Conservation Display Ratings for Digital Print Media

By January 18, 2009Research

Aardenburg Imaging & Archives produces detailed light fastness studies for modern digital print media. It takes time to examine the reports carefully, but these comprehensive reports enable readers to evaluate for themselves the effects of prolonged light exposure on image quality. That said, most people lead very busy lives these days. A concise summary of the test results for quick comparisons of different products is bound to be helpful to everyone. AaI&A is therefore introducing a new “Conservation Display” rating system, and the scores provide a uniquely different measure of performance when compared to the consumer-oriented “display life” ratings commonly cited in the imaging industry today. The conservation display ratings appear in a new column of the AaI&A Light Fade Test Results database which can be accessed from the AaI&A accelerated aging tests page.

With respect to lightfastness studies, the conservation display ratings quantify the light exposure range (rated in Megalux-hours) that different digital print media can withstand and still remain in excellent condition. Unless a print is adversely affected by other aging factors that can also cause noticeable changes (e.g., heat, humidity, air pollutants), it will retain strong color and tonal fidelity for at least some portion of exposure range specified by the conservation display rating for the chosen print process. The viewer will not be able to easily detect fading or discoloration caused by the accumulated light exposure on display. Any perceived changes in color and tone will be subtle and for the most part only just noticeable when viewed in direct side-by-side comparison to an unexposed and unchanged original reference copy. The exposed print will thus remain faithful in color and tonal accuracy to the original print condition and therefore to the artist’s original intent.

A new document entitled “An Overview of the AaI&A Conservation Display Ratings” has been posted on the AaI&A documents page of the AaI&A website. It explains the concepts behind the conservation display ratings and especially the reason for the specification of an exposure range rather than a single-value rating.

The conservation display rating concept and the I* metric colorimetric algorithm took me several years to invent, perfect, and implement. Collectively, this work is my “treatise tacked to the cathedral door” on light fastness testing of modern digital print media. No doubt the concepts will take time for the industry to digest and eventually embrace. It may take a few years. It may never happen. That said, I’m satisfied with the findings, and I will use these concepts and methods to provide AaI&A members with the most comprehensive light fastness test results available to photographers and printmakers today.

The major work that still remains is finding the financial support to keep the research and the test results database moving forward. We will expand beyond light fade testing once we get the light fade testing program fully funded. I welcome members from the museums and archives community, from the imaging and printing industry, but most of all from the end-user community of these fascinating new digital printing technologies. Photographers, printmakers, and collectors really deserve better information, and they will get it if they get involved with the research we are doing here at Aardenburg Imaging & Archives!


Mark McCormick-Goodhart
Director, Aardenburg Imaging & Archives