PMG Digital Prints

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Date initiated February 2010
Contributors Monique C. Fischer, Heather Brown

What is a digital print?[edit | edit source]

Brief History of Digital Printing[edit | edit source]

Early Computer Output

Overview of Photographic Printing Processes[edit | edit source]


Direct Thermal (D1T1)

Direct Thermal Transfer (D1T2)

Dye Diffusion Thermal Transfer (D2T2)

Electrostatic Processes

Dry Toner Electrography

Liquid Toner Electrography


Inkjet Technologies
Inkjet is the most widely used printing technology for digital artists and amateurs. Inkjet systems are based on the flow of colored ink from a nozzle that is deposited on a support to form an image. Two types of technologies for inkjet printers exist: continuous flow and drop-on-demand or impulse jet. The IRIS printer (continuous flow) and popular Epson Stylus® Photo printers (drop-on-demand) are the best known of these systems.

Continuous Flow Inkjet Printer Continuous-flow inkjet printers use an electrostatic charge to push ink out of the printhead reservoir. As the ink droplets are released, charged droplets are deflected and recycled while the uncharged particles spray a continuous stream of microscopic ink droplets onto a flat substrate. The IRIS printer is an example of the continuous-flow printer.

Drop-on-Demand Inkjet Printer The other type of printer, drop-on-demand, uses only ink droplets needed to form the image produced. The two main types are thermal and piezoelectric. The thermal process, used by the Canon Bubble Jet Printer, is based on heating a resister in the printhead. As the printhead heats up, a bubble is produced and the increased pressure inside the printhead chamber forces the ink droplet out. After the bubble collapses, more ink is drawn from the reservoir. The piezoelectric effect (employed by Epson printers) uses a crystalline material inside the printhead reservoir to create an electric field, which produces the pressure instead of heat to release the ink.

Materials: Colorants and Supports[edit | edit source]

Colorants: Dyes vs. Pigments
Support Types and Variations

Process Identification[edit | edit source]

Support Characterization[edit | edit source]

There are four broad categories of paper: bond paper, inkjet paper, fine art papers, and coated papers.

Bond paper is the plain paper used in laser printers and office copiers. This paper is made of wood pulp, which contains cellulose fibers, and lignin and is sized with rosin. The sizing and the lignin eventually destroy the image.

Inkjet paper, of slightly better quality than bond paper, has improved external sizings such as starches, polymers, and pigments. These sizes make the surface of the paper whiter and more receptive to inkjet output.

Fine art papers such as Arches, Rives, and Somerset have been used for watercolors, drawings, and traditional printmaking. The papers are made from 100 percent cotton rag (alpha-cellulose), and there is no rosin sizing or lignin. Sometimes an alkaline buffering agent is added such as calcium carbonate. The fine art papers are usually combined with dye-based inks and used with IRIS printers.

Coated inkjet papers have a receptor coating to aid in receiving the inks. Coated papers can closely resemble traditional color print supports. These coatings create a higher-color range (especially for pigment-based inks), better image quality, greater brightness, and ink stability, which make them less likely to bleed. Coatings may include materials such as silica, clay, titanium dioxide, calcium carbonate, and various polymers (Johnson 2003: 235, and Jürgens 1999: 43). There are many types of coated papers on the market. In general, one of the coatings listed below can be applied to a standard resin-coated paper (a paper base sandwiched between two polyethylene layers), which reduces curling from heavy ink or a paper-based support. One can categorize these coatings as follows:

Swellable polymer: a nonporous coating made with organic polymers that expands and encapsulates the ink after it strikes the paper. The coating increases brightness by keeping the colorants from spreading and protects the image from atmospheric pollutants. These papers are best used with dye-based inks. (Johnson 2003: 237)

Microporous: these coatings were developed for rapid ink uptake since swellable papers have the disadvantage of slow ink drying, loss of gloss after printing and curling before and after printing. Microporous coatings contain small, inorganic particles dispersed in a synthetic binder such as polyvinyl acetate (Tarrant 2002: 30) or polyvinyl alcohol (Kasahara 1998:151) which create holes in the coating. The ink is absorbed into these holes, which results in faster drying and prevents the ink from smearing. The paper has a higher resistance to moisture and humidities. However, the colorants are susceptible to atmospheric pollutants and cause the color in the print to shift.2 These papers offer excellent image quality and can have a glossy, luster, or matte finish. They are best used with pigment-based inks.

In short, a swellable paper is slower to dry and remains sensitive to high humidity levels. However, it offers protection to dye colorants by fixing them within the coating. A microporous paper dries quicker, is less sensitive to humidity change and provides less protection to dye-based inks. Pigment-based inks should be used with microporous papers.

Preservation Recommendations for Use, Display, or Storage[edit | edit source]

Temperature and Relative Humidity




Light Fading/Thermal Stability

Humidity and Water Resistance


Abrasion, Blocking and Brittleness

Acquisition, Handling, Storage and Display

Treatment[edit | edit source]

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Printed Resources[edit | edit source]

  • Batz-Sohn, Christoph, et al. 2004. " Tailor-Made Silica and Alumina for Inkjet Media Coatings ".IS&T’s NIP 20: International Conference on Digital Printing Technologies, Society for Imaging Science and Technology: 805–810.
  • Becker, D., and K. Klaus. 1996. “Digital Prints: Technology, Materials, Image Quality & Stability.” Rundbrief Fotografie 12: 10-14.
  • Bugner, Douglas E. 2002. “Papers and Films for Ink Jet Printing,” in Handbook of Imaging Materials, 2nd ed., Arthur S. Diamond and David S. Weiss, eds. New York: Marcel Dekker. 603-627.
  • Burge, Daniel, Andrea Venosa, Gene Salesin, Peter Adelstein, and James Reilly. 2007. "Beyond Lightfastness: Some Neglected Issues in Permanence of Digital Hardcopy." IS&T’s International Symposium on Technologies for Digital Fulfillment: 61-64.
  • Burge, Daniel, and Lindsey Rima. 2010. “Selecting Suitable Enclosures for Digitally Printed Materials,” in 4th International Conference on Preservation and Conservation Issues in Digital Printing and Digital Photography, May 27-28, 2010. Journal of Physics: Conference Series. London: The Institute of Physics.
  • Burge, Daniel,Douglas Nishimura and Mirasol Estrada. March/April 2009. "What Do You Mean When You Say “Digital Print”?" Society of American Archivist’s Archival Outlook.
  • Burge, Daniel and Lindsey Rima. 2009. "Investigations into Potential Reactivity between Silver-Halide and Digitally Printed Photographic Images in Long-Term Storage." NIP25 and Digital Fabrication: 146-149.
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  • Chavancova-Lovell, Veronika, and Paul D. Fleming III. 2006. “Effect of Optical Brightening Agents and UV Protective Coating on Print Stability of Fine Art Substrates for Ink Jet,” in 22nd International Conference on Digital Printing Technologies: Final Program and Proceeding, Denver, Colorado, September 17, 2006. Springfield, VA: The Society for Imaging Science and Technology. 227-230.
  • Colbourne, J., et al, eds. 2010. “Printed on Paper: the Techniques, History and Conservation of Printed Media.” Proceedings of the conference, held in Gateshead, 2007. Newcastle upon Tyne: Arts and Social Sciences Academic Press.
  • Fischer, M. C. 2007. “Creating Long-Lasting Inkjet Prints.” Topics in Photographic Preservation 12: 77-85. Washington, DC: AIC/PMG.
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  • Gordeladze, Nino, Daniel Burge, and Andrea Venosa. 2011. “The Effects of Various Adhesives on Dye and Pigment-based Inkjet and Dye Sublimation Prints.” NIP and Digital Fabrication 2011 Technical Program and Proceedings. IS&T: The Society for Imaging Science and Technology. 209-212.
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  • Kabalnov, A., et al. 2004. “Gamut and Permanence of New Generation Dye-based Inks.” IS&T’s NIP 20: International Conference on Digital Printing Technologies, Society for Imaging Science and Technology: 705–709.
  • Kasahara, K. 1998. “A New Quick-drying, High-water-resistant Glossy Ink Jet Paper.” IS&T’s NIP 14: 1998 International Conference on Digital Printing Technologies, Society for Imaging Science and Technology: 150–152.
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  • Lavery, A., and J. Provost. 1997. “Color Media Interactions in Ink Jet Printing.” IS&T’s NIP 13: International Conference on Digital Printing Technologies, Society for Imaging Science and Technology: 437–442.
  • Lavery, A., et al. 2003. “Dye Recognition in Ink Jet Photopapers.” IS&T’s NIP 19: International Conference on DigitalPrinting Technologies, Society for Imaging Science and Technology: 607–611.
  • Lavery, A., et al. 1998. “The Influence of Media on the Light Fastness of Ink Jet Prints.” IS&T’s NIP 14: International Conference on Digital Printing Technologies, Society for Imaging Science and Technology: 123–128.
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  • Rima, Lindsey and Daniel Burge. 2009. "Tendency of Digitally Printed Materials to Ferrotype or Block." NIP25 and Digital Fabrication:142-145.
  • Robb, Andrew. 2000. “The Effect of Relative Humidity on Ink Jet Prints.” Preservation and Conservation Issues Related to Digital Printing, Conference Proceedings, Rutherford Conference Center, London, October 26-27, 2000. London: Institute of Physics. 73-77.
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  • Salesin,Eugene, Jessica Scott, Douglas Nishimura, Peter Adelstein, James Reilly, and Daniel Burge. 2008. "Abrasion of Digital Reflection Prints." NIP24 and Digital Fabrication: 228-230.
  • Salesin, Eugene, Daniel Burge, Peter Adelstein and James Reilly. 2009. "Brittleness of Digital Reflection Prints." NIP25 and Digital Fabrication:138-141.
  • Salesin, Eugene, and Daniel Burge. 2011. “The Scratch Sensitivity of Digital Reflection Prints.” NIP 27 and Digital Fabrication 2011 Technical Program and Proceedings. IS&T: The Society for Imaging Science and Technology. 197-200.
  • Stewart, Eleanore, and Kathleen Orlenko. 1996. “A Conservator’s Perspective on the Processes and Materials Used in the Production of Computer-Generated Documents.” Erice 96, International Conference on Conservation and Restoration of Artchive and Library Materials. Rome: Instituto Centrale Per La Patologia Del Libro. 265-273.
  • Tarrant, J. August 7, 2002. "Coated Inkjet Papers: The Hole Truth." British Journal of Photography, 149: 29–31.
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  • Venosa, Andrea, Daniel Burge, and Douglas Nishimura. 2011. “Effect of Light on Modern Digital Prints: Photograph and Documents.” Studies in Conservation 56: 267-280.
  • Vogt, B. 2001. “Stability Issues and Test Methods for Ink Jet Materials.” Thesis at the Department of Image Engineering, University of Applied Science, Cologne.
  • Webster, Edward. 2000. Print Unchained: Fifty Years of Digital Printing, 1950-2000 and Beyond – A Saga of Invention and Enterprise. West Dover, VT: Dra of Vermont, Inc.
  • Wilhem, Henry. February 2002. "How Long Will They Last? An Overview of Light-Fading Stability of Inkjet Prints and Traditional Color Photographs." IS&T’s 12th International Symposium on Photofinishing Technology: 32. The document can be found in PDF format at
  • Wilhelm, Henry. October 2003. "Yellowish Stain Formation in Inkjet Prints and Traditional Silver-Color Photographs." IS&T’s NIP19: 2003 International Conference on Digital Printing Techniques: 444. The document can be found in PDF format at

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