Digital Print Preservation

Digital Print DeteriorationAccording to a 2008 IPI survey, approximately 80% of cultural heritage institutions have digital prints in their collections and are concerned about the growing influx of these materials. The survey also showed that noticeable deterioration of these objects has already occurred, including fading, yellowing, color bleed, abrasion and other forms of decay. In total, 71% of institutions have identified deterioration of portions of their digital print collections.

Virtually all forms of individual scholarly communication and artistic creation of images now depend on a few technologies for creating hard copy output. Inkjet and electrophotographic (laser) materials account for the overwhelming majority of desktop documents and an increasing portion of short-run publications and monographs. Additionally, the lines between imaging media and document media are disappearing, as documents are becoming a seamless blend of text and image.

Because these technologies haven’t been systematically studied, a balanced overview of their strengths and weaknesses from the point of view of collection preservation has been lacking. Collection care professionals need guidance—first, to determine which objects in their collections have been digitally printed and, second, to understand the nature and preservation needs of such materials.

In 2007, IPI began extensive research into the long-term care of digitally printed materials, which continues today. Projects have been funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Our goal has been to develop an understanding of how these materials will behave during long-term storage, on display, and when handled. Experimental work includes exposing a large sample set of digital prints, representing each of the primary technologies noted above, to heat, moisture, pollution, and light. The prints are also being subjected to handling stresses (flex, scratches, and abrasion), potentially unsafe enclosures, and flood.

Since that time we have published numerous articles detailing our research into the various aspects of digital print permanence and preservation, presented at conferences and trade shows, and created the DP3 Project website with an accompanying quarterly newsletter.

This issue of Climate Notes provides details on the projects and some of the tools and information that are now available. More detailed information can be found at IPIs Digital Print Preservation Portal (DP3) website, Eventually all research results will be incorporated into "best practices" recommendations for long-term care of these materials.