Not all digital ink is created equal. Unfortunately however, they all start out looking very similar. A red is a red, a blue is a blue, etc. It’s often not for a few months, when your reds turns pink and your greens turn blue, that the quality of the ink used comes into question.
Exactly how long will inks last outdoors before they fade?
It’s a question our clients will ask, often loaded with skepticism. Skepticism, which honestly, I do understand. There is evidence on many a car rear window of ghostly messages from barely 12 months ago (which I know, because the only thing still legible is the year in big bold letters heralding the date that … “something” happened).
Thankfully though, the answer to that question “how long” is not a complete mystery. All reputable inks come with some fairly decisive testing already formalised. They are not absolute of course, nature is not a controlled condition, but the numbers are reliable given some degree of wiggle.
The short answer? 7-10 years, with some specialised production processes boosting that to 14. The longer answer, is to buy from someone who knows what they are talking about and discuss your specific requirements, they will be able to go through all of your available options.
Make sure you are realistic about how long you want something to last. Consider the life expectancy of the message as well as the product. Styles, messaging and market climates, all tend to date. Would you prefer to pay more for something to last longer and look dated, or pay less and budget to then update it in a few years? If you do only require something to last a lesser amount of time, then you will find there are significant cost savings to be made compared to something that will last 10 years.
Remember also, at least for us here at Brand (I can’t speak for other printers) the UV life expectancy value marks the time until you may START to see evidence of degradation. From there it is still just a slow fade, and may still not look too bad. It should also be said that we tend to err on the safe side, so the likelihood is that it may last much longer. Especially so if the print is not in full sun, not outside all day, or if the artwork is predominantly dense dark colours (lighter colours, especially yellows tend to fade first).
The elephant in the room.
There is of course one factor here that is conspicuously missing from these notes. The fact is that no matter the quality of the ink that you lay down, if the material you are printing to will not last the equivalent, then paying for longer life ink is a waste. Similarly paying money on expensive long life stock when the ink will fade early is also a waste.