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How to Print Long Lasting Photos at Home

Photo credit: HP

When it comes to your digital photos, the truth is there’s no better way to store them for the future than to print them. Not all of them, of course, you’d go broke, but the keepers. And when it comes to printing your photos, you have plenty of choices: you can upload photos to online services, drop off a memory card at a retailer, or use a kiosk to have prints made instantly. But to make a photo print that will last generations, only one method can deliver the goods: your home photo printer.

Sounds strange right? But according to print permanence expert Henry Wilhelm, it’s true. Wilhelm wrote the book (literally) on print permanence and runs an independent testing service where he subjects all manner of photo prints to tests to simulate various real world conditions. Based on this extensive research, Wilhelm has concluded that prints produced on inkjet photo printers produce the longest-lasting photos.

But it’s not just any home printer using any old ink and paper. Here’s what you need to know about how to make a long last photo print with your home printer:

You need an inkjet printer, not a dye-sublimation printer. Most home printers use inkjet technology for printing, but many snapshot printers (i.e. those that print out photos that are 4 x 6 inches in size, like Canon’s Selphy line or Epson’s PictureMate) use dye sublimation instead. Those dye sub printers won’t do for long-lasting photos.

Pigment inks last longer than dyes: Printer makers like dye-based inks because they produce great looking color photos, Wilhelm said. But dye inks simply don’t last as long as pigmented inks. That’s not to say dye inks fade quickly – some will last for 100 years – but if you want the longest possible lasting photo, you’ll need to find a printer that uses pigmented inks. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear whether a certain ink is pigmented or not – even in the fine print. And some manufacturers, like Canon or Lexmark, will include both dye and pigment inks in a single printer, although they tend to use the dyes for photo printing and the pigment for black text.

To help clear up the clutter, here’s a little chart showing some of the popular lines of ink from the major printer manufacturers.

Company Ink Name Ink Type
Canon ChromaLife100 combination dye/pigment
Epson DURABrite Ultra pigment
Epson Claria dye
Epson UltraChrome Hi-Gloss 2 pigment
Epson UltraChrome K3 pigment
Kodak 10 & 30 Series pigment
HP Vivera pigment
HP Photosmart dye
Lexmark Vizix dye (for photo printing)
Brother Innobella dye

Keep it in the family: Whether you have a dye or pigment-based system, to get the longest-lasting prints, it’s important to only buy the paper and ink made by the same company that manufactured your printer, Wilhelm noted. Consumers may be tempted by lower cost paper and inks (or may want to try to refill existing inkjet cartridges with third party inks) but in testing these products, Wilhelm found a sharp decrease in longevity. “If there’s one categorical piece of advice I would give it would be to avoid those products,” he said. In some cases, yellowing of photos exposed to air occurred within weeks.

Staying within the manufacturer’s brand also gives you a few simple ways to get higher quality photos too, Wilhelm said. Printer manufacturers load what are called paper “profiles” into their software. If you go into your printer’s menu, you’ll usually see this as the options to choose a paper type, usually a specific brand name. When you make that selection, you’re telling the printer to behave in a certain way to better match the ink output to the kind of paper used.

Storage knowledge: How you store your photo is as important, if not more, as how you print. Photos stored in the open air with some exposure to sunlight will fade the fastest. Take a recent example from Wilhelm’s published work: Kodak’s C310 printer. A print made with the C310 on Kodak’s Studio Gloss paper stored in the open air would resist fading for 34 years; stored under glass and it survives 148 years; placed in an album, over 300 years. Moral of the story: put them in an album!

Store survival: While following the above advice should deliver the longest lasting prints, home printing is expensive relative to in-store options. If you value the cost-savings associated with retail printing, Wilhelm said that the longest lasting of the retail photo papers is Fujifilm Crystal Archive paper. Some labs that use this paper for their photos are listed here.

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Author:Greg Scoblete

Greg Scoblete is the editor of Your Digital Life. He has been covering the photographic world for the past ten years for a variety of publications including PDN, This Week in Consumer Electronics and Digital Photographer.