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The University Magazine


Six simple strategies to help you preserve your photographs

Bill Destler
Care in handling and storage helps preserve
treasured family photos for future generations.

By Daniel Burge ’90, ’91
(imaging and photographic technology)

Over the last 21 years, the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) at RIT has performed significant research into the preservation of visual and other forms of recorded information. This research has led to the development of published guidelines and tools to help those in charge of large photographic collections manage and care for the objects in their trust.

Luckily for everyone, the same basic principles for saving the world’s cultural heritage in libraries, archives and museums can be simplified to aid everyone in preserving their own personal collections of photographs. Following are six simple principles to guide you in ensuring your photos are there for generations to come:

1. Storage, storage, storage.

Any image, no matter how fragile or sensitive to environmental decay, can be protected with proper storage.

Photographs and negatives will last the longest when refrigerated or frozen. However that’s not really practical for maintaining a collection in the home. The best strategy is to keep your photos cool and dry. The basement is usually the coolest place in the home year round but the levels of moisture will usually be too high, putting the photos at risk for bonding to each other or to plastic sleeves, or for mold growth. The attic will be drier, but often so hot that it will accelerate fading. It’s best to keep your collection in the areas where you are comfortable, but stay away from bathrooms and the kitchen where there can be too much humidity and heat.

2. Keep your photo collection safe from disaster.

Never store your precious memories under a water source such as an upstairs bathroom. Always store your collection on a high shelf away from flood risk. Another way to keep your collection safe from disaster is to keep copies at other locations, so make copies of collections for your family and friends as gifts – and as extra preservation insurance.

3. Follow ISO, not “acid-free.”

Acid-free is a marketing term that is used thoughtlessly by the makers of photo storage products including albums, boxes and sleeves. Unfortunately, many products labeled acid-free and photo-safe aren’t, and there’s no government regulation to stop those who intentionally or unintentionally misrepresent their products. The real clue to a material’s safety for use with photos is whether or not it meets ISO 18902, especially passing the Photographic Activity Test or PAT.

4. Printers.

When selecting a printer for home or office use, select a printer that’s had its ink and paper tested for long-term keeping. In general, pigment inks last longer but dye inks are rapidly getting better. Look for information on the package that suggests the manufacturer has tested the products and doesn’t just say they are archival or long-lasting.

5. Digital images.

Storage considerations apply equally to digital files. Always back up your digital collection on CDs/DVDs, separate hard drives or online services (or even all three!). Also be mindful that as you keep your computer and software up-to-date, be sure to migrate your image files to modern formats. If you don’t, you may one day have image files you can’t open.

6. Share your photos with those around you.

Keeping an interest in them will keep up an interest in making sure they are around for generations. People like to look at themselves and their family members through time. especially when the pictures have been nicely arranged in an album.

For more information, check out IPI’s Web sites:,

The author is a senior research scientist in the Image Permanence Institute. Members of the RIT community share expertise on a variety of subjects in FYI.