There are “digital prints” and then there are “archival” and “digital fine art prints.” The distinction comes from the quality of the ink and paper used to produce the print.
Prints which are digitally produced with quality paper and inks are non-archival which means that they are equivalent to poster or photo quality. Their life span with proper care is around 10 years without possible fading and color shifting. These are in the general category of “posters” or “wall decor.” They are not fine art or archival prints. Well produced digital prints will be identical to the same image produced with archival materials. It will have a shorter life and a lower price.
Archival Quality Prints:
There are generally two methods of producing archival prints today; however technology is changing fast and new techniques and materials are constantly being developed.
LightJet technology, in many print shops, has replaced the “Iris-type” printers that are used to produce traditional giclee prints. Because LightJet doesn’t “spurt ink” like a giclee printer but uses laser light, it can not be called a giclee print. The papers and inks used have excellent color and sharpness and an archival life of 60 – 70+ years.
Inkjet prints are usually created using 8-Color to 12-Color inkjet printers. Modern inkjet printers are capable of producing incredibly detailed fine art and photographic prints. Images can be printed to almost any size and on fine art media such as watercolor paper or canvas. Injet print’s longevity is based on the media and inks being used. Generally 100+ years is given for the expected life of the print.
To get technical information about the archival quality of specific papers and inks used in digital printing, visit Wilhelm Imaging Research, Inc. As stated on their web site they “conduct research on the stability and preservation of traditional and digital color photographs and motion pictures.”