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Protecting and Preserving Film, File and Print


Archival is a general term referring to techniques, materials, processes and/or procedures used to increase the longevity of a negative, transparency, print or file.


Film, both slide and negative, should be stored in archival boxes, holders or sleeves.  Archival boxes will be acid and lignin free.  Holders and sleeves should be made from polypropylene or polyethylene.


While dye-based inks may look more saturated, they do not last nearly as long as lightfast, pigmented inks.


No paper can last forever.  But high grade, archival paper can last hundreds of years.  Whether or not the image printed on the paper lasts hundreds of years depends on the ink used, mounting and matting materials, framing and displaying techniques.

High grade archival papers have the following characteristics.

  1. Acid-free
  2. Lignin-free
  3. 100% Rag.  Rag is fibers from cotton, hemp or linen.
  4. Non-buffered is preferred.  If buffered, then the paper was buffered to neutralize the acid content.
  5. OBA free

Mounting, Matting, Framing and Displaying

  1. Mounting - Consider mounting the image using conservation grade paper hinges on the top edge only and mount on acid-free, lignin-free, non-buffered backing (e.g. 100% cotton rag).  If the material is buffered, then it was buffered to neutralize the acid content.  Once the buffering wears off, the acid could contaminate the image.  Avoid dry mounts, either hot or cold, or adhesive mounts.  These are all permanent methods.
  2. Mat - Always use something to separate the image from the glazing.  Spacers can be used, but most often, a mat is used.  The mat should be acid-free, lignin-free and non-buffered, preferably a rag.  Spacers are thin acrylic strips that are mounted on the inside of the glazing around the edges.  The frame covers the spacers so they are not easily visible.
  3. Glazing - Use either conservation grade UV absorbing glass or acrylic.  Acrylic is lighter, shatter-resistant and cheaper to ship.  However, it requires more care when cleaning and scratches easier than glass.  If framing an image with an exaggerated oblong shape, such as a panoramic, consider using acrylic and not glass because acrylic can withstand torque better than glass.
  4. Seal - Once assembled, seal the back of the frame with a conservation grade paper to keep dust and insects out.
  5. Frame - Wood frames are, by their nature, very acidic and should not come into direct contact with the print.
  6. Display out of direct sunlight.  Avoid fluorescent light if possible.  Hang in an area of average temperature and humidity.

See the Links page for a web-based retailer of archival supplies.

Digital File Archive

First, some definitions

  1. Original file:  The file created by the digital camera or scanner.  Original files are most commonly Raw, JPEG or TIFF.
  2. Master file:  The non-flattened image file that contains the full image with all corrections and adjustments.
  3. Backup:  An exact copy of the master file.  There should be no difference between a master file and its backup.
  4. Onsite:  Backup file stored at the same location as the computer used to edit images.  An external hard drive connected to your computer is an example of onsite storage.  A DVD or CD-R kept in the same building are other examples.
  5. Offsite:  Backup file stored at a different location than the computer used to edit images.
  6. Off-line:  Backup file stored on a medium that has to be loaded to be read, such as a DVD or CD-R.  Off-line medium can be stored either onsite or offsite.
  7. Online:  Backup file stored on a medium that is already connected to the computer and ready to be read, such as external hard drives.  Online storage is preferred over off-line storage.  Many companies, such as anti-virus software makers and computer manufacturers, offer an online storage option that is located in their data center.

When archiving your master files, you should end up with two backup copies of a master file.  One backup copy is kept onsite for quick retrieval.  Under no circumstances should the onsite backup file be on the same storage device as the master file.  For example, if the master file is on drive C then the backup should never be on drive C.  The second backup copy is offsite, for protection against local disasters (fire, flood, theft to name a few).

When files were smaller and external hard drives were expensive, off-line storage, such as CD-R, was the preferred medium.  With the increase in image file size and the reduced cost per gigabyte of online storage, external hard drives are the preferred backup media.  However, if you wish to use off-line storage, use a stable medium, such as CD-R.  Rewritable off-line storage, such as CD-RW or CD+RW, have not proven as stable as the write-once media.