A digitally-exposed chromogenic print submerged in water, April 23, 2019. Courtesy of Alison Reppert Gerber.

When Digital Print Met Water

What happens when your digital prints get wet and why is this important? Answers below!

Understanding how our collections react to water can ultimately help us make decisions about long-term storage, conservation treatment, and disaster response and recovery. For the Archives, our collections consist of many materials—photographs and negatives, audiovisual materials, and bound materials—that can be negatively affected by moisture. And when I say “moisture,” I’m not just thinking about the total submersion of an item in water. Moisture can mean increased humidity, localized conservation treatment, or an accidental liquid spill. (We’ve all seen those coffee/tea stains on our collections!) 

Back in April 2019, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop on the identification and care of digital prints. During the workshop, we ran a few tests, one of which was water sensitivity. Here’s how our prints faired:

A digitally-exposed chromogenic print submerged in water, April 23, 2019. Courtesy of Alison Reppert Gerber.

A dye inkjet print on plain paper submerged in water, April 23, 2019. Courtesy of Alison Reppert Gerber.

A dye inkjet print on uncoated fine art paper submerged in water, April 23, 2019. Courtesy of Alison Reppert Gerber.

A dye inkjet print on porous-coated fine art paper submerged in water, April 23, 2019. Courtesy of Alison Reppert Gerber.

A pigment inkjet print on uncoated fine art paper submerged in water, April 23, 2019. Courtesy of Alison Reppert Gerber.

A pigment inkjet print on porous-coated fine art paper submerged in water, April 23, 2019 Courtesy of Alison Reppert Gerber.

Table of what happened to the different prints. Alt text in images explains discoloring.

 So, what can we take away from this fun (but slightly terrifying) test? First, dyes tend to be more sensitive to water exposure than pigments. Secondly, some print supports, such as fine art paper or Baryta paper, also exhibit higher sensitivity to water. Lastly, keep in mind that each individual digital print is unique. The type of printer, the printing process, and the inks can all dictate how the print will react to water, but hopefully this exploration into water sensitivity was able to assist in your future preservation planning! 

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