A person holding an old photo album.

How to Preserve and Store Old Photos Properly

Photographs carry many memories, but they can be easily damaged if not stored properly. Learn how to preserve your old photos correctly for years to come.

Do you have a bunch of photos lying around, and you don’t know what to do with them?

This article will explain how to preserve and store old photos to stand the test of time.

We’ll also answer some of the most common questions about preserving old photographs.

Throughout this article, you’ll learn how to preserve, store, and restore old photographs.

We’ll walk you through the dos and don’ts of properly storing photos.

Related: How to organize your photos

What Can I Do With Thousands of Old Family Photos?

A wooden box filled with old photos.

If you have a ton of old photos that you want to put to good use, there are plenty of creative ways to repurpose them.

For starters, create a scrapbook with all of your old memories. You could organize it chronologically or by major events and milestones in your life.

Better yet, make a scrapbook of memories shared with a family member or an old friend and gift it to them!

Another option is creating DIY gifts with these old pictures, like ornaments, photo clocks, a framed collage, or even serving trays.

The sky’s the limit when using your creativity.

In case you have too many old family photos, why not create a family tree?

Decorate a wall by sticking your old family photos in the shape of a tree that connects your entire family together.

How to Preserve Old Photos?

In a metal or cardboard box, layer your photos with acid-free paper between each layer.

You could then store these boxes in a cabinet, closet, drawer, or even under the bed if the space allows it.

Wherever you decide to store your photo boxes, make sure it’s a safe spot for them. It should be a space where the environment isn’t too hot, cold, humid, wet, or dry.

So, keep your photos out of the attic, basement, and garage.

All three places will subject your photos to major temperature fluctuation and extreme humidity.

Is It Better to Store Photographs in Cardboard or Plastic Boxes?

Both boxes serve a specific purpose when it comes to storing photos.

A plastic box is ideal if you won’t store these photos for long and want a sturdy container to protect them from getting bent or ripped.

However, if you’re looking for a box to preserve your photos for years, use a metal box.

If you don’t have one, you could use a cardboard box instead.

Is It Better to Scan or Photograph Old Photos?

It depends on what you want from the photos.

Do you only want to preserve the memories and don’t mind what the quality looks like?

Then snap a photograph of that old photo and keep it in your phone or camera, or better yet, upload it to an online photo storage service.

However, if you want to preserve your photos with the best quality, scanning them (i.e. digitizing your photos) is the way to go.

That way, you’ll always have a clear, high-quality version of your photos that could act as a digital backup for the originals.

How Do You Restore Old Photos?

A black and white photo of a family with a dog.

Enhancing a photo on Remini website

Thanks to AI, you can restore any old photos that aren’t of the best quality.

You’ll find plenty of AI image restoration software apps that can help, such as YouCam Enhance, Remini, Photomyne, PicsArt Photo Editor, and of course, Adobe Photoshop.

Every one of these apps will help you fix blurriness, fading, scratches, and any other issue that’s making your picture less than perfect.

Some even have Android and iOS apps to restore old photos wherever you are.

How to Store Print Photographs?

Many people love owning printed photographs but don’t know how to store them properly.

To store your printed photos, you could either organize them in traditional photo albums, put them in photo cases, layer them in a photo box, or save them digitally and display them in digital photo frames.

digital photo frame

A digital photo frame makes a great way to display pictures, both old and recent.

Whatever option you choose, just make sure it’s free of acids, lignin, and dye.

For optimum preservation, don’t use containers made from recycled material, like shoeboxes.

They won’t preserve your photos for long.

How to Label Old Photos?

There are multiple ways to label your old photos with names, dates, and locations without ruining the photo.

You could add a label to write on, which allows you to easily fix any mistakes without scratching the picture.

You could also store your photo in a protective polyester sleeve and label the sleeve itself with a soft-tip Pigma pen.

Finally, you could always write over the photograph itself.

Just remember to use the right pens and always write on the back of the photo — unless you have empty margins on the front face of the picture.

What Should I Use to Write on Photos?

There are two different approaches to writing on photos.

The first approach is to use a #2 or HB Pencil.

HB or #2 pencils are soft and forgiving, which means you’ll be able to fix any mistakes without scratching, creasing, or smudging the photo.

The second approach is using an archival-grade, soft-tip Pigma pen to ensure the ink won’t feather, smudge, or bleed.

However, you can’t fix any mistakes made with this pen without scribbling all over the photo.

When to Toss Photos?

Many of us have dozens of photo albums full of old photographs that don’t matter anymore.

Maybe not a photo album of old family photographs.

Think of the pictures of random flowers you’ve once liked, or an interesting sign you once came across that doesn’t have much value to you now.

You’ll also find some old photos that were taken by mistake or multiple copies of the same picture.

So why keep them? If you have any of these photos cooped up in a photo album, it’s time to toss them away.

What Are the Best Materials to Store Old Photos?

Photo storage materials must be free from any colorants, acids, alkalis, sulfur, and lignin.

These elements damage the photos and quicken their deterioration.

Unsuitable storage materials also include anything that allows dust and dirt, leaves marks, indentations, tears, and breaks, and changes the texture of the photograph’s surface.

You could choose between acid-free paper pockets and plastic sleeves to store individual photographs.

As for boxes, opt for wooden or plastic boxes for an extra layer of protection.

Dos and Don’ts to Preserve Your Ols Family Photographs

If you want to safely store your photos and maintain their quality for years, here are a few common dos and don’ts to help you preserve them the right way.

A black and white photo album on a rug.

Do: Set Up a Safe Workspace

Before doing anything with your precious old photos, make sure that the place you’re working in is clean, dry, and free from any sharp edges that could scratch your photo.

You don’t want to take chances on staining or cutting your photographs by mistake.

Do: Protect Them from Light

Photographs, especially old ones, are very sensitive to light.

Any direct light, such as direct sunlight through a window, can fade out the colors of your pictures and affect their quality over time.

So, if you plan on displaying your photo frames, place them away from any direct light.

Do: Use Archival-Quality Box or Album

Archival-quality, acid-free boxes, along with acid-free paper, are the optimal choice for storing your old photographs for years without losing their quality.

Acid-free materials protect your old photographs from turning yellow or deteriorating over time.

Don’t: Use Paper Clips, Rubber Bands, or Adhesives

Never use paper clips, pins, rubber bands, or adhesive tape on your photos. Otherwise, you’ll damage photos beyond repair.

Instead of destroying your photos with these harsh tools, there are much safer ways to hang them on a board or stick them in a book.

Avoid pinning, sticking, or clipping your photos.

Instead, you could place them in small pockets that would display them without permanently damaging them.

You could also use frames to safely display them around your house or office.

Don’t: Store Them in a Basement or Attic

The worst thing you can do to your photos is stash them away in a basement or an attic.

Both have fluctuating temperatures, limited moisture control, and plenty of dust. They’re also more susceptible to insects and pests.

Instead of leaving important photos in an attic or basement for rodents to nibble on, keep them in a safe storage space in your house.

How Do You Store Old Family Photo Albums?

Storing the original copies of old family photos properly is vital.

Not only do they carry sentimental values, but it’s the only chance for future generations to know their family members.

To properly preserve those valuable photos, it’s best to put them in a photo album and place these albums in an archival-grade box to protect them for longer.

Just remember to place your albums horizontally, not vertically. They need to be stored flat in boxes too.

Otherwise, if they stand vertically, gravity will work its force on the albums and cause them to bend and crease.

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Shotkit Writer, Product Tester & Instagram Manager

Jeff Collier is an experienced film photographer who enjoys experimenting with modern digital photography equipment, software and apps. He’s also an ex-world champion triathlete and avid cyclist, clocking hundreds of km each week in the beautiful Tweed Valley of northern NSW, Australia.

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