Most of us have a large number of old photos laying around the house in some manner or another. Whether they’re in a shoebox, albums, or even just stuffed to the back of a drawer. A lot of us will even go years without thinking about them, only to find them while cleaning up and by then they’ve ripped or faded.
After a while we start to ask ourselves “Is this how I should be storing these?” Well in short, no. Today I’m going to tell you exactly how you should store your family photos so that they don’t get ruined. After today you should never lose another important picture again.
Environmental Conditions Matter
When it comes to storing old memorabilia, most of us will put it in a box and put that box in the attic or basement. For most things this is fine, but not for your photos. Photos need a cool, dry, and dark environment in order to keep their color and not curl. Attics get too hot in the summer and basements get too humid with a chance of flooding.
An environment that is too dry will cause the photos to quickly grow brittle. Meanwhile an area that is too humid will cause the photos to; grow moldy, stick to each other, and even cause insect infestations of the paper.
Ideally you should store your photos in a box on a bookshelf or in a cabinet on the main floor of your home. If you have any photos hanging on the walls, you will want to be sure to get frames with UV blocking glass. Everyone knows that direct sunlight can cause harm to your photos, but few know that house lights can also cause harm.
So even though your photos are framed and inside, they can still fade and be damaged inside the frames due to strong light in the home. To prevent this, get UV blocking glass. Trust me, if a picture is good enough to frame, it’s good enough to spend a little extra to make sure it lasts.
Watch out for Acid!
For photos that aren’t so fancy and don’t need to be framed; the main thing you have to look out for while storing them, is acid. Acid will show up in a lot of unlikely places and can seriously damage your precious photos. Since photographs are made from chemicals, it makes sense that something acidic in value would alter the chemical properties causing distortion, fading, and many other side effects.
Acid can be found in cheap photo albums, cardboard boxes, envelopes, adhesives, newspaper clippings, and pen ink. Specialty stores will carry acid free albums that you can store your photos in to make them last much longer. And if you find yourself needing to write on the back of a photo, use pencil to avoid damaging the photo with acid from pen ink.
Once your photos are in the album, make sure that you haven’t overfilled the album in an effort to save space. An over filled album can cause the photos to get bent or have the edges curl. The album should be close to full but not quite there. The same goes for using photo boxes that are made from photo safe plastic. If the box is over full, your photos will get bent and smushed together, but if it’s not filled enough the photos will slide around and may get damaged. Find the balance in storing between under filled and over filled and you should be all set!
Proper Handling of Photos
Now that you know how to store your photos, let’s go over what to do and not do when you pull them out for a look. Never touch your photos with wet hands, whether it’s water or you just put on lotion, both can seriously damage the photo. Always grab the photo by the edges, making sure your fingers don’t touch the actual image.
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, we all have oils and other chemicals on our skin and in our fingerprints. These oils and chemicals get transferred to everything we touch, which is fine in most cases, but they can eat away at fragile organic materials over time, like photos. It would be best to only handle photos while wearing gloves, but that isn’t realistic, so just be sure that your hands are dry and you hold the photo by the edges.
Digitize Your Photos for Maximum Protection
By following these guidelines, you should be able to preserve your photos for years to come, but even perfect storage won’t make photos last forever. The older a photo is, the greater impact the elements will have on it, causing even well-kept photos to fade and become brittle. The best thing you can do to truly make your photos last forever, is to have them scanned and digitized so they can be stored on your computer and/or in the cloud.
Digital files have a life span far greater than any physical media that exists today. Digital images are not subject to damage from the environment or wear and tear. The files can also be accessed, shared and copied whenever you want at a click of the mouse or stroke of a key. You can send a copy to all your friends and family with ease and that way even if your computer fails, you know there are back-up copies out in the world that you can retrieve.
To digitize photos you can either scan them yourself or have a reputable photo scanning service company do it for you. Keep in mind that digitizing photos is a very laborious process, even if you have the proper equipment and software. If you only have a handful of prints, sure do it at home. If you have hundreds or thousands, you’ll probably end up saving time and money by using a photo scanning service bureau. Either way, put your mind at ease by going digital, you’ll be glad you did.
Brandon is the owner of Smooth Photo Scanning Services, headquartered in Lodi, NJ. Prior to that he owned and operated a small bakery. It may seem like a far stretch but at the end of the day his work is all about making people happy. He is passionate about helping individuals protect, preserve and share their family history and takes pride in the many high quality yet affordable photo restoration services his company provides. Other than working to grow and improve his business, he enjoys spending time with his wife, daughter and family.
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