Fine Art Printing and Archival Inks

“Fine art is knowledge made visible.”  Fine art print stands out when it comes to high quality, long-lasting, and high-resolution printing! These prints use archival ink (called pigment ink) over high-quality, acid-free print paper. These archival inks are chemically alkaline, which helps them resist reacting to weather changes, particularly ultraviolet rays. Thus the ink does not fade away over time.

About Fine Art Printing:

A high-resolution format printer is used for printing fine art prints. For better understanding, we elaborate ink, paper, and printers for fine art printing! Moreover, we will be presenting a comparative insight into traditional photo-printing, chromogenic photo-printing, giclee, and c-type printing. Let’s begin! 


The word ‘archival’ relates to ‘archiving,’ which means ‘preserving the collected records for a long time. The worldly meaning for archival is something to preserve. However, in fine art printing, ‘archival ink’ refers to the ink that preserves for long; does not fade or turn yellow over time. Its permanence attributes to its chemically alkaline nature, which refrains it from reacting with weather and light sensitivity. It is available in archival ink pens, pads, re-inkers, and printer cartridges. 

The examples for archival ink are Archival Ranger ARR5-30799 Reinker Archival (Jet Black) and Epson Archival Black Ink Cartridge. 

Acid-free paper 

Archival papers are used for fine art printing. These are acid-free; if you soak them into the water, the pH will be either 7 or greater, indicating the alkaline behavior. The fine art papers are very high-quality papers. They are either cotton made or wood pulp made. The wood-based pulp uses cellulose fibers extracted from banks, leaves, wood, or other plants in making fine art papers. However, the wood-based pulp is sulfur and lignin-free (therefore, it does not react to weather changes.) The fine art paper is usually 11-25 mil thick, and its weight ranges from 45 gsm (thinner) to 120 gsm (thicker). 

An example of a fine art paper is Hahnemuhle USA Photo Rag 308 GSM 13×19-Inch Paper (25 Sheets). The international standard on the quality of archival paper is ISO11108.  

Fine art Printer

Most of the printers are dye-printers; they use dye or acidic ink. However, now a considerable amount of printers today can print pigment ink and dye. These are inkjet format printers. They come up with 9 to 12 multi-colors to produce higher-quality results. 

Example of fine art printers is Canon PIXMA PRO-200 and Epson SureColor P5000 Standard. 

What is a photographic print? 

Photographic print refers to the image printed on a photo paper either from a latent (negative-tape) image or a digitally available image (the latter is done through a chromogenic process). Mostly in photographic printing, the latent (negative) image is converted into visible by applying a bleach fix (shortly known as blix agent).  

The bleach fix is usually aluminum thiosulphate with ferric EDTA compound that removes the silver halide from the latent image. The silver halide is the mixture of silver with halogens (Chlorine, Fluorine, Bromide, Iodide, etc.). A photographic print has glossy finishing. However, the photographic print is not as durable as a fine art print due to acidic bleaching.  

However, it is also prone to weather and light sensitivity; it may be faded or yellow-turned. The paper used for photographic print is usually known as coated paper that contains various polymers. The different proportions of these polymers produce a variety of coated papers in terms of thickness.

Photographic print vs. art print

The main difference between photographic print and art print is ink and paper, and printer used. 

  • The photographic print uses dyes like inks, and the art print uses archival inks (pigmented ink). 
  • The paper used in the photographic print is acidic paper made from complex polymers. However, the art print paper is non-acidic, so it is long-lasting against weather changes. 
  • The printer for photographic print is more expensive and can print dye ink over glossy papers; however, the printer for art printing should be an inkjet format printer that may have pigmented ink cartridge installed. 

Fine art paper vs. photo paper

As discussed above, the paper used in fine art printing is archival. It is acid-free. This alkaline behavior helps in long durability and resistance to weather and light reactions. It is also robust against heat changes. The main contents of fine art papers are either cotton or wood pulp. The wood pulp can be obtained from barks of trees, leaves, other plant materials; therefore, it has a considerable cellulose polymer. Fine art paper is not as glossy as photo paper. It is somehow cheaper and more economical than photo paper. 

Conversely, the photo paper is known as coated paper. It is synthesized from a variety of polymers and then bleached with chlorine. It is acidic paper; if you soak it into the water, the pH will be less than 7. However, it is more glossy because of its usage for oil-made dye inks. Let’s have a comparison table! 

Fine art paperPhoto paper 
Acid-free compositionAcidic composition
Made from cotton & wood pulp Made from complex polymers 
Used for pigmented ink Used for dyes and alcoholic ink 
Matte Glossy 
Not faded over time Faded and yellow turned 

Giclee prints 

Giclee is a French origin word, which means squirting or spraying. Giclee printing offers the sharpest detailing and high-resolution prints with pigmented ink. It also uses inkjet printers but with a toner of pigmented ink. It usually prints images from digital sources. The main difference is working; unlike the normal printers (which printed dot by dot), giclee printing involves spraying the pigmented ink over the paper. 

Chromogenic photography & C-type prints 

Chromogenic photography uses chromogen for converting visuals from negative, reversal films or digital media. The chromogenic process involves applying three layers of silver halide gelatin. In the easiest words, we can say it is converting less colored or colorless print into colorful prints. C-type or silver halide printing are other good names for chromogenic photography.

It is known as digital C-type prints when it is carried out from digital media. Chromogenic photography or printing is considered classic photo printing in terms of stability, image resolution, and color tones. However, chromogenic prints are sensitive to weather change, heat, and light. These can be faded and less durable. But, it is usually said that these can survive up to 60 years of exposure to light.  


Q1. Should fine arts prints be glossy or matte?

The fine arts prints should be matte as they have little dullness, which helps not to catch much light and fingerprints.  

Q2. What does C-type abbreviate for?

The C-type printing is abbreviated for chromogenic color printing. Photographic prints are printed from a digital source instead of the traditional darkroom latent conversion in chromogenic color printing. 

 Q3. Does fine art print worth anything?

Yes! Fine art prints are highly valuable for high quality, durability, and high resolution. These can be worth between a few hundred to a hundred thousand dollars.  

Q4. Is giclee an inkjet printing?

Yes! Giclee is an inkjet printer. However, the way of printing makes the difference. It sprays pigmented ink on high-quality art paper. It gives the sharpest detailing and high resolution. 

Q5. Does giclee print matte or glossy? 

Giclee prints on matte and glossy both because they use 7 inks. However, mostly, it prints on matte. Therefore, the prints are less sensitive to heat and light. 


Preserving the moments from passing the time and printing them on paper is an art!. Due to technological advancements in printing, we have observed modern resources like fine art prints, chromogenic photo printing, giclee printing, etc. Traditionally, the latent images had to be converted through a photographic process using bleaching agents. However, the prints were prone to weather, light, heat, and other factors.

Fine art printing has used pigmented ink, non-acidic paper, and fine art printers to give high-quality and long-lasting prints. Despite being higher quality, the fine arts prints are not as glossy as the photo prints were. Therefore, traditional photographic printing has evolved to chromogenic color printing (c-type printing), where digital images were the source instead of the latent images.

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