Digital art is accessible and affordable. You can buy art online, have it delivered as a media file to your inbox, and print it out to frame in a matter of minutes.
How long the print lasts before the colour fades depends on the paper and the ink type you use to print it. Then the print needs to be stored suitably to protect against fading.
If you leave a digital print exposed to sunlight for too long, the colours will fade. Darkness is not the solution either. Ever tried to read a historic newspaper that had been stored in a box in the attic or a journal entry from decades ago? Using ink to write on paper stored within a closed notebook can result in the ink disappearing.
The quality of the paper matters
The general rule for digital prints is that the thicker the paper, the more resistant it will be to fading. Heavyweight papers that are more akin to card stock than printer paper offer better fade resistance.
Furthermore, acid-free is a must! Paper that is bright white is never a good idea. In almost all cases, bright white paper is the result of the chemical bleaching of pulp wood. The pH is unstable and the paper will be susceptible to yellowing.
Acid-free paper is sometimes referred to as archival paper. Technically, they are not the same. Manufactured acid-free paper is made the same way alkaline papers are. The only difference that makes them acid-free is a protective coating to neutralise the acidic content, i.e., a coating of calcium carbonate.
Archival papers that offer the most longevity is 100% natural cotton. Acid-free papers are affordable and can (with the right storage conditions) last for generations. True archival acid-free paper can last upwards of 1,000 years.
The types of inks and how they impact print longevity
In terms of the types of inks used for printing digital media, there are two. Dye-based inks and pigment-based inks. Dyes, such as those you may turn to for calligraphy using a fountain pen, are brighter, but fade faster. Pigment-based inks do not have as high a colour saturation, but the inks have a longer resistance against fading resulting in longer-lasting true colour likeness. No ink is fade resistant though. The longevity of any digital print relies on good storage. That includes the frame the print is within, and how the frame is stored or displayed.
The largest factors contributing to inkjet prints fading is the exposure to light, air, and humidity.
Frame storage and display effect print quality and longevity
The frame offers some degree of protection against colour fading. It is still important to take care of light exposure, such as limiting exposure to direct sunlight. Where there is a risk of bright light affecting the inks, UV glazing can be used to limit the exposure, thereby increasing the longevity of the print.
In addition to limiting light exposure, it is just as important to maintain steady temperatures and keep the print and the frame away from areas that are prone to humidity fluctuations.
Given quality inks are used along with acid-free paper and framed professionally, digital prints can last for generations. The better protected the print is within a frame, the longer it will last.
Related Reading: How to Prevent Your Framed Prints from Fading