Lack of Standards Spark Inkjet Photo Fade Debate

How long can you expect your inkjet-printed photos to last? More and more photo inkjet papers are being touted as "fade resistant" and "archival safe," but experts say these marketing pitches don't always provide good information on how long it will take for skin tones to turn green and paper to yellow on precious family photos.

Because there's no standard for measuring inkjet print longevity, it's difficult for consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons of photo papers. Consequently, experts say, people may find that some photos expected to last for decades will start to fade in just a few years.

"How long a photo printed with an inkjet printer will last depends on who you ask," says Cathy Martin, an analyst for InfoTrends. She says there are no clear answers for consumers looking for the best, and longest-lasting, photo inkjet paper. Photo paper is considered one of the crucial archival elements for photographs.

The fade debate is growing louder as companies like International Paper, Eastman Kodak, and Staples have begun more heavily marketing their photo inkjet paper for use with printers made by manufacuturers like Canon, Seiko-Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and Lexmark.

The latest salvo in the longstanding debate comes from HP and Epson; the companies dismiss claims by third-party paper vendors such as International Paper, Kodak, and Staples that their papers will produce archival-quality prints on any inkjet printer.

Specifically, Epson and HP strongly dispute Kodak's claim that prints made on their printers with Kodak's special paper will last 120 years before fading. Similarly, the printer vendors dispute International Paper's claims that prints made on the company's recently introduced National Geographic Premium Paper High Gloss will last "more than 100 years." (Staples, while claiming that photos printed on its papers "resist fading," makes no specific claims as to how many years a photo printed on its paper will last before showing signs of fading.)

"We've heard a lot of promises from our competitors," says Nils Miller, HP's ink and media senior scientist. But so far he says he hasn't seen a "miracle paper" from a third-party supplier that can deliver the same print longevity and quality with all printers.

Epson says users of its paper, in combination with Epson premium inks, can expect images to last up to 104 years before showing signs of fading. HP says its premium inks used with HP photo paper will last 115 years. These claims are based on internal testing by Epson and HP and on tests by Wilhelm Imaging Research, an independent laboratory based in Grinell, Iowa.

At the heart of the inkjet photo paper debate are conflicting opinions on how best to test printed photographs in order to project how long an image will last before it begins to fade.

For years, under the auspices of the International Standards Organization (ISO), printer makers and third-party providers of digital imaging products have been trying to settle on a mutually agreeable way to predict image longevity. But with no standard in sight, Wilhelm Imaging Research earlier this year announced that it would begin certifying digital imaging products for print longevity in order to assist consumers in making buying decisions. Wilhelm ratings, which will project print longevity for specific printer and paper combinations, are expected to begin appearing on product packages sometime this summer.

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