Manifests as: cracks to surface layers of the print
Primarily caused by: excessively dry environment, light, or pollution
Cracking is the result of surface layers of a print becoming brittle and is usually exacerbated with any physical flexing of the print. This is a well-known problem with traditional photographic images when they have been exposed to a very dry environment and then flexed during handling. In that case, it is caused by the inherent brittleness of the image layer when the moisture content is low. Low moisture can also make some digital prints types more prone to cracking, but some digital prints can also become embrittled due to prolonged exposure to light or pollution. In extreme cases, portions of the print’s surface can flake off leaving significant losses. The following image shows a digital print that has been exposed to ozone and then bent slightly while handling.
The next image is a close-up of the above picture showing the extensive disruption of the image layer caused by the cracks. With just a small amount of flexing, much of these damaged areas will be lost.
Prints that are sensitive to cracking are especially prone to damage during handling and should therefore be handled using a secondary support such as a 4 or 8 ply mat board to avoid bending the print and further stressing the image layer.