More on Ink-jet Printing

Recently, I answered a question about the durability of ink-jet printing inks. I’ve since received a number of letters objecting to my skeptical view and also calling my attention to the work of Wilhelm Imaging Research
(www.wilhelm-research.com) on this subject. Given the growing importance of printing technology for artists, I thought a little more discussion was in order.

Wilhelm has accumulated a great deal of data from testing dye- and pigment-based ink-jet inks with a variety of printers and papers. His predictions of longevity range from a few years to about 200 years. Some of these results are encouraging, but a large number of samples have a predicted durability of only 20 to 50 years, and artists should expect their work to endure unchanged for longer than that. Also, Wilhelm’s reports are unclear about the specific conditions of exposure and the nature of the changes in the artwork, and it’s impossible to determine the usefulness of the results without this information.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has long been testing lightfastness in its Subcommittee on Artists’ Paints and Related Materials. The methods involve averaged results with different paint vehicles and types of light, with details available on the Web at www.astm.org/COMMIT/D01.htm. As chairman of the subcommittee and an artist who’s had success in using its standards to determine the quality of the materials I use, I believe these are the most stringent and reliable test methods available. Two standards from the ASTM Subcommittee on Ink-jet Imaging Products also deal with ink-jet prints.

I’ve requested more information from Wilhelm Imaging Research, and if their test methods have features and controls comparable to ASTM methods, then I’ll have more confidence in their results. If not, I’ll once again call for a meeting of all interested parties to develop new and better methods. Research into more durable inks is progressing rapidly, so I’m hopeful that artists will soon be able to expect their ink-jet reproductions to last as long as their other materials. But I’m afraid that time hasn’t arrived yet.

Celebrated as an artist and beloved as a teacher, Jean Grastorf has won the Robert E. Wood memorial award of the National Watercolor Society and the Elsie and David Wu Ject-Key Memorial Award of the American Watercolor Society. When not on the road, she lives and paints in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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