What Does “Archiving” Your Photos Mean
To store and protect your photos so that they last, printed photos and your memorabilia should be stored in containers designed for archiving.
Archiving, you say. Really? Keep in mind, the archiving process isn’t just for heirloom, historical or public photos. The definition of “archive” is to “transfer (data) to a less frequently used storage medium, typically external to the computer system and having a greater storage capacity.”
So, if your collection of family photos is important to you or you plan to pass your collection along to your children or others at some point, you want to make sure you use the right materials to store and preserve them.
Do’s and Don’ts of Preserving Your Photo Collection
Photos deteriorate over time, so you want to archive or store them in photo safe storage boxes (containers designed for archiving, that is). High-quality archival supplies usually are PAT Tested, meaning they comply with some very rigorous standards developed by the Image Permanence Institute.
Look for the words, acid-free, lignin-free and pH-neutral in the descriptions of your materials.
Lignin-free: Biodegradable lignin occurs naturally in wood, turning paper yellow over time. Lignin-free materials will help you avoid this problem.
Acid-free: As you know, acid hurts your photos, so you want to use materials that are acid-free. This means they have been treated to be PH-neutral.
Materials you may need include:
- Archival storage boxes
- Archival folders
- Archival envelopes, sleeves and protectors
- Acid-free paper, mats and backboards
- Soft-lead blue or black art pencil, one that will not indent or harm your photo
Depending on the number of photos and their size, you will probably need a variety of storage containers.
Use this as a guideline: An ideal container would have a sealed, water-resistant exterior with soft, stiff dividers to separate prints on the inside.
Packing the Containers
As you pack your containers, keep the following in mind:
- Organize your pictures in envelopes or boxes to preserve their condition.
- To store photos individually, put them in plastic sleeves.
- Store large quantities of photos by layering them between sheets of acid-free paper in metal or cardboard boxes that are also acid-free.
- Use stiff, flat materials or containers to encourage your photos to stay flat.
- Using a clear enclosure will allow you to see exactly what is inside while envelopes and folders can hold either single or multiple pages.
- Use an archivally-safe pencil or marker on enclosures before you insert photos. This will avoid pressure marks.
- Even though you may be using archival quality enclosures, you can add another layer of protection by putting these into an acid-free container/box.
- Don’t cram pictures into a box that is too small. You can easily damage your photos.
- Don’t overstuff the containers; however, you don’t want to leave too much room because the contents can shift. A good solution is to fill the extra space with non-acidic tissue paper.
- Place a sheet of paper or some type of divider between photos to keep from sticking together. Make sure it is non-acidic.
- Wipe the surface of each photo with a clean, lint-free cloth to remove any residue or dust on the pictures. It is advisable to wear cotton gloves.
- Touching the print side of the photos with your fingers can leave oils behind that will damage your photos
- When it comes to older, vintage or heirloom photos, handle these as little as possible.
If you are framing your photos (either by yourself of a professional), use acid-free mats to keep the photos from touching the glass and acid-free backboards to avoid deterioration.
Do’s and Don’ts for Storing
Make sure your photo collection is stored in the most stable environment in your home (or wherever its final destination may be). This means away from exterior walls, keeping the temperature and humidity as constant as possible.
Storing in a basement, attic or garage is a no-no. The temperature and humidity can fluctuate as the seasons change, reaching extreme highs and lows.
Good locations to store photos include closets, cabinets and even under your bed. These locations tend to have a more consistent temperature since they are part of your day-to-day living area.
It is best if you can store photos off the ground, on shelves or higher up, if possible.
Wood and wood products – such as cardboard and paper – can harm your photographs. Only use if they are labeled “acid free.”
If storing your photos in a self-storage unit, be sure to choose one that is climate-controlled.
Need a Little Assistance Saving Your Photo Collection and Family Stories?
That’s what we’re here for, to help you protect, preserve and share your precious memories. We are here to help whether you are a DIY-person, need a team to assist you or just want someone to do it all!
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