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In my opinion . . .

the age of the fine art black & white print may soon be over. The majority of prints today are produced on resin-coated (RC) papers, using lower cost materials and machine processing and washing. The problem with RC is the question of archival qualities, as the polyethylene (read "plastic") layer tends to deteriorate and develop cracks in time. There is a noticeable difference in surface quality between fiber-based and RC paper.

Fiber-based papers are the conventional fine art printing materials, and are still recommended for maximum quality and permanence. Photographic papers contain a silver-halide emulsion on a white paper support. The print image is composed of varying amounts of silver particles in an emulsion affixed to the paper base. Maximum image brilliance is obtained on a smooth, glossy-surface paper. My preference is to use the classic materials of black & white photography. I use double weight paper for all purposes. These are thicker papers, and provide a better support for the emulsion layer. They can be mounted with greater ease and smoother results.

Archival processing refers to the making of a print to last for generations. Archival washing is a plain water wash step. This wash removes traces of processing chemicals which have a detrimental effect on print longevity. Fixing salts cause discoloration of the paper base and fading of the silver particles if not fully washed away.

Selenium toning provides archival protection by forming silver-selenium compounds that have better stability and longevity that silver alone. This leads to a much longer print life.

All my fine art silver prints use the finest quality materials available. They are produced on double weight fiber based paper, fixed twice, and archivally washed. Silver gelatin prints are selenium toned for longevity. Signed and dry mounted on archival quality mount board, all include hand cut mats.

Next time you purchase a fine art print from a dealer or photographer, ask what materials go into the print. If (s)he doesn't know, or (s)he won't tell you, it may be a lower quality print, and not archival.

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Revised: February 1, 2015
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