Preservation of Digital Photographs & Prints

Digital photography utilizes a digital camera and digital technology to create images. Prior to the development of this technology, the photographic process captured and stored images on film, usually in a negative format, which could then be exposed to light and processed as photographs. In contrast, digital images can be displayed, printed, stored, manipulated, transmitted, and archived electronically, without chemical processing.

Digital imaging can also be accomplished without the use of a camera. Both electronic scanning of originals and creation of original images directly through the use of software are two other techniques that create digital images.

With the development and rapid growth of this technology, the question of preservation of the images, both as electronic data and as prints, becomes of increasing concern, in particular in the case of artists who are now creating, recording, manipulating and printing their artwork in the digital media. How can an artist or a collecting institution ensure the preservation of these pieces into the future?

When we speak of digital preservation, it must be recognized that we are speaking of two different work products. The first is the electronic data itself. The format it has been produced in and the media it is stored on are both of great concern. In 2000, Congress appropriated funding to establish the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program. Administered by the Library of Congress, the program is a collaborative effort to research and establish standards for the long-term preservation and sustainability of digital content.

The second area of interest is the preservation of digital prints. The majority of prints have been created on inkjet printers, so the long-term stability of these images is linked to the quality of the inks and the paper on which they are printed, in addition to the manner in which they are displayed or stored. The Image Permanence Institute at Rochester Institute of Technology has been conducting research on the stability of digital prints since 2007. The Digital Print Preservation Portal (DP3) Project investigated the stability of digitally printed materials when they are exposed to light, airborne pollutants, heat and humidity. Their results have led to significant conclusions in regards to digitally printed materials.

  • Digitally-printed photographs are highly variable in their sensitives to decay forces
  • Cold storage significantly reduces deterioration rates caused by natural aging and pollution, especially for inkjet
  • Prints made using pigment inkjet can be very sensitive to abrasion
  • Inkjet dyes can bleed when exposed to high humidity, even for short periods
  • Prolonged exposure to light can cause fade, yellowing, and embrittlement of both dye and pigment inkjet printed photographs

For More Information

The National Digital Information & Preservation Program at

"A Consumer Guide to Traditional and Digital Print Stability" © Image Preservation Institiute (IPI)