This site has not been updated since May 2004. In the rapidly developing world of digital printing, this is a very long time! In consequence, the information found on this website is out of date and may not be accurate, and should be treated with caution.

Introduction to the Identification Guide for Digital Print Formats

TIP: To have an overview of the identification process at hand throughout your use of this website, click on the link Examination Checklist at left.

Goals of Identification
What is the value of an identification guide to printing processes that are currently evolving so rapidly? Isn't the danger of being outdated imminent? However, this may be just the time to be concerned with developments in the field of digital printing. Digital process identification is already difficult after only a few decades of printing. How tricky might it get after another 10, 20 or more years? The fact that there have been several attempts at organizing a process guide geared to differentiate between prints on account of visual examination1 will hopefully be of assistance to the future researcher investigating the history of hardcopy output or the conservator questioning the origin of a print.

Extent of Identification
Determining the probable long-term stability of a print necessitates its prior identification, as this will offer clues to its materiality. If a print can be identified as having a substrate that is prone to deteriorate quickly, then different archival environments, housing, or exhibition parameters might be chosen by the conservator than if the print is of a very stable material.

However, one must question the necessary depth of the identification process:

- Is it enough to identify a print as the result of a digital process in contrast to that of an analog process, or must further distinctions be made?

- If it is digital, what type of technology was used: electrostatic, dye diffusion transfer, phase change ink jet, or another?

- Does it really make a difference if an ink jet print was made on one medium or the other, or which ink-set was employed?

- Do we need to know about the presence or absence, and more specifically, the exact composition of the ink receptor coating?

The answer should be simple: Any information that can contribute to the preservation of the object should be of importance. All information beyond that may be interesting to have, but perhaps too detailed for our use and expensive and very time consuming to determine. If a print is to be taken up in a collection database, for example, or if identification is necessary for determining storage conditions, then the simple result "liquid ink jet on uncoated paper" might suffice. If, however, treatment is needed, further identification of materials and structures might be necessary. The identification schematic presented here should allow - minimally - for a generic classification, but it may also be able to assist in the determination of more detailed information, such as structure of the medium or the nature of the printer used. Beyond this point, concerning the identification of the materials, a certain amount of knowledge of the printing technology is necessary.

1 e.g.: Narelle Jarry, "Computer Imaging Technology: The Process of Identification," The Book and Paper Group Annual, vol. 15, (The Book and Paper Group of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 1996), pp. 53-59; and Dieter Becker and Klaus Kasper, "Digital Prints Technology, Materials, Image Quality & Stability," Ein Bild sagt mehr als tausend Bits, Sonderdruck aus Rundbrief Fotografie, N.F. 11/12/13, ed. Sebastian Dobrusskin, (Göppingen: Museumsverband Baden-Württemberg e.V., 1996), pp. 10-14; and Adam Lowe, Digital Hard Copy: Discreteness and the Dot, (London: Permaprint, 1997). back