Do you have a collection of photographs that you’d like to keep in good shape? Printed photos are sadly susceptible to aging and physical damage, so it’s important to learn how to store them safely. Proper storage prevents fading, wrinkling, crumpling and other forms of deterioration.
Consider negatives your back-ups. Of course, this only goes for photographs taken with traditional film. Photos taken with a digital camera will have their digital counterparts that you should store with a cloud service, like Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive.
If you do have negatives that you want to keep as image back-ups, store them in a separate location from the photographs. If an unexpected event ruins the photos, the negatives should be safe elsewhere, and vice versa.
Don’t use just any boxes, photo albums, or separators for your photographs. Also, don’t store them with newspaper clippings or other acidic paper. Paperclips & rubber bands can physically damage photos with grooves and bends. Tape, even applied to the back of a photograph, can cause damage. Don’t write on the back of a photo in pen. Instead, write lightly in pencil only.
To help you with choosing storage materials for photos, the photography industry has developed a national standard called the Photographic Activity Test (PAT). Check the label of boxes or albums you’re interested in to see if they have passed the PAT. If not, then the item likely contains chemicals that will damage your photographs over time.
One excellent way to store your photographs is in archival boxes that pass the PAT, which you can find at photography shops. Also purchase acid-free envelopes of the correct size, or photo-safe mylar sleeves. For pictures that are 4” x 6” and under, use 4” x 6” photo envelopes and boxes. For larger images, up to 8” x 10”, use 8” x 10” photo envelopes and boxes. In light pencil, you can write something about each photograph on its envelope. With this sizing system, stacking the boxes will be easy.
It’s common to assume that photographs will be fine in any envelope, album, or box. This simply isn’t true. While it may take years for photographs to fade or become brittle, it is still worth keeping your most treasured pictures as well-preserved as possible.