Equipment Showing Your Work

The Fine Art of Digital Printing: How to Display Inkjet Prints

This is one of a series of short pieces that have been appearing weekly through the month of January at www.masteringphoto.com.

How to Display Inkjet Prints

Properly displayed, good inkjet prints can last a very long time. Seek out the better, more long-lived media. Two great, independent source for information on that are Wilhelm Imaging Research (http://www.wilhelm-research.com) and Aardenburg Imaging & Archives (http://www.aardenburg-imaging.com).

Assuming indoor display at normal light levels, the worst “good” print paper I know of is Epson Velvet Art, a rather primitive material by current conservator standards, Its display life’s 35 years, unprotected. Everything else I’ve looked at checks out at 45–70 years. No prints of value, though, should be displayed without protective glazing. Dust, dirt and other sorts of aerosol and particulate matter in the environment will settle on the surface of the print. Putting prints behind regular framing glass or acrylic increases the range of display lives from 75–120 years, with 85–100 being typical. UV-absorbing glass will improve that by another 60–100%.

Some folks recommend “airtight” framing, to protect prints from gaseous compounds that could attack them. No such thing exists. You cannot make a hermetically sealed frame at any reasonable price. Hazardous gaseous pollutants will diffuse in through any available path at a rate sufficient to attack the print. It doesn’t take a lot, and they’ve got decades. Once you’ve protected the print from aerosols and particulates with simple glazing, you’ve done all you can reasonably do.

Frames that are too “tight” will tend to concentrate any compounds that are generated or outgassed within the frame environment. This is a known hazard for prints. In general, more damage has been done to photographs and art prints over the ages by “protective” materials than anything else, simply because they are in close proximity to the artwork.

The safest course is to use all-metal frames and make sure the the overmatte and backing board are museum-grade, acid-free boards. Ue linen tape or adhesive mylar corners to mount the print. As best as we currently understand inkjet prints, if you follow these recommendations inkjet prints are likely to substantially outlast conventional darkroom prints on display.

And as with all conservation information, this is subject to change without notice, your mileage may differ, and only four out of five doctors agree.

Figure 1: Here's how I frame my inkjet prints. I think the double matte and the silver frame give my work a nice "museum" look.

1 Comment
   William Gamble said on April 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm

I’ve been a photographer for over 50 years, and I’ve been waiting a long time for an opportunity to praise Ctein. He is the most informed, articulate and engaging photo-savant I have encountered in all these years. He has a gift for drawing the reader into the processes he is describing in a way that makes one feel that they are there with him, sharing the experience he is describing. He is definitely the star of the esteemed photography journal, Photo Techniques.

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