How Long Will Inkjet Photo Prints Last?

All inks, dyes, paints and photographs fade. So it’s really a question of how do inkjet photographic prints compare.  In particular, how do they compare to conventional photographic prints produced in a darkroom or by your local minilab?

Bright colours fade fastest - if you own a red car you probably know this already. Stability isn’t a new problem that affects only inkjet photo prints. Inks in many modern pens have very poor fade resistance. When I first started testing inkjet photos for fade resistance I wrote my notes below the image in black ink - just with a normal pen. Within a week it was very hard to read and by the end of a 3 months in the sun there was nothing there.  Now I make notes with a CD pen or with pencil.

Since consumers started realising there was an issue here, all printer manufacturers have started making claims about lightfastness with their inkjet photo printers - but only if you use their ink cartridges and their paper. To be fair we can’t really expect them to test other people’s ink cartridges and paper. Most of the profit in making printers comes from ink and paper sales, so they do their best to stop you even considering using anyone else’s.

So is there a problem? Should you care?

First fade tests in October 2000

Manufacturers ink and paper

Epson Stylus Photo 870

Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper

 Epson Ink

Epson Stylus Photo 870

Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper

 Epson Ink

Epson 870 premium glossy test print
epson 870 Premium glossy fade test print

Control print

Kept in a folder

Test print
3 months worst case

Direct sunlight) then kept in room light / folder.

Images are blurred to protect the innocent - What we’re looking at here is colour and tone. Fading isn’t really the biggest problem - colour changes are much more obvious.  Epson do very well here but there is still some fading with a combination that was claimed to last 25 years in ideal conditions.

Supermarket ink and photo store paper

Epson Photo EX

Jessops Matt Paper

Ko-Rec ink

Epson photo EX ko rec 3 mths 200002

Test print

3 month worst case
Direct sunlight) then kept in room light / folder.

This test is a different story. Fading is severe and was obvious within days of the test beginning. Using both independent ink and paper - in this case Ko-Rec ink on Jessops Matt photo paper - results are very poor.

I suspect that most of the blame here lies with the ink, as this print looked pretty much like the Epson result when I printed it, and was fine for a few days, so if your need is for quick prints for a meeting, then this cost saving is worthwhile, but if your photos are important long term then, unfortunately, it’s best to pay more.


Few tests provide as conclusive an answer as this one. It would be great if inks costing less than half what the printer manufacturers charge, were just as good, but the results above, and many other tests I’ve made, including a more recent test with an independent pigment ink, all show the same results. Cheap inks fade - very quickly.

For that reason, my advice is, always stick with the manufacturer’s inks if your photographs are important to you. However, many independent photo papers are excellent, and if you want to keep costs down - don’t we all? - that’s where you can make savings without compromising on quality.

Inkjet Fade Tests 2006

Author’s Note

It’s important to make clear that I have no connection with any printer manufacturer, so nobody’s paying me to say this.  This test was one of the reasons I started publishing this site, and it has stirred up a fair amount of controversy amongst those that simply don’t accept the result, not because they’ve made their own tests and got a different answer, but apparently because they simply don’t want to believe the result.

If anyone out there has made a test that shows a different answer, please get in touch,
(So far that’s four years and nobody has shown me a different result)   David Gold

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