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Archival is a term applied to products that will not fade or corrode over time. Most commonly, and especially when referring to paper products this is closely associated with the acidity of the product. Most paper has a mild acidic content which will eventually cause the product to yellow and crumble. Archival papers are acid free and hence will stand the test of time.
Lightfastness refers to the effects of various pigments under the affect of UV lighting. The lower the rating the longer the color will last. Pigments such as Cadmium generally have a lightfastness rating of I which means they are nearly permanent. Alternatively, others such as Alizarin Crimson wich usually comes in around III or IV will eventually fade. The time scale is very long however and you may or may not see the effects in your lifetime. Most pigmented products are referred to as "permanent" regardless of their lightfastness rating. This is to illustrate the contrast between themselves and products containing dyes which fade much quicker. Often over the course of even a few weeks when placed in direct sunlight.
Student grade supplies are engineered for just that purpose. Students are still learning the processes and techniques fundamental to the form, their work is temporary, and rightly so. Artist and Professional grade products are made for those who understand those techniques and are looking for supplies that will help to execute them in a fundamentally different way. They generally have a higher pigment load and hence can be spread thinner and go further for effects that are simply unattainable with the lower quality product. Artist and pofessional grade products also tend to be more archival as they are desined to be re-sold and last as long as the Old Masters'. Often even longer as many of these technologies made huge strides in the past few hundred years. Beginners who are still learning the basic properties of various products often can not tell the difference and are encouraged to try the student grade.
Rag paper is made of cotton, linen, or some other fiber usually associated with fabric (hence the name "rag"). These fibers are sturdier and more archival than those found in pulp. Rag papers are reccomended for all waterbased media such as printmaking, watercolor, and inking.
Gesso is a thick coat of acrylic paint that forms the foundation for most paintings. Most canvas comes pre-gessoed, but for professional artists and those especially concerned with the longevity of their work it is reccomended that an extra coat be applied before painting. There are many different types of primers. Most have an acrylic base and each provide a different surface that provides a base layer to build a painting off of. Gesso or some other archival primer (such as PVA sizing) is HIGHLY recommended as it will protect your canvas and paper from the ravages of time. This is especially relevant when painting with oils. They have a high acid content and will erode a canvas over time if not primed correctly.Then what does it mean when when a canvas is described as oil primed? There is a archival coating between the canvas and this oil paint, however the oil surface allows for imediate blending and a far smoother surface that is more receptive to the oils used on top of it. You can not paint with acrylics on top of an oil based primer. The paint will crack and eventually fall off.
NY School of Interior Design