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How to Preserve Your Photos


Photo albums made of high-quality
buckram protect photos while
keeping them accessible

Photographs, negatives and other visual materials are very susceptible to light exposure. They are also extremely sensitive to moisture and temperature fluctuations, which can cause photos to fade and to deteriorate.

Here are some general guidelines for handling, cleaning and storing your photos. See below for additional information on the differences between slides, negatives and photo prints.

Handling Your Materials
When working with photos of any kind:

  • Wear cotton gloves.

  • Change gloves when they become dirty.

  • Handle items gently.

  • Do not expose your photos to food, liquids, glue, smoke, extended sunlight or intense artificial light.

  • Do not use adhesives.

  • Keep pets and children away from your photos.

If you do not have cotton gloves and you must handle photographs and negatives, hold them with clean hands at the edges. Oil, dirt and other materials can transfer from your hands to the surface of the photo, slide or negative and cause further damage.

In addition, support your photos and negatives when handling them. Hold items that are particularly thin, delicate or larger than 5x7 inches from underneath. They can easily bend or break if not properly supported. Whenever possible, lay the photos on a flat surface to examine them, rather than holding them.

Cleaning, Repairing and Copying Items
When working with photographs and negatives, you will notice a lot of dust, dirt or other debris. Regardless of how dirty they may or may not be, use gloves to handle your visual materials.

If not cleaned properly, dirt and debris can cause scratching or other damage. To clean the surface, use a soft brush with a careful, light touch. DO NOT press the brush to the surface. In addition, shake out the brush frequently to remove dirt. Switch brushes if the photos or negatives are particularly dirty, especially when cleaning a large number of prints. DO NOT use water or any liquids to clean your photos or negatives.

Severely dirty, stained or damaged photographs and negatives should be given to a restoration professional for analysis, repair and conservation.

Any materials related to your photographs, such as a note or an envelope, can be kept with the photo, but use a sheet of archival paper in between the photo and the item to protect the photo. You can copy the information onto the reverse of the photo lightly in pencil or photocopy the item onto archival paper, and then store it with the photograph in a sleeve.

Remove any fasteners or rubber bands that may be on or around the photographs. Dispose of any loose pieces of cardstock, paper or cardboard that may have been used as a support for the photo. If a photograph has been glued to a piece of cardboard, you can gently try to pry it away using an archival spatula. The glue should have lost its adhesive quality and the cardboard should peel back easily. Then replace the backing from a photo with a sheet of acid-free paper. But, if the cardboard does not detach easily, leave it.

Digitizing materials can minimize the handling of the originals. It can also help with the restoration process. Photographic prints, negatives and other materials can be digitized by using a scanner or digital camera. However, if you choose to digitize materials see the Digital Files section for information on the proper file formats to use when scanning paper materials.

Housing Your Photographs and Negatives
The final step in archiving your materials is relatively simple. Once you have identified your materials, you can redistribute them into archival folders, boxes and enclosures.

For photographs, it is advisable to store them flat. Take care to ensure that flat storage will be even. For example, do not put a folder of 3x5 prints stacked, one on top of the other, at the bottom of a stack of folders filled with 8x10 prints.

Folders should not be overstuffed. Evenly distribute photographs and negatives that are smaller than the size of the folder horizontally to prevent uneven stacking and possible damage. By doing this you will ensure further stabilization.

Label the contents of each folder. Use a pencil to note the contents of each folder. A high-level description should suffice (such as "Family Vacation: Hawaii, 1952"). Also, note the box, if you plan to number your boxes, and number the folders in that box.

Once you have compiled a set of folders, you can then relocate them to archival boxes. Again, even distribution is critical to the process. Do not overstuff boxes. Compression caused by overstuffing can cause damage.

If a box is not completely filled, you can bend a piece of spacer board to size to fit in the box and fill the empty space. Spacer boards can be used when you are storing items flat or vertically in a box.

How to Preserve Different Types of Photos

  1. Photographs, Negatives and Slides

  2. Antique Photographs

  3. Photo Albums

1 Photographs, Negatives and Slides

Photographic prints and negatives should be placed in polypropylene or Mylar sleeves, or covered, from top and bottom, with acid-free paper. They should not be kept in direct contact with any other items. While you can use the acid-free paper to separate items that are in good repair, any fragile items should be stored in Mylar sleeves.

Utilizing special sleeves that can hold multiple strips of negatives or slides will make storage and labeling much easier. Archival sleeves are available for all sizes of negatives, from 35mm to 8x10. There are also special storage boxes and sleeves available for storing and preserving slides.

NOTE: Changes in temperature and humidity can bring about chemical reactions in certain types of negatives.

For example:

  • Old, acetate-based film negatives will give off a chemical smell like vinegar.

  • Negatives that are nitrate-based pose an even larger problem because they can give off toxic gases.

  • The silver used on black-and-white negatives can often turn an almost yellow tint.

  • Color negatives are particularly susceptible to environmental conditions and will experience color change, fading and/or deterioration.

If you are unsure of the nature of your negatives, consult a photographic professional.

2 Antique Photographs

Older types of photographs and negatives like daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and glass-plate negatives should also be placed in Mylar sleeves or in acid-free, archival envelopes. Use extra care to not scratch their surfaces.

If you're worried about the condition of your antique photos, you can make photocopies on archival-quality, buffered (acid-free) paper or digital scans. If you are conducting research or any other project that requires you to handle your antique photographs a lot, making a quality photocopy can alleviate any worries of damaging an original.

3 Photo Albums

If you choose to store photographs and other materials in albums, select those that are archival-quality. These albums come in many sizes and formats, come with archival-quality accessories and tools, and directly approximate the convenience and layout of older or more common, unstable albums. Avoid albums made with vinyl or PVC plastic, as well as those that have color-printed pages.

Do not use any albums that have the "self-stick" option because it exposes your photographs to harmful adhesives.

If you are currently storing photographs in one or more albums, examine the type of album(s) used. You may find older albums where photographs are mounted to black construction-type paper using photo/mounting corners. It is advisable to transfer materials out of such albums because this paper most likely contains acid and other chemicals and compounds harmful to photographs. When doing this, make sure to copy all information written on these pages before discarding.

When a photograph has been attached using tape or glue, use an archival spatula, dull knife or a thin, stiff piece of plastic to separate it from the page. If the photo does not peel back easily, you may have to leave it in the album or cut the page out of the album.

If you have original photographs in scrapbooks and you would prefer not to dismantle them, try to keep your negatives or duplicate prints separately for long-term preservation. If you don't have duplicate copies of the photos in your scrapbooks, you may want to make digital scans of your scrapbook pages, just in case. See the Digital Files section for more details.



Spring Sale

SHOP FOR SUPPLIES


Protect your photos with professional archival-quality albums and supplies, including:

  1. Photo Boxes
  2. Negative and Print Boxes
  3. Postcard Boxes
  4. CD Boxes and Protective Sleeves
  5. Multi-Purpose Boxes
  6. Bulk Storage Boxes
  7. Melinex Intermittent Seal Envelopes
  8. Negative Storage System Kits
  9. Cloth Frame Photo Albums
  10. Photo Preservation Box Albums
  11. Buckram Albums
  12. Oversize Format Albums
  13. Polypropylene Album Pages
  14. DVD Storage Pages
  15. CD Storage Pages
  16. C-Line Sheet Protectors
  17. All-Stabilo Pencils
  18. Cotton Gloves
  19. Archival Interleaving Paper
Buckram Photo Albums

Buckram Photo Albums

Covered inside and out with coated library buckram for long life and ease of care. Sewn padded covers and reinforced spines add extra strength. Slipcase offers added protection.

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