Today’s inkjet prints have the potential to last and retain their vibrant colours longer than colour prints have ever done in the past, thanks to on-going developments in inkjet inks and papers.


The illustration above shows the results of accelerated indoor light stability tests on different inkjet inks. The top line shows the results from inks produced by a reputable printer manufacturer. The second line shows the results from a set of refilled cartridges, while the third line shows the results from a cheap supermarket brand of ink cartridges. (Source: Wilhelm Imaging Research.)

However, your choice of media can dramatically affect not only whether your printer will produce long-lasting prints but also how long the printer itself will continue to operate.

The main factors affecting print stability are the ink/paper combination and the handling and storage conditions after the print has been made. A printer that produces long-lasting prints on one paper may not deliver the prints with the same stability when a different brand of paper is used ““ even though the two papers look almost identical and both claim high longevity.


The Wilhelm Imaging Research website provides the results of lightfastness tests for most popular printers and printing papers.

Certain paper/ink combinations are highly sensitive to ozone, which is common at low-levels in urban environments and reaches high concentrations around devices like refrigerators and air conditioners. This is why you should never display unprotected inkjet prints on the fridge door.

In recent years, a flood of third-party inks have appeared on supermarket shelves and in discount department stores. While they may be attractively priced, in the long run, using these inks is not cost-effective for the following reasons:

1. The dyes used in most third-party cartridges are particularly vulnerable to fading. In addition, different colours fade at different rates, throwing the colour balance in the print out of kilter.

2. Cheap dyes often produce inaccurate colours. You can’t guarantee colour fidelity will be preserved when different colours are mixed on the paper. Nor can you ensure repeatable colour accuracy from print-to-print.

3. Cheap inks can damage print heads. The liquid carrier media may evaporate, causing clogging in the ink nozzles. Mixing different inks can also cause clogging and precipitation and generate chemicals that can etch the print head.

These factors make cheap inks a more expensive choice in the long term than inks from your printer’s manufacturer.


This article is an excerpt from  Mastering Digital Photography 3rd Edition.