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Thread: Archival properties of tradional paper stock.

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    New York City

    Archival properties of tradional paper stock.

    There is a lot of talk about the archival properties of inket printing papers. It seems that people rule out various papers for seemingly good reasons like the presence of OBAs, bleach, lignin and acidity. My question is how do the properties on the paper stock used in traditional black and white silver printing papers compare? It seems to me that these things were never discussed before the popularization of inkjet printing but they must apply to the archival properties of the paper stock used in traditional materials as well.

    Just an aside... Many years ago I met the guy who was the paper merchant to Polariod for their peel apart products and he told me that that paper was junk. I had asked him about it because at the time a lot of artist were showing, and selling for a good price, Polaroids as finished artwork.

    Thank you all.

  2. #2

    Archival properties of tradional paper stock.

    Sure there's been lots and lots of discussion and argument about RC paper vs. fiber papers for years, ever since RC came out. I have RC prints that are 28-30 years old that still look fine. Plenty of others have had different experiences. Plastic paper should last a long time in theory but some components placed on its surface cause problems and prints go bad. But then poorly processed fiber goes bad as well.

    And I'll let a dirty little secret out of the bag:
    With all the talk about the permanence of ink jet papers and inks many folks ignore real testing of the combination they choose - if there is any real testing of their chosen combo. Its as if somehow ink "X" on paper "Y" will be as archival as either paper or ink used with its intended mate. Just because ink "X" is great on paper"X" does not mean that either one of those components will have the same or even similar life when mated with other materials.

    Not to worry to much because if you have the negative or the file you can always print another print. I think there is too much hand wringing on this subject anyway. But if one holds oneself up as someone who produces "archivally permanent art prints" then it seems to me that careful scientific testing of all the components used in concert would be in order before any longevity claims can be made. Not just "Epson says this paper lasts for 300 years with Epson inks so if I use it with XYZ inks it'll last 300 years as well"

  3. #3
    tim atherton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 1998

    Archival properties of tradional paper stock.

    this is one of the problems that conservators face with any major photogorpahciccollection or archive.

    You come across a proportion of prints where the actual silver/gelatin image is fine, but the paper substrate has deteriorated - yellowed, cracked etc. I've seen a fair number of rather bad examples of this

    Obviously a lot depends on the way the print might have been stored over the years, especially before it entered the coelction or archive. But also it seems that paper quality has varied greatly over the years from manufacturer to manufacturer and even within the same brand/paper type. Some just weren't the best quality substrate. Of course not a lot of study of this was done until problems started to show - 30, 50 or more years after the print was made (though on some papers it was rather sooner than that - especially some fromt he 70's I recall).

    I used to have a couple of papers on this but I think they are tucked away in boxes right now. I'm also not sure if anyone has done any consistant testing on modern papers at all.
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn blog

  4. #4
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Archival properties of tradional paper stock.

    Works on paper in general, not just photography, but also watercolors, oils, acrylics, pen and ink, charcoal, and everything else, are subject to substrate failures. Works on paper in particular don't seem to like temperature or relative humidity changes, which cause physical distress. The manufacturing method can induce chemical stresses.

    For darkroom use, clean paper is, well, it's worthless. You have to coat the paper with something that's light sensitive. Whatever you coat it with is bound to induce physical stress in the paper as the coating and the paper itself will react differently to changes in temperature and relative humidity. If that's not enough, in order to process the image, you have to soak the coating and the paper in various chemicals. It's not physically possible to wash the paper enough to get all these added chemicals back out of the paper; the paper is now contaminated.

    Dry mount the paper, and contaminate it more with glue from the dry mount adhesive. Frame it in a wooden frame and subject the paper to outgassing from the chemicals used to stain, top coat, and glue the wood. Hang it on the wall and subject it to atmospheric pollution.

    The saving grace for a dry mounted darkroom photograph is that it's now "coated" on both sides (by the gelatin coating over the top, and by the matte board over the back) which makes it fairly difficult for the paper to absorb much in the way of atmospheric pollution.

    Ink jet paper has it's own problems. The vast majority of it is coated with an inkjet receptive coating. It doesn't get processed in trays of chemicals, true, but the ink carrier contains various glycerins and glycols in a water base - have to keep the pigment particles suspended, and keep the ink from drying too rapidly thus causing clogged heads. While the water evaporates from the paper fairly readily, the glycerins and glycols do not evaporate well at all. So inkjet paper also ends up contaminated.

    Most inkjet paper is not drymounted, leaving the back of the print available to interact with atmospheric pollution. Likewise, the front of the print isn't sealed either.

    Bottom line is that darkroom prints are more susceptible to processing problems. Inkjet prints are more susceptible to atmospheric problems. Neither one is going to last forever. Works on paper never do.

    Bruce Watson

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