A CLASH OVER FADING PHOTOS
A CLASH OVER FADING PHOTOS
2005-04-09 at 11:54:00 am #8723
In the digital age, a clash over fading photos
The boom in digital photography has sparked a backbiting
squabble over the longevity of pictures made on home printers.
The clash pits printer makers eager to market their own
lines of expensive specialty photo paper against big paper purveyors like
retailer Staples Inc. and photo giant KODAK ., neither of which makes inkjet printers of their
As more people use digital cameras, many are making
homemade prints. Yet many shutterbugs could end up disappointed by the shelf
life of their photos.
Wilhelm Imaging Research, a testing lab in Grinnell, Iowa,
that was hired by Hewlett-Packard Co., Seiko Epson Corp. and several other
printer makers, recently publicly criticized Staples’ top-of-the-line photo
paper as a “disaster,” saying photos printed on it fade rapidly from exposure to
Meanwhile, Kodak last year claimed prints made on its
special paper with printers manufactured by H-P and Epson would last more than
100 years. Scientists from H-P and Epson – which market their own photo paper –
disputed Kodak’s claim. “Eastman Kodak uses significantly lower test criteria
than industry-accepted practices to achieve this rating,” Epson scientists wrote
in a paper published on its Web site.
The hostilities underscore how important paper remains in
the age of digital photography. The market for inkjet photo paper will grow 23
percent to $1.2 billion this year, up from $972 million in 2004, estimates Cathy
Martin, an analyst for Infotrends, a market-research concern based in Weymouth,
For Kodak, the king of traditional film-based photo paper,
gaining market share in ink-jet paper is important to its efforts to adjust to
the era of digital photography. And at a time when big retailers such aS WALL MART. are luring consumers to print
digital pictures in their stores, printer makers are trying to hold on to their
lucrative market of selling photo paper and ink cartridges to consumers. Printer
manufacturers reap most of their profits from such “consumable” supplies.
Kodak says it suspects the complaints from printer makers
about its paper reflect their desire to boost revenue by selling their own
paper. “The competitors aren’t very happy about the fact that we have the
solution” in the form of a photo paper that will work with all printers, says
Rowan Lawson, head of home printing systems at Kodak, which started selling its
Ultima photo paper a year ago.
Printer makers, meanwhile, are irked by the claims of
Staples and Kodak that their papers work fine with any printer, in part because
they realize that consumers are likely to blame the printer itself for any
problems. Printer makers say they have spent years and millions of dollars
fine-tuning paper that works specifically with their own ink. “When you put
paper out there to be used with multiple brands, it’s difficult to say you’ll
get any specific results,” says John Lamb, marketing manager for printers at
Canon Inc., which sells its own paper.
From a consumers’ point of view, digital photo fading
shouldn’t be a big problem – provided the consumer kept a digital copy of the
picture on a CD or online photo-storage site. But with software standards, Web
sites and storage devices constantly changing, a print on paper may be the best
way to assure that your great-grandchildren see what their ancestors looked
For ultimate longevity, archivists recommend subzero
refrigeration of prints. Prints last much longer when stored in photo albums or
even shoeboxes than those displayed on walls, where they are affected by light,
pollution, smoke and moisture.
Rebecca Ludens, a Kalamazoo, Mich., homemaker who writes
about photo scrapbooks for About.com, an online information service, says that
photo longevity is a big concern for the nation’s 31 million scrapbook-keepers.
“They’re hoping the pictures will last more than decades,” she says.
Kodak claims prints on its papers – whether made with
traditional silver-halide technology or on inkjet printers – can be displayed
for 100 years without fading. The company says color photos kept in albums will
last 200 years or more.
Kodak bases its claims on assumptions that its prints will
be displayed at 120 “lux,” a measure of brightness that is equivalent of a
softly-lit living room. Moreover, Kodak assumes the prints will be partially
protected from ultraviolet light by a special plastic filtered frame. The
company says its testing is based on real-world light levels as determined in a
study it did of 48 homes around the world. It says it has been using the same
light level for 30 years in these tests and wanted to keep the digital-printout
tests comparable to those it did of traditional silver-halide prints.
Most other makers of all kinds of photographic paper based
their longevity claims on photographs displayed on a wall under clear glass, at
450 lux, the equivalent to a brightly-lit corporate office. “In our testing we
go t1o the brighter room because that will have a more negative impact,” says
Tom Miller, an ink expert at Canon.
That standard has been promoted by Wilhelm Imaging, a
testing facility that H-P, Epson and other major photo companies have hired to
forecast print longevity by running accelerated tests under very bright lights.
Kodak and Staples have not contracted with Wilhelm Imaging for its services.
Henry Wilhelm, the firm’s president, disputes Kodak’s
claims about photo longevity because of its testing standards. Although Mr.
Wilhelm is only now testing Kodak paper in a Hewlett-Packard printer, he says
his tests on traditional silver-halide Kodak prints show they only last about 19
years without fading. In contrast, he says, Epson inkjet prints made on Epson
photo paper will last 200 years, and top-quality H-P ink on that company’s photo
paper will last 108 years. Mr. Wilhelm, who has studied photo longevity for more
than 20 years and serves as a consultant to photo archive companies such as
Corbis, says he isn’t biased by who pays him. He says he often conducts studies
without being paid and requires clients who cite his data to fully disclose the
Epson says its paper is formulated to accept its pigment
based-inks, which are less susceptible to pollutants than dye-based inks used by
other print makers. H-P says its paper is designed to absorb ink and then seal
itself to prevent contamination.
At Kodak, Douglas Bugner, head of inkjet technology, says
Wilhelm Imaging overemphasizes the problem of fading due to light, and
underemphasizes other issues. In particular, he says, Wilhelm hasn’t done
rigorous tests of many papers for susceptibility to ozone and other pollutants.
“It’s disappointing they’ve thrown stones at Kodak” over light-fastness, says
Dr. Bugner, who adds that Wilhelm hasn’t done the work Kodak has to understand
how warmth can affect images over time, even in dark storage. Kodak maintains
its paper holds up well to heat.
Wilhelm Imaging has also challenged quality claims that
Staples makes about its “Photo Supreme” brand paper, which the company promotes
“for cherished memories.” Mr. Wilhelm says Staples’ best paper fades rapidly due
to ground-level ozone pollution. At ozone levels comparable to “L.A. in summer,
Staples paper is a complete disaster,” Mr. Wilhelm says.
Devin Eagle, manager of Staples’s branded products, says it
is aware of the potential issue of ozone pollution, and its tests show that its
papers don’t have a problem. He says Staples regularly hires scientists at New
York state’s Rochester Institute of Technology in Kodak’s home town to test the
quality of its paper and inks. Nabil Nasr, director of RIT’s Center for
Integrated Manufacturing Studies, which performed the studies, says it’s up to
Staples to release results of his studies of the impact of ozone on Staples