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Subject: Digital print terminology

Digital print terminology

From: Martin Juergens <mcj1933>
Date: Monday, July 16, 2001
I recently had the following communication with a photographer
making and selling digital prints, and was wondering if anyone has
given thought to the issue of terminology for digital prints. For
research and classification, I am using a set of terms that is
described on the Digital Print Identification web site,
<URL:> but of course
artists and photographers want more catchy and less technical words
to describe what they are doing. The terms they choose to use will
turn up over the next decades, and we may not be prepared for them.
Any comments?

The inquiry:

>I am a fine art photographer who is now printing my color images on
>an Epson 5500 printer using the new Epson Archival Pigment inks.
>This process has been estimated by Wilhelm to have a life expectancy
>of 200+ years when used with the proper combination of inks and
>papers. I plan to use the nomenclature for my prints as "Archival
>Pigment Print" to distinguish it from the less archival dye based
>variety of Giclee print. Would you have another suggestion? I would
>hope that curators, gallery operators and other photographic
>professionals could come to a common set of definitions for each of
>the many print processes, gelatin silver, chromogenic, etc.

My answer:

>... I plan to use the nomenclature for my prints as "Archival
>Pigment Print" to distinguish it from the less archival dye based
>variety of Giclee print.

The issue of nomenclature is still one that has not been resolved
for digital prints, simply because they are developing too fast for
the museum community to keep up with. As such, and from the
perspective of a conservator, I recommend using simply the precise
names of the printer, print medium, and inkset. Any additional
coatings or laminates should also be named. It is most helpful if
for each category the brand names and a categorical description such
as in the following example is present:

    Printer: Epson 5500 (Drop-on-Demand liquid ink jet)
    Medium: brand name paper (coated (or sized) fine art paper)
    Ink: Epson Archival Pigment (number of colours, pigment based)

One of the problems curators, collectors, conservators and
archivists will be facing in the near future is the identification
and distinction of the great variety of digital prints. If they
encounter a print that is labelled as an "Archival Pigment Print",
it may be very difficult for them to actually know what they have
before them. The term "pigment print", by the way, can also be used
for what is also called a "carbon print", a highly permanent
historic photographic process that has enjoyed a recent revival.
Although structurally and visually very different from an ink jet
print, the similarity in terms may cause some confusion.

On another note, I am never happy with the use of the term
"archival", as it is not clearly defined, yet is used to designate
so many products today without any actual guarantee for their
longevity. The permanence of materials depends on their intrinsic
stability and the environment we subject them to. I n this
understanding, and in the strictest and most honest sense, the word
"archival" should, in my opinion, only be used as an adjective to
describe anything pertaining to an archive. What does that leave us
with as alternatives? "Permanent" may be promising too much. How
about "pigment based ink jet print (high light and water
stability)"? Not very catchy! In the end it is up to you.

I would hesitate to use your term simply for the reasons mentioned
above. Of course you are right that we do eventually need a
standardized terminology, but, unfortunately, standards always take
time to be accepted and implemented, and we have just not had enough
time to reflect on what has been happening in digital printing yet.
Thus I think it would be most helpful to stick to the basics when it
comes to naming digital prints.

>This process has been
>estimated by Wilhelm to have a life expectency of 200+ years when used
>with  the proper combination of inks and papers.

Just another comment here: Henry Wilhelm is doing an important
service to the digital printing community. When using Mr Wilhelm's
numbers it is very important to keep the small print in mind. His
values are valid for the testing conditions that he has used, and
may not completely compare to actual real life environments that
your prints will be in once you have sold them. I think if you are
using the permanence as a sales point (which is legitimate), then
you should give your clients recommendations for storage,
exhibition, and handling of the prints, and state that the numbers
given by Henry Wilhelm are only valid for prints behind glass in his
testing conditions.

Martin Juergens
Ottawa, Ontario

                  Conservation DistList Instance 15:15
                 Distributed: Wednesday, August 8, 2001
                       Message Id: cdl-15-15-027
Received on Monday, 16 July, 2001

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