Making Prints from Digital Files: Some Thoughts on Image Permanence, Options and Advances

One of the reasons that many people are getting into making prints at home these days is that inkjet prints are simpler to make and more permanent than, in many cases, photographic prints (dye based projection, that is.) With recent advances in ink and paper technology from companies such as Epson and HP we now see the potential, given proper storage, of digital prints lasting more than 100 years. Even snapshot size prints, according to Wilhelm Research, from portable printers like the popular and relatively diminutive PictureMate from Epson can last three generations or more. And most of the newer printers don't even require the intermediary of the computer to make very good looking prints.

Every company we know in the business is doing everything they can to improve the stability of their ink and paper combos. Think the megapixel horserace is competitive? You should check out what's happening in the "archival race" to see rivals going at it tooth and nail.

This is very good for you and me. It's as if produce companies battled it out to see whose veggies were more organic, or carmakers fighting over whose automobile got the most gas mileage (dream on.) Improving products for the good of the consumer is rare enough, and I'm sure that we all benefit from the great strides the printer and paper and ink makers are making in creating more stable and long-lasting products. The folks at these companies, and others, are actually putting their R&D money where their mouth is.

But this improvement is becoming the cause of another tussle between companies about whose products and whose testing methods really are reliable. Epson's Dano Steinhardt recently released a white paper on testing methods, and in essence fired a whiff of grapeshot across Kodak's bow. (See The need for creating standards remains in this field, and Steinhardt's paper is simultaneously educational and confrontational. It expresses to me the frustration many of us feel about this matter, and one hopes that this will stir enough debate to get things moving in the right direction.

What about the other printing options, for those of you who might not want to always print at home? There sure are plenty of kiosks around now, and many solutions that allow for lab-linked or Internet finishing. Even pictures from camera phones, which I think still have a long way to go in terms of quality, are getting a big boost with wireless printers and removable flashcards from phones. And there are plenty of "third-party" paper companies (those offered by companies other than printer manufacturers) touting their goods, a testament to greater options in the home printing market.

Indeed, we now have more choices for paper surface and weights than ever were available in even the halcyon days of darkroom photography. I can attest to the burgeoning of home printing based on the submissions we get every month for our reader contests in Shutterbug. In the past we'd get photographic prints and slides with a sprinkling of inkjet prints. Now the shift is almost 90/10 in favor of inkjet prints. Home printing has also sparked a renewed interest in photography as a creative endeavor and hobby, as folks now have more control of just how they want their final image to look.

And no one needs to tell you about how scrapbooking has caught on and how that drives printing as well..

In sum, printing from digital files is finally getting easier and inkjet prints are potentially more lasting than our "old" way of making prints from film.

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