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Articles by Chris A. Paschke, CPF GCF

"Color Copies: Part 1 — Lightfastness to Laminating"

March 1997

A number of years ago I began hounding dry mounting manufacturers for information on heat and moisture tolerances of 4-color copiers. No compiled information was available at that time and I was being asked in return why was this necessary.

As framers in the "computer age" of the 90s, digital prints, 4-color copies and FAXs have joined the ranks of formal artwork, and at times need to be framed. A simple shadow box might include a thermographic ticket just waiting for the unsuspecting framer to turn it black by mounting it in a heat press. Or a FAX for that matter. Color photographs are routinely being copied on high quality copiers as enlargements and limited edition series by artists, what's a framer to do?

Research and Funding

Knowing what to do is the biggest problem. A year ago I began researching the copier issue and discovered it was only the tip of the iceberg. The project has since been divided into three parts: color copiers, color digital computer printers and the digital art market itself. And the attempt to keep up with new inks, new printers and technology in general appears to be a never-ending story.

Seal Products agreed to fund this project in their ongoing attempt to support the framer in his pursuit of knowledge. Their hopes are to better understand the tolerances and requirements of new materials entering the framing world. Especially in relation to handling, mounting, laminating, and the overall effect of these practices when items are subjected to extreme conditions. After all, thermographic tickets were never developed for long term framing, only for the speed and ease of servicing the buying customer.

Copiers Selected

In a randomly selected town, all available 4-color copiers within the city limits were used to duplicate at regular settings, on general copy modes, a select grouping of images. Copiers (not printers) used in the study include Xerox 5775, Xerox Majestik 5765, Xerox Regal 5790, Ricoh NC 5006, Kodak 1525+ Coloredge, Canon 350 and Canon CJ17. They were chosen strictly by mainstream availability based on what a customer might bring in from local copy/print shop or photo lab. These would in turn be the same sources if copies were required to reproduce something for framing due to potential fading or darkening over time (the thermographic ticket).

Project Definition

The original selected for study was a boldly colored Polaroid supplied by Gwen Walker-Strahan, an award winning fine art photographer from California. The bright pink floral photograph was copier enlarged and duplicated on both a control paper of 20# Southworth Legal Document 100% Cotton Rag and the copier paper of choice, which varied with each machine.

The idea was to study, compare and assess the COLOR, DETAIL crispness and overall ACCURACY of each copy as a reasonable substitute for the original. Also test for color permanence (LIGHTFASTNESS) of images for use in picture framing based upon a 3 month controlled exposure to 24 hr daily UV light.—

Individual copies were tested, examined under magnifier, then rated on a scale of 1-10 in the following actual categories against the original, 10 being a perfect reprint:

  1. Duplication of Polaroid color
  2. Crispness and detail
  3. Overall accuracy to the original
  4. Lightfastness of inks
  5. Heat tolerances at 160ºF, 190ºF
  6. Laminate tolerance at 220ºF
  7. Copier accuracy with assorted items

If 4-color copies were proven tolerable of press and tissue temperatures they could be placed into heat. If not, would need to be mounted using cold alternative methods. Heat tolerance testing was done at 160ºF, 190ºF and 220ºF with dry mounting presses for reaction of laser/copier inks by basic copier color change, toner mottling, or high gloss toner loss.

The study was also to determine if the same copies tolerant of adhesive/heat combination could stand the higher temperatures required by some manufacturers for use with laminating films (temperatures in excess of 200ºF).

I also watched for ink reactions to laminating films and/or adhesives seen as curdling or a visible dot pattern, very similar in appearance to a technique in art known as pointillism.


The results were very interesting and frustrating...there are no easy answers. Duplication accuracy varies dramatically between copiers. Some machines reproduce color best while others duplicate crisp detail and subtle grays best. Unfortunately, no one copier appears best for everything. I will discuss this in more detail in part two, next issue.

All Polaroid images appeared comfortably lightfast after extended and constant exposure to UV for three months. No visual fading occurred on any copy from any machine. As little as a few years ago select copier inks (predominantly personal copiers) were extremely light fugitive, so light tests should still be done on copiers that remain untested. Never assume the art or copy brought in is lightfast, check for brand of copier and glaze with UV protection regardless.

Heat Tolerances

Lightfastness and heat tolerance are two separate issues. Though I've seen yellow turn green when subjected to heat, it was a few years ago prior to this project. Little or no color change occurred as the result of heat application during this particular study. As proven with the above light test results, it appears inks have improved to higher heat tolerances also. This is not to say that application of a laminate may not effect the inks, and printers may be another story altogether. Tests have only begun on printers, including Iris.

In this segment of the study, the same enlarged color Polaroid copy was used as in the control. The paper used for copying, however, was the paper of choice for each copier company. Heat tests needed to be very standardized. The idea was to emulate a framer or customer simply handing a picture to the man at the counter and requesting a copy. Then test that particular non-specified, non-altered copy for heat tolerance.

The question was, would 4-color copies generally tolerate heat applications, and if so what are the limitations. Copies from all the selected copiers were tested at 160ºF, 190ºF and finally 220ºF. Then laminated at the last high temperature to test for laminate adhesive reactions in addition to heat levels.

Mounting Recommendations

Based on the findings there appears to be no constant. Powdered toners are originally heat set during the copying process. Since they are set at temperatures well above dry mounting, copy colors remain stable. Gloss is created within the mechanics of the copier using heat and pressure. This toner gloss may or may not be effected by heat mounting.

Gloss damage is no more than the removal of the gloss itself. At low heat sensitivity levels it appears as a blotchy or mottled look. At higher more damaging temperatures it may remove the overall gloss. In either event the colors remain constant and don't appear to be altered by the application of heat. Bottom line, though many are heat mountable at low end 160ºF temperatures, my recommendation is to mount with a pressure-sensitive adhesive, or hinges. Stay away from wet glues for the moisture, and sprays for the same reason.

If wet or spray adhesives remain your mounting application of choice and your skill level is high, they might be fine if moisture is carefully controlled. Warping and cockling can occur with excess moisture, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Laminating Observations

Tests were all completed on mounted copies at 220ºF using vinyl surface laminates. Full manufacturer recommendations were followed for each application (overlay foam, time and temperature), and the same brand of film and finish (Seal PrintGuard-UV Matte) was used as a control. Since glazes were already effected by the 190ºF temperatures even lower temperature laminates would react to the application.

The interesting thing about laminates over 4-color copies is the reaction of the toner, or inks, to what appears to be the adhesive. Since the higher heat only seems to effect the gloss level of the toner, it must be the adhesive/heat combination that curdles or creates a blotchy pointillism appearance to the inks when laminated. Surface laminates seem to react with almost all copier inks in some form of pointillism or curdling of the inks.

Laminating Recommendations

If laminating is a "must do" be sure to control which machine the copy is from. The Xerox 5775 rated 8 (on the 1-10 scale for laminate application) while Canon's CJ17 was the only rated 10. The problem with Canon remains it's extremely low ratings for duplication color, detail and overall accuracy, coming in at an average 2.

If a customer brings in a color copy for mounting and laminating, it may not be in your best interest to be playing lotto with the project. Pressure-sensitive mounting and cold laminating might be the solution, though testing has not yet verified cold laminating as a clear option. There's always glass.

What About the Other Stuff?

The project goal was first to determine which copier would most accurately duplicate an original (the Polaroid) in terms of color and detail using a controlled paper, then establish if the findings would hold true for assorted commonly framed items. Items selected for the second part of the test included:

  1. B/W studio photo, vintage 1960, yellowed w/age
  2. Newspaper clipping
  3. Contemporary certificate
  4. Marriage license, 1947
  5. Promotional fine art postcard

These items were also tested for color, detail and overall duplicate accuracy on the same 1-10 scale, to determine if any given copier would stand out should the need for framing duplicates arise. So next month I'll continue this report with PART TWO, "COLOR COPIES...THE REST OF THE STORY".

Disclaimers Throughout

The results printed here are not scientifically nor laboratory controlled. They were completed in a traditional frame shop setting with routine framing equipment. They are merely a structured set of givens and controls testing the mainstream most common commercial 4-color copier equipment found in use today. Next year, perhaps even six months from now, details and results could change.

It's a matter of understanding how and when to use appropriate materials that have been designed to work together and when the limits are being challenged that is important. The world of digital imaging appears here to stay and we must adapt to handling both the art and the small, quick mountings so as not to damage the original. Whether fine art, decorative art or 4-color copy the framer must be dedicated to enhance and protect whatever is presented as a project.

Copyright © 1997 Chris A Paschke

NOTE TO READERS: It is extremely difficult, nearly impossible, to reproduce through photograph or 4-color copy the results of this study so they would show in a magazine article print. Color would not duplicate the differences, only neutralize them to look alike, the same with the clarity and detail.

For more articles on mounting basics look under the mounting section in Articles by Subject.
Additional information on all types of mounting is found in:
The Mounting and Laminating Handbook, Second Edition, 2002,
The Mounting And Laminating Handbook, Third Edition, 2008 and
Creative Mounting, Wrapping, And Laminating, 2000 will teach you everything you need to know about getting the most from your dry mount equipment and materials as an innovative frame designer.

All books are available from Designs Ink Publishing through this website.

Chris A Paschke, CPF GCF
Designs Ink
Designs Ink Publishing
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