44th Annual Meeting: Photographic Materials Session, May 16, "When Inkjet Prints Get Wet: First Contact to Weeklong Submersion," by Daniel Burge

As an emerging paper conservator, I was eager to attend Daniel Burge’s talk, “When Inkjet Prints Get Wet: First Contact to Weeklong Submersion.” I wanted to expand my understanding of this type of print that seems to be so fragile and difficult to preserve. Is there any hope for these objects after a water emergency?
The aim of Burge’s research was to critically assess the damaging effects of water on modern inkjet prints to develop disaster response protocols that maximize emergency response and recovery efforts of a damaged collection. Many types of inkjet prints were immersed in water for increasing increments of time: 1 second, 10 minutes, 1 hour, 8 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, and 7 days. Damage to the colorants, paper coatings, and paper supports were recorded. The majority of inkjet prints proved to be damaged after one second of immersion. Some inkjet prints remained fairly stable during extended periods of immersion. This allows an emergency response timeline to be made focusing rescue efforts on saving prints that have some stability when exposed to water.

Title slide of Burge’s presentation showing examples of damage to inkjet prints after submersion in water.

Burge’s research also revealed that pigment colorants were generally more stable than dye colorants; and prints made on polymer or uncoated fine art papers were the most susceptible to damage. However, some anomalies of the statement above were observed. Burge explained that stability is not only related to the materials incorporated in the inkjet prints but that it is also linked to the relationship between the colorant and the coating as well as the relationship between the coating and the support.
In conclusion, Burge stressed the following points:

  • Priorities may be assigned to a collection based on a thorough understanding of the colorants, coatings, and supports of inkjet prints coupled with the results of this research guiding emergency response efforts during a water incident.
  • Good housing and storage methods may help to reduce potential water damage.


Slide from Burge's presentation: Anatomy of a Water Damaged Print.
Slide from Burge’s presentation: Anatomy of a Water Damaged Print.

Several people added to the presentation through their questions and comments. All agreed that IRIS prints are incredibly sensitive to moisture. A question was asked, raising the ethics of printing a new inkjet print from a file to replace a damaged print. Burge replied that even though this is possible, there is a unique relationship between the artist and the original, damaged print. We should be considerate of the significance of the original before making a reprinted version. I felt that I had gained a better understanding of the issues surrounding the inkjet print’s sensitivities to water that would allow me to better care for a collection. I greatly admired Burge’s enthusiasm and authority in this subject matter as well as his poise as a speaker.
An overview of Burge’s project and helpful information may be found on the home page of the Image Permanence Institute’s DP3 Digital Print Preservation Portal under the ‘Flood’ tab: http://www.dp3project.org/