Printing at Home

Q. I work in pen and ink and I want to do reproductions of my drawings with a scanner and an ink-jet printer, but I have some questions. How permanent is that type of ink? And if it’s likely to fade, does anyone make a better quality of printer ink?
Bill Stonehill
Tokyo, Japan

A. Making color prints of artwork on an ink-jet printer seems to be the latest craze. I’ve seen dozens of advertisements for printing services that promise “permanent” or “archival” printing using the latest ink-jet technology, but so far the marketing seems to be getting a bit ahead of the technology.

Most of the inks used in ink-jet printers are dyes, not pigments. They’re transparent and susceptible to damage from exposure to ultraviolet light. Some manufacturers are working on overcoming this problem, however, and the Japanese have developed “micropigmented” inks, which use pigment particles so small that they can flow through the fibers of a felt-tipped pen. There are also pigmented marker pens on the market that are quite lightfast, although I’ve never seen documentation that attests to the lightfastness test method, and this testing is crucial. Lightfastness is also affected by the paper and the other materials in the ink besides the pigment, so any test methods used by manufacturers must take these other factors into account. No one, to my knowledge, has gone that far yet.

For now, it’s still safest to go the traditional route and have photo-offset lithography prints made of your artwork, and wait a year or two for the ink-jet printer inks to improve. In the meantime, if you’re eager for more information you could write to printing ink manufacturers such as Canon and Hewlett-Packard (ideally to their chemists rather than their marketing departments), asking about their lightfastness testing and claims of durability. But to make a long and circuitous story short, I’m not optimistic about the durability of the reproductions made with the current ink-jet processes.

Drawing Board creator Bill Tilton, of Raleigh, North Carolina, is a contributing editor to The Artist’s Magazine.

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