It’s a fair question. You’ve no doubt seen old photos in various states of fading, curling and cracking. That’s probably what today’s prints will look like in 50 years, right? Nope.
Digital cameras aren’t the only evolution in photography this century. Print technology has been improving just as rapidly, in two ways.
- Silver halide printing machines, which still use light-sensitive paper and chemicals to print “real photos,” have perfected the process and materials to yield prints that last over 100 years without fading in normal indoor lighting conditions.
- Inkjet printing has pioneered new technologies that surpass even the best silver halide photo prints in dynamic range and permanence, now claiming up to 200-year stability in indoor lighting conditions!
Most of these improvements have come to market within the last decade or two. So how do we know they’ll last a century? Manufacturers and independent testing labs accelerate the effects of aging by exposing prints to voluminous combinations of light, heat and moisture. The simulations are carried out in tightly controlled conditions so that print types can be rated on a series of benchmarks, like how long the paper will remain pliable and how long the inks or photo dyes will remain true to their original tones.
It’s very possible that the prints we make today will outlast us and our hard drives. So the photo legacy you leave may not be much different from the one you inherited. In which case, we should all start printing more!