How to Make Your Photos Last Longer

By Dan Hope
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Even though digital pictures allow you to store thousands of photos in a small space and easily organize them, printing photos is still popular. Some people like the do-it-yourself attitude of home photo printing; others want to make physical copies in case the digital version is lost or damaged. And of course, printing photos is still necessary for display. It’s hard to get a digital photo on your fridge unless you print it.

Just like any photo, digital prints are susceptible to wear and fading. And since printer ink and photo paper isn’t cheap, you’ll want to make your digital prints last as long as possible. Here is a list of ways to extend the life of your digital prints.

PRINTING TIPS

The type of ink and paper that you use to print them can have a significant effect on photo lifespan. Inkjet photos always fade faster than photos done in a photolab or a digital photo printing kiosk at a supermarket. Labs use a special ink that is archival quality, meaning that it could last over 100 years. Kiosks use a dye-sublimation process that doesn’t last as long but is still reliable. Inkjet printers, on the other hand, offer the least digital print longevity. The standard photo ink and paper for inkjet printers will result in only a 20 year lifespan for photos. Many printer companies offer ever-increasing levels of photo-quality ink, but even some of the best ink for inkjet printers will only give a digital print a lifespan of 50 years.

There are several places to find information on the longevity of different photo inks. One of the best is Wilhelm Imaging Research, which can be found at www.wilhelm-research.com . Before you spend money on photo ink and paper, find out which kinds have the longevity you require for your digital prints.

STORAGE TIPS

Avoid Direct Sunlight
Never leave your printed photos in direct sunlight. It’s even a bad idea to store photos under bright indoor light. Harsh lighting causes the ink to break down and the pictures quickly begin to fade.

Avoid Heat

Much like sunlight, keeping your photos in warm environments will also cause the ink to break down faster than normal. It’s best to store photos in dark, cool areas where you won’t have to worry about temperature fluctuations.

Avoid Humidity
You probably already know that water is bad for pictures, but even humidity can permanently damage your digital prints and speed up deterioration.

Avoid Air Pollution
High concentrations of pollutants and ozone in the air will significantly increase deterioration in your digital prints. Even if you live in an area with relatively low air pollution, it’s still a bad idea to leave your photos constantly exposed to the air.

So how do you protect your printed photos from all these potential hazards? The best method is to put your pictures in photo albums with clear protective covers. The clear covers protect the photos from moisture and air pollution, and keeping them in an album prevents fading and exposure to light. If you don’t want to use photo albums, you should find sealable containers to store photos in as they will also protect the digital prints from light, moisture and pollutants. No matter what you store your photos in, make sure you keep the albums or containers in cool, dark places to avoid temperature fluctuations.

DISPLAY TIPS

But what if you’re printing the pictures to put them on display? You can still extend the life of your printed photos by putting them in frames with glass panes; this will help moderate the humidity, air exposure and even some light. Display your pictures in areas that will not be exposed to a lot of sunlight, too. And most importantly, keep backups of the digital version of the photo. Even if the photo is lost or destroyed, you can always make another copy.

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