Photo fading – CDs, DVDs and prints

 How long do you expect your holiday snapshots to last? Five years? Ten? Maybe you found a box of old black and white photographs of long-dead relatives. How old were the prints – maybe fifty years?

You might be surprised to know that you can’t even be sure the CDs you burned of this year’s digital photographs will last five years, let alone the inkjet prints you made. They might have faded noticeably after 6 months, even if they’re not in bright light.

You may be wondering how best you can keep your photographs. Protecting your original files seems like the place to start. If you’ve got those at least you’ll be able to get the photographs printed out again. The trouble is nobody is even sure of the best way to do that. CDs are fairly good but Verbatim have suggested DVDs are a better bet. Because they are sealed on both sides they are thought to be less likely to suffer from external contamination – a major factor in optical storage deterioration. Stick to top quality brand-name disks. It’s also good idea to burn your files onto a couple of disks, ideally from different manufacturers. For years people have been saying that rewritable disks (CD-R/W, DVD-RW and DVD+RW) are much worse that burn-once disks (CD-R, DVD-R and DVD+R). In fact it turns out that some manufacturers CD-R disks have already become unusable while their CD-RW disks are still going strong.

Another problem with storing data files is the difficulty of knowing whether the technology to read the media or file format will still exist when you need it. How many of us have still got 5.25″ floppy disk drives or software capable of reading old Word or Wordstar files? According to the Image Permanence Institute “Color prints, not files are the best way to ensure that digital images will be preserved for future generations”.

Making your prints last longer means selecting the right materials (cheap replacement inks for instance are probably the worst thing to use) and displaying or storing them the right way. A major factor is the mix of chemicals in ink and paper. One advantage of buying a printer manufacturer’s own-brand ink and paper is that they’re usually formulated to work together. If you want to display prints put them in a glazed frame and hang them out of direct daylight. Ideally prints should be kept in the dark except when viewed – the old photo album isn’t that bad an idea, provided the pages don’t contain chemical contaminants.