Proper print handling and media storage is a critical and often overlooked component of the fine art printmaking workflow, as it will protect the integrity of the media to ensure that it remains at its maximum potential from start to finish.
Developing proper habits for storing and handling media in your production environment will result in less damaged and wasted material, helping your business to keep its costs under control.
In this article, we will explore the most common and costly mistakes made when handling and storing inkjet media.
Then, we will provide tips and solutions for each. Hopefully, this article will motivate you to audit your own internal processes for media storage and handling and ultimately result in a quality improvement and a positive financial impact on your business.
- Dust and debris from the air may contaminate inkjet media – environmental elements can affect your media when left exposed outside of its plastic sleeve and box for a period of time. This can also occur if your workplace is particularly dirty or dusty (including the floors, walls, ceiling, fan blades, AC vents, etc.).
- Temperature and humidity changes cause the media to curl – this also occurs when the media is exposed. One area that our customers commonly forget about is leaving unprinted sheets or a roll on the printer after they have stopped printing. Depending on your environment and the particular type of media you are using, significant curl can occur relatively quickly, potentially causing head-strikes if not watched carefully.
- Damage occurs to the media around the office – It’s so tempting to finish printing and either leave loose sheets on your desk or rest a loose roll on the wall, to deal with later. Unfortunately, this is where significant damage can occur. You should never let a roll of inkjet media come into contact with carpet because carpet contains plasticizers that can cause significant degradation to the media.
- Oil and debris transfers from your hands onto the media – So you just finished making a beautiful canvas print and are ready to stretch it when you notice that your dirty hands just ruined it. All it takes is one tiny smudge from the oil in your hands, and you have to throw the print away and eat the cost of media, ink, and your time.
- Dents and creasing occurs when handling prints – This is more of an issue with thinner media types like photo papers and when handling larger sized prints. If you don’t carry the print correctly, the paper can crease and leave a small dent on the surface. Once again, you might have to throw another print away.
- Scratching and scuffing occurs when handling prints – Before a protective varnish has been applied, most inkjet prints are highly susceptible to scuffing and abrasion, most notably matte fine art papers and canvas. This is primarily due to the fragility of high-quality aqueous ink (found in the most common inkjet printers) and the delicate surface of most fine art quality substrates. Protective varnish will solve this problem, but your prints are extremely fragile during production handling and print stacking, before the varnish has been applied.
- Condensation and/or fog is appearing on my framed prints behind glass – This frustrating and unwelcomed phenomenon is caused by “outgassing”. Outgassing occurs when the water, glycerol, and glycols (“carriers” of aqueous ink) start to evaporate. The amount of time until outgassing is complete will vary depending on your temperature, humidity, and media type. But the bottom line is that if your print has not had enough time to dry before you frame it, you can expect it to fog up the glass.
- While running prints, you should only open the media you plan to use at that moment. Once you are finished making the prints, you should immediately remove any unused media from the printer. Do not leave sheets/rolls unattended and exposed in the printer.
- Media that is not being printed should be wrapped back inside the protective plastic sleeve and stored back inside its box. If you are using roll media, the roll should be suspended in the box using the plastic “end plugs” to maintain its integrity and to prevent dings.
- Do not leave loose sheets/rolls out; and definitely don’t rest them on carpet, cardboard, or any other acidic surface. Instead, keep your box right next to your printer so it is easy to load and unload the media.
- When handling a print, don’t use your bare hands. Instead, use white cotton gloves. Make sure you only use the gloves to handle the prints and then remove them whenever you need to do anything else. If you keep your gloves on while touching things around the office, you could contaminate them as well.
- Take special care whenever handling thinner media or especially large prints. The best way to carry such prints is to grasp the top left and top right corner of the print and hold it straight in front of you with your arms extended, so that it is parallel to your body. Face the front of the print towards your body, so that nothing can scratch the printed surface while you move. NOTE: In order to make our photo papers (such as Vibrance Gloss, Luster, & Metallic) less susceptible to these issues, we have implemented our own minimum thickness/stiffness requirement. Basically, we found a sweet spot where anything thinner could be problematic, but anything heavier would unnecessarily add cost to you.
- Don’t stack prints or frame them until they are dry and the outgassing process has completed. The drying time of every media type is different. Photo papers take longer than others. Generally, 24 hours is recommended.
Here are a couple things you can do to speed up the drying process:
- Use a hairdryer on medium heat, high fan setting. Blow on your prints for a few minutes. Don’t be overly aggressive and only attempt this if you have a very clean environment, to not blow dust or debris onto your print.
- Use an acid-free matte inter-leaving sheet between prints when stacking to help draw out the moisture. (If/when the sheet gets heavily saturated and “wavy”, replace it).
- Shine lights on the prints (where the heat from the lamps cause them to dry faster). Note: This step is only recommended on OBA-Free media, as the UV light emitted by some light bulbs will likely speed up the deterioration of OBA’s in your media, causing yellowing.
Inkjet media is compromised or damaged far too regularly during production, and it is an easy topic to overlook.
While each instance might seem small, and while you may not have a specific line item in your accounting system to track such infractions – these problems certainly add up and are most likely affecting your bottom line right now.
Therefore, we recommend that you implement our proposed solutions or pass them along to your head printmaker to implement for you.
If after reading this article you have additional suggestions or ideas that will help others avoid damaging their media, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!
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