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Fending Off Digital Decay, Bit by Bit


Fending Off Digital Decay, Bit by Bit
Electronically produced drafts, correspondence and editorial comments, sweated over by contemporary poets, novelists and nonfiction authors, are ultimately just a series of digits — 0’s and 1’s — written on floppy disks, CDs and hard drives, all of which degrade much faster than old-fashioned acid-free paper. Even if those storage media do survive, the relentless march of technology can mean that the older equipment and software that can make sense of all those 0’s and 1’s simply don’t exist anymore.


ask anyone who's tried to retrieve a file from a 10-yr-old floppy and you'll see how difficult it is... I had to beg to get a floppy drive on my new pc.. and even then, corrupted files are common... and what I had to go through to salvage those files from my 5.25s wasn't worth the effort...

but whatever was printed on paper can be scanned into Word over and over and over for a hundred years...

>but whatever was printed on paper can be scanned into Word over and over and over for a hundred years...

Unless the original was put onto paper using a laser printer. The toner will flake off much quicker than a hundred years.

HP used to assert archival permanence for laser printing on acid-free paper, with the toner permanently bonded to the paper. Is there more than anonymous anecdotal evidence that properly-operating laser printers produce printouts that will actually "flake off" at some point?

Must admit, I've *never* had that happen with properly-operating printers and good paper, and I do have laser printouts >20 years old. Now, if you want to talk about printing using ink jet printers with non-archival inks (more prevalent 10 years ago than now), you have a case--the ink won't flake off, but it may very well fade away.

Several archival organizations have information on the web about toner flaking. The worst toner is if you are using a dry toner instead of a wet toner. A wet toner is more able to fuse with the paper.

National Archives of Australia

Adhesion of toner to paper

The physical durability of a xerographed copy depends primarily on how well the toner adheres to the paper. Time, temperature and pressure appear to be the most important factors, but adhesion may also be affected by the surface finish and porosity of the paper. It is more difficult for dry toners to penetrate coated papers and papers with small pore sizes. Moisture content of the paper can be critical for the toner-to-paper transfer process and may also affect the fixing process.

Full-colour images are thicker than black toner images because they are composed of four layers of toner. Consequently, they do not fully adhere to the paper and are more prone to flaking during flexing or folding.

Librarians that just assume "all paper is good and will last hundreds of years" are taking a gamble. I have had numerous experiences with toner flaking and sticking to other pages. Combining this anecdotal info with the recommendations of archival institutions I don't think you are safe to think that you can print something on your office laser printer and that you will be able to read it in 200 years.

"Toners composed of stable resin materials and a stable pigment such as carbon black are capable of strong bonding to the paper surface. Copies using these toners and printed onto permanent or archival quality paper can be considered permanent and suitable for long-term storage. "

That's what your source says. Cut-and-pasted directly without modification. Coated papers and full-color images are entirely different questions (who uses coated papers for office printing anyway?).

If the fuser in your printer does not heat exactly right the toner will flake off. So any particular piece of paper printed with a laser printer may or may not be archival quality. There is an unknown factor with every laser print. Moisture absorbed by the paper also effects how the toner bonds.

Good paper and good ink you do not have to wonder if any particular sheet is ok.

See this:
I have had the exact problem mentioned in this article of toner flaking off and sticking to the back of other sheets of paper.

If laser printing adheres to paper 100% why do companies that make secure documents have rules like this?

Be toner retention paper (laser printed title documents incorporate the ink into the paper allowing the retention of the toner so toner images cannot be scraped, lifted with tape or flaked off). The fusion agent shall not retard or impede the chemical sensitization contained in the paper.

Here is a line from a laser printer training manual:

Fusing - two heated rollers melt toner to the paper.
A poor fusing assembly will give you raised print, toner flaking, light print, ghosting and sometimes excess build-up on the cleaning pad.

What? A poor fusing assembly will cause toner flaking? WTF???? I thought all laser prints are archival quality. Sure you can tell me that if I have a good printer and good toner my prints can last hundreds of years. But this advice gets turned into -- laser printing is an archival medium.

So 100 years from now what things are we going to lose because we took Walt's advice? Hope that all your fusers were at 100% and moisture level in the air was right and all the other factors were correct to make the laser print archival.

Something is not archival when there are a whole pile of unknown variables to account for to know if you got an archival print.

Another site talking about toner flaking: Toner Flake-offs : Even toners that flake-off cannot be blamed on the printer. It's also a matter of low quality paper. Too glossy or too much thickness causes toner flaking. If the medium is not right and was produced with poor adhesion qualities, expect the toner to flake off because the latter is basically plastic powder that is supposed to melt on the paper.


So if your paper is to thick or if you get a bad batch of toner it may not be archival. Walt the whole point of archival is that you are going to "know" that the medium is going to last. With laser printing and the numerous variables you do not know what is going to happen.

always have to verify the source, yet never identify themselves as someone other than 'anonymous'? I wish the plethora of anons would pick a name and use it.

So if the anonymous posts all had a name at the end that would seriously change something?


The reader would able to distinguish one anonymous person from another, that's one reason.

Also if you're entering a contest, such as our current joke contest, you can darn well conclude that anonymous is not going to win, or if he/she does, they will not receive prizes and/or recognition.

I've given up on this discussion--partly because there is, in the long run, very little point in arguing with A Possible Group of Nameless People Citing Mostly-Unlinked Sources. I quote Anonymous' source *directly* and that's not good enough. Why bother?

Fact is, by Mr/Ms Anonymous' standards, there's no such thing as an archival medium. Some microfilm fails. Hell, if you carved the words into stones, some stones would break. Traditional printing on acid-free paper only works if nobody tears the paper.

What you can virtually guarantee: Without an active, well-funded, constantly-monitored migration program, the likelihood that something stored on a digital medium will be usable 50 years later is a LOT lower than the likelihood that a laser-printed page will be readable 50 years later. That's also meaningless, 'cause it's not plausible to print everything out...which, really, makes the whole discussion annoying but not useful. So I'm done. Anonymous can keep trashing me for saying things I never said, like "all laser printing is archival no matter what the paper or the printer."

And note that I was responding to a flat statement that toner would flake off laser-printed documents--not "possibly," but a flat statement Which is, simply, not true. Since I never made a countering flat statement that toner would never flake off any laser-printed document (clearly false), well, draw your own judgments. Or just do as I should have done: Treat factual claims by Anonymous with the seriousness they deserve.

So, what does a name really matter. I can call myself, Jim, Bob or Susan, but you still wouldn't know me or even know if those were my real names. You would no nothing about me or my qualifications (or lack thereof) on any given subject. I get that replying to Anonymous can be confusing because you're not sure if you are carrying on the conversation with the same person. If you want it to change, talk to those that run this site. They can suspend anonymous posting; they have in the past. Until then, there will be anonymous posters. Why attack us who make use of this option? It's counterproductive.

And I seem to recall many people during Revolutionary times who wrote and published writings anonymously and pseudo-anonymously. Remember the Federalist papers? Now, I'm not comparing LISNews to that, because this site pales in comparison. Really, an argument over toner? My point is do you really want to "treat factual claims by Anonymous with the seriousness they deserve"---I'm assuming you mean Anonymous posting is frivolous---and discredit the message because there is no name to accredit it to? Let's just forget those pesky Federalist Papers then because they didn't have the decency to "pick a name and use it"! Even when Anonymous actually posts links to his/her sources, "that's not good enough. Why bother?" Seems like no one will be happy.

Technically, 0's and 1's are bits, not digits.


Technically, that's wrong--doubly.

1. 0 and 1 are as much digits as 2, 3, 4, etc... They also happen to be binary states.

2. "bit" as used in this regard was coined in 1948 as an abbreviation for "binary digit." So you're saying 0s and 1s are digits, not digits. Right.