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Articles by Chris A. Paschke, CPF GCF

"Digital Directions: Common Digital Photo Problems"

August 2002

Seems all the writing I have done this year, whether for the Second Edition of The Mounting And Laminating Handbook or Mastering Mounting, has surrounded mounting problems or test results in an attempt to avoid mounting problems. Since it is a well-known fact we learn from our mistakes, perhaps problems are a good thing after all.

Heat Tolerance Test - Epson

I had hoped to be reporting the results of "Heat Tolerance Testing for Photos: Part Two" this month, the Epson version of the digital photo test like the one I completed using my Hewlett Packard (hp) DeskJet 960c, but not everything has fallen into place yet as far as materials and equipment for the test to commence. So, I will delay that another few months with the hopes we will see it in January 2003. Hard to believe we are already thinking about 2003.

Let's overview and chat about some of the questions I keep seeing posted on both PPFA hitchhikers and The Grumble. Unfortunately it appears that not all of us tune in regularly enough to these frequented sites, nor read the problem/answer combinations until a problem hits us between the eyes. The world of digital imaging is tough to understand without the additional headache of damaged images while framing.


It is no revelation that digitals are water based and that printed images of any kind (traditional offset or digital) can get punctured, creased, incorrectly glued, spilled or spit upon...not a pleasant thought, but accidents happen. With the moisture intolerance of digital inks, spills can render almost any digital irreparable.

Though this is not originally why I have advocated the request of a second image when handling digitals, but it would give a little more confidence should a fit of allergic sneezing suddenly come upon you amidst framing the sensitive image. A backup image for testing is a must with digitals...I really can't stress this enough. We need not have a duplicate for every copy, but we need one from every different printing source. There remain moisture, heat and perhaps silicone sensitivities we might not even know about yet.

The Problem: Yellow Dots

A few months ago I received a direct request for help from a framer who had heat mounted a black-and-white digital print onto acid free foam. Tiny pinhead sized yellow dots appeared over the entire surface of the image after mounting, even into the paper margins, which seemed to point to a chemical reaction. Not knowing the answer directly I contacted ANSI committee members from Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, Wilhelm Imaging and Rochester Institute of Technology for their opinions. Though my contacts were very willing to give advice and possible explanations, some are not allowed to be noted and publicly acknowledged, for legal reasons.

Explanation #1

Since the dots are very small that eliminated the possibility of them being the result of inkjet malfunction and might direct to the paper itself. This is supported by the dots showing up in the margins as well as the surface. This expert suggested close examination of the same photo or plain paper prior to mounting, then mounting the blank digital paper without printed image the same way to begin eliminating possible causes.

In this world of high technology and their new applications sometimes we need to work backwards to figure out what is happening. If the paper shows no reaction then it points to the image reacting to the mounting process, in this case perhaps heat.

Explanation #2

Mark McCormick of Wilhelm Imaging states that with inkjet images they have seen problems with certain coated fine art papers which are highly susceptible to gas contamination from volatiles coming off adhesives and from packaging materials in the form of outgassing. This is not a new phenomenon to framers, like corrugated ghosting on the outer sheets of foam board. But if this damage is accelerated through heat mounting, it is a problem we had previously not anticipated with digitals.

At the beginning the learning curve of any new technique can be much steeper than originally thought. Marketing divisions of major manufacturers are discovering the need for acid free or neutral packaging from the very beginning of production. It appears every bit as important as what we have discovered with long term preservation framing. Early packaging was viewed only as temporary packaging for shipping and receiving which would ultimately be removed, printed upon, and perhaps framed.

Yet we already know that contamination can occur in as little as a few days or weeks, not even considering any long term shelf life of packaging and materials. The potential for staining and chemical contamination of products can happen almost overnight. When this is the problem thought, it is generally yellow staining and not tiny yellow dots that occur. The two could be related, particularly if the heat application and the addition of the adhesive have exacerbated the situation.

It has been scientifically noted that in extreme cases these can even show up as brownish yellow stains. Early productions of Lysonic Fine Art papers and Hahnemuhle papers showed examples of this. When Mark worked at a previous publishing house they would receive batches of these sheets where the top sheet was already damaged even though the paper was set into the shipping box in polyethylene bags. The tape had left a ghosted image imprint in bright yellow.

It seems while the paper base may be a high quality 100% cotton rag the new surface "coating" applied to it, making it more receptive to digital inks, is a fine layer containing silicates resembling a gesso (like what we refer to as clay coated perhaps). This layer produces higher color and greater density range for inkjet artist and publisher. The vivid colors and deep tonal blacks have encouraged fine art photographers to begin printing onto this type of paper for black-and-white inkjet imaging.

Manufacturers are well aware of this problem and have been working on solutions to this issue. Framing these images as soon as possible after printing might help, unless the mounting technique ends up being part of the problem. These contaminated papers are extremely sensitive to airborne pollutants, even more so than the dreaded UV light we have feared for so long. Mark states that whatever is happening to these images during and after framing "...really is not the fault of the framer if problems show up... but the consumer may not buy that argument"!

Explanation #3

Douglas Nishimura, a research scientist from the Image Permanence Institute at Rochester Institute of Technology says there is no real answer to this dilemma. He thinks it could be one of two things: either the printer used a CMY black (rather than CMYK or added plain K black); or a K black was used with an odd formulation.

In the first situation the magenta and cyan inks must be disappearing or the yellow could not become visible as spots at all. The yellow could be either ink or stain, but regardless the M and C must be gone. Black is often composed of a combination of other colors to produce that black, so in the second K black scenario, just as with the above CMY, all colors must disappear in order for yellow to be visible.

There are a number of things that can form yellow besides lack of ink. On microporous substrates coated with cellulose nitrate as a coating polymer it is prone to yellowing organic materials including paper and numerous plastics as it deteriorates. He further states, "...this is an interesting problem no matter what the yellowing source is...several colorants have to disappear to see the yellow dots unless they are very opaque spots on top of everything".

Is There a Solution?

It appears there is not. After all is said and done we just don't really know. It may not help you much with your customer to be telling them it really isn't your fault, it's "their" digital image that is faulty. Not good to ever attack the paying customer, but rather educate them ahead of time to the possibilities of deterioration. They may not end up being that different from the acid burned and yellowing newspaper clippings we once lost sleep over. And if yellow dots are not enough, then there was hazing.

Hazy Images

As I begin to explain this dilemma is occurs to me we still have not established a good working terminology and understanding over the digital technologies and how they differ from the traditional ones of the past. I recently received an email from a framer asking about a two-step printing process using a Fuji printer and Fuji photo papers and inks. They had been mounted at 178°F for 3-4 minutes with a porous, permanent tissue adhesive, just as any traditional RC photo may have been mounted. After framing they developed a haze or visible film over them which the customer was not happy about.

This might have been what I refer to as scuffing, but I actually think not in this case. Scuffing is when the high gloss photo image has reacted to the silicone coating of the release material. In an attempt to test and correct the problem, the framer practiced on a few glossy photos from assorted local developing houses, but was unable to duplicate the resulting problem. I really hate when that happens!

Apples, Oranges and Bananas...Oh, My

I explained to her I thought we were dealing with separate items like apples, oranges and bananas. I'm not certain as to which two-step printing process she is referring to, but do know that the samples she obtained to test and attempt to reproduce the end result were all from different technologies, hence the inability to duplicate the results.

One-hour on-site kiosk developers could be a dye-sublimation thermal transfer process (see Mastering Mounting "Everything Old Is New Again", PFM page 70, January 2002); images printed with a desktop onto Fuji photo papers could be inkjet; and then there are traditional RC photos. Odds are the image in trouble is one of the first two.


Bottom line to the hazing issue...we don't have an answer for her at this time. Sorry. My observation, however, is that we are still dealing with the bigger problem of not understanding the technology enough to be even talking the same language. There are numerous tidbits of advice given via email exchange on PPFA Hitchhikers and TheGrumble, but even then the explanations are not always for the same technology. My advice is for framers to be very careful about advice taken from individuals, including me, that have not seen the problem first hand. Examination of the damaged image, in this case the photo, would better identify whether it is a traditional RC or digital format which in turn might indicate how to replicate the damage for further study.

This is why I had hoped to be in the midst of my Epson desktop photo test. Hewlett-Packard printers are inkjet while Epson are piezo, hence, apples and oranges. The damage that occurs when framing these images is only happening because our technologies are incompatible, and that all the correct handling has yet to be established. Yes, you may have damaged the image, but it is not entirely your fault. The fault you must take upon yourself is when you do not continue to read articles and attend classes to help further your education before the problems occur. And in light of that comment, if you are reading are already doing your part to stay informed.

Trick or Treat

After the generous assistance from my friends and scientists at ANSI, I must say the bottom line appears to be it is out of our control. As educators, we continue in the framing industry to do our homework and try our best not to damage these new images, this new technology, but at every turn there continue to be stumbling blocks. Just as we have had to educate the consumer in the benefits of conservation/preservation framing we need to continue with their education, this time over the whole digital thing. Just when you think it's safe to back to the mounting corner...trick or treat!

Copyright © 2002 Chris A Paschke

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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