Lack of Standards Spark Inkjet Photo Fade Debate

Major printer vendors regularly hire WIR, which is run by print longevity expert Henry Wilhelm, to test photo papers, inks, and printers for longevity. (Full disclosure: PC World has never hired or paid Wilhelm, but he has supplied test results for some of our articles about print longevity.) Rob Rosson, an imaging supplies analyst for Current Analysis, says WIR testing methodology has become the industry's de facto standard.

WIR has also tested Kodak and Staples papers, and Wilhelm's print longevity projections for those products fall far short of those achieved by HP and Epson papers. For example, WIR projects that images printed with Kodak photo paper using HP Photosmart 145 and 245 printers will last only 11 years--or 109 fewer years than Kodak is claiming.

In 2002 WIR tested Staples Premium Glossy Ink Jet Photo paper and rated the print life at 1 to 3 years with most printers. Since then, Staples points out, it uses a more advanced paper technology. Longevity for National Geographic Premium Paper High Gloss are not yet available from WIR.

However, some third-party photo paper vendors aren't buying into WIR's testing as a de facto standard. Critics say WIR testing is not only time-consuming but costly: Companies that wish to participate in the WIR seal of longevity program must ante up $15,000 for testing one type of paper with one specific printer and ink. Vendors also contend that WIR tests don't reflect how prints will fare in a real-world display environment.

All labs, including WIR, project image longevity based on tests involving exposure to light, heat, humidity and air pollution. And all labs use a procedure called accelerated fading to test for resistance to light exposure. Basically, accelerated fading involves exposing images to intense light and using mathematical formulas on the results in order to project when the picture might degrade to an unacceptable level.

But WIR and others don't see eye to eye on how to test for light fading. Kodak, for example, says its tests assume the room where the photos will be displayed is much darker than the brightly lit room on which WIR tests are predicated. Kodak and Staples say WIR's methodology places too much weight on fading due to exposure to light. They argue that WIR doesn't sufficiently factor in the importance of an image's resistance to heat, humidity, and ozone pollutants.

Wilhelm counters that Kodak's tests aren't sufficiently stringent, and that Staples has provided no scientific data whatsoever to back its claim that its photo paper is "fade resistant." In general, Wilhelm says, consumers should be wary of vendor claims that aren't explained in detail or supported by independent testing.

"If every manufacturer was responsible for making their own longevity claims, those claims would mean nothing," he says. Third-party inkjet paper suppliers counter that, if an international standard existed, they would gladly base their claims on that standard.

"It's an industry-wide problem we did not create," says Tim Whelan, director of marketing for coated digital papers at International Paper. Whelan says International Paper has made a significant investment in testing its paper for quality and longevity.

Packaging for International Paper's National Geographic Premium Paper High Gloss states that the projected 100-plus years of print longevity applies to images displayed "under glass with the latest photo inkjets."

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