I would really like to see a specific worldwide trade body that covers the production and sale of fine art prints whether giclee litho, lightjet or whatever technology. Attempts by national bodies like the FATG and manufacturers regional efforts such as Epson UltraGiclee and Epson Digigraphie are not enough in my view. With agreed international standards of production and sale, we can joinlty raise and maintain our collective reputations and educate the buying public.
Way OT, but I'd like to take you up on your request for comment. The UK Fine Art Trade Guild (FATG) is also being discussed concurrently in another thread ("Hahnemuhle Sugarcane 300 GSM"), and so this whole notion of accreditation, test standards, conformance to standards, and who pays for all this testing is already on my mind. I can think of no other time in the history of art, and printmaking especially, that so much attention is being given to the quality of methods and materials and their subsequent impact on the durability of the work. Print longevity seems to come up often in photography and printing forum discussions, and I trust that is a sign that many take it seriously. Photographs in particular have the often unspoken intention and high expectations of purpose to permanently preserve an otherwise fleeting moment in time. I certainly try to encourage artists to seek out stable materials for their work, but to do so they need both general and product-specific information.
To get good print permanence information takes the involvement of many technical experts and the allocation of funding to do the research. It's a patch-work quilt of resources and content providers, and it can definitely use an injection of new thinking and approaches to the problems. I founded Aardenburg Imaging and Archives in 2007 to add another patch to the quilt.
There are two fundamental issues, IMHO. The first problem is establishing a more robust test methodology and rating system. The current industry-approved test methods are outdated and can seriously misrank the fading performance of multi-colorant inkjet technologies. However, they are generating highly flattering "years on display" ratings for the most recent product offerings, so the industry doesn't have a big incentive to change to new tests that might lower the scores. The FATG, to its credit, recognized that for fine art applications something closer to "just noticeable" fading was required at its product pass/fail limit rather than the more common industry-sponsored "easily noticeable fading" endpoints in test. However, the FATG light fastness test method relies on the Blue wool scale which has its own set of reliability and interpretation issues and at best produces only a single pass/fail result. The big problem with pass/fail standards is that two products, one marginally meeting the standard, and one passing with much performance to spare will be given the same figure of merit.
Problem number two: Paying for tests. Even if the ISO, for example, could create or adopt a great suite of print permanence tests (it hasn't yet but not for lack of trying), manufacturers could never be expected to apply the tests across all product lines. Part of this reality is self-serving (don't show the bad stuff), but part of it is the aggregate cost of testing. If print permanence tests were somehow mandated by law, many independent suppliers whose products we like so much would get squeezed unfairly because they would have a significantly greater financial burden of cross-platform testing compared to the OEM printer manufacturers. We must find other ways to share the financial burden of image permanence testing so that a more diverse set of materials can be get tested.
So, how can image permanence testing reach a wider spectrum of products that we would like to see tested? The best answer I could come up with for a practical broad-based testing initiative and knowledge base for today's digital imaging media was to implement the AaI&A digital print research program. Admittedly, AaI&A is the "new kid on the block", and the program is still in its infancy with a long way to go. But I have high hopes for it going forward. My hypothesis is that by using a superior open-source testing and evaluation method, giving lightfastness ratings that don't grossly oversimplify the whole "how long will it last" argument as is now the case in this industry, and by enabling participation at relatively low cost entry to all constituencies, we might just find a way to break out of the current rut. The way that the AaI&A program gathers samples from all members should ensure that it won't be constrained to a limited number of product combinations or get "highjacked" by self-serving marketing interests.
I have finished rebuilding the engine and transmission of lightfastness testing. I am eager to expand to other tests well. But for now, I really need many of my fellow printmakers to help me put the wheels on this bus. The individual subscription fees to the program are no where near enough to cover the true cost of even a single test, but a vibrant and growing membership should allow me to pool resources and achieve a materials and process diversity unmatched by any other print permanence testing program. That in turn may encourage manufacturers, distributors, and perhaps the museums and archives community as well to get more involved with the AaI&A digital print research program so that even more results can be made available to the general public. It could work! That's the idea, anyway.