"Archival" vs. RC

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I know that "archivally processed" prints on FB paper can last hundreds of years theoretically.

What is the expected or claimed life-span of Fiber Based prints which have not been archivally processed?

And what about B&W RC prints?

And color?


Don Minton

-- Don Minton (dpm3k@yahoo.com), May 08, 2000


You correctly wrote that archival permance is a theoretical thing.

The actual life of a print, whether archivally processed or not, also depends on its storage. Store a carefully processed print in too humid a climate, and it will deteriorate rapidly. Bright light, particularly at short wavelengths (blue), is also bad.

If a print was not processed to an archival standard, you can't state any life expenctancy. Depending on the shortcomings of the processing (and, of course, the other variables, see above), it may be anything between a few days and some years. For example: If you don't fix properly, the print may be discoloured the next day. If, however, there is some residual fixer in the print, this may even help print permanence (see Ctein below), but I wouldn't recommend it.

FB prints are generally favourable with respect to permanence, because any compound created in the emulsion by the action of light and/or atmospheric pollutants may diffuse away from the emulsion into the fibre base. This is not possible in RC prints, which makes them more prone to, e.g., silvering out.

The first RC papers are often said to have self-destructed over a few years, as the RC base became brittle and tended to disintegrate. I haven't observed this myself. Todays RC papers are quite permanent, but I would trust paper much more, particularly when the print in question is displayed in bright light.

Base material aside, the image itself may deteriorate, and I expect this effect is much more likely to occur in colour materials (where the image consists of organic dyes) than in silver-based b&w. It is also much easier to protect a silver image because convering the silver to more stable compounds can easily be achieved w/o a visible shift in tone by using, e.g., selenium toner or Agfa Sistan. AFAIK, all you can do for a colour image is put it under some UV-absorbing screen (lacquer is dangerous, see Ctein below).

A lot of interesting information on print permanence can be obtained from Ctein's book "Post Exposure".

-- Thomas Wollstein (thomas_wollstein@web.de), May 09, 2000.

I've not had any RC paper prints disintegrate, but they've certainly aged badly compared to Fibre based prints. The worst effect is extreme yellowing of the base, and the same goes for EP2 processed colour prints. It's probably a bit early to make a comparison with the RA4 process. It's generally acknowledged that the dye destruction Cibachrome (Ilfochrome) processs gives more stable prints than conventional negative/positive prints, and dye sublimation is even better.

-- Pete Andrews (p.l.andrews@bham.ac.uk), May 09, 2000.

You also asked about non-archivally processed fiber-base prints. I recently found some prints I made in my early bathtub darkroom days. They were turning an ugly pink color and slowly darkening. They were also affecting the quality of other prints they were touching. I don't think the importance of archival processing can be over- emphasized.

-- Ed Buffaloe (edbuffaloe@unblinkingeye.com), May 09, 2000.

I think there are three levels of processing for B&W: sloppy, standard and archival.

'Sloppy' means insufficient fixing or whatever, basically just not following the manufacturer's instructions. Sloppily processed prints may show visible damage within days or a year or so.

'Standard' means following the instructions. For RC or fibre, you won't see any damage for years or decades. Yes, some people have reported problems with some RC papers. Others (such as me) have seen no deterioration after 25 years.

'Archival' means, to me, going beyond the basic instructions, going the whole mile, aiming to preserve the print for centuries. This would certainly include toning, and archival storage materials (acid free, sulphur free, etc).

Most colour technology is short-lived. In any case, like RC, it hasn't been around for long enough to prove itself.

-- Alan Gibson (Alan@snibgo.com), May 10, 2000.

I recently spoke with a large commercial printer about a print they did that is yellowing, after two years. This is a big display print, about 36" by 48". They related their problem with RC paper, so vital in today's commercial labs due to speed. I guess one manufacturer had a run of bad whitening agent in their paper base. It was sealed into the RC paper, which then deteriorated from the inside. The FB papers are able to "vent" that kind of problem. And yes, my earliest sloppy prints are quite a mess now, especially the ones from the college darkroom. Who knows how old that fixer was.

-- E.L. (elperdido65@hotmail.com), May 11, 2000.

I have experienced yellow and brown discoloration with Ilford RC paper, some times within a month or two after procressing. On the other hand I have prints made in the late 50's (when all we had was fibre paper)that still look fine. I was not concerned about archival processing back then as a pre-teen darkroom worker. BTW, I no longer use RC paper.

-- Gene Crumpler (nikonguy@worldnet.att.net), May 15, 2000.

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