Optical Brightening Agents | Print Mastery

Navigating the World of OBAs: Our in-depth Guide

Optical Brighteners, commonly known as Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs) or "artificial whiteners", are chemical additives employed by paper manufacturers to make papers appear "whiter" and "brighter".

These agents have the ability to absorb ultraviolet light and re-emit it as visible blue light, creating a perception of a brighter, bluish-white paper to the human eye. In this article, we delve into the details of OBAs, their usage, identification, and the solutions available to manage their effects.

Words Jake Hopking
29 Aug 2023
Westminster Abbey entrance illuminated by projected light during the night. Part of the Lumiere London 2018.

Why are Optical Brightening Agents Used?

OBAs are extensively used to enhance the whiteness of papers, making them more appealing to the eye. They are especially prevalent in commercial inkjet papers such as common office bond paper, Epson Premium Matte, Luster, Glossy, and many others. Without OBAs, papers, given the natural colour of wood pulp and cotton, might appear drab, necessitating the hunt for papers labeled “natural white”, which have no or very minimal OBAs and exhibit a slight yellow tint.

Identifying Papers with OBAs

To identify if a paper contains OBAs, shining a black light on the paper is the quickest method. The OBAs will glow significantly under a black light, much like white clothing does. Papers without these brighteners will not react to the black light. Instruments like handheld blacklights or small, battery-operated black lights offered by Chromix can be used for this purpose.

Longevity and Considerations

While the use of OBAs is a practical way to enhance paper brightness, it is crucial to understand that the chemicals causing this fluorescence will diminish over time, leading to a decrease in the paper’s apparent brightness. This factor is particularly important for those looking to display prints in environments like museums, where ultraviolet light is typically filtered out, rendering the OBAs ineffective.

Harnessing Technology: Hardware and Software Solutions for Managing OBAs

Navigating through the nuances of Optical Brighteners necessitates a blend of technology and innovation. From the paper we select to the prints we produce, the presence of OBAs can significantly influence the final outcome. Delving into the technological realm, we uncover a variety of hardware and software solutions designed to identify, measure, and manage the impact of these brightening agents. Whether you are a printing enthusiast or a professional in a colour-critical environment, equipping yourself with the right tools and knowledge can make all the difference in achieving prints that stand the test of time. In this section, we explore the diverse range of hardware and software solutions available to mitigate the effects of OBAs and ensure the longevity and brilliance of your prints.

Hardware solutions

The industry has provided several instruments with UV-filtering capabilities to measure and manage the effects of OBAs, including the now-discontinued SpectroLino/SpectroScan and X-Rite DTP-70. The iSis chart reader by X-Rite can measure with UV light included and excluded, providing a comprehensive solution to understanding the impact of OBAs on paper.

Software solutions

Software like GretagMacbeth’s ProfileMaker and i1Match have algorithms designed to automatically detect OBAs and correct their effects in the profile. These solutions help in addressing the variations in the amount of optical brightener used in different papers and their reactions in varied viewing environments.

Crafting Enduring Beauty: Concluding Thoughts on Optical Brighteners and Elkli & Hart’s Commitment

In the realm of printing, the presence of Optical Brightening Agents (OBAs) is a pivotal aspect that influences the visual appeal and longevity of prints. As we’ve explored, these agents can indeed enhance the whiteness and brightness of paper, but they also come with their set of challenges and implications, particularly over time as they lose their ‘glow’.

At Elkli & Hart, our mission transcends the mere act of printing; we are dedicated to crafting pieces of enduring beauty and excellence. We prioritize the use of archival papers with low or no OBAs, ensuring the longevity and brilliance of our fine art prints. Whether framing behind UV protected glass or showcasing in a museum, our prints retain their vibrancy, a testament to our commitment to quality and aesthetic brilliance.

As the world of printing continues to evolve, so does our dedication to providing you with art that stands the test of time. We believe in the power of informed choices and the marriage of technology and artistry to achieve optimal results. The dialogue around OBAs is essential, offering insights and knowledge that help us make informed decisions in our printing processes. It allows us to weigh the balance between immediate visual appeal and the lasting beauty of a print.

In conclusion, our journey through the intricacies of OBAs has illuminated the significance of making informed choices in the pursuit of artistic excellence. By understanding the role and impact of Optical Brighteners, we are better equipped to preserve the integrity of our work and to offer you prints that are not just visually stunning today, but that continue to shine with undiminished brilliance for years to come.

Thank you for joining us on this enlightening exploration. We at Elkli & Hart are excited to continue sharing our passion for fine art printing and to bring you along on our journey of creating timeless beauty.

Print Mastery Series

Continue your education with more guides on the print process.

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  4. The Art of Sharpening
  5. The Science of Colour Accuracy
  6. Paper Essentials in Digital Printing
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