What Is an Archival Pigment Print?

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circular image of michael mccarty03/10/2024
by Michael McCarty
Founder, Tribeca Printworks

Archival prints are museum-quality pieces that use refined particles of pigment to create beautiful, high-resolution finished artwork. As its name suggests, this method of printing creates artwork designed to last a long time. Two key elements play a role in the lifespan of an archival pigment print—the ink and the paper.

Individuals, artists, and museum curators have various options to choose from, though, ranging from canvas to cotton watercolor paper. These options allow them to customize artwork based on their specific style, needs, and budget.

What Is the History of Archival Quality Photo Prints?

The history of archival digital photo printing dates back to the 1990s. This method, which is often used interchangeably with giclee printing, was originally completed by spraying ink from a digital printer onto the surface of a paper. Then, the extra droplets were deflected away to reveal the image. Years later, Piezo drop-on-demand printers were primarily used instead of digital printers.

Through this new method, multiple ink cartridges would go into a print head. This head, which has small charged crystals in various colors, releases a specific amount of ink through an electrostatic charge. The finished result? A beautiful, pigmented print that you can enjoy for years to come.

How Can You Recognize a Pigment Print?

Pigmented prints are easily recognizable. They typically have a stiffer appearance than dye-based prints. These prints are more stable than their dye-based counterparts, offering greater longevity at well over 100 years. The paper quality used for pigment printing also has a substantial impact on the durability of the piece.

When archival pigment printing began, there was a question of stability regarding the materials used. Technology has created remarkably stable inks and papers that make pigment prints last for a long time.

Is an Archival Pigment Print the Same as Giclee?

Archival pigment print and giclee print are terms used to denote an image made from a digital file directly to paper. The processes are accomplished using an inkjet printer as an output device. These terms are often used interchangeably, and the main difference between them is only in the names people use to define them. 

Jack Duganne coined the word giclee in the 1990s. He used it solely to differentiate between prints made on an IRIS inkjet printer using commercial prepress inks and his personal IRIS, which used unique archival inks instead. Today, you’ll find that most printers use pigment-based inks for archival prints. Their use ensures the longevity of giclee and archival pigment prints beyond 100 years. 

How Is Pigment Printing Used in Photography?

Determining the best paper and printing process for photographic works can be challenging. You want to ensure ultimate clarity, durability, and overall quality. Depending on your desired outcome, there are a few options for your printing process. Many photographers choose chromogenic prints using silver-based paper and continuous-tone printers. 

Pigment prints in photography, also known as giclee, are created using professional inkjet printers and pigment ink. If you want your print to echo the classic photographic images from the darkroom age, pigment prints are for you. They have a softness and timeless appearance that lasts for generations.

How Long Do Archival Prints Last?

Archival prints are created with best-in-class materials and by top manufacturers. Since the inks are pigment-based, not dye-based, you must use standard archival paper. If you display archival prints under normal lighting conditions and take typical precautions, you can expect the work to last about 200 years in an album, 80 years when displayed behind glass, and 50 years when displayed without glass. Any print exposed to direct UV radiation (i.e., sunlight) will fade more quickly. 

Does Archival Ink Fade?

Archival ink is far more resistant to fading than other dye-based inks. The combination of pigments and superior paper quality constitutes their “archival” status. Archival ink prints offer greater scratch resistance and color stability as well. 

Pigment-based inks lead to significant longevity, as they’re made from finely ground powders suspended in a liquid. The inks aren’t water-soluble; they dry quicker, and bind with the paper fibers to make them highly resistant to fading. 

What Is the Process of Pigment Printing?

An archival digital print is printed onto paper using a high-quality inkjet printer and pigment-based ink. This process achieves a clear and durable finished print with excellent resolution. The flexibility presented by the process means you can get creative with your archival prints.

Pigment printing focuses on individual pieces, not on bulk creations. Details are paramount in archival pigment prints, which is why this is the ideal avenue for those who want to display their work in its best light. The incredible lasting power of these prints is also a huge benefit of the more intensive printing process.

How Are Archival Prints on Canvas Used?

Archival prints can replicate any traditional image and can be reproduced in a wide range of sizes, offering endless possibilities. This printing method can be used by amateur artists who want to display or sell their work, as well as individuals who want to preserve prints for future generations.

Most commonly, the archival photo printing method is used by art galleries and museums that wish to display notable prints or preserve some aspect of culture well into the future.

Why Is an Archival Pigment Print on Canvas Best for Museum-Quality Artwork?

Unlike a standard dye-based inkjet printer that can produce larger quantities of work at a time, this method focuses more on individual pieces and designing them in a way that’s built to last. An archival print is meant to have a lifespan of a century—or more.

When it’s kept in the right conditions and lighting, an archival print on canvas will retain its colors and beauty through long-term display. All these qualities make archival prints ideal for displaying top-quality work in galleries and museums.

Interested in Learning More about Our Archival Printing Services?

Here at Tribeca Printworks, our team has over 40 years of combined experience in the digital printing and art industry. We use the highest quality materials and printing methods to achieve best-in-class archival pigment prints. This combination ensures that the finished result is aesthetically pleasing and long-lasting.

We can help you create beautiful art while delivering competitive pricing and fast turnaround. To receive a free quote and consultation, be sure to fill out our online contact form today.