Fight Photo Fade-Out
Those snapshots of your daughter's birthday party or your tropical vacation look good the day you print them. But without the right combination of printer and paper, chances are they will have faded significantly when you check them out in just a year.
Your photo album doesn't have to end up looking as if you printed it with disappearing ink, however. A study of photo paper longevity conducted by one of the foremost authorities in the field shows that your digital photos can last as long as--or even longer than--conventional prints that come from the drugstore.
In putting this report together,
The Wilhelm study included test data on recent photo ink jet printers from four major vendors--Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and Lexmark.
Our conclusions: You don't have to break the bank to keep your photos
vivid. But you do need to choose your printer--and its paper--carefully. You
must also give your prints the kid glove treatment. And once you've assembled
the proper gear, you'll want to set it all up for optimum performance--we offer
a number of tips on how to simplify a variety of digital photography tasks such
as editing your pictures and transferring them into and out of your computer
With the growth in digital photography, the increased availability of scanners, and the advent of Internet print sharing, more people are printing photos at home.
Lyra Research, a firm that covers the imaging industry, reports that 50 percent of consumers surveyed who have PCs and printers now print photos at home, up from 30 percent three years ago. And about 79 percent of those who own digital cameras do so. Those figures will only increase, says Lyra senior consultant Larry Jamieson.
But many digital-photo buffs have seen their homemade digital prints fade.
Usually, that's because the photos are made using standard papers and inks in general-purpose ink jet printers, products not designed for color permanence. Impermanence is fine if you're printing flyers or brochures that will be outdated before long, but it becomes a serious problem when you are printing memories.
Enter photo printers, specially designed ink jets, and accompanying papers and inks, all promising both longevity and affordability. Ink jets have long delivered the affordability, but only in the past two years--and with the recent release of inks and papers by Canon, Epson, and HP--have vendors seriously tackled longevity.
The new inks are carefully created and matched to papers with special coatings and absorption properties to ensure certain levels of damage resistance from air, light, and water. That's one reason vendors recommend you use your photo printer only with certain papers. But not all photo ink jets are created equal.
Ink jets from three of the four vendors in the Wilhelm study deliver
some prints that should last for quite a while: from about 15 to more than 100
years. (All results are for framed prints under glass, in a fairly bright room.
Unlike the other vendors, Lexmark does not currently match its inks to its own paper, recommending instead that users buy Kodak Premium Picture paper. It is also the only vendor of the four that has not released inks specifically designed for longevity, Henry Wilhelm says.
A Lexmark spokesperson says that ink fading is an area of focus for the company, and that Lexmark will continue to research, test, and develop inks to provide pleasing and lasting results. No industry standard governs archivability, and while Lexmark does not make claims about the archivability of documents or photos printed with its inks, the company spokesperson says that its inks are competitive with others in the industry.
Lexmark's $140 Z52 Color Jetprinter is the least expensive of those
tested and has been a
Epson gets the highest marks for longevity with its Stylus Photo
2000P. Our tests found its prints should remain fade-free for 100-plus years,
thanks to a combination of Epson's Pigmented Archival Inks and high-end papers.
That's decades longer than even traditional prints can claim (prints on Fuji's
Crystal Archive paper last for 60 years, and those on Kodak's Ektacolor Edge 8
fade after 22 years).
You pay about $15 more for these ink cartridges (price of black and color cartridges combined) than for cartridges used by some other Epson Stylus Photo models, but paper prices are surprisingly affordable. You can pay as little as 36 cents per 8.5-by-11-inch matte sheet (add about 40 cents per sheet for glossy papers; traditional photo papers run about 30 cents per sheet). And there are no film development costs.
The key to the 2000P's long-lived prints is the Pigmented Archival ink, which is much more durable than ink jets' usual dye-based inks, says Fabia Ochoa, product manager for Epson desktop photo printers. Ochoa also claims that these prints, when made on the right paper, are as water resistant as those from dye-sublimation printers, which have typically been better in this respect. The 2000P is the first desktop photo ink jet to use pigmented ink.
Most of us probably don't want to spend $900 on an ink jet. Luckily, Canon and Epson also offer pocketbook-friendly models that delivered an average of 26 years of print life in Wilhelm Research tests. An Epson Stylus Photo 870 sells for as little as $179; Canon's S800 Bubble Jet Photo and Epson's Stylus Photo 890 printers cost $299 each.
However, Epson has had problems with the 870 and its $399 wide-format 1270 sibling. The printers debuted last year boasting high quality and long print life, but users found that heavy ozone concentrations reacted with some prints, turning them orange quickly (sometimes in days).
Epson offered a buy-back program last September, plus tips for minimizing the reaction (keep prints under glass or in photo sleeves). It also released a reformulated Epson Premium Glossy Photo paper with antioxidant coating that Ochoa says reduces ozone effects about sixfold. But this coating does not eliminate the problem.
For that, look to Epson's new ColorLife paper. It eliminates the fast ozone-related reaction and supports much longer print life--up to 17 years more than with the Premium Glossy Photo paper. And it's priced on a par with the older paper. ColorLife paper will be available in late July or August. The current Matte Paper Heavyweight is also more resistant to air damage than the other paper types, Ochoa says.
Canon's paper is more expensive than Epson's (its recommended Photo Paper Pro PR-101 runs about 93 cents per sheet, while Epson's paper is 8 to 60 cents cheaper per sheet), but because you can replace Canon inks one at a time instead of all together--unlike with other printers we saw--you buy only the colors you need.
A full set of six costs about $72; single cartridges go for $12 each.
You may not save money on printing photos, but if you print logos or
presentations that use one color heavily, you should see savings. (
The reformulated, long-lived BCI-6 inks that debuted with the Canon S800 Color Bubble Jet this year are backward-compatible with the older BJC-8200, according to Ned Bunnell, director of product management for Canon's digital home and personal systems division. To improve image quality, he suggests updating your printer drivers for use with the new inks.
HP's prints last about 10 years less than Canon's and Epson's best in this price class, and its optimum photo paper is more costly than either of those vendors' offerings. The three HP printers tested by Wilhelm Research all have 2400-by-1200-dpi resolution and cost $299 to $499. In our tests of the HP Photosmart 1218, print quality was good, although the output had a bit less range of color and slightly more dithering than prints from some of its competitors.
These limitations are likely due to the HP printers' use of four-color cartridges, not six-color; four colors yield a bit less detail. Lisa Dowling, HP Photosmart product manager for North America, says that according to customer tests, most users cannot tell the difference between prints made with four colors and those made with six, and that the Photosmart units are meant to excel at both photo and mainstream multipurpose printing.
Dye-sublimation printers are becoming more affordable and offer well-heeled enthusiasts or small businesses a good alternative to photo ink jets. These fast printers typically deliver smoother color gradients and more subtle shades than ink jets, but are also more expensive: Those that print only 4-by-6-inch prints average about $350, says IDC Research analyst Riley McNulty.
Costs for ink and paper can accumulate quickly, and ink cartridges for these units tend to generate fewer pages than the ones that ink jets use. Dye-sublimation models are less versatile as well, permitting fewer print sizes than a typical ink jet, and they're less adept at printing text.
Ink jets will continue to improve, and prices will keep dropping. For now, the midrange Canon and Epson models offer the best balance between long-lived prints and affordability. If you want to pass your pictures on to future generations, spring for the high-end Epson Stylus Photo 2000P.
Who wants faded photos? Follow these tips to preserve your digital prints.
1. Choose a six-color ink jet printer for better color quality, and invest in the vendor's recommended photo paper for longest print life.
2. Store prints in an album: They will last longer than framed photos. But avoid albums with self-stick "magnetic" pages and PVC plastic covers.
3. Slip the prints you want to display in frames under glass (preferably with an anti-UV coating). Don't leave them exposed to open air.
4. Use aluminum frames: They're lightweight and unaffected by humidity.
5. Put an acid-free mat between the frame and the photo to prevent your prints from sticking to the glass or plastic over time.
6. Keep prints out of direct sunlight and humid rooms (such as bathrooms and basements), and away from intense heat (don't keep them in attics or kitchens or near heaters).
7. Make sure ink jet prints are very dry before you stack them, so they won't stick together (wait at least 24 hours).
Click on these linked articles to learn more about photo printers: