Friday, December 21, 2012


The term archival is a relative one. (No pun genealogical intended.) For a very long time I was an artist dealing in works on canvas as well as paper. Archival is a term that means, basically, this is gonna last a real long time but not forever. Maybe a couple hundred years if we're lucky and the work on paper is taken care of. But it's not parchment or vellum, which are animal products, or a work on stone... so don't expect a miracle.

I am prompted to write this and address the issue by Dick Eastman's excellent blog, which I enjoy immensely, and recent post at
Unless you have the paid version you won't be able to read the whole thing... and I don't subscribe as my budget for this stuff only takes me so far, more's the pity. But many thanks to Dick for prompting me to access the deep recesses of my brain and share what I do know about the world of papers and such.

For works on paper, the most important thing is, well, the quality of the paper. "Acid free" is the way to go. You want to print your work on acid free paper, no two ways about it. But it's not that hard: just walk into Staples, go to the area where they have a way too large selection of paper and ask the nice kid (woops, sorry, "team associate") for some acid free paper. Look for 100% rag content or cotton rag content which will have the closest pH to neutral. It will be there in the stationary section in a lovely box and cost an arm and leg as compared to copy paper.

There are handy portable test devices for checking pH but don't bother with that. Just look for packs of paper marked pH neutral or acid free.

Alternately you can go to the art supply store and purchase paper there. Almost all art paper, except for that awful construction paper, is acid free and says so on the cover of the pad. Buy a thick pad of one that you like and have it cut to 8 and a half by 11 inches. Just feel it to see if you like it. And look at the color too. Do you like real white paper or one with a slightly creamy tone. You'll find a nice selection in the art store.

Regular copy paper will probably turn yellow in too short a time. The acid in the lingen fibers that make up the paper are plentiful and nasty. Ever find an old paperback novel and notice that the pages were really yellow? That's the acid at work. Same with old newspapers. They're the worst! Yellow and brittle too. We don't want that.

Now for your printer. Dick Eastman mentions those laser printers. Actually, I've had some experts tell me that the documents laser printers produce are going to last a long time, and are practically "archival" meaning that the image won't fade. When the text and images fade, they call that being "fugitive". But personally I don't care for the way laser printer output looks. I prefer ink jet, so let's talk about that.

Now you need to know that there are two major types of ink jet ink: pigment and dye. Dye ink will fade much faster than pigment ink. But that too depends on the porousness of the paper and how much ink is laid down. If you are using a soft "open" paper, then the little jet of ink which is basicly water based, will make its way into the paper fibers. There's stuff called size that they sometimes spray on paper, but let's not get into that unless you're a paper freak... and then go google it. Just remember that dyes fade and pigment lasts. Then select your printer accordingly: ask what type of ink the printer uses before you buy.

I really like and use Epson pigment based printers because they take such care with the product and do tons of testing. Here's a link to a tech document:
And here's another report about lightfast ratings:

The most salient factor aside from the acid in the paper is the ambient conditions in which the document is stored. Mild and dry is what you want. Humidity is death to paper. Ever find an old newspaper in a wet basement with a bunch of brown spots on it? You get it now:) So once your lovely document is finished, give it the very best chance of lasting by storing it in a wrapper of acid free tissue paper in an acid free box. Everyone on down the line for a couple of hundred years will be so glad you did!

Today's photo from the Archive:

Me and Santa, about 1954.

The URL for this post is:


  1. I have a pH testing pen and have found that most of the regular copy paper is now acid-free, too. It's always a surprise when I test it and see that it is. That being said, it's better to find high cotton-content paper.

    I have an Epson pigment printer. I liked it when it worked. If you don't use it on a really regular basis (every day or two), it quits working. I think the ink is a little pricy for regular printing and I don't print archival photos on a regular basis. Anyway, I have a Epson printer that no longer prints. Very sad.

  2. Oh, Nancy! I know what you mean about the lovely Epson inks drying up in the jet heads! A bummer for sure. Once a week I try to remember to print something even if it's just a note to myself, so as to keep the jets open. Wow have the prices on Epson inks gone up! Oh, well so has gas.
    I had one of those fun testing pens for a while but got caught in the art store testing a sheet of expensive paper;) Well, I was going to but it anyway. Good to hear that copy paper is now mostly acid free. Some days, life is good!