Completion of the IMLS-funded Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery for Inkjet Printed Materials in Museum Collections

IPI recently completed an IMLS National Leadership Grant for Museums research project to develop water emergency prevention, response, and recovery strategies for inkjet-printed photographs and fine art in museum collections. Many inkjet prints are considerably more sensitive to water than traditional prints, being prone to bleeding, cracking, delamination, etc., and a full understanding of how they behave during different water damage scenarios, from small spills to catastrophic floods, had yet to be performed.

The project began with experimental work to evaluate the water sensitivities of inkjet prints over a broad range of possible water emergency scenarios. These included variations in times of immersions; qualities of water including clean, dirty, and salt; size of water events from single drops to complete immersions; and many others. To perform these tests, a standard and controlled set of inkjet print samples was needed that was representative of all the types of inkjet prints actually found in collections. Because inkjet has been a rapidly evolving technology with variations over time as well as across applications, a large number of examples were ultimately included, from early Iris to modern pigment. A traditional color photographic material was included as benchmark. Throughout the experiments, the prints were monitored for changes in color density, staining of paper, bleed of lines, gloss, loss of optical brightening agents, dimension, moisture content, planar deformation, ferrotyping, blocking, delamination, and changes in texture.

The inkjet sample set was then exposed to the diverse set of water emergency possibilities described above. The most important of these tests was the immersion timeline. In this test, the samples were soaked over a range of times to determine how prints would be affected over increasing water immersion durations. These ranged from instantaneous contact (immediate insertion and removal from water) to full week immersions. This let us know just how sensitive the most fragile prints would be, as well as how durable the most robust would be. We found that many inkjet prints were destroyed instantly on contact with water, while others could remain immersed for a full week with only minor cockling of the paper support, which could likely be rectified and made planar again by a conservator.

Print Damage Timeline

The timeline experiments were followed by a wide variety of other tests to examine how different water emergency variables can influence outcomes, which may need to be addressed in distinctive ways to maximize successful outcomes. These included exposing the print sample set to either dirty or salty water as well as attempting to rinse the prints of such contaminants. There were tests that focused on small water events that may affect only a part of an object such as along the print’s edge or interior spotting. Additional tests examined the issues surrounding prints wetted in enclosures, either paper or plastic, and whether they could be dried in place or need to be removed from stacks and housings and dried individually. Prints were also examined for dimensional change when wet, as paper is known to swell in water, and to determine if such swelling is retained post drying. Tests were then performed to determine the time needed for these prints to fully dry. This was critical as prints need to be fully dried before returning to stacks or housing, because even if they feel dry, they may still contain enough moisture to initiate mold or bonding to adjacent objects or housings.Finally, the project included experiments that studied the effects of freezing on inkjet prints, with a specific focus on mechanical properties, such as cracking of ink receiver layers.

New Flood SectionFrom these experiments, a comprehensive set of recommendations was created to aid institutions attempting to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a water emergency that affects their inkjet prints. These are all now posted on this website. This site is ideal for this information, as it already contains descriptions of the various inkjet printing technologies and materials, methodology and tools for print type identification, and general recommendations for their storage, handling and display. A new top-level menu option, “Flood”, has been added to the site and can be accessed from any page at This menu contains several new subsections, which address specific aspects of water emergency preparations, response, and recovery. The first section, “About the Project”, describes IPI’s history of research in digital print preservation including this current project. This section is followed by, “Overview”, which discusses the types of water emergencies institutions may face that could harm or destroy their inkjet assets and defines the primary stages of water emergency preparation, response, and recovery, which are the webpage titles for the project’s results and conclusions.

The next section, “Preparedness”, includes the guidance that institutions need to follow in order to minimize damage in the event of potential emergencies. Topics include updating the disaster plan, use of proper terminology during cataloging, defensive storage, and others. Given the extreme sensitivity of many inkjet prints to contact with water, even instantaneous, the best strategies to mitigate damage will always involve preventing water contact with these objects in the first place. A useful tool in this section is the Inkjet Print Sensitivity Chart that can be used to color code the enclosures that house inkjet prints according to the relative sensitivity of these objects. Before an emergency, these color codes can alert collection users that these particular objects are water sensitive and must be stored on upper shelves or upper floors. The color codes can also help responders prioritize salvage during an actual water emergency. IPI’s video demonstrating the immediate effects of water on inkjet prints is also posted here. Watch the video:


Sensitivity Alerts for Inkjet

Highly Vulnerable


Retrieve Last

Dye on uncoated fine art paper

Dye on porous-coated fine art paper

Dye on polymer-coated RC paper

Dye on porous-coated baryta paper

Dye on porous-coated RC paper

Pigment on porous-coated RC paper

Pigment on porous-coated fine art paper

Pigment on porous-coated baryta paper

Pigment on uncoated fine art paper

Sensitivity Stickers


The next section, “Response”, focuses on the first steps to take when confronted with a water emergency large or small. It discourages the impulse to begin immediately removing wet items. Proper assessment of the situation and thoughtful response will guide responders to first taking care of the items most likely to be saved. It helps them think through where to move wet prints, and how best to rinse them if needed.

The section, “Recovery”, focuses on the do’s and don’ts of removing excess water from inkjet prints and properly handling and drying them, as their surface layers can be very sensitive to abrasion as well as tacky and prone to bonding with adjacent surfaces. It also gives guidance on how long prints will need to dry before returning them to stacks or housing, since prints that feel dry may still carry enough moisture to mold or block. 

Inkjet Print Dry Time Table

Relative Humidity (RH)

Days to Dry











Next is the section, “Resources”, which provides links to previously published research in this area that may also be helpful to those wanting to learn about this important topic. The final sub-menu item is a link to a new online book that resulted from the project. During the project, IPI met periodically with members of a project advisory board. The board’s top suggestion was to focus efforts on didactics to help collection care staff understand what could happen to their collections before an actual event occurs. Based on this feedback IPI created an Atlas of Water Damage on Inkjet-printed Fine Art. This new book defines, describes, and illustrates all the types of damage that can occur to inkjet collections during water emergencies. It is made free for anyone in an online book form on the DP3 Project website.  It is also available for purchase (on a cost recovery basis) for those that would like a hardcopy version.


The following is a list of the major deliverables from the project: