the
But "Marketing claims are extremely confusing for customers to
untangle," he adds. "Until there is one unbiased standard for
testing, we plan to keep things very simple for our customers."
Staples offers a money-back guarantee on its photo inkjet paper if
consumers are not satisfied.
Some vendors toss around terms like "archival quality" without making
any promises regarding image permanence.
For example, Paris Business Products touts its Glossy Ultra Premium
Photo paper as "Acid-free archival paper for long lasting prints" on
Sharon Hennelly, Paris Business Products spokesperson, explained that
the "archival" claim refers primarily to the fact that the paper is
acid-free. Acid-free paper lasts longer than other papers and holds
color well, she said. Paris Business Products makes no claim as to
how long the image will maintain its color vitality before noticeable
Ultimately, the best way to extend the life of your images is to keep
them in a photo album or even a shoe box. Displayed on walls, images
are affected by light and air pollutants. And it's best to keep
digital copies of pictures on a CD or DVD, says InfoTrends' Martin.
"Consumers can't put all the responsibility on preserving images on
the photo paper," says Dan Burge, a scientist with the Image
"It's up to the consumer to take good care of their images if they
want them to last," Burge says.
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