Alternatives to Printing

Any digital data storage device can be used to...

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This may sound strange coming from someone who makes a living from selling printer cartridges, but there are times when printing isn’t the best storage solution. That’s all printing really is, a means of storing text or images on a paper medium by using a device that imprints that data onto paper using either ink or powdered toner.

Printing as a storage medium is among the oldest concepts in computing. The first printers widely adopted were dot matrix printers. Printers haven’t evolved all that much beyond their origins. Printing isn’t much more than writing on paper done by machine.

As a storage medium ink, and to a slightly lesser extent toner, on standard print paper has a short shelf life. Most printed pages start to yellow and fade within a few years. They are subject to damage from exposure to water, the Sun, high humidity, insects and a host of other common factors in our environment.

For the storage of non-vital images and documents this is usually not a major problem. However, for important personal documents, business documents and treasured photos, a more permanent and less vulnerable means of storage is required.

Currently the most popular media for extended storage are compact disk (CD), digital video disk (DVD) and digital tape. Something to keep in mind; advances in technology will most certainly make CDs and DVDs unusable and unreadable within a couple of decades. Can you imagine what it would be like to have all your important business paperwork stored on 8-track tapes or cassettes?

Some printer manufacturers make the claim that their inks and papers will permit images to be preserved up to 100 years, a bold claim that no one has been able to fully substantiate yet. It is acknowledged that printing on acid-free paper with archival inks, then controlling the environment in which the pictures are stored, provides the best chance that images will survive for years and most likely decades.

In light of all this our recommendations would be:

  • For everyday printing of non-essential documents and images, standard ink and regular copy paper/photo paper is completely adequate.
  • For important pictures, use archival-quality ink and acid-free paper then store the prints in a controlled environment.
  • For important personal and business documents, record them to CD, DVD or data tape. Keep two copies, one on-site and the other off-site. As storage media evolve, transfer the documents to the most current medium.
  • Revisit your stored media at least once a year to asses its condition. Signs of wear or discoloration may indicate a need to re-record the data to new media.
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