Long-term Storage of Photograph Prints Requires Special Care and Attention


You have spent many hours taking those special snapshots of people, places and things.   You may even want to share these treasures with others–now and in the future.  Family history and geneolgy are captured in these photographs. 

In addition to your photographic efforts, you may already have painstakenly sorted and categorized these precious records of memorable moments in time.  But the question remains: How do you store these photographs for the long term?

Here are a few tips to help you keep these treasures in good shape, and available to your posterity for many years to come.

  • In addition to sorting and organizing your photographs, you must also take the time to identify, label or mark each shot with at least this minimum information if you have it.  We recommend you write this valuable information on the back of the photograph:
    • Use a permanent “acid-free” marker like a ”Sharpie®” pen.
      • When writing on the back of the photo.   Don’t use ballpoint pens , or any other hard point instrument–they require excess pressure–which could damage the photo. 
    • Person or persons in the photo from left to right.
    • Date and place where the photo was taken. 
    • Ages of the individuals in the photo.
    • Any other information that would be helpful to others in the future in knowing what this photograph represents.
  • Never store your photographs in those ”sticky magnetic” photo albums.  This is a sure invitiation for trouble in time.
  • Avoid handling photographs–especially older ones–because of their age they can be more fragile. 
  • As much as possible keep from touching the image side of the photograph.
    • Hold photos on the edges to keep oils from your hands getting on the photo’s surface.  This can cause damage, or allow the collection of dirt, on your pictures.
    • Use light soft cotton gloves to aid in handling your photographs.   This will help avoid contaminating  them with body oils.  This is how museum archived pictures are usually handled.
    • Older or damaged photos may require additional support  when handling them.

Ligh, heat and moisture are the sure destroyers of photograhs.  Eliminating them, or at least minimizing them is very helpful for their long term survival.  The way in which you store your photographs is an important preservation process.  Storing your photos in a climate controlled environment is optimimal, but most likely impractical for most of us. This would require purified air, a constant temperature (65°-75°F), and maintaining relative humidity (35-50%).  Generally, most of us have a cool closet, which can be a reasonable substitue.  Avoid basements (too moist), garages (too many uncontroled variables) and attics (generally too hot or to cold).

In addition to these requirements, if you can maintain them as much as possible, keep them from being exposed to direct sunlight and ultraviolet rays for any extended period.  Storage containers (boxes, albums, etc.) should be free of acidic elements–like glues and adhesives, paper and cardboard.  Use lignin free, acidic neutral (PH of 7-9), and buffered paper. 

Note: When using your photos for scrapbook projects care must be given to the embellishments and other products you use to spice up your pages. They, too, should be acid free or future damage could occur to your photographs. Using acid free sheet proctectors is benefical too.

Photo albums (acid free) are a good place to store photographs.  Boxes (metal or paper (acid free) are also appropriate.  Pictures should not be too loose or too packed in these containers.  A “filler” should be used in boxes where there are not enough photos to fill it.  Pictures should not be free to “slosh” around.  They can be damaged.  Plactic sleeve not made from PVC can be used–sandwhich bags are a reasonable substitute.  Layering photgraphs with a buffered or 100% cotton bond paper can be helpful. 

Photos that are 8 x 10 or larger should be stored flat inside boxes that will accommodate their size.  Acid free filler should be added to keep the photographs from bounce around to reduce the possiblity of damage to their edges.  Pictures that are 8 x 10 or smaller can be stored in albums or stood vertically in standard size boxes to fit their size.  These photo boxes can be stacked, but good labling is a must so you know what’s in each box . . . this lessens the need to handle fragile pictures.

Note:  Keep from using other elements that can cause damage to your precious photo memories: staples, rubber bands, paper clips, transparent or masking tape, to name a few.

Last, but not least, you may consider the use of a storage company that can keep your photograph ready to be printed.  You may want to have your photos scanned and downloaded to one of these services.  We highly recommend Shutterfly.com  Check out what they offer–both in storage and other useful services.  Time and money well spent in our opinion.

With the information provided you should be able to provide many years of enjoyment from the use of your valuable picture collection.

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Ron on September 28th, 2009 | File Under Ideas | No Comments -