Paper, Ink and Printing

ACID FREE v. ARCHIVAL PAPER
INKJET v. LASER v. GICLEE PRINTING
TRADITIONAL v. MODERN INK
ORDINARY v. MUSEUM QUALITY PRINTS

by James Lantos

As printmakers in the 21st century, we've been hearing these terms for years. The process of fine art print making in the 21st century is different from that of the 19th or 20th in that no longer are prints exclusively made using offset or screen printing processes.

"Museum quality" prints are produced using highly technological devices that spray sophisticated, pre-manufactured ink through complex, electrically driven devices that lay the ink onto paper which has undergone extensive pre-treatment, all to help bring out the colors of a print as true to the original as possible.

You wouldn't know this by looking at prints bought online or those made with a desktop printer. But I'd like to describe these complicated and labor intensive processes, the same we employ in making archival reproductions from originals.

After over a decade in the business, we’ve come across a range of articles, papers, and statements, written from various perspectives which describe these processes.  The sources include: artists, museums, entrepreneurs, printers, ink and paper manufacturers, research centers, conservationists, government standards declarations, et al.

We've often thought this information should be condensed into concise terms, in a single document, so a layman contemplating the purchase of an "archival" or "museum quality" print can understand the range of processes and competencies that go into creating such a work.  Such information is useful because it also details how museums and artists implement these processes when reproducing their own works for sale.  Fittingly, the Library of Congress, the source of the images offered for sale, has made some statements about these various issues too. 

Nothing in this process is simple. A voluminous (and at times confusing) number of articles have been written both in print and on the web. Below is an attempt to assimilate those efforts.

1. ACID FREE v. NON ACID FREE PAPER
2. ARCHIVAL v. NON ARCHIVAL PAPER
3. THE STRUCTURE OF WORKS OF ART ON PAPER
4. MODERN DIGITAL PRINTING
5. DIGITAL INK PRINTING - HEAT v. VIBRATION
6. LASER PRINTING
7. INK TECHNOLOGY FOR INKJET PRINTING
8. GICLEE PRINTING
9. MEDIA TYPES
10. RESIN COATED v. FIBER BASED PAPER
11. SPECIALTY ARCHIVAL PAPERS
12. ARCHIVAL INKS

ACID FREE v. NON ACID FREE PAPER

Paper is one of the starting materials for creating a work of art. This article from Wikipedia sums up the discussion of acid free v. non acid free paper.  Accordingly, "paper made from wood-based pulp that has not had its lignin removed turns yellow, becomes brittle and deteriorates over time." (Lignin a key structure in vascular plants involved in the formation of cell walls.) Various processes have been developed to render wood pulp acid-free ensuring the resulting paper made will last over 100 years. The article notes that alkaline papers made today, which account for most commercial papers used in the marketplace, may have a life expectancy of between 500 – 1,000 years.

The U.S. Government developed a voluntary standards system in 1984 to deal with issues such as paper pH, tear resistance, alkaline reserve, and lignin thresholds. The standards were developed by librarians concerned about long term document preservation. Manufacturers of acid-free paper can alert the public of their compliance with the standards (called "ISO 9706" or "ANSI Z39.48-1992") by using a circled infinity symbol.

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ARCHIVAL v. NON ARCHIVAL PAPER

"Archival paper is an especially permanent, durable acid-free paper meant to be used for publications of high legal, historical or significant value. In the USA, such paper must also be approved in accordance with the ANSI standards." Instead of using wood-based paper, cotton rag is used for archival paper production. Further, "archival paper is sometimes broken down into two categories:

Conservation-grade – acid free, buffered paper made from wood based pulp.

Archival-grade (Museum-grade) – cotton rag paper made from cotton pulp."

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THE STRUCTURE OF WORKS OF ART ON PAPER

A scholarly article written by Mary Fahey, Head of Preservation/Chief Conservator at the Benson Ford Research Center entitled, "The Care and Preservation of Documents and Works of Art on Paper" discusses this subject.

The article defines "most paper items (as) consist(ing) of three basic components: the paper support, a sizing material or ground, and the media that is used to create the document or work of art."

Paper was handmade prior to the 19th century and "consisted of cotton, hemp, linen or mulberry fibers". These papers were called rag paper and were expected to last hundreds of years.

Wood based papers made their appearance in the 19th century in newsprint and magazines and are prone to rapid degeneration due to the acid based properties of lignin described above.

"Sizing refers to the application of adhesives such as gelatin, plant gums and starches to the surface of a sheet of paper" used to make the paper "less absorptive in order to prevent the bleeding and blurring of media". Sizing also adds strength to the paper. The use of chalk, clay or other materials may also be added to the paper giving it more smoothness.

"Media refers to the materials that have been used to create the work of art itself." (ie, watercolors, pencil, chalk, pastel and Conte crayons). Various factors influence the integrity and degradation of a work of art. Handling (physical handling as well as oils and salts from the human hand) and environmental factors (pollution, pests, temperature, humidity and light) are key in this process. Proper storage, exhibition, matting and framing of artworks are also important factors in long term preservation.

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MODERN DIGITAL PRINTING



Todays Digital Imaging
(click image to enlarge)

A very technical book was put out in 2005 by Smart Papers (a paper manufacturing company) called "Today's Digital Imaging v5.0". The book states that "by 2010, 99% of all printing will occur on a digital device," and it has a large amount of useful information regarding the entire modern digital printing industry.

"Photo printing by color inkjet devices, laser printers, and copiers (meets) or even surpasses the quality of silver halide prints, enabling color printing to enter markets previously closed to digital printing like medical imaging, photo studios, mapping, catalogs, books and flyers."

The book reminds us that Johan Guttenberg was the first to use letterpress printing when he reproduced a copy of the Bible (15th century). "Prior to this, all books were handwritten by scribes. Color process work was initiated in the 1880s just after web presses which were introduced in the late 1870s. From there Silk-Screening, Gravure, Flexography, and Offset Printing (1906) were also developed. It wasn't until the mid-1970s that the first use of computers in the pressroom took place."

Since that time, five different types of printing technologies have emerged: laser, liquid inkjet, solid ink, dye sublimation, and thermal wax. You can refer to the book for a discussion of the latter three of these methods. This essay will refer to the book's discussion of the first two methods, laser and liquid inkjet technology.

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DIGITAL INK PRINTING – HEAT v. VIBRATION

Liquid Digital Printing

Thermal Inkjet Printing Process

 

According to Smart Papers, "there are two types of inkjet printers – thermal and piezoelectric.

In thermal inkjets, the printhead contains four ink cartridges, within each of which is an ink filled firing chamber. An electrical current runs through resistors at the bottom of each chamber, causing a vapor bubble to form. The bubble expands pushing the ink droplet through the nozzle and onto the paper. The resistor then cools, causing the bubble to burst, and fresh ink is sucked into the firing chamber for the next ink droplet.

Instead of resistors, piezoelectric inkjets (a process patented by Epson) have a thin layer of crystal between two electrodes, and each printhead nozzle is contained within a piezo crystal. An electric current causes the crystal to vibrate and squeeze ink out of the nozzle onto the paper."

Liquid Digital Printing
Source: theimagecollective.org/inkjet-technologies/

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LASER PRINTING

A laser based printer is a high end device used for making fine art prints. The costs for these printers can range into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and they can produce some of the most beautiful fine art reproductions given their complex technological processes.

Read more...

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INK TECHNOLOGY FOR INKJET PRINTING

Smart Papers notes that "the design of inks for inkjet applications is a complex process. Inkjet inks must exhibit excellent color properties and image details. Ink formulations must be compatible with print cartridge components and materials as well as how the cartridge functions. The ink also needs to interact with the coating chemistry and properties of the media used for printing.

Most ink used in inkjet technology is water based. Ink color can be achieved with pigments or dyes. Other main ingredients include surfactants, humectants, corrosion inhibitors, biocides, and other additives. Humectants are important to prevent the ink from drying out and clogging the nozzles of a printhead. The way in which an ink flows on a medium can be modified with various surfactants.

Color gamuts are obtained using combinations of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black ink. Inkjet systems now include additional cartridges with inks designed specifically for photo printing, thereby expanding the color gamut. Six or eight color ink cartridge systems are available for use in specialty inkjet photo printers.

The wide gamut of colors available is also suitable for the depth of coloration involved in fine art reproduction printing as well. Such printing is called "Giclee" printing and is described further below.

Read more...

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GICLEE PRINTING

A buzzword of the industry in the 1990s was the term "Giclee". It comes from the French word "gicleur" which means "jet" or "nozzle" (and the verb gicler means "to squirt, spurt, or spray").

Generally, making a Giclee print involves doing more than just printing out something on a desktop printer. It involves printing using a 6-12 color, high end, large format printer and the use of archival paper and inks.

Read more about the Giclee process

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MEDIA TYPES

Many leading media suppliers offer media for both technical and graphics applications. The range of media offered by leading media suppliers includes:

  • Bond
  • Photograde media
  • Glossy & Matte coated papers
  • Clear film
  • Backlit film
  • Vinyl (Scrim & Adhesive-backed)
  • Canvas
  • Typical technical document and graphics media sizes are 24, 26, 42, 50, 54, 60 and 72" wide

 

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RESIN COATED v. FIBER BASED PAPER

Resin v. Fiber is an important contrast to be aware of when it comes to the subject of papers used by photographers.

A terrific article which outlies this debate was found on the website hubtz.com.

Read more...

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SPECIALTY ARCHIVAL PAPERS

According to a fine art printing advisory website, InkJet Station, archival paper is referred to as "Museum Grade" (ISO Standard 11108) and it means the following:

  1. The paper is acid free with a pH value between 7.5 and 10
  2. The paper has an alkali reserve of at least 2% calcium carbonate
  3. The paper is resistant to tearing
  4. The paper is free of easily oxidized material, or lignin
  5. The paper is made from cotton
  6. The paper has a high endurance to breakage by folding

"The ISO 11108 and 9706 standards and their predecessors, including NISO ANSI Z39.48-1992 and NISO ANSI Z39.48-1984, were established to provide criteria for paper to last several hundred years in libraries and archives in order to reduce problems these entities face in preserving important works. ISO Standard 9706 sets forth the first four requirements above to certify a paper for permanence, while ISO 11108 adds two additional requirements for archival quality. Archival quality papers are significantly stronger than permanent papers, can withstand more handling, and will last longer.

The United States Library of Congress sets forth even stricter standards than ISO 11108 for archival papers. The Library requires a stricter pH between 8 and 9.5 and requires the paper be free of optical brightening agents. The Library further requires papers to pass a Photographic Activity Test performed by Rochester Institute of Technology's Institute of Paper Permanence. This test certifies that the paper does not fade or bleed, and passes strict metallic impurities specifications to avoid damage to photos and documents they come in contact with."

Read more about the specifications of HP papers

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ARCHIVAL INKS


(click image to enlarge)

Lastly, Marion Meissner, leader of Print and Test Services at ILFORD Imaging in Switzerland, has some things to say about the use of archival inks in the process of fine art printing. (Source: http://blog.ilford.com/category/technical-info/)

"Most current inkjet printers used in the photographic industry are pigment based ink sets. While dye ink sets produce a slightly larger color gamut, pigment inks produce high quality results with greatly enhanced print permanence.

"In the above illustration, it's easy to see that dye inks absorb into the receiving layer on the paper base while pigment inks remain on the surface of the media. Pigment inks are more archival but the tradeoff is some loss in color gamut (colors that can be reproduced). Dye inks have advanced in their stability and permanence over time and pigment inks have improved as well closing the gap with gamut reproduction so that most professional quality inkjet printers for photographers are pigment based."

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