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Thread: fiber based printing paper"archival"?

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Apr 2000

    fiber based printing paper"archival"?

    This came to mind after reading the question about drymounting, leading to discu ssion about life expectancy of prints, standards set by musea etc.

    What do we know about the "archival" quality of the fiber based papers we print on, what exactly is fiber based paper, do manufacturers have standards to follow and is a control system in place. Do different manufacturers follow different s tandards? Is paper from Hungary more or less "archival" than paper from France, the USA etc?

    I suppose a similar question could be asked about the emulsion.

    Discussions or articles about "archival processing" usually focus on the steps f rom developping to washing and then go on to the option of dry mounting or not, using "archival" board. We need to know if the paper we print on is "archival" i n the first place.

    Thanks to responders and best wishes for 2002.

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Sep 1999

    fiber based printing paper"archival"?

    Hans, our expectations for the service life of photographic papers are based on the following: 1)Many photographs printed (on rag paper) well over 100 years ago still appear in good condition, and 2) many photographs printed on the earliest RC papers quickly crumbled into shards. What happens to today's papers is a crap-shoot.

  3. #3

    fiber based printing paper"archival"?

    I bet an email to either the George Eastman House (GEH) or to Rochester Institute of Technology's Image Permanance department would yield some answers. You'll have to do a search and maybe find a contact through their web sites, but that would be a good first step if you're really interested in tracking this down.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jan 2001

    fiber based printing paper"archival"?

    I second the IPI....I attended aconference several years ago about preservation and a few of their staffers were speakers...the amount of infromation they had and the topics were fascinating. James Reilly in particular....he's written a few books on albumen paper and early photo processes as well....there's an albumen paper website linked to this site: Conservation OnLine.

    That site has a wealth of information abouth this type of stuff....check out Abbey Publications for paper conservation topics, and the IPI as well.

  5. #5

    fiber based printing paper"archival"?

    I've been at this for a while, so I can tell you about my experiences.

    1. Forget RC papers. I have many prints that have cracked, turned brown or silvered out in the last 10 years.

    2. Ansel Adams work printed on Iford and Kodak papers has been estimated to have a life-time of 4000 years.

    3. I have fiber base prints made in the middle 50's that are as good as the day I printed then. All I did is give these prints a decent wash out of the Hypo.


  6. #6

    Join Date
    Jan 2001

    fiber based printing paper"archival"?

    Michael, you know that's so true about the assumption that the old papers have "lasted"...out of all the millions upon millions of photos taken over the past 150 yrs. or so, how many have actually "lasted"?? They say that nearly 75% or so of all albumen prints that have survived have in fact deteriorated in some form or another....the same is true if you look at old images like daguerrotypes, ambrotypes, ferrotypes, pop papers etc....the truly magnificent ones that have survived are the ones that people often think of it seems...not the others that you'd find as more everyday sorts of images. When people turn this sort of dialogue into an rc vs fiber thing, they talk of all the bad experiences with rc papers....but I have probably a thousand prints going back to the early 80's on RC paper, that were run through Royalprint and dektomatic processors, or in good old trays, and the worst that has happened to these has been with the dev. incorporated papers of the mid 80's, with the dev. migrating to the top....the rest have survived fine stored in the usual empty paper boxes....likewise, at work, in the deep storage files, there's an odd mix of about 10,000 photos on a wide variety of papers from about the late 1880's and running through me, RC papers are like the canary in the coalmine...if you can't make one that will last a few years (barring the problems of framing one tight a la Ctein)...then maybe something's wrong with either your process, your environment, poor paper quality (generic manufacture), or a combination....the IPI guys say that one speculation is that RC papers absorb atmospheric pollutants in their polyethylene base, and this in turn attacks the emulsion from both sides--whereas a fiber print will pass the pollutants through. I believe this, because of my practical experiences with production RC printing. But it doesn't neccesarily mean that you're safe forever with fiber, or that one material is better than another...besides the paper base quality, there's questions about brighteners in the emulsion, and what their life expectancy is as well....I, personally, don't believe that any material will last forever...this is the mindset of an archive...but you need to protect what you have the best you can, or assign a priority to various materials based on what your uses are....the entire reason why they don't use the word "archival" in the standards, is because there's nothing to match it up's a vague word....there seem to be two camps here...those who just like fiber printing (nothing wrong with that) but will deny all other forms of printing & reproduction...and yet the "archivalness" of their mindset ends with the print....look at drymounting, storing negs in unsafe plastics, uncontrolled environments, handling prints & negs with bare hands, etc....and then there's the actual institutional definition, which is sorta more hardcore in storage, but a little more flexible in what you'll use to actually access your collection of images....this is why you'll never be able to have a decent conversation or point/counterpoint about gets turned into an all or nothing diatribe based on one perspective.

    As for fiber prints...yeah, they _do_ last longer if handled right...but in the end they're on PAPER....which has it's own host of problems no matter if you're talking books, letters, lithographs, newspapers, or fiber based photos. I read a speculative article once, about how if an RC b&w paper were manufactured on an opaque polyester base (Melinex, like they use in cibas)...that this material would be a very stable print medium...moreso than contemporary materials....but that at this stage, it wasn't worth it to the manufacturers to develop such a paper....

    that's it for me, happy new year you all, as always my opinions only.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Jan 2001

    fiber based printing paper"archival"?

    So...gene, where do they get 4000 yrs LE for Ansel's prints? With the ansi/iso std. for microfilm being at about 500 the benchmark for records storage, where does 4000 yrs. for paper print come in? Surely that must be in some cold storage the design of those vaults, they have extimations that exceed 10,000 yrs. for materials often...but the materials stay there forever basically. In absolute cold and perfectly tempered RH environments. This is not dry mounted or hanging on a gallery wall, or being handled bu ungloved hands, or with excessive light levels, or UV. I'll believe 100 yrs, maybe 50 or so in an uncontrolled environment. In an archive, with a cool room or cold vault, I'll believe those higher numbers...but based on what I've seen from patrons, it _is_ a crapshoot out in the real world. Again, my opinions only.

  8. #8

    fiber based printing paper"archival"?


    I've read so much photo liturature over the last 40 years, I don't recall where the 4000 year estimate came from (although I think it came from the National Archives or Smithsonian or some such second rate source).

    I'll ask John Sexton about it next month at his February Expressive Print WorkShop and get back to you guys!

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Jan 2001

    fiber based printing paper"archival"?

    Thanks for that info might be interested in the Preservation Calculator software that the IPI offers free online, and the pdf booklet for the "IPI Guide To Acetate Film Storage" as well... You can use this to gauge the effects of temp & humidity on the lifespan of a material...even though it's aimed at acetate based negs and vinegar syndrome, you can extrapolate data from it to get a rough idea of what sort of environment you need for your storage areas. Cold storage is the way to go though.... We have dedicated facilities for our collection (250K or so items), which are mainly 3-d objects, furniture, textiles and paintings. These objects all require different storage environments. Our photos are documentation of the artifacts primarily, and some originals like older cased images and an odd assortment of prints....our state archives though has something like 1.5 million negs and a cool room/ cold room for nitrate storage. We basically store our working files, some 60,000 or so negs & slides in a small room shut off, with a hydrothermograph in it to monitor the temp & stays at 65-70 and around 20-30% rh. It's hard to isolate an area without a dedicated vault though, and you can't really use traditional heating & cooling systems for this on a large need to be cool/cold yet really dry at the same time...and not cycling all over the place. Our building has a different sort of HVAC system that sorta heats & cools at the same constantly regulates the temp & humidity and this is what alot of museums use because for artifacts you need to hold that at a certain level consistently. Probably the absolute worst thing that could happen to your prints & negs would be to have mold infect them ....When you talk with conservators though, they have a different angle on it than maybe an archivist, or a curator...they're all different professions in the same sort of business. The conservator is going to come in after the fact--the object is already in a collection, or has been brought to them. In an institution, the three all work together though to manage the collections....we have conservators for textiles & furniture mainly here....I can tell you that the minute an item becomes part of a collection it moves into another area of storage & display that is far beyond what the average person would think. For an individual to just assume that their fiber based print will last forever, is just a fantasy really...for that print to last 4000 years (sorry, still cracks me up) that would mean somebody, or someplace would have to become the caretaker for it....somebody would have to _really_ want it...out of all the quadzillions of images ever produced, I wonder what the number will be to actually survive? Especially when some places will spend up to a million or so on a vault, and then have to prioritize what images deserve to be saved, because you can't save everything.....if you really start adding up the costs for sheer amounts of materials, and care like the services of a professional conservator, it's mind boggling almost....and then multiply that times the size of your photo collection....if you took all that money you spent on "archival" materials, and built a vault or rented space underground, you could in fact save your images for a long time even if they were stored in not-so hot enclosures....but then who'd ever see them?

    as always MY opinions only here.


    You also might be interested in these week-long seminars that the IPI offers....I went to one 5 years or so ago for work up in DC at the Smithsonian CAL lab. It was sponsored by them, but there were with archivists & conservators with NARA, IPI etc. there. It was about preservation issues in photo collections, They still give these annually up in Rochester, but the CAL gives other seminars as well. Some other institutions like NEDCC offer courses in presevation management as well.

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