Print Permanence; A Summary Of The Epson White Paper; A Response From Eastman Kodak Company

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 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.

So, get thinking and writing and share your Point of View.
--George Schaub

Editor's Note: We have long advocated that standards be accepted and put in place regarding the archival qualities and attributes of various forms of inkjet and dye sublimation, or digital printing. Lacking these standards, we have come to rely on the testing methods of manufacturers to give us a good approximation of print life span under various lighting and storage conditions. To continue this debate and hopefully encourage the establishment of standards, we are publishing a summary of the recently published Epson White Paper on this issue along with a response from the Eastman Kodak Company. If you'd like to join in on the debate or have a response to these articles please log into our Forums under Inkjet Printing at:

We begin with the Epson White Paper summary, and follow with the Kodak response. We trust you will find both informative.
--George Schaub

Photographs are among people's most valued possessions. During times of natural disaster, such as fires and hurricanes, heroic efforts are often made to save photos because while many material possessions can be replaced, photographic prints are usually irreplaceable. Negatives are lost, the hard drives or digital media on which digital images are stored can be damaged, or file formats become obsolete. Photographic prints, however, are easy to store and always easy to view, so they continue to be the best way to preserve memories.

People expect the prints of their visual memories to last, whether hung on a wall, displayed on a desk, or stored in an album. Epson's print permanence advances have been designed to keep important memories lasting a lifetime. But answering the question of how long photographic prints will last is a complicated matter, and most people have not been fully aware of the weaknesses in print durability since the introduction of color photography in the 1950s.

Because of our commitment to research and development to improve print permanence, Epson wants the public to be informed about the many factors that can affect the longevity of their photos and to be aware of potentially misleading print permanence claims so they can take the appropriate steps to ensure their important memories last for generations.

Epson believes there should be tough standards for measuring print longevity instead of making imaging products with inferior print permanence look better by lowering industry accepted practices.

Until the 1950s most photographs were in black and white. If properly processed, these black and white prints had incredible resistance to the elements that cause fading: light, water, and atmospheric gasses. In fact, many of these early photographs remain in excellent condition today and still reside in family collections and museums.

Color prints came into widespread use during the late 1950s. The leading photographic manufacturers of the time settled on a dye-based system of producing color prints. The prints were, indeed, attractive; but they unfortunately had significantly less permanence than the black and white prints to which consumers were accustomed. The result was that by the 1970s and `80s countless cherished photographic memories, important historical records and works of art had faded and, in some cases, virtually disappeared.

Today, inkjet prints made from digital files can be made on a wide variety of papers with different types of inks. How long one of these prints will last is determined by the ink formulation, the paper on which the image is printed, the manner in which the printer lays the ink down on the paper, and the storage/display conditions under which the photo is kept. Inkjet manufacturers design their printers, inks, and papers as a system to maximize print permanence and image quality. Therefore, buyers should beware of any one-size-fits-all claims of a non-system product for longevity and quality because variables in any of these factors can yield drastically different results.

The primary factors that affect print longevity are light, water, pollution (including ozone), temperature, and humidity. Epson's state of the art pigment-based inks offer an unmatched resistance to damage from exposure to light, water, temperature extremes, humidity, and provide good resistance to ozone. We recognize that ozone is a threat to the longevity of prints using certain Epson paper and dye-based ink combinations. Placing these type of prints (as well as prints made with other manufacturers' dye-based inkjet prints) in a frame behind glass provides adequate protection against atmospheric contaminants. Therefore, we want to be sure customers have the right information to make the best choices to meet their needs, which is one reason we don't want to see industry accepted practices for print permanence lowered. When displayed behind glass or in dark storage, prints made with Epson pigment-based inks printed on papers designed for pigment-based inks yield the industry's leading image permanence ratings.

The challenge in determining print permanence is that real-time testing is not practical. All manufacturers must use accelerated methods for predicting print longevity. Epson endorses the use of industry accepted practices that simulate exposing a print to at least 450 lux--a measurement of the amount of illumination--for 10-12 hours a day to predict how long a print will last. Eastman Kodak has chosen to dramatically depart from industry accepted practices and publishes their own data using a 120 lux calculation, which is 3.7 times less illumination.

Eastman Kodak also conducts its print longevity tests at a much higher degree of acceleration over a shorter period of time which adds more error to their simulated dimly lit room. In addition, they do not follow general industry practices by providing test results only with 100 percent Ultraviolet (UV) filtration, which blocks the damaging effects of UV on all photographic materials.

These deviations from industry accepted practices enable Eastman Kodak to make display life predictions that are up to five times longer than they would be under industry accepted practices. A print with what most would consider a realistic lightfastness rating of 20 years under industry accepted practices will suddenly be rated at over 100 years. In other words, those lower standards make an inferior product look like it is on par with Epson's leading archival solutions. If Epson were to use Eastman Kodak's testing conditions, some Epson prints could have lightfastness ratings over 1000 years. While that may make good advertising copy, we do not believe it is credible, and we refuse to mislead customers that way.

Currently there is no ISO print permanence standard for digitally printed photographs, and there is no prediction as to when, or even if an ISO standard will be established. Until there is an ISO standard, Epson chooses to use rigorous test practices for print permanence because consumers' memories and professionals' reputations are at stake. After several real-time decades of observation, most have seen how traditional silver-halide color prints fade in a variety of everyday environments. So far, these observed rates of fading seem in alignment with the rates of fade predicted by current industry accepted practices for print permanence.

We highly recommend consumers and professionals look to independent third-party laboratories that do comparative apples to apples testing using accepted industry practices rather than any testing that is based on a single manufacturer's attempt to set a lower standard. The latter is much like an automobile manufacturer setting up their own biased methods to determine a more favorable miles per gallon rating.

Of course, not all prints have to last forever, but often one does not know the importance of a print until many years in the future. Sadly, many of the most important prints are displayed in well-lit environments suitable for enjoying photography, not the dimly lit conditions Eastman Kodak uses for its display life predictions.

We at Epson believe consumers should have access to unbiased comparative print permanence data based on uniform rigorous test criteria so they can make informed choices about the photographic materials on which they print their precious memories. The long-term survival of photographs and our photographic heritage must not be shortchanged by overstating the permanence characteristics of any paper, ink, other imaging material, or their combinations.

Photographs are simply too important to our civilization to be subjected to undisclosed compromises about their longevity.

For more detailed information please refer to "Print Permanence White Paper" which can be accessed from

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