Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Making sure work is archival

I thought I'd do a post about the steps I took to ensure that Like Weather is archival and as such, that I am producing the most durable work that I can. This is a new consideration for me, because I have worked with clay in the past, which if fired, especially high fired, is definitely durable (unless dropped!) and if unfired, well then it's really meant to be an ephemeral work.

The first step is paper selection. There are quite a lot of acid free papers specially developed for inkjet printing on the market now. My main source here in Australia is Image Science which is in Melbourne. They have lots of information about choosing papers on their website, as well as selling sample packs.

The tricky part for me in this project was that I needed double-sided paper for some parts of the book - the spine and the flags. There are a few available but it does seriously reduce your options. When I made the draft version I received feedback saying people really liked the texture of the watercolour paper I had used. I couldn't find a double-sided textured inkjet paper online, so I decided to go with the watercolour paper I used for the rough version. It was Canson 100, which is actually double sided. It is 300gsm 100% cotton rag paper, cold press one side and rough the other. I was amazed to find that I could buy 10 sheets from Dick Blick and have it posted to Australia for AU$60, when it costs AU$50 for 5 sheets from my local art store! I would dearly love to support Australian businesses more, but with that sort of price difference it just is not possible.

To achieve the best colour saturation I could, I coated the paper with InkAid. This does not actually affect archival qualities, but does reduce the penetration of the ink into the paper, ensuring a more vibrant look. I should mention that InkAid, while not terribly toxic, does recommend taking some precautions. I prefer not to spray things like this, so I use a foam brush and I wear gloves. I also work outside.

I've talked before about having some difficulty getting an even coat. This just takes a little practice and it is best to apply a couple of thin coats, letting each dry in between. If you keep working the surface after it has started to dry, you can get into a real mess - which of course I did! I also discovered that more coats does result in more saturated colours - which is good if this is what you want, but does mean you need to keep the number of coats on each page in one project constant, if keeping the colour saturation is important.

Inkjet printing has really come of age in the past decade, both with respect to colour reproduction and archival quality. If you have a printer that uses the right inks and you use the right paper, you are generally going to get a product that is far more enduring than a traditional photograph. When I discovered that fact, it really made printing with an inkjet seem like a viable option for my practice. My dear old Dad, who was a traditional photographer would be amazed!

Wilhelm Imaging Research is the organisation that "conducts research on the stability and preservation of traditional and digital color photographs and motion pictures. The company publishes brand name-specific permanence data for desktop and large-format inkjet printers and other digital printing devices."^ This is the website to visit if you want to learn about this area, and to check out a particular printer. As regular readers know, I was able to pick up a barely-used second-hand Epson 2100 a few months ago. This uses the archival Ultrachrome inks and can print up to A3 size. As long as I stick to genuine Epson inks and appropriate paper, my images will be as archival as is possible.

There are only a couple of other products I used in this project. When the pages were all printed, I sprayed them with couple of coats of Premier Art Print Shield. This is a lacquer based coating that provides additional UV protection and scuff resistance. Seeing the images were being used in a book which would be handled and not placed behind glass, I thought this was a worthwhile addition. This product might be useful for artists who include found paper in their work, just to provide a little protection from UV light.
Once I'd bought my can, I read the MSDS sheet and realized I needed to wear a mask while applying it. I do own a mask from glaze-mixing days, but of course the filters were the wrong sort. I'm actually amazed how inexpensive these filters are, given the level of protection they provide. If a product recommends you use one, I think it's a great investment.

The last item needed no such special safety equipment. It was X-press conservators acid-free double-sided tape to attach the flags. For the instructions on how to plan and assemble a flag book, I used this article from Bonefolder. I was surprised to be instructed to use tape, as I thought some "special" adhesive would be recommended, but if it's good enough for Karen Hamner, it's good enough for me. And voila! that's it.

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