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DONíT PRINT YOUR DIGITAL PICTURES at Home, until you read this!

    Inkjet printers have made printing the pictures from your new digital camera easier than ever.
Because it is so easy, they are sometimes treated as if they are "real" photo prints. They are not.
Hereís what you need to know about inkjet printer photos.

Written by "Vector"
Managing Director, Vector Trust / USA
Original member of the team.


   When inkjet photos are first printed, they look just like conventional print photographs. The special paper stock is heavy, and the colors are bright and bold. Donít be fooled into thinking they are the same. True print photos will look original for years to come. Inkjet photos will start deteriorating as soon as they cool form the printer heat. Within the year, those bold reds in the original will be pastel and the colors will fade. This decay is a byproduct of the printing process itself. Lets talk about why this happens and find some alternative solutions.
    With the goal being to maintain our pictures in true original form as long as possible, many inkjet printer manufacturers are offering special papers and inks designed specifically for increasing the archive capabilities of the finished prints. I read frequently where manufacturers are claiming that the prints from their printer and consumables combo are as durable as conventional photo prints. There is no historical data to back up these claims, but the short history of home/desktop photo printing is not very promising.
   The major difference between inkjet prints and lab prints is the effect of heat and even the slightest bit of moisture. You think "Iím not going to heat my pictures, or get them wet!", but lets look closer at the problem.  A single droplet of water on a lab print will blot the surface, but the image underneath is still correct. Any moisture at all on an inkjet print and the image is gone too. Just like a lab print the picture is stained, but the moisture will destroy the image as well, because of waters effect on these special papers and inks. The printer manufacturers only quickly mention this effect in their literature, but even sweaty finger prints can ruin an inkjet image.
   Some manufacturers realize that they have a consumer complaint problem that will grow and grow with the popularity of these home photo printers, so they are announcing new printer models and better consumables < papers & inks ) to combat this problem.     Iíll mention an alternative solution in a moment, but lets see what works best in the current marketplace to archive our inkjet printer photos.

    First, all manufacturers recommend proper handling as the most effective way to protect digital prints. Only handle your prints at the edges, with dry hands or a cotton cloth. If the prints will be passed around or handled repeatedly, place them in portfolio pages. Several types are available. This step may add protection to your prints, but may be cumbersome depending on how you will be showing the pictures. These suggestions are good for your lab prints too, but you can wipe fingerprints off lab prints with a tissue. That may or may not be true with inkjet prints, depending on how long your nephewís grimy like fingers were holding it.
   Another way to protect your inkjet pictures is by laminating them. It is critical that you understand the difference between "cool" laminators and "hot-roll" laminators. Your pretty new printers were printed using heat sensitive inks. If you re-heat the pictures the inks will effectively re-melt and smear. It is impossible to un-lanimate a picture too. (un-laminate??? is that a word?? ) You get the point. Any attempt to separate the picture from these protective coatings will destroy the print. Keep that in mind BEFORE you laminate your pictures. There are many laminators on the market. Some have been specifically designed for the "home-user". Some of them cost as little as usd$200 to usd$300. When shopping and comparing, be sure to look for a unit that specifically says it safe for use with inkjet printed photos. Again, remember that any heat can ruin your prints, so "cool" lamination is critical. These cool-type machines fuse the photo and laminate sealant with adhesive and pressure between two or more rollers. Also avoid standard office laminators. These machines force adhesive into the paper fibers of office documents. The glossy surface of your inkjet prints will resist this process, leaving you with a bubbled or unevenly finished photo face.

   When pictures are framed for permanent display by a frame shop, the common procedure is to use mounting tissue and acid-free archival paperboard. Many frame shops will attempt this job for you, but understand that operator skill is critical. The mounting press needs a little heat to activate the adhesive tissue. Itís probably not warm enough to effect your prints, but almost every framer will admit to having "cooked" a few customer orders, if they are honest with you. Professional frame shops have there own "cool" processes as well. They tend to have the same problems mentioned earlier.
   While we are on the subject of preserving your inkjet digital photos, let talk about the issue of color decay and print fading. Direct UV sunlight will significantly fade inkjet prints, much faster than any lab print. It is an unavoidable fact. Framers will suggest UV filter glass. I recommend it too. Just understand that UV glass "filters" the light, only deferring the problem, not stopping the fading. When deciding where to hang your prints, keep them away from direct view of open windows, exterior doorways, sun porch areas and office atriums.

   There are no permanent solutions to the problems Iíve mentioned, but let me offer several suggestions.
    Always keep a digital archive of your printed pictures. Pick a spot on your hard drive, better yet use a zip-drive or CD-burner to make permanent copies. Creating a replacement is easier if you know where to look for a picture taken 10 days or 10 years ago. This is especially critical for the new digital cameras. It is so easy to delete the memory and lose family or business photos. Make a habit of logically saving all the pictures to one central spot. Whether the pictures are "good" or "bad", a copy should be saved. You keep the negatives from every roll of standard film. No one trims off "bad" photos from the negative strips when they come back from the lab. Donít do it with a memory stick full of digital pictures. Good or bad, you may delete the picture you will need later.
   Since you probably purchased the inkjet printer to get relatively inexpensive copies of your digital pictures, maximize that option. Make duplicate prints of each picture and store them "face-down" in the same picture frame. One copy for lamination, one for safekeeping. This also will give you a quick way to reference how much fading has occurred.
   Finally, the solution I recommend is one that the printer manufacturers donít like much at all. Take the photo archive mentioned above, to a print lab and have photographic prints made. This isnít as expensive as it sounds and will provide a superior solution for the select few pictures from a roll you actually want printed. Sharing family photos is great fun. Quality prints make better, more durable business impression. Select the best few images and have 3, 5, or 8 copies printed at your local discount store. Most everywhere in the world in-store instant photo labs have the capability to photographic paper print your digital images. This plan will make Kodak and FujiFilm stockholders happy too. They will be able to sell you print paper, since you arenít buying their films.