A quick review of some of the several paper choices available for the large-format Canon S9000 printer and how they compare in terms of fading resistance (print longevity).


As the output quality of home printers starts to approach, and in some cases exceed, that of traditional photo labs, the impulse to print all your photos at home is very tempting. For those pictures I valued the most and wanted to print in large format, the only concern left for me was print longevity. So I set out to perform my own simple print longevity test using the the papers and printer at hand, in my case the Canon S9000.

Before starting this test with my Canon printer, I spent some time researching the multiple papers available in the market and how they were expected to fare in terms of print longevity. There is some data available from the Whilhelm institute but these are performed in very "light" conditions, often using weak fluorescent lights and then extrapolating the results. While this is useful information (and to be fair, more scientific than mine), I wanted to know how the papers performed with direct sunlight and exposed to the atmospheric contaminants in a home environment. This was my motivation for the test, and the results were quite surprising...

not all papers are created the same

Unlike wine, papers don't age very well. The first thing to recognize is that not all papers are created the same. For dye based inks and printers such as the Canon S9000, there are two main types of papers: Resin Coated (RC papers) and non-resin coated (non RC). RC coated papers have a special polymer coating that manufacturers claim extends the print longevity when using dye inks. Examples include the Kodak Ultima "with Colorlast" and the Ilford Gallerie Classic series of papers. Note that RC papers are not recommended for pigment based inks offered for some Epson printers (these pigment inks are supposed to last longer than dye inks anyway - so if you want really good print longevity, a pigment-based printer is probably the way to go).

The vast majority of papers are not RC papers and are expected to last less. What is the catch then? Well, RC papers are trickier to use because they absorb ink very slowly. I usually run some processing intensive task in the background before printing in my S9000. This technique slows-down the printer therefore reducing ink pooling and gives me the opportunity to drink another cup of coffee. With RC papers you also have to be careful with water and humidity since the prints produced with these papers are water sensitive and wash-out very easily. This is not an issue if you frame the photos but is something to look out for when handling the prints. And finally, RC papers are in general more expensive. So, there are tradeoffs in life, but, as you will see in the test results, if you value your print and want it to last, these tradeoffs may be worth it.

The following is a list of papers I tested:

  • Kodak Ultima with Colorlast (RC paper)
  • Ilford Gallerie Classic Gloss (RC paper)
  • Epson Glossy Photo Paper
  • Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper
  • Epson Heavyweight Matte

From this list, only the first two are RC papers. I use a range of Epson papers with my Canon printer as these print very well with it and are also less expensive. I have not tested Canon papers but the experience with some users in internet forums has indicated that they behave similarly to the "equivalent" Epson papers (and in many cases the Epson perform better).

test methodology

I started by printing two 4x6 prints of my test photo in each page. There was one page for each of the papers tested (see figure 1). All prints were made using original Canon inks recommended for the S9000 (and also used in a number of other Canon printers).

figure 1 - Initial Prints


I then cut two pictures from each paper and separated them. One group was placed in a air-tight plastic bag (to reduce exposure to atmospheric pollutants) and saved in a box inside a dark drawer. This reduced exposure to light and ensured the "original" prints would not fade significantly during the test period (see figure 2).

figure 2 - Originals are kept in plastic bag and dark box

The other group of pictures was mounted in a frame covered by glass and then placed on a sunny window (see figure 3). This exposed the pictures to a significant amount of light and some heat since I live in a quite sunny climate. Normally, pictures should not be submitted to such a harsh environment when kept in normal storage conditions. The objective here was to perform a sort of "accelerated" aging of the pictures. Note however, that the pictures were behind glass which helps preserve them. The total length of the test was approximately 4 months, running from February 2004 till the end of May 2004.

figure 3 - framed prints were placed on a sunny window


four months later - the results

After four long and mostly sunny months, I removed the pictures from the frame. This was "judgment day". Since these papers all printed originally with slightly different color casts, I decided just to compare them with the "originals" in the same paper when scanned side-by-side. This ensures the same scanner settings for the "original" and the "aged" prints. This way you can make a fair comparison between the two and determine the amount of fading. No other post-processing was applied to the pictures after scanning other than re-sizing for the web.

The results were really mixed, ranging from the very good to the very "ugly". But, let's look at the results (in descending order of ugliness):


figure 4 -Epson Glossy Photo Paper

I was hoping the Epson Glossy Photo Paper would perform better than it did. This paper is relatively inexpensive (a box of 120 letter-size sheets can be had for about $20 at the local Costco) and produces good prints, with rich colors. The paper also "feels" good: its not too light and has a nice glossy feel to it. To my great disappointment, this paper performed the worst of all the papers I tested (see figure 4). After four months, the colors all but faded and the print took an unacceptable cyan cast. It's too bad since this was one of the papers I used more frequently. Now it's relegated to print proofs and all but the most "casual" prints.


figure 5 -Epson Heavyweight Matte

Matte papers are not my favorite since I much prefer the glossy feel in my prints. But these papers usually print quite well and under glass look fairly good. Another thing going for this paper is the price, typically cheaper than its glossy counterparts. Unfortunately, this paper performed really bad in the longevity test as demonstrated by figure 5. Not as bad as the Epson Glossy but still not a paper I would use for my treasured prints.


figure 6 -Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper

This is my favorite Epson glossy paper. It is heavier than the Epson Glossy Photo Paper and my experience has been that you can get more fine detail from prints using this paper. It is much more expensive, but worth it. In the longevity tests this paper had a respectable performance (see figure 6). There is still a noticeable amount of fading but not nearly as bad as in the two previous cases. It also performed the best of all the non RC papers.



figure 7 -Kodak Ultima with Colorlast


There are several versions of Kodak Ultima. The latest one includes "Colorlast" technology (don't you love these names?) that supposedly increases print longevity. Some of Kodak's literature claims close to 100 years under the right circumstances. One has to wonder what those circumstances would have to be given the slightly disappointing performance I got in just four months... This is an expensive paper, actually the most expensive of the pack. And I must say the paper does feel very nice: it's very heavy and produces rich colors with a glossy/grainy feel. In the longevity test the paper performed well but the fading was more than I was hoping for a RC paper (see figure 7). The reds faded quite a bit. Still a good performance but I'm a little disappointed given all the "Colorlast" hype behind this paper...



figure 8 - Ilford Gallerie Classic Gloss

The Ilford Gallerie Classic Gloss is also an RC paper. This paper is surprisingly affordable when you buy it online. It feels quite well even though the paper is lighter than the Kodak and tends to curl a little. In my longevity tests this paper was the winner as can be seen in figure 8. The reds held-up quite well relative to the other papers and the print still looks quite acceptable after four months. This paper is one of the best values available for someone looking for a quasi-archival quality print from a dye-based printer.


I think the greatest lesson for me from these tests was to take the publicized longevity data from the manufacturers with a "grain of salt". Yes, if you live in a dark cave 500 feet underground your prints may last for 20, 40 or even 100 years. But, if like most of us, your prints see daylight regularly, then you cannot expect them to last very long unless you choose your paper and ink combination very carefully. I was struck by how badly some of the papers performed in such a short amount of time (only 4 months). Actually, except for the RC papers and maybe the Epson Premium Glossy, I would not use any of these papers for prints I expected to preserve.

On a positive note, the "surprise" was the Ilford paper performance, especially when you consider this is a relatively inexpensive product.

Disclaimer: I have no association whatsoever with the manufacturers of these papers or printers. This is a non-scientific test and the opinions expressed here are just that - totally subjective opinions.

Comments, questions, suggestions? You can reach me at: contact (at sign) paulorenato (dot) com