You never truly think about a printed photo storage until you actually need to store your prints. And of course, why would you – most of the images these days are digital and don’t need specific guidelines for storing.
Unless you have tons of them, in which case digital archiving becomes something to look into.
Even if you’re shooting film or digital, all photographers need to be concerned with proper storage and handling their prints to ensure the longest lifespan of the printed work.
The type of ink or paper you decide to use when printing your work will also affect the way your images will be preserved. After the print has been made, proper handling, display, and storage are essential to maintain its appearance over the years.
Whether your prints are large or small, there are conditions that will affect their storage. Since photographs are printed onto paper and contain pigments and ink, these elements will degrade with time even in less adverse conditions.
This is why storing them properly comes into major role if you wish to preserve them over time.
Indeed, when deciding on how to store your prints, make sure you focus on these 3 conditions;
Why Is Humidity Important
The ideal storage conditions suggests keeping your prints in an area with higher than 15% relative humidity and less than 65% relative humidity.
This is important since in dry environments the photo prints may become frail. The bigger issue in this case is making sure the environment doesn’t have too high of humidity.
In damp environments, mold has an optimal surrounding to grow and it will also make your prints stick to each other because of the moist. And this of course leads ink and pigments to fade.
Light Affects The Printed Material
You’ve probably seen how your favourite clothes fade in colour over time, especially if they’ve been in the sun for too long. Same happens with printed images, the pigments fade in harsh sunlight.
That’s why it’s advised to store them in a dark place, where no light – especially UV and fluorescent lights – won’t be breaking down the images.
You might even want to keep the original files safe digitally or have the original print stored in a different place than the ones you display, for a longer life.
The Ideal Temperature
With light conditions there’s always the changes of temperature. That’s why a storage place with a lower temperature is typically better. This slows degredation of the paper and ink and keeps insects away.
The temperature of +23C is ideal for lengthly storage periods. I know you’d like to store the images in your apartment or the attic, but it might not be ideal if you truly want to preserve the quality and colors of the prints.
It is best to store pictures in a climate controlled environment, which will typically control for both temperature and for humidity simultaneously.
Handling Your Photographs
Since the print material is quite delicate, handling your prints with gloves is in no way excessive. This is because your skin naturally produces oils and this might leave marks and stains on the print paper.
Using cotton gloves will prevent surprising marks and preserves the quality of your prints. Do not directly put your fingers on your prints or negatives but hold them from the edges.
Choose The Right Containers
To further organise and store your prints you need to choose the right containers for them. You can have photo albums (folders where the images are put in order), but if you have art pieces and photography prints, this is not a likely option for you.
Instead, use two pieces of cardboard or foam board to put around your prints. This is for artwork that is not framed. The print inside should be wrapped in plastic to avoid moisture from getting to them. On top of this, additional layer of bubble wrap and taping it to close them properly is needed.
The important thing to look for are items that are archival quality, and that are photo safe, acid, lignin and PVC free.
DO NOT in any circumstance store your pictures in following ways:
- Don’t use glue or tape to put your photos in albums
- Don’t use any clips or rubber bands to hold your images together, these will leave marks
- Storing images in envelopes is not a good idea, unless they are specifically made for that
- Unless your image is a fine art print, do not write on photo prints – this might stain the rest of the images even if it doesn’t damage the original print
If you follow these steps for properly storing pictures and photos your work will be much more likely to last over time.
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