Digital Inkjet Prints

Risks of Handling/Use

Generally, handling and use heightens the risk of damage to your materials, be it through neglectful handling (e.g. touching photo emulsion with bare hands) or irresponsible operation of access equipment. This is a risk posed by patrons and staff alike, intentional or not.

Handling and Collections Care

One of the easiest areas to implement protections for collections is through careful handling and sensible collections care. The unfettered use and handling of materials heightens the general risk of damage--be it through neglectful handling (e.g. touching photo emulsion with bare hands) or irresponsible operation of access equipment. Whether intentional or not, this is a risk posed by patrons and staff alike.

Examples of neglect, mishandling, and mismanagement include:

General Recommendations:

Additional Copies

The use of additional copies for reference or display purposes is highly recommended, particularly if the item is an original or valuable. This provides broader access to the content while also protecting the original document from user wear and tear or environmental factors.

Recommendations for care of original object:

To learn more about best practices for use and access, including resources for creating digital surrogates, see Use & Access in the User-Manual.

Orientation in Storage

Never stack inkjet prints in indefinite storage. Store vertically with dividers between each print. May also be stored horizontally (flat), especially large format prints. Avoid folding or rolling prints. Enclosures and folders may be stored in hanging files or archival storage boxes.

Storage Container

Acid-free (pH 7.2–9.5) enclosures and/or folders strongly advised. Each print should have its own enclosure to protect it from ink bleeds, dust, handling damage, and environmental shifting. This enclosure may be a paper (conservation-quality, acid-free) or plastic (uncoated polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene, cellulose triacetate) sleeve, envelope, or wrapper. Position the image side away from seams in paper enclosures. Such seams should be on the sides of the enclosure, not down its center.

Enclosures should be stored in hanging file folders or archival storage boxes. Avoid wood cabinets. Enameled steel, stainless steel, or anodized aluminum are preferred for storage equipment. All storage materials should pass the Photographic Activity Test (PAT) as specified in ISO Standard 18916:2007.


If your item has any kind of labeling on the container, the item itself, or any related material, we highly recommend that you return to the Basic Info section and enter this information in the appropriate field(s).

Labeling on a container or on the item itself, if it is in fact correct, can offer important clues about its content. If you are replacing a container that holds labeling information, it is important to transfer this information to the new container or label. Be sure to copy down any titles, dates, or other data found on these items; and, save your notes. Container labels should be used with caution as they are frequently reused or easily switched by accident.

For sleeves and folders especially, remember that it's generally best to label with a no. 2 pencil. If ink must be used (i.e. on a plastic enclosure), use an archival pigment-ink pen (e.g. Micron).

Physical Damage

Regardless of its acidity and inherent vice, all paper is susceptible to tearing and other forms of mechanical damage.

When assessing damage to a printed image, check for water exposure. Black inks are usually oil-based and therefore water insoluble, but color inks are often water soluble and should be protected from exposure to moisture that might distort the image.

Mold / Pest Damage

Pests like insects and rodents tend to like paper and textile materials. High humidity (higher than 68% RH) promotes mold growth and insect infestation, both of which can cause permanent damage. When assessing the exposure of your collections to pests, it is necessary to look not just at the materials themselves and their containers, but also at the larger environment. Insects and rodents tend to leave droppings in areas they inhabit. Insects tend to leave behind a substance called frass, which is the undigested fibers from paper. If you see droppings and/or frass in the storage area, it is a strong sign that your materials are being exposed to pests. Small, irregular holes on paper-based enclosures are also a sign that pests have attacked your materials.

Some tips for reducing your materials' exposure to pests are to refrain from eating anywhere near your collections materials. Crumbs draw pests, so eat far from your collections. Another tip applying to both pests and mold is to be cautious about donated materials when you receive them. Pests and mold can hitch a ride into your facility on these materials, so having a good, clean staging area where you can inspect donated items for, among other things, pest and mold evidence can help you reduce your storage environments' exposure to both.

Paper Decay

Paper is sensitive to light and water exposure, high humidity, and high heat. Exposure to light and/or heat will accelerate deterioration in the form of yellowing and sometimes embrittlement.

Acidic paper (pH below 7.0) commonly exhibits both deteriorative traits. Colored media on the paper support will fade rapidly. Water exposure can ultimately lead to desiccated or brittle paper, making it more easily torn or damaged through handling. Fluctuating temperature and RH may result in warping and cockling of the paper surface. High humidity (higher than 68% RH) promotes mold growth and insect infestation, both of which can cause permanent damage.

Even pH neutral papers will become increasingly acidic over time. This is due to the fact that cellulose naturally generates acids as it ages. Papers, including book leaves, that are darker and more brittle along their edges than center demonstrate an absorption of airborne pollutants that have formed acids.

Soil and dust may become ground into paper fibers, permanently soiling or staining the paper surface. Foxing is a common form of paper deterioration, which manifests as reddish-brown spots or blotches that appear embedded in the paper surface. Foxing is caused by a number of factors but is commonly spurred along by high humidity.

Coated and Uncoated Paper

Paper may be uncoated or resin-coated (RC). A pigment-based ink on coated (glossy) paper will exhibit a differential surface gloss between areas of high and low ink density, especially when viewed under direct light.

Uncoated paper

Uncoated paper is typically used for printing documents because it does not yield high-quality image reproductions. The amount of ink used to print images usually causes the paper to cockle. Since the ink is absorbed directly by the paper, images are not vibrant or sharp. Some uncoated papers, such as those marketed especially for inkjet printers, are treated to address these problems. However, their print quality is still lower than prints made with swellable or porous paper. Images printed on uncoated paper are likely the result of a consumer-grade inkjet printer and were probably printed in a home or office. Commercially produced prints are typically made on coated papers.

Swellable coated paper

Swellable paper is comprised of resin-coated paper with an image-receiving layer. The image-receiving layer swells to absorb the liquid ink as it is sprayed during the printing process. This results in a vibrant, crisp image that sits in a layer on top of the paper rather than absorbing into it. Only dye-based inks are used to print on swellable paper, since pigment inks cannot absorb into the image-receiving layer. Swellable paper typically has a glossy finish that mimics traditional photo paper prints. Images printed on coated swellable paper may be produced professionally or at home. Swellable papers have decreased in popularity due to the fact that prints take some time to dry completely (sometimes up to 24 hours), as opposed to porous papers which dry instantly.

Porous coated paper

Porous paper is comprised of paper with a surface layer of mineral particles attached to the paper by a polymer binder. These mineral particles create tiny pores on the surface of the paper that absorb ink and dry instantly. Porous paper typically is not as glossy as swellable paper, and it is manufactured with and without the resin-coated layer. Porous paper without RC layers may be classified as "fine art paper," although it should be noted that not all fine art inkjet papers are porous papers. They are used to produce fine art, or giclée, prints. Images printed on porous paper may be produced professionally or at home. Inkjet prints on porous paper are more susceptible to abrasion than prints on swellable paper.

Porous or Swellable Paper

Inkjet papers are varied and complex. The types of paper described here are a general guide. Manufacturers typically do not indicate whether a paper is porous or swellable, but there are a few characteristics that can aid in identification. If a paper is labelled "instant dry," it is porous. Swellable papers may be labeled as "fast drying." Swellable papers may also be labeled as "high gloss" rather than just "glossy." Many inkjet printing papers have a manufacturer stamp on the back indicating the product name or brand; this also may be used to identify the paper type.

Fading, Staining, and Discoloration

Inkjet prints are prone to yellowing and staining, especially if exposed to high humidity, intense light, or atmospheric pollutants like ozone. Ink bleeding, streaking, and distortion may occur if exposed to moisture. Pigment-based inks are considerably more stable than dye-based, but they may also be water-based— and thus sensitive to moisture.

If you are aware of airbourne pollutants in the space that your material is housed, be certain to check for discoloration and silver mirroring. Airbourne pollutants initiate chemical reactions that may stain and degrade support/base materials as well as accelerate the fading, staining, or loss of photographic and print/writing media.