Don’t let your prints fade away. Fading, discoloration and even damage of any colored surface can be a problem if proper care and precautions are not taken. This is not just true with prints but any surface with an image even if it is archival. The rate of fading and discoloration depends on the media the image is on and the pigments or properties that make of the colors. Since we are more concerned here with prints, whether it be a photo or art reproduction, there are two main influences we should look at: external and internal.
External Elements that Can Harm Prints
External things that we can look at is everything from exposure to light as well as atmospheric conditions. With light we are talking primarily about sunlight. Any light can affect a print but especially sun light, which contains harmful UV rays which overtime do anything from cause colors to lose their vibrancy to actual color alterations. Fortunately, this is one thing that you can easily control. Keep your prints away from direct exposure to sunlight when possible. It’s almost impossible to block all UV rays since some level will likely be present in almost any room unless there is total darkness but the potential of those having a negative affect are likely not to be noticed for many years. A helpful solution is to use a frame glass / glazing that has UV inhibitors that help block the UV rays.
Atmospheric conditions and their ability to damage a print is going to rely more on the type of print. If you place a print on canvas or paper in a room which gets a lot of humidity and the media is a more absorbent such as with cotton-based papers, humidity can seep in over time. This can do anything from causing the media to warp or loose it’s tautness and possibly lead to discolorations due to the inks exposure to the water molecules the inks might come in contact with. One solution is to make the print watertight. The best way to do this is to place it in a frame behind glass and make sure the backing is waterproof. At FinerWorks, we do something a little different for our framed paper prints we make than many framers. Rather than Kraft paper we use Tyvek which is a waterproof material that seals the print away from potential damage humidity can cause. Of course, you will want to also include glass / glazing when possible so that you have a perfectly sealed print.
Other atmospheric conditions can include temperature. Sometimes it may not affect the paper or media as much as the other things that make up a print. Very cold conditions can inhibit a prints ability to breathe. Sometimes the paper becomes more brittle and less pliable. Heat on the other hand can cause warping, especially when high levels of humidity are also involved.
I also wanted to mention handling. Some types off prints are going to be more prone to being damaged while others. Improper handling can include scratches to even fingerprints. It is important for artist and photographers to understand the properties that make up their prints, what they can be susceptible to damage wise and provide their buyers general instructions on their care. I have even heard of photographers and artists providing their clients a pair of white gloves with their orders to imply the importance of care when handing their prints whether it be on metal or an unframed giclee.
Internal Elements that Can Harm Prints
Internal conditions primarily are going to be the result of the paper or canvas and inks. A color laser print is not likely to be on archival materials nor will the inks consist of archival properties. When a print or inks due are not archival in nature they do have the potential to actually have harmful ingredients. For instance a paper that is not archival may be too acidic causing the materials to break down quickly over time as well as affect the color pigments. The inks, if a dye based inkjet print or laser toner may also fade pretty quickly.
Fortunately the inks, papers and canvas we use at FinerWorks are archival grade so prints of this nature are not going to see the effects of time at the same rate. On that premise it is always advisable to seek out a printer that uses archival materials and inks for your prints.
Ultimately archival grade materials are archival because they can better withstand some of the external conditions, most specifically light. The inks will have UV inhibitors and the papers will not have bleaching agents or utilize more advanced bleaching agents to keep the surface from yellowing.
Other types of prints, while not technically archival may be very durable and resist external or internal pressures. For instance, a metal print, while it still susceptible to long term UV exposure generally will not be harmed by humidity or warp due to high temperatures.