Brett Wilson

Black and white photo longevity

There are a number of sources for photo longevity. Wilhelm Imaging Research is probably the best respected. Livick also did a lot of inkjet tests but seems to have taken down his results.

Studying these repots is illuminating, but I was still wondering how they translate into visual changes in black-and-white prints. Also, I use different types of papers/printers that were not tested consistently. So I found one random print I had on several different papers and hung them in a very bright window. Through online research before the test, I was expecting light fastness to be in this order: (1) Kodak B&W, (2) HP7960, (3) Fuji Professional, (4) Kodak Endura, and (5) Kodak Royal.

Danger!

These examples show only results for this particular test and not necessarily any real-world situation. Other things to keep in mind are:

As a result, use this only to compare relative changes between the different prints. This is really just a “visual guesstimate” and is not scientific. You might also correlate this to a more scientific test to extrapolate for a type of paper that was not present.

Results

Here are the results after several months in direct morning sunlight. The bottom half of each images was covered, while the top half was left exposed to the sunlight behind glass.

Fuji Crystal Archive Professional
Fuji Professional (WHCC)
Koday Royal
Kodak Royal (Adorama)
Kodak Endura
Kodak Endura (Mpix)
HP7960 (gray cartridge)
HP7960 (HP59 gray inks)
HP Premium paper
Kodak Professional black-and-white
Kodak Professional RC B&W (Mpix)
Original image
Original digital file

As a result of all the things mentioned above that are wrong with this test, I’m not going to make any effort to quantify the results because numbers would be meaningless.

All the color lab prints faded a lot and had significant color shifts toward magenta. Surprisingly, the Fuji shifted and faded more than the Kodak papers. The Royal and Endura did about the same. The Endura started off a little more magenta, which accounts for the apparently more color-shifted top portion.

Wilhelm rates Fuji Crystal Archive at 40 years while he rates Kodak Edge Generations at 19 years. It seems Fuji Professional would be at least as good as Crystal Archive, and I think Edge Generations is the same as Royal with a thinner backing, so his measurements deviate significantly from these examples. This may imply that my results are even more bogus than I led you to believe above.

The inkjet print had a barely perceptible fading (not really visible in the thumbnail) and an imperceptible (but measurable in Photoshop) shift toward magenta. The HP inkjet paper really didn’t like the heat in the window. The “plastic sandpaper” backing kind of flaked off and made a big mess. It didn’t affect the front of the print, however.

Conclusions

If you want to have long-lasting black-and-white prints, you should probably not use standard color chemistry. They all faded more than I expected. Also, it’s probably not worth worrying about which brand of paper you’re using and you should instead worry more about how the print is displayed.

The inkjet print did better than I expected. These inks are also one generation old and HP and Epson both have new inks which should last significantly longer. If you can protect your prints from gas fade, inkjet is probably a great way to go. Not surprisingly, you’re still best off with traditional silver prints.

© 2006 Brett Wilson