Everything You Need To Know About Storing Old Photographs

In the digital age of today, we have become curators of vast digital image libraries. However, many of us vaguely remember the days when film canisters were taken to a lab and you returned later to be handed an exciting, weighty envelope full of prints. You probably put your favorites in an album. Do you remember peeling back the film on a blank page, positioning your prints on the tacky surface below, and pressing hard until you heard a satisfying pop?

This was called wet mounting, and it was the first step in creating an album or photo book. Wet mounting is still used by professional photographers and serious amateurs. It’s not difficult to do yourself if you have access to supplies like acid-free photo paper, glue-backed mat board, and a rotary paper cutter (or scissors).

Hey, it’s time to face facts: your photo storage methods are doing more harm than good.

If you’re like most of us, you’ve been storing your photographs in shoeboxes, drawers, and old photograph albums for decades. You probably thought that was enough to protect them from the elements—but it turns out that’s not the case!

A recent study showed that more than two-thirds of respondents had experienced damage to their most treasured photographs as a result of improper storage methods. And nearly half reported that their photos were damaged in frames by humidity and dust.

So what can we do? Well, don’t despair! There are plenty of ways to protect your photos from damage and preserve them for future generations (or even just for yourself). The key is knowing how to store them properly, so they’ll look good when you pull them out years later.

Storing your photographs for the future can be a lot like storing your grandmother’s old casserole dishes—you don’t want to do it wrong and ruin something you have spent your life collecting. So this article will take you by the hand and lead you through the process.

  • Make sure your photographs are stored in an acid-free environment.
  • Never, ever use glue or tape to fix or mount a photograph.
  • Keep your photo albums in a place with good air circulation.
  • Make copies of your photographs and frame them with non-acidic materials for a long-lasting display.
  • If you want to keep your best digital photos, make copies and keep them in more than one place.
  • If you’ve got a special print that’s been damaged, ask The Photo Restoration Center to help you out.

Let’s go through a few things you can do to make sure that old photographs don’t get ruined:

Storing artwork using acid-free storage solutions can extend its life.

Most people are aware that photos should not be kept in direct sunlight, but did you know that fading can still occur between the pages of an album or in a dark drawer? There is one primary cause for this: acid.

Pictures become damaged by the acid present in glue, sticky tape, certain papers, and paper dyes. Many old albums, including those with the peel-back film and the sticky surface underneath, contain acid. The Photo Restoration Club has a 20-year track record of helping customers restore, repair, and preserve their photographs.

Acid can also appear spontaneously on photographs that have been stored for a long time, especially in places where the temperature fluctuates. The best way to avoid this is to store photographs away from sources of heat or cold.

The best way to deal with this problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

The most effective way to do this is to use a protective album cover made of polyester that doesn’t contain acid. Polyester is an inert material that will not react with any acids or chemicals in your photographs.

If you already have an acidic album cover, you can remove it from your photos by placing each photo inside a plastic sleeve and sealing it closed with an adhesive sticker or tape. This will protect them from further damage until you find a new album cover for them.

Your photographs are one of your most precious possessions. If you’ve kept them in a box or drawer, there’s a good chance that they’re being exposed to damaging acid-containing papers and paper dyes, varnish, wood stains, or various furniture coatings. In addition to this, without a lid on your storage, your photographs will also be exposed to dust and pollution—both of which can cause fading.

To preserve your photographs, use acid-free albums or archival boxes marked ‘acid-free’; do not layer photographs on top of each other, and insert them in acid-free photo sleeves or divide them with acid-free paper. Do not use glue or tape.

When storing your photographs, you should avoid laying them flat on the shelf because this may cause them to warp over time. Instead, store them vertically so that the weight of the other photos will help keep them straight.

Store in a cool, dry place away from direct light.

Your photographs are best kept in a cool, dry place. The molecules in the layers of your image prefer a stable, cooler climate. They can change when exposed to abrupt changes in temperature, and they don’t like pests that will take a nibble.

If you want to keep your photographs safe and sound, it’s best to store them in the driest environment possible. Humidity and dampness both cause photos to deteriorate quickly, so if you plan on storing them for a long time, make sure you’re keeping them in a place that isn’t humid.

Also, make sure that your storage space is pest-free. Silverfish are notorious for munching on photographs—so if you’re storing your collection in a space where silverfish might be lurking, either seal up the room or make sure there’s no food available for them to eat (like crumbs).

Photographs displayed behind Museum Glass create a unique effect.

Poorly framed and badly situated photographs are subject to fading when they are exposed to ultraviolet light. Framed photographs should be mounted on acid-free papers without using adhesives. Choosing Tru Vue Museum Glass®, which contains two layers of optical coating and one layer of UV protection, will allow you to hang your photograph where it will be most admired without worrying about it slowly fading from light exposure.

Museum glass is a lightweight acrylic sheet with low-iron content that provides maximum clarity and transparency. The optical coatings on both sides protect against ultraviolet light damage and provide brilliant reflection control for viewing pleasure. The surface is scratch resistant and does not require additional protection such as laminate or film because it is inherently scratch resistant due to its construction with low-iron content glass.

To preserve the beauty and longevity of a one-of-a-kind photograph, it is best not to put it in a frame. The Photo Restoration Center can produce a faithful copy of the image, allowing you to display the image without risking damage to the original.

Back up your digital images.

No matter how you choose to back up your photos, there are always vulnerabilities. However, the place you are most likely to lose images is actually on a modern device. Prints, cared for correctly, can be handed down for many generations—most modern technology breaks or becomes defunct in one generation or less.

If you store digital files on a hard drive, smartphone, laptop, or computer, always back up your data. Online storage is the best option because it’s cheaper and more accessible than storing files on your own hardware. It’s still wise to upload images to more than one platform—for example, Google Photos and Flickr—because companies offering online storage can appear and disappear with little warning.

It is a good idea to store your digital photographs and get into the habit of curating them. Delete any shots that are not spectacular or that you already have a dozen of. Consider printing the best shots, as prints will outlast digital images.

Repairing damaged prints

When you discover that some of your photographs have been damaged, take expert advice and do not try to repair the damage yourself. Experts recommend the following actions:

  • Removing photographs, which have been glued to albums or glass, with the aid of a photograph remover.
  • Never use chemicals or other substances to loosen photographs.
  • Storing photographs in the freezer.
  • Cleaning photographs by wiping them with a soft cloth.

The damage done trying to save an old, treasured photo can sometimes be more serious than the original deterioration. If you are desperate to restore a special photograph, please contact Photo Restoration Club and let us assist you.