Review: Fade resistance test

Tibor Antalóczy - March 20, 2007. 8:00am (CET)
Do you want your grandchildren to sit around you and see your nice, old, color photographs in fifty years from now? If so, you better watch how you get those digital images printed. While some printer manufacturers promise that the photos will last for over 100, in some case 200 years, don't forget to read the footnotes. Those numbers are usually guarantied only when the prints are stored in albums locked away from sun, heat and air. Since we don't have 200 years to test which prints will last for as long as the manufacturer promises we did a not so scientific, but very demonstrative test to find out which printing technology is the winner these days.

Kattintson ide a magyar változatért

At the very beginning I have to admit that we made a few mistakes. First of all, we forgot to include prints from silver halide processes and those photos we had from the just announced HP Photosmart Pro B9180 printer (this one would have been interesting, since that was HP's first photo printer to use pigment based ink to create long lasting images). Our second mistake was that we terminated the test a month early, so the images have been exposed to the elements for only 11 months. Other than this, we were fair and equal to all contestants.

How we test fade resistance

Although we have introduced a scientific method to measure the color reproduction capabilities of different printers at our detailed reviews this year, we didn't use that process in this fade resistance test. Not just because the whole project started over a year ago (when we weren't measuring color space), but because we believe that a bunch of numbers in this case are not the best way to demonstrate the results.

Instead of printing color patches, we used our standard test images and printed them twice on all selected devices. We have printed two copies, so we could put one into storage, while the other is being abused. Although we had many ink-jet and dye-sublimation printers in our yearly printer test, we have picked the small format (10x15 cm or 4x6") models. We had a color and a black & white photo printed on almost all printers. In some cases we were running short on paper, so we decided to only print the color images on printers in question.

Than came the most interesting part of the whole process. We have taped one of the copies from all prints to the south window of our office on the 9th floor (inside and facing to the sun, of course). This happened on April 24, 2006. The prints were in the window for 11 months when I thought that their time was up and removed them a day before I realized that it was a month too early. Since the images were already showing the results, I decided not to reinstall the prints to the window.

We had the images printed on 7 paper types with 6 printers. Since this wasn't our first fade resistance test, we already had some experience with papers from third party manufacturers. Since those papers failed miserably in our previous fade resistance test, we decided to only print to genuine papers.

Tested printers

The fade resistance test was conducted on the prints of the following printers: Canon Selphy DS810 ink-jet printer (with Photo Paper Plus Semi-gloss and Glossy Photo Paper paper), Epson Picture Mate 100 ink-jet printer, HP Photosmart 385 ink-jet printer, HP Photosmart Express ink-jet printer (self service kiosk, images printed at a public station at PMA 2006), Kodak PP-500 and Samsung SPP-2040 dye-sub printers.

Fade resistance test results

Since the printed images had much better color composition than the one we had printed for our first test 2 years ago, the result turned out to be much better than the ones last year. While the images are shocking, we can easily announce winners and losers from fade resistance point of view without the need of a spectrometer.

To demonstrate how much the images faded I put the displayed and the control images side by side and scanned them on an all-in-one office scanner. While the color reproduction is not entirely perfect (but close enough), the scans are great to demonstrate the differences. The print exposed to the sun is always on the left, while the control image is on the right side.

Instead of keeping the alphabetical order, let me go from worst to best order.

Samsung SSP-2040

While the Samsung dye sublimation printer was scoring well on our comparison test a year ago, its prints are far from being fade resistant. The image completely lost its colors and became a faded, yellowish photo, like those from decades ago. If we think about the technology what produces these images, it is not surprising that the heat of the sun has damaged the image so drastically. If the images are not printed for the next generations, than the Samsung printer is great, but keep in mind that the images won't last for long if they are kept on the sun.

Kodak EasyShare PP-500

The Kodak printer, having a very similar printing technology was producing an almost identical result as the Samsung printer. The original prints were nice, but the displayed images are useless after a year.

Canon Selphy DS810

We had two different papers for the Canon but the differences were subtle. Last year we were accused to make the mistake to not include a Canon printer with ChromaLife100 printing system. So we did this year. Here is what Canon UK's web site has in the footnotes for the 100 Years print longevity: ?Based on accelerated testing, assuming image is stored in an album at 23°C/ 50% R.H. and printed using "Genuine" Canon inks onto Photo Paper Pro, Photo Paper Plus Glossy, Photo Paper Plus Semi-gloss, Glossy Photo Paper or Glossy Photo Paper 'Everyday Use'?. While it says that it is only guarantied when the image is stored completely sealed from it's environment, I bet that any image would stand that torture for 100 years without fading.

Of course our test is not about sealed photo albums. Unfortunately the results are disappointing. The images faded just like they did in our last test. After 11 months the prints are unsuitable for display. Think that it was your precious wedding photo and your photographer has disappeared with the original files. Would you be disappointed? I would be.

For the request of Canon Hungária Ltd. we append the following line to this review: Photos keep their colors for 100 year only if they are stored in photoalbum and originally printed onto Canon Photo Paper Pro PR-101 paper.
Too bad that the official page of the printer is listing a bunch of papers as compatible with the ChromaLife100 system

Photo Paper Plus Semi-gloss

Glossy Photo Paper

Epson Picture Mate 100

I was showing the prints (both the faded and the control image) to a few people in the order I am presenting them now. Everyone was wowing when I got to this one. Yes. The Epson image has kept its original colors quite well. The two images side by side show the differences, but if someone was only seeing the faded image, he wouldn't guess that it was standing in the sun for 11 months. The print has lighter color and a slightly greenish cast, but that is about it. While it is not perfect, I would call it well acceptable. I bet it wouldn't have faded a bit if it was hanging on the wall inside the room.

HP Photosmart 385

Well, get ready for the winners. As we have observed last year, the HP has something to be proud of. Their printers have proved again that it is possible to produce ink and paper that keep good colors for a long time. We had three small printers in the office last year, but we tested only one because the rest of the group was using the same Vivera ink technology as the Photosmart 385. It is safe to assume, that the prints from those would last just as long as the prints of this device.

By skipping two printers we had a few more Premium Photo papers (the same we used fo the color images) left, so we decided to use those to print our standard black and white image, too.

The images are unbelievable. Those who were wowing at the Epson images were dropping their jaws when I flipped these prints. While the prints are not identical, the differences between the faded and the control image are really tiny. Maybe 1/3 F-stop in exposure, but the colors are perfect.

The black & white image has even got a bit better than the original one.

If longevity is an issue for the family album, get one of the Vivera printers from HP. There is one thing we have to mention here: the only element that ages too quickly is the ink holding layer(s) of the paper. The top layer of the image can break if the paper is curled (same applies to the 11 months old control image). So be gentle with your old HP images.

HP Photosmart Express

Last year I was lucky enough to try HP's new self service photo printing kiosks right after the announcement at PMA. While I wasn't really enthusiastic about the idea (yet another photo kiosk), I had to admit that the whole product was really well thought out. The ink jet printer in the device had a paper wide print had and produced the prints with an amazing speed.

My real appreciation has come after I compared the control image with the one being on the sun for almost a year. The two color images were completely identical. If there is any difference, it is not visible. Truly amazing!

The 'faded' BW image become a bit discolored, but honestly I can't tell if the control or the displayed image is better.

For those who are lucky enough to find a HP Photosmart Express in the nearby grocery store this is my best bet.

Scientific fade resistance tests

Last time, when we were testing sensor cleaning and dust reduction systems of digital cameras we were accused of not doing a scientific test. Those critics are right. First of all we don't have the money to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or euros on these tests. The other thing is that we don't believe that a bunch of numbers would demonstrate the results any better than the actual images. See it yourself and you have the right to disaggree.

If you are still dieing for independent scientific results, go and see the website of Wilhelm Imaging Research. This lab become well known when HP first picked their solutions to test fade resistance of their ink-jet prints years ago. Since that Canon and Epson has also accepted this independent laboratory to profile their prints.

Fade resistance conclusion

While fade resistance is just part of the story, it can be crucial at some applications. We are aware that our testing method was not scientific, and that we have only tested a tiny segment of the huge photo printing market. This is what we could do to give some view on this subject.

The results didn't change too much from last year, except that now we have found a truly perfect technology that withstands 11 months of heat, sun and air. While image quality is getting less and less of an issue these days, fade resistance can be a determining factor.

While most of these printers are out of production by now, the printing system they are built on, are still in use in current models!

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