As a photographer wanting to sell their work to collectors, or show their work in galleries, making (lasting) prints is a way of life. This article is the first in a series of three, that will help you understand how to protect, store, and handle your artwork.
PhotoWorkflo includes a module called Locations. This feature gives artists the ability to keep track of the physical location of their prints, whether in storage, at an exhibition, or sold to a collector. Even if you know the location of your prints, are you aware of the condition of their care? How does the environment where your prints are being stored or displayed affect their longevity?
How does the environment affect how long my prints will last?
Light – your printed photograph’s light exposure will have a powerful influence over the longevity of the work. The quantity and wavelength of light are paramount. Exposing your print to too much UV light will cause a negative change. If your prints are inkjet, you’ll notice that the pigment inks don’t fade at the same rate, causing strange color shifts. Yellow fades the least and also more slowly than the rest of the inks. Red and green will shift toward yellow, and neutral colors will get a strange reddish hue.
What can you do to protect your work from too much UV light? Consider some of the methods listed at the end of this article like laminating your prints, covering them with UV filtering glass, and storing them away from direct sunlight.
Temperature – did you know that the temperature where you store your prints can also affect how fast they fade, regardless of light? Thermal degradation or “dark fade” can happen even if you’re storing prints in the dark, but the temperature is too high. Why? Think about 7th-grade science class when you learned that heat causes particles to vibrate. The higher the heat, the faster they vibrate, resulting in an accelerated chemical process. In this case, that chemical process is the breakdown of the inks and paper of your printed photo.
Humidity – high relative humidity will also affect longevity but less so when compared to UV light and temperature. Humidity above 80% will likely cause fungal decay. Those of you living in an arid climate like Colorado or Arizona might notice that when you order inkjet paper that travels from the east coast, the paper inside the box has a curl. The change in humidity levels is what’s forcing you to combat that curl when running the paper through the printer. If you have this problem with sheet or roll paper, you might consider investing in a De-roller to remove the curl. They are a bit expensive but worth it if you encounter this problem often. They come in a couple of sizes (24″ and 50″ for example).
Gasses (Ozone) – these can be cut down by framing your image with glass, acrylic glazing, or UV filtering glass. Another effective combatant against ozone is using a protective spray or varnish, or with a brush-on coating over your print. Laminating your prints with a protective film or even face-mounting to acrylic are other options. Many of these options can change the way your print looks, by increasing color and contrast, or by changing the surface by adding a gloss or velvet texture to the final output. The best choice will protect your work and also enhance the creative result.
There are many elements to consider when creating long-lasting, archival prints. When you become well-informed about how to protect your work, you will feel confident when selling your photographs to collectors or hanging them on the wall in a museum or gallery. Today we talked about factors that influence the longevity of your prints from an environmental perspective. In the next blog post in the series, we will discuss the stability and composition of the paper, including a discussion of optical brighteners and the primary characteristics of different papers and their surfaces.
Also published on Medium.