|Today a number of technologies are employed in producing digital photo prints.
Digital snapshots are frequently produced by equipment that also handles film. A light sensitive paper is exposed by laser diodes instead of light passing through film and is then processed chemically. The Fuji Frontier line of minilabs is one such processor in widespread use.
Another system from Fujifilm is the Pictrography line of digital print processors. This equipment uses a combination of the laser exposed photographic paper and a thermal dye transfer process on a second paper (see dye sublimation below).
In both cases the prints look and feel like traditionally processed photos.
These machines offer prints up to about 11"x14". Large format equipment using laser exposure of photographic paper is also in more limited use, known as Lightjet printers.
Prints on Fuji Crystal Archive paper have been rated to resist fading about 60 years which is more than double that of most other photographic papers in use.
Inkjet technology has entered the market producing very high quality photographic prints in sizes that generally cannot be obtained using other methods. With higher resolution digital cameras comes the possibility of producing very large, high quality photographic prints using inkjet equipment. Postersize-it is one of many companies who now offer these large inkjet photo prints. Most prints over 11"x14" are made on this type of equipment today.
Gone are the days of inkjets producing inferior photographic prints. The earlier inkjet prints did have serious problems with longevity because the unstable dyes were deposited on the paper's surface where they were subject to atmospheric degradation. The combination of ultraviolet light, moisture, and gasses like ozone caused shifts in color and overall fading in relatively short order.
Today's inkjets utilize a number of advances to combat these problems. Dye based inks have been engineered to resist fading. Photo papers have been designed to encapsulate the dyes reducing direct UV and gas exposure. Pigmented inks are available which can resist fading longer than dyes with some sacrifice in color gamut.
Even today's dye based inkjet photo prints can be expected to outlast those produced by photographic processors. Inkjet prints made using pigmented ink sets may resist fading more than twice as long. Although the paper itself may noticably deteriorate well before the over one hundred year fade resistance of some pigmented inks
Inkjets are not particularly cost effective for producing smaller prints. This mostly due to higher material costs, but this too is subject to change.
Dye Sublimation is a printing process where the inks are stored in a solid form on special ribbons. The ribbon is heated to transfer the colors onto a special paper. This offers the advantage of a smudge proof print right out of the printer. This technology is available for larger prints but it is mostly used in desktop size printers and specialty printers such as CD/DVD labeling. Dye sublimation is more costly than inkjet printing. The photographic quality of these prints can be very good. Resistance to fading can be quite good depending on the equipment and supplies used and should resist fading as long as most photographic processed prints. Kodak offers this technology in desktop photo printers for home use.
As print technology continues to evolve we can expect higher quality, even longer lasting photo prints to become available.
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