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What is Archival Paper?

Erik Barnes , Mar 03, 2007; 07:17 a.m.

What is the differance between Archival paper and the paper that places like MPIX and Adorama print on. Is it the same thing? Regards, Erik


Chris Waller , Mar 03, 2007; 08:07 a.m.

Strictly speaking it isn't the paper that is archival but the processing. What they are referring to is fibre-based paper which is used for producing archival prints. To achieve archival standard the paper has to be fixed and washed such that the residues in it are below certain levels. This extends the life of the print.

Louie Powell , Mar 03, 2007; 08:45 a.m.

Everything that Chris said is correct. But "archival" also has a marketing meaning - applying the term "archival" typically is also justification for an increase in price.

Alvin Wong , Mar 03, 2007; 09:48 a.m.

FWIW, the archival properties of color photo papers has improved immensely in the past quarter century. Today's color photo paper hold up well in dark storage. There is PDF version of Henry Wilhelm's book, you'll see that older color papers (i.e. before 1980) tended to fade in a few years.

Matt McCarthy , Mar 03, 2007; 05:28 p.m.

"Archival" at this point also refers to digital imaging as well. These are acid-free papers for ink jets - but they really don't have archival qualities unless they're used with pigment-based inks.

Doug Axford , Mar 03, 2007; 06:22 p.m.

Archival means that the image with last for centuries. Properly processed fibre based B&Ws with last that long. Most of the prints made in the early 1900s are still good today as well as some much earlier.

Any wet-process photo print that is not fibre based is normally called RC (for Resin Coat) will not be considered 'archival' by any reputable expert. The best at this time is Fuji as per Wilhelm's tests. Part of the difference is that RC papers today use much less silver and rely upon dye-couplers to create the image. Dyes are not archival.

Do a search on this forum, however, there are so many uninformed answers that it is tough to figure out who truly knows what they are talking about.


Anthony Stubbs , Mar 03, 2007; 07:07 p.m.

"acid-free papers" ...a selling tool to describe alakaline.

ACID FREE simply sounds better!


Matt McCarthy , Mar 03, 2007; 07:15 p.m.

True - "acid free" does sound better. But say "alkaline," and people will think batteries, not paper. Besides, in people's minds "acid" = "bad." Unless, of course, you had some interesting mind trips in the 60's.........

pico digoliardi , Mar 03, 2007; 07:52 p.m.

Archival means it will last as long as possible. So do that.

Sometime in the most distant future, some researchers will unearth a perfectly archived amateur photo that was contanined in a perfect nitrogen filled container of perfectly sealed intert glass. They will stare at it for the longest time and finally exclaim, "DubleuTEf is that!" (WTF would have entered the venacular without any hint of its etymology.)

DK Thompson , Mar 05, 2007; 08:27 p.m.

"archival" means whatever the vendor wants you to believe. it's a sales pitch, unless it's rated against a set of standardized environmental storage, handling & display conditions. If this is the case, then it's not called "archival", but referred to as "Life Expectancy". the rating is given as < than such & such years (read the fine print).

for paper products and paper enclosures, the test is the Photographic Activity Test--the PAT--which doesn't cover plastic materials really, since even with an "archival" product like many "archival" negative sleeves, they can block or stick to the film & prints under certain conditions. so, you can rest assured, that your film will be preserved from stains and the like, but well...buyer beware if your temp & humidity vary much.

it's the same with resin-coated b/w papers which are used in programs like the Nat'l Historic Register for over 20 years. there will always be people who believe archives or museums don't use rc papers, just as those who think they don't use digital either--but they do.

it's come down to the storage environment, handling & display really. "archival" is really about the selection process to meet these needs. it's what the archive, or the archivists or the preservation managers decide upon--at this current time, it's more film based than prints to be honest. prints are replaceable.

YMMV of couse, my opinions as always.

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