At Ken Allen Studios we are continuing to experiment with coating inkjet prints to protect them from surface abrasions. In particular are the fine art semi-gloss papers that can seemingly scratch if you look at them the wrong way. Current protection methods include lamination and spray varnishes but these have drawbacks of there own and do not work well with all paper surfaces. Typically smooth gloss papers work best for lamination and matte papers work best with the spray varnishes, hence trying to find a solution for the fine art semi-gloss papers. Of course the best protection is done by framing the print behind glass or acrylic but sometimes this is not desired and there can also be a lot of handling between the print coming off the printer and having it safely installed behind glass.
We have been experimenting using renaissance wax to coat inkjet prints and have been quite pleased with the results. We have seen beeswax used on inkjet prints to build texture but we really wanted a wax and application method that would provide protection while also being imperceptible, with little to no shift in the color and tone of the original print.
It is important that the prints be allowed to cure for at least 24 hrs. before applying wax or any other coatings. The wax is buffed on by hand using a soft cloth in a small circular motion. It helps to have some raking light on the print so you can ensure you have applied the wax evenly, which takes less then 5 mins. for a 20×24 in. print. If done correctly you will not see the difference between a section that has been coated and an uncoated section. Actually the only way we can really tell is by sliding a fingernail across the surface; It glides across the wax coated section and drags and scratches pigment across the section with no wax. It clearly provides some surface protection especially from those hairline scratches. A scratch might make an indentation in the wax but this can be buffed out and its better then damaging the actual pigment.
The wax is practically imperceptible, offers scratch resistance, and additionally reduces bronzing. Also, while the coating is barely perceptible there is one area where a beneficial shift can be seen; By coating a large section of black one can see the waxed blacks read slightly richer to the eye then the unwaxed.
This observation of the blacks is echoed in an analysis done by Eric Chan, a color scientist, who we sent coated and uncoated targets to. “Each attached image is an L* slice (lightness slice). On the right side is a comparison of the color gamut for the uncoated (red) vs Renaissance Wax coated (green). In the very lightest tones (high L*) you can see that the uncoated has a slighter larger color range. Over most of the rest of the range, though (esp. darker tones), the coated version has the more extended range. In the middle lightness range, there is a wider green gamut from the coated targets. Gamut extension is increased in most hues in the darker tones.” It is important to note that while these shifts can be detected by equipment they are not really perceivable to the human eye except for a slight extension in the darker tones.
We have successfully applied renaissance wax to several semi-gloss papers including Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Baryta, Harman Gloss Baryta, Innova Warm Cotton Gloss, and Ilford Smooth Pearl. It does not apply well to matte papers or at least not with the application method we are using. In a more extended test, we have a print that we coated 2 years ago and it shows no signs of yellowing or other side effects that would be caused by the application of the renaissance wax. In conclusion, the benefits include: time and ease of application, increased surface protection, little perceivable shift in color and tone, reduced bronzing, and more extended range in darker tones while the main drawback is that it does not provide UV protection. For those photographers, artists, and printers looking for additional protection of their semi-gloss papers you may want to give the renaissance wax a try.