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Photo Preservation

Many of our family memories are captured in photographs. Whether they are from last month's vacation or are treasured heirlooms from generations past, you'll want to preserve them for the future. But how do you do this? Remember that photos are basically paper, so the actions you would take to preserve documents apply also to photos.

THE most harmful agent in photo degradation is acid because, over time, it will deteriorate (age) a photo and cause it to become brittle. Many plastics and papers, as well as "magnetic" photo albums, use materials that are not acid free. So you might want to "dig" out your wedding pictures and albums of family snapshots and make sure that they are stored in albums made from the proper materials. Some preservation tips:

  • All albums, storage containers, envelopes and the like must be archival quality, meaning acid free.
  • The paper you put the photo on should also be acid free and lignin free. Lignin is a substance found in wood fibers of untreated paper. Over time it breaks down into acids that will harm photos and documents.
  • Avoid "gluing" original pictures on a page, rather, use acid-free photo corners for mounting. This allows removal without damaging the picture.
  • Excessive temperatures will accelerate the aging process. Try to store photos below 70°F. So your attic is out, or anywhere near a furnace or similar heat generating appliance.
  • High humidity areas should also be avoided as this can cause mold or fungi development. Ever look at a book stored too long in a basement? Yuck! Imagine your pictures looking like that. So avoid basements, garages, or a closet in your bathroom.
  • Water and fire can ruin an entire collection. Keep pictures away from fire places, hot water tanks and the like. Avoid water damage by storing them up off the floor and not in a basement.
  • Prolonged exposure to light, especially natural sunlight, can cause fading due to UV rays. This doesn't mean you can't display your pictures, though. Two suggestions are to display a copy, or if you must use a one-of-a-kind original, have it framed with UV-protection glass at a frame shop.
  • You may want to consider making a copy of the pictures you want to show most often. The copy can take all the wear and tear of handling while your original sits safely in its archival storage location. There are many ways to get copies of a picture if you do not have the negative:Minimize handling as your fingers can leave dirt and oil that can cause damage. Although you may not see your fingerprints when you touch a picture, you're leaving a residue that might show up over time. If you must handle a valuable picture, wear cotton cloves.
    • Have a photographic copy made, either by a studio, or even with your own camera.
    • Scanning to create a digital file that can be printed. Another benefit with scanning is that the electronic file can be put on a CD for storage.
    • Use a Kodak Picture Maker, often found in photo processing centers.
    • Avoid photocopying as this process uses heat and intense light.
  • Try not to write on the picture, especially the picture side, as it's a detraction. If you must write, do it on the back with an acid free pen (don't press too hard or the pen indentation will be visible on the picture side), or pencil. An alternative is to write on the paper next to the picture.

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Try any of these archival boxes and storage products for your photos!

Archival Storage Containers

Archival Boxes and Containers


Acid-Free Photo Storage

Photo Storage


Photo Preservation Products

Photo Preservation Products

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