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Q: Do Optical Brighteners Affect Longevity?
A: Optical brighteners have been used in traditional photo papers since the 1950s and photographers have had a love-hate relationship with this additive ever since. While increasing the whiteness and thus the color pop of printed images, many are concerned that this decreases the archival qualities of the print.

Archive specifications are defined by various international institutions such as ISO, DIN, and the Library of Congress. Within the specifications, there are allowances for chemical additives to brighten and stabilize papers.

The major concern is that optical brightening agents (or OBAs) can “evaporate” out of a product over time, thus bringing out the true color of the base paper, sometimes referred to using the somewhat mythological term “yellowing”. Low-cost brighteners that are added to coatings can turn the paper to its natural color very quickly. This is generally true for commodity-grade papers with very high white points. Under “black light” the surface of these papers will glow due to the fluorescent nature of brighteners.

A much more stable procedure is to add the OBAs to the base paper. Adding high-quality brighteners to the base paper is the most expensive and stable method of adding brighteners. All LexJet Sunset products that contain OBAs are produced this way. Sunset Fine Art papers offer a range of materials that include OBAs and those that are OBA-free.

Traditional fibre-based darkroom papers, considered by most to have the highest archive and print quality, were produced with and without brighteners in the barayta coating layer. This coating served to smooth, brighten and act as a barrier between the paper base and the photo emulsion. As with the traditional papers, Sunset offers an Air Dried Fibre Gloss (with OBA) and will soon offer an Air Dried Fibre Gloss Natural (without OBA).

Alex Ried, LexJet’s product manager, states, “While there is considerable concern over the use of OBAs and their potential affect on archival qualities, this is not a new issue. Our papers are produced to archival standards with and without the use of OBAs. We have decided to address the situation the same way traditional photo paper manufacturers did by offering a brightened Air Dried Fibre Gloss and an Air Dried Fibre Gloss Natural (OBA-free). We will be the first to offer this solution.”

Many of the most popular fine papers on the market today utilize optical brighteners to create consistent color base materials. These papers have been tested by various organizations, such as Rochester Institute of Technology, Wilhelm Imaging Research, and others, obtaining 100+ year ratings.

Volume 1  -  No. 7


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