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Photographic Activity Test (PAT)

PAT Jig IllustrationThe Photographic Activity Test, or PAT, is an international standard test (ISO18916) for evaluating photo-storage and display products. Developed by IPI, this test explores interactions between photographic images and the enclosures in which they are stored. The PAT is routinely used to test papers, adhesives, inks, glass and framing components, sleeving materials, labels, photo albums, scrapbooking supplies and embellishments, as well as other materials upon request.  This test can be performed on products in development as well as on materials already in use in collections. 

We encourage producers of photo-storage and display products to purchase and review ISO 18916 describing the Photographic Activity Test. After reviewing the standard, contact us with any questions that may arise. ISO 18916 can be purchased at

The Test

Materials to be tested are cut to size and stacked in contact with image interaction and stain detectors. The stacks are held together in a stainless-steel jig. A control stack is prepared using an inert material in place of the test sample. These stacks are then incubated in a temperature- and humidity-controlled chamber to simulate aging. Once incubation is complete, the jigs are disassembled and the samples’ image interaction and stain detectors are assessed for changes in density and compared to those of the control sample. Pass/Fail certificates are issued for each sample tested. The pass/fail limits have been derived from enclosures that are known to have caused fading or staining in real-life storage situations.

Turnaround time for testing is four to six weeks from the time samples are received. In fairness to all of our clients, rush service is not available.

Standard PAT (Black & White PAT)

Evaluates possible chemical interactions between enclosures and photographic images after long-term storage. Photographic images being: silver-gelatin, chromogenic, inkjet (dye and pigment), dye-diffusion transfer, electrophotography (dry and liquid toner), and diazo.

Color PAT (Dye Coupler Reactivity Test)

Evaluates possible additional staining reactions produced between enclosures and the dye-couplers present in chromogenic photographs after long-term storage. This is a product-specific test, meaning that even if the enclosure in question is not reactive with the chromogenic detector used for testing, it may be reactive with other chromogenic images (though this is unlikely). Note: This is not a stand-alone test. This test is performed in addition to the standard PAT.

All test results are confidential.

What We Need

For the PAT, the customer shall provide IPI with the equivalent of three 8 x 10 inch sheets of each material submitted for testing. If your material is rigid, so that it cannot be cut with a craft knife, please provide twelve 2 x 4 cm (not inches!) pieces instead of the 8 x 10 sheets. If your material does not come in sheet form, please to discuss quantity requirements.

Please label the top left corner of each sample with the product name or code.  Only the side labeled will be tested. Our test reports will refer only to the name specified on the label.

NOTE: The PAT is a destructive test; sample materials cannot be returned.

Materials for testing should be shipped to:

Rochester Institute of Technology/IPI
Attn: IPI Testing Services
70 Lomb Memorial Drive, GAN-2000
Rochester, NY 14623-5604


PAT & Color PAT

  • First two samples inclusive (minimum charge): $900
  • Each additional sample (sent at same time): $325
  • Bulk contracts (15 PATs performed over a 12-month period): $4500
  • One-day Training for PAT: $1200


For bulk contracts, Standard PAT may be combined with pH Tests; Color PAT must be a separate contract (cannot be combined with Standard PAT or pH Tests).

Note that some products may need more than one test; for example, a paper envelope that needs one test for the paper and another for the glue seam is considered two samples.

Photo-safe Reference Guide

Photo-storage, Display, & Labeling Materials - A Guide to ISO 18902 “Photo-safe” Testing Photo-storage, Display, & Labeling Materials -  A Guide to ISO 18902 “Photo-safe” Testing

This guide includes a description of the standard’s requirements to meet the “photo-safe” designation depending on material type (paper, plastic, adhesive, etc.), as well as an illustration depicting which elements of a photograph are most likely affected by harmful components (reactants) in photo storage, display, and labeling materials, and which tests are necessary to detect each of these reactants.
Download PDF (English)
| Download PDF (Spanish) | Download PDF (Portuguese)


Frequently Asked Questions

Are materials advertised as “archival” safe to use?

There is no standard or legal definition for the word "archival." The fact is that manufacturers can use the word in their advertising regardless of the quality of their product. However, most manufacturers are dedicated to producing quality products for the storage of photographic materials. The PAT is the best indication that materials have been manufactured to U.S. and worldwide standards.

If a paper or board is “acid free” does it have to pass the PAT?

Yes. Acid is only one of the problems associated with enclosures. The emission of oxidants is another, and in fact, it is probably more of a threat to the enclosed images than acid. Enclosure components such as glues, inks, and chemical additives also may cause image degradation.

Is it necessary to test enclosure materials that don't come into direct contact with the image?

Boxes or other types of enclosures that hold images, even if those images are in envelopes or sleeves, should be tested too. Many of the harmful chemicals in poor-quality enclosures can become airborne and over time work their way to the photograph.

Does the PAT cover physical problems like blocking or abrasion?

No. The PAT was designed to screen enclosures for possible chemical reactions with photographs. There are other tests that can screen for potential physical damage such as blocking and abrasion. IPI performs these tests too, but they are not part of the PAT.

If the material passes the black-and-white PAT, is it safe for color?

Not necessarily. While both types of photos have gelatin that can become stained, color materials also incorporate invisible residual dye couplers, which can be converted into additional yellow stain over time. Therefore, a bad enclosure may stain a color print more than a black-and-white print. Still other photographic processes (such as diazo, thermal dye transfer, and electrostatic print) have their own peculiar deterioration forms. Each enclosure should be tested with the imaging process it is intended to come in contact with, as well as with the required black-and-white detectors.

If I use only enclosures that have passed the PAT, will my collection last forever?

Unfortunately, no collection will last forever. The first and most important step in any preservation program for photographic materials is control of temperature and relative humidity. As yet, no type of enclosure can completely protect photographs from a high-humidity, high-temperature environment. However, the PAT will eliminate enclosures that may exacerbate problems associated with a less-than-perfect environment.


For more information on the PAT, please contact to discuss quantity requirements