Archival pigment ink fine art prints are the latest evolution of archival photographic artwork and in this guide, I cover the key concepts that every collector should understand when purchasing archival pigment ink fine art prints as well as my personal standards and recommendations.
My goal is to make this guide clear and free of technical jargon and focused on making sure you are aware of the most important archival concepts and why they matter.
If you are like most art buyers, you purchase art because you love it or it means something to you. Because you enjoy and value your new art, you want to make sure you will be able to enjoy it for the rest of your life.
I provide important information in this guide to help you make an informed decision when buying archival quality pigment ink fine art prints and I provide important details about conditions at your home or office that can impact the longevity of your new artwork.
KEY INFORMATION FOR MY ART BUYERS & COLLECTORS
There are two key factors concerning image stability and archival permanence of fine art prints on any type of substrate: certified archival materials, and display conditions.
CERTIFIED ARCHIVAL MATERIALS
I use the world’s finest 100% certified archival materials to create my artwork and I follow the archival standards for producing museum quality artwork.
The second and one of the largest influencers of how long any type of photographic art will last are the storage and display conditions (i.e., temperature, humidity, light and handling), and that is why I include a section on this information along with my recommendations in a section below.
For maximum permanence, I suggest having a professional frame shop dry mount your archival pigment ink fine art print following the proper heating and pressure guidelines of the mounting tissue. Long-term tests indicate dry-mounted prints fare better than prints that are hinge or corner mounted because the dry mount tissue acts as a barrier to pollutants that can be absorbed by the mounting board and then transferred to the print. Finally, by using an Acrylite Gallery UV Filtering OP-3 acrylic sheet as your glass, you have used all of the proper materials to protect your artwork from damaging UV light and enjoy it for a lifetime. Be sure to review my Display & Care Guidelines section below for additional details.
TOOLS, MATERIALS, & WORKFLOW
I use a state of the art Epson SureColor P9570 large format fine art archival printer that uses Epson’s flagship UltraChrome PRO12 archival pigment inks. By using this system along with certified archival papers, materials, and an archival workflow, I produce museum quality archival artwork that I guarantee for life. I personally create each print myself and no part of my workflow is outsourced to a third party so you can be assured that every detail is carefully monitored and executed with precision for you.
According to Henry Wilhelm, director of research at Wilhelm Imaging Research, which is the world’s leading independent print permanence testing laboratory, Epson’s SureColor P7570 (24″) and P9570 (44″) printers using the Epson 12 color UltraChrome PRO12 archival pigment inks are capable of producing museum quality archival prints lasting 200+ years for color and 400+ years for black and white. The projections are based on the quality of the archival materials used and display/storage conditions.
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR MY ART BUYERS
When you buy one of my limited edition archival pigment fine art ink prints and want to hang it on your wall in your home or office, I guarantee the artwork to look like the day your purchased it for the rest of your life so long as you follow my handling and care guidelines.
I take every known and reasonable care during the artwork creation process to ensure the long-term archival performance of my artwork. Once the art leaves my studio, the environment in which it is displayed and/or stored becomes the more important determinant of the artwork permanence.
We know based on thousands of years of art history that acid is not only invisible, but over time it can damage and ruin your artwork. This is why it is critical that the artist uses 100% certified archival materials and follows an archival workflow.
Archival materials include the acid-free paper, mounting board, matte, and even the frame and type of glazing (glass) used. If you are only purchasing the archival print from the photographer, then the other materials such as the mounting boards, mattes, and frame would fall on you to ensure the proper materials are being used.
Beyond materials, the workflow and handling of the artwork also influences the archival permanence of the artwork too. For example, if the artist doesn’t wear gloves when handling the artwork, acids from their hands and skin will transfer to the print.
Also, any adhesives and print mounting materials can also negatively impact the archival performance.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT PAPER (SUBSTRATE)
Selecting and using an acid-free paper is the first important step in the archival process and this is controlled by the photographer.
The absence of acid simply means the artwork will not decompose or brown the same way regular papers would over time.
We know based on history that papers that don’t contain acid perform remarkably better than those that do. We also know that 100% cotton rag acid free paper is the ultimate choice when it comes to archival performance.
The photographer must perform their own due diligence and ensure they are using a certified 100% cotton rag acid free substrate to create their photographic artwork. If the paper is not certified as 100% cotton rag acid free, it could contain harmful elements in the front or back coating that will lead to failure. This is the first question you should ask when considering the purchase of a fine art print that is described as archival.
TESTING FOR ACID
Although I only purchase certified acid free 100% cotton rag paper for my archival fine art prints, I test each sheet of paper to ensure the paper is truly free of acid. I also test the mounting and matte boards if I include them in the final artwork that I sell to my collectors.
Unless the fine art paper is certified 100% archival, the paper may be archival but the coating on its front may not be and this is why I take the extra step to test every piece of archival paper that I use for my artwork.
I use a pH Testing Pen to verify the substrate and materials are suitable for long-term archival permanence. I print on paper larger than the final size of the artwork so I can carefully handle the print during my workflow, but also facilitate the pH test on every print. I trim the artwork down to its final size as the last step in my workflow.
By drawing a small line on the material to be tested, the chlorophenol red indicator solution will turn purple on any substrate with a pH of 6.8 or above which is what we want to see. A clear or yellow color indicates the material is unsuitable for conservation purposes. I look for a pH value of 7.0 or greater because this ensures there is enough alkaline reserve to combat the local and atmospheric pollutants that are present when displaying artwork.
ELIMINATING OPTICAL BRIGHTENING AGENTS
Optical brightening agents (OBAs) are chemicals that are put in papers during the manufacturing process to make the whites of the papers look brighter to the eye.
I test all of my archival fine art substrate with an ultraviolet light to ensure they is free of optical brightening agents. As you can see in the image, when lit with an ultraviolet light, a paper with OBA’s will appear abnormally bright as shown on the paper to the left. The paper without OBA’s will not exhibit this visual artifact.
The optical brightening agent chemicals absorb invisible ultraviolet light and then emit the absorbed invisible light during the viewing process to make the whites looks so white.
When this happens, the white of the paper looks incredibly white, because our eyes are seeing a combination of the white of the paper shown by standard light and the light being emitted by the chemical in the paper. While this all sounds visually appealing, it is a terrible idea for archival performance.
USING ARCHIVAL PIGMENT INKS
Once you have a 100% cotton rag acid free archival paper, the ink that is placed on the artwork is just as important as the substrate.
Printing companies have invested millions of dollars researching and developing archival inks for color gamut (range of colors) and archival stability. Based on serious testing performed over the course of several decades, we now know that pigment inks are an archival ink that out perform the original dye-based inks.
I am currently using a state of the art Epson SureColor P9570 large format fine art archival printer that uses the Epson UltraChrome Pro12 archival pigment inks. By using this system along with certified archival materials and an archival workflow, I produce archival artwork that I guarantee for my art buyers and collectors.
According to Henry Wilhelm, director of research at Wilhelm Imaging Research, which is the world’s leading independent print permanence testing laboratory, Epson’s SureColor P7570 (24″) and P9570 (44″) printers using the Epson 12 color UltraChrome PRO12 archival pigment inks are capable of producing museum quality archival prints lasting 200+ years for color and 400+ years for black and white.
DISPLAY & CARE GUIDELINES
To ensure your archival pigment fine art print will last a lifetime, take your artwork to a professional frame shop and ask them to follow these guidelines:
Dry mount your archival pigment ink fine art print on a 100% cotton, acid and lignin-free mounting board with a window matte that is hinge-taped using archival linen tape. Make sure the framer is following the dry mount tissue manufacturer recommendations for heat and pressure for pigment ink prints on cotton rag paper.
If a backing board is used behind the mounted artwork, ensure it is also acid and lignin free as well.
Use an Acrylite Gallery UV Filtering OP-3 acrylic sheet as your glass.
If you choose to store your prints versus displaying them, maintaining relative humidity between 30% and 50% is advisable and room temperature should not exceed 85F/29C. The storage box and any separation tissues between artwork should be acid and lignin free.
For larger prints that won’t mail flat, I roll the prints between two acid and lignin free tissues and carefully place everything in an oversized tube for shipment. Upon receipt of the new artwork, I recommend taking the new artwork to a professional frame shop and follow my recommendations as listed above.
PRINT CARE, DISPLAY, & HANDLING TIPS
- Never hang your print in direct sunlight, even through you are using a UV filtering glazing.
- Never hang your print under or over an air vent.
- Hang your framed print at a very slight upward angle to allow air to circulate around the print. Small clear rubber pads/feet mounted on the bottom frame are a good option for employing this method.
- Only use a dry lint-free cloth to wipe the UV protective/museum glass.
- Maintain relative humidity where the print is displayed/stored in the 30% to 50% range.
- Extreme heat and wildly changing temperatures can expedite print deterioration issues. Avoid exposing your print to temperatures above 85F/29C.
- If your print is ever exposed to smoke, moisture, or water, do not attempt to fix it yourself. Contact me or a print conservator immediately.
- If lighting your print, avoid using any light source of more than 120 footcandles. LED lighting is the preferred source. I like a light temperature in the 3200K to 3500K range. Only light your print when viewing. Excessive light exposure can accelerate deterioration.
- For maximum permanence, have a professional frame shop dry mount your fine art print following the proper heating and pressure guidelines of the mounting tissue. Long-term tests indicate dry-mounted prints fare better than prints that are hinge or corner mounted because the dry mount tissue as a barrier to pollutants that can be absorbed by the mount board.
- Only handle artwork directly by hand if absolutely necessary and when doing so, use natural cotton inspection gloves. Also, ask your professional framer to do the same.
There are many factors that ultimately determine the archival performance of artwork ranging from tools and materials used to the local environment where the artwork is displayed.
I do everything that is currently known to ensure my materials and workflow are in alignment with the latest museum archival standards so your artwork will last your entire life and then some.
I guarantee that all of my archival pigment ink fine art prints will look beautiful for your entire life as long as you follow the display and care guidelines as described in this guide.