Caring For Your Digital Prints; The Do's & Don'ts For Handling, Storage, And Framing

Photography is a wide-ranging field that engenders passion in its practitioners, and like all great forms of expression creates opinions formed through experience and reflection. In its early days one of the great debates was: Is Photography Art? This was the subject of many essays and heated discussions among players and spectators. Today, issues such as film vs. digital, format choices, the validity of computer generated images, photography as exploitation or revealer, and even the merits of ink jet vs. silver prints cause similar debate. We are opening this department up to readers, manufacturers, and retailers--in short, everyone who lives and breathes photography and who has an opinion about anything affecting imaging today.

Here's how to get involved: write us an e-mail at editorial@shutterbug.com or send us a letter with a proposed topic and a synopsis of your idea. Once approved, we'll ask you to send us about 500-1000 words on the subject chosen. The idea here is not to push any product or wave any flag, but to create discussion about photo and imaging topics of the day. We reserve the right to edit whatever you send in, although we will never edit intention or opinion but only for length and, hopefully, for clarity. We reserve the right to publish your work on our website as well, so you can join the archives and be a resource for opinion for years to come.
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--George Schaub

Your image is perfected. You've chosen the perfect paper for the job. Thanks to meticulous color management and ICC profiles, your printer is creating the image exactly the way you envisioned it. In a few minutes, your final print will be completed. Your job is done. Or is it?

Like any other medium, digital art papers have their own do's and don'ts for handling, storage, and framing. Unfortunately, these simple rules haven't gotten enough attention. The following guidelines are based on recommendations from some of the world's leading paper mills, equipment manufacturers, and print ateliers.

Handling & Storage
Before Printing: Some papers tend to be more delicate than others, but they should all be handled with care. As with traditional photographic papers, it is best to keep the paper in its original packaging until needed. Handle the paper with care to avoid damaging the coated surface (print side) as oils from the skin could be absorbed into the coating, which would have an adverse effect on the print quality. Always handle the paper by the edges or underside.

During Printing: Carl Corey of GalleryPrint, a fine art publisher and printmaker based in Minnesota, recommends allowing for a 1" minimum border, as the edges of the paper are most susceptible to atmospheric contamination. Corey advises: "This allows for the printed area to remain safe within the 1" buffer. I recommend wearing cotton gloves and cleaning your hands regularly...especially with gloss and semigloss substrates."
After Printing: As with other media, ink jet prints should be allowed to dry completely before handling. Do not stack freshly printed sheets in a pile. Once dry, use an archival interleaving sheet between each print to prevent scuffing.

Coated ink jet papers can react to plasticizers, producing a transient yellow cast. When using any 100 percent cotton papers, such as Somerset Enhanced or Arches Infinity, do not seal them in polythene bags. If the dried prints must be stored in plastic bags at any point, use bags that do not contain plasticizers. Additionally, certain materials (including certain tapes and dry mounting film) contain plasticizers and can cause temporary discoloration. If yellowing is experienced, exposing the print to open air for a short period of time will usually reverse the discoloration.

Digital fine art papers can also react to solvents stored nearby. Depending on the nature of the solvent, prints may temporarily yellow. As with any artwork, it is important to be aware of your environment when storing prints. According to Corey, "It is best to avoid wood flat files as the varnish and glues used may contain plasticizers and thus can have an adverse effect on your prints."

Matting & Framing
You've produced a masterpiece and want to have it framed. Now it's time to put your image onto the matte. It's important that both the mount and matte should be made of archival quality products. I usually recommend using 100 percent cotton Rising Museum Board for mounting prints.

Diane Day, of the Professional Picture Framers Association, recommends the following: "First, never expose your printed image to heat, as many inks are heat sensitive. This means that dry mounting should be crossed off your list. Also on this list is spray mounting. Many types of ink are sensitive to moisture. [Some inks are so sensitive that sneezing or even breathing close enough to an image could cause it to bleed.] Third, do not use any tape to adhere the picture to the mounting board as the adhesive in the tape can cause damage to the edges of the picture."

So what exactly can you do? Day recommends using edge strips or corner pockets. Edge strips can be made of Japanese paper or, more commonly, of polyester film. A number of companies manufacture commercial edge strips, commonly known as Mylar D or Melinex. These strips adhere to the mounting board around the edge of the picture that will be framed. The picture can be slipped in and out of these strips without damage.
Corner pockets are similar to ones you may remember from older photo albums. Fit the corners of your picture into the four pockets and you're set to go.

Corey adds, "There are archival adhesive double-stick tapes approved for museum use as well as bookbinder's tape which can be used with no ill effect. It's important to secure only the top edge of the print to allow for expansion/contraction of the print."

Displaying Your Image
The three most important environmental factors in displaying prints are light, relative humidity, and temperature. Both visible and ultraviolet light can deteriorate digital images. UV filtered glass can greatly reduce the adverse effects of light on ink jet printed digital images. Extremes of humidity and temperature should be avoided.

According to Corey, "Spraying a print with a protective coating has been shown to protect it from scratching and, on some substrates, enhance detail. There is no appreciable increase in longevity derived from spray coating a print. In my experience, some sprays actually decrease the print life. Always test a spray coating first." When printing on canvas, Corey strongly recommends spraying the print. Spraying usually requires that a profile be written to accommodate for the spray's effect on the print.

Many of these recommendations should be familiar to those of you used to working with traditional photographic paper and prints. As each new technology brings us more opportunity and flexibility, they also bring different challenges for caring for your media and your prints.

About Legion Paper
Legion Paper is a leading distributor of fine art, digital, and decorative papers, including Somerset, Concorde Rag, Arches Infinity, and the Legion Photo line of papers.

Joshua Levine is Executive VP of Operations for Legion Paper (www.legionpaper.com).

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