What does archival mean anyway, and why should you care?

What does archival mean anyway, and why should you care?

What does the term "archival" mean in the context of high-end photographic printing?

When it comes to high-end photographic printing, the term "archival" refers to the longevity and preservation of the printed image. An archival print is one that is designed to resist fading, discoloration, and deterioration over time. It is meant to last for generations, maintaining its original quality and appearance.

Why is archival quality important in high-end photographic printing?

Archival quality is of utmost importance in high-end photographic printing because it ensures that the printed image retains its original beauty and integrity for an extended period. High-quality prints that are not archival may fade, yellow, or deteriorate over time, resulting in a loss of detail, color accuracy, and overall visual impact.

How are archival prints achieved?

Archival prints are achieved through a combination of factors, including the use of high-quality materials, proper printing techniques, and careful handling and storage. Here are some key elements that contribute to the archival quality of a print:

1. Paper and Ink:

Archival prints are typically produced using acid-free and lignin-free paper, which helps prevent yellowing and deterioration. The ink used is also important, with pigment-based inks being preferred for their longevity and resistance to fading.

2. Printing Process:

The printing process itself plays a crucial role in achieving archival quality. High-end printers, such as those using giclée or pigment inkjet technology, offer exceptional color accuracy and detail reproduction. These printers also allow for precise control over ink application, resulting in prints with smooth gradations and minimal ink droplets.

3. Protective Coatings:

Applying a protective coating to the print surface can enhance its archival properties. These coatings, such as UV-resistant sprays or laminates, provide an additional layer of protection against fading, moisture, and UV damage.

4. Handling and Storage:

Proper handling and storage are essential for preserving the archival quality of a print. Prints should be stored in acid-free sleeves or archival boxes, away from direct sunlight, extreme temperatures, and high humidity. When handling the print, it is important to use clean, dry hands or wear gloves to prevent oils and dirt from transferring onto the surface.


Understanding the meaning of the word "archival" in the context of high-end photographic printing is crucial for both photographers and print enthusiasts. Archival prints offer exceptional longevity and preservation, allowing the beauty and quality of the printed image to be enjoyed for years to come. By using high-quality materials, employing proper printing techniques, and following appropriate handling and storage practices, photographers can create prints that stand the test of time.

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