Lack of Standards Spark Inkjet Photo Fade Debate

But International Paper officials say the claim only applies to prints made using the HP 8700 series printer and HP Vivera inks. The claim is based on the company's own testing. International Paper says more comprehensive testing of its paper with a larger selection of printers is in the works.

"Longevity is not the most important reason our customers buy Staples' photo paper," says Jevin Eagle, senior vice president of Staples brand group. He says the quality of the image, how quickly the image dries after printing, and price are what Staples customers value in its brand-name inkjet photo paper. Eagle wouldn't comment on Staples' "fade resistant" claim or the testing processes it bases the claim on.

But "Marketing claims are extremely confusing for customers to untangle," he adds. "Until there is one unbiased standard for testing, we plan to keep things very simple for our customers." Staples offers a money-back guarantee on its photo inkjet paper if consumers are not satisfied.

Some vendors toss around terms like "archival quality" without making any promises regarding image permanence.

For example, Paris Business Products touts its Glossy Ultra Premium Photo paper as "Acid-free archival paper for long lasting prints" on product packaging.

Sharon Hennelly, Paris Business Products spokesperson, explained that the "archival" claim refers primarily to the fact that the paper is acid-free. Acid-free paper lasts longer than other papers and holds color well, she said. Paris Business Products makes no claim as to how long the image will maintain its color vitality before noticeable fading occurs.

Ultimately, the best way to extend the life of your images is to keep them in a photo album or even a shoe box. Displayed on walls, images are affected by light and air pollutants. And it's best to keep digital copies of pictures on a CD or DVD, says InfoTrends' Martin.

"Consumers can't put all the responsibility on preserving images on the photo paper," says Dan Burge, a scientist with the Image Permanence Institute.

"It's up to the consumer to take good care of their images if they want them to last," Burge says.

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