As photo consumers move more and more toward alternatives to silver halide (photographic) output like digital photo albums from folks like Apple and Shutterfly and photo-intensive books like those provided by Blurb and A&I, many have questioned the longevity of these new printing options. After all, most of us have had the box of photos or old stick-in photo books from our youth that we stumble across every few years. Or maybe a Carousel or two (or 10 or 50) of slides, the old school prosumer and creative pro weapon of choice. So it makes sense to ask the question that in addition to the naturally unstable nature of the new digital photo environment (so, how long since you have backed up your iPhoto library?), what will those books I'm making today look like in 20 or more years?
To that end, we received some very good news this week. Henry Wilhelm co-founder, president and director of research at Wilhelm Imaging Research, who I worked with in my Corbis days after we acquired the Bettmann Archive and the Sygma Collection when we needed to quickly resolve the issue of decaying historical photographic films, released a report last week that is sure to make HP happy but also let those of us who are photo enthusiasts sleep a bit easier.
According to Wilhelm, HP Indigo printing actually exceeds the image permanence of the best-rated silver halide product, Fuji's Crystal Archive. Wilhelm rated Indigo output on Kromekote paper at 45 years, more than twice as long as the rating for Kodak photo paper. In addition, the dark storage rating, which is more appropriate for photo book applications, is greater than 100 years.
“The permanence ratings from WIR provide an important validation for the use of HP Indigo in consumer and professional photographic markets as well as in the fine art world,” said Wilhelm. “Good display permanence combined with excellent long-term stability, as well as freedom from yellowing for images that are in albums or are stored in other dark locations, are essential to preserving the value of historical photographs, art works and photo books.”
So your photo books aren't a replacement for backing up your digital photo archive. But it does mean that when you come across your "Burning Man 2009" book in 30 years, you'll still recognize yourself and your possibly questionable choices in wardrobe and friends.