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Family albums and Collections of Loose images – Family albums and collections of loose images need to be organized as well as protected. Loose-leaf albums are great for organizing. However many commercial grade albums as well as the familiar old photo albums with black paper pages, are considered potentially hazardous because they may have been made of unsafe materials. Photo albums with magnetic sheets can leave adhesive residues on images and vinyl album pages have the potential to give off harmful fumes.

When the albums or collections consist of a mixture of sizes and formats, the photographs can be arranged on archival paper pages and mounted with archival photo corners. The complete page can be inserted into clear Mylar or polypropylene pockets and pre-punched for 3 ring binders.

New photograph formats of 3"x5", 4"x6" and 5"x7" can be stored safely by using multi pocket album pages made of inert polypropylene instead of non-archival materials. Archival materials can be purchased from most photo finishing suppliers or through online sources.

Some How to:

First, take your photos out of "magnetic' albums. The materials they are made of, ordinary plastic, glue and cardboard, will damage photos over time. If you use a commercial photo album, look for one labeled "acid-free."

Remove any glue, tape, staples, rubber bands and paper clips that might stain, scratch or dent photographs before placing them in an album, storage box or frame.

Be sure to label the back of the photo gently with a soft pencil. Include the names and ages of those in the photo along with where the photograph was taken. This will help those who inherit your photographs identify them.

Do not use a ballpoint pen to write on the back of photographs. The pressure of the pen may damage the photo and the ink will likely fade over time.

Un-mounted Album Prints

Un-mounted album prints including those from old and deteriorating mounts pose a special problem: they have an alarming tendency to curl. Some collectors

And institutions hinge them at four corners. A suggestion of another remedy is to insert the print into a strong clear Mylar envelope, then seal it and attach to a strong acid free matte board. Once done, affix the matte board to the album page. This will hold the image flat and provides support for the photo; suggest hinging on one side for access to the envelope.

Mylar envelopes containing archival prints that have not been matted before can also be stored in an archival box. Fragile image prints on material other than archival paper can benefit from the some treatment





The most important details that you need to remember about albums are that they are used to protect and preserve your photographs. The aesthetics of the album are only secondary to the preservation qualities of the album. The costs of these albums may seem high, but you are not only paying for archival properties, you are also paying for research and development of these products. Make sure the materials that are used in manufacturing are approved for longevity and always purchase your supplies from reputable sources.

Larger Photographic Prints

You will get the most protection for the money by putting each one in a separate polyethylene bag a zip lock type is best. This is a quick and protective solubion to prints, which are not going to be matted or displayed, while providing you with the peace of mind that they will be preserved.

If large quantities of photographs are to be stored in a archival box and not in plastic protectors it is recommended they be layered between sheets of 100% acid free paper and then into a larger plastic protector.

Zip Loc sandwich bags can provide an inexpensive protection for smaller photographs and larger freezer bags will accommodate the larger size photographs of normal format.

Tintype Photographs

Buried in that trunk in the attic may exist early photographs know as "Tintypes" that were popular in the early days of photography. Recognizable as images that were captured on thin metal plates with a black gray or brown appearance. This soft metal is susceptible to damage from scratches, oxidizing, bending and denting.

Clear Mylar envelopes can serve this purpose. You can cut an acid free cardboard backing to the size of the envelope and insert it with the "tintype" then carefully affix the flap to the album page providing viewing, stability and protection.

Negatives and transparencies (35mm slides)

Negatives and transparencies can be stored the same way as photographic prints, using the same high quality papers and plastic, which pass the ANSI IT9.16 Photographic Activity Test (PAT). The PAT, was developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and is a test that determines whether a storage material will cause fading or staining in photographs. There are paper and plastic enclosures and storage boxes designed for film formats available from most manufactures. Like prints, negative and transparencies should be stored in a cool, dry location.

Fortunately, many negatives now return from the photo lab stored in plastic pocket pages that appear to be safe for the films (they frequently are polyethylene). Likewise, the plastic boxes that sore slides are usually safe (they frequently are polyethylene). Slides can also be stored in plastic slide pages (a type of pocket page that holds 20 slides) or stored in metal or cardboard slide boxes. Older plastic or paper enclosures from the photo processor may not be safe for long-term storage of photographs. If the paper has become brittle, has stained or marred the photo, or has caused fading, it needs to be replaced with a high quality envelope that passes the PAT.

Old film negatives may develop a vinegar odor with time, or warp and wrinkle. This is a sign that the plastic is deteriorating. Only storage at cold temperatures can slow this irreversible decay process. Cold storage is not practical for most people and can even cause more immediate damage if used improperly. However, frost-free freezer bags can be used as long as special enclosures and handling procedures are followed. Below are a few precautions that you will need to take, but it is recommended to confer with a professionally recognized conservator for additional recommendations.

If the negative is of historically important and/or has significant family value, it should be duplicated, before it deteriorated beyond salvation.

Use clear plastic bags such as Freezer Zip-locks or flush-cut bags with twist-ties (polyethylene or polypropylene plastic bags). Squeeze out the excess air from the plastic bag and seal the bag.

Do not use the bag if: the Zip-lock seal does not work or the bag has tears or holes. It is very important to have an airtight seal.

Whenever removing negatives or film from storage area, spread out the bagged items to allow for better air circulation. Allow items to warm up slowly in a cool dry area. Small quantities of photographs will warm up faster than large groups or boxes. Warm up time to room temperature may take 30 minutes for one or two items or two to four hours for boxes, depending on the size of the box and quantity of negatives inside.


When bagged photographs or boxes no longer feel cool to the touch and are at room temperature, wipe off any excess moisture condensed on the bag and then open the bag to remove items.

Storing and the Environment

Temperature, light and humidity affect photographs and documents more than any other element. Best storage conditions re less and 70 degrees F with a relative humidity under 50%. High humidity coupled with high temperature will accelerate deterioration. When determining where to store your precious memories please take the following into consideration.

Attics and Basements – The worst places to store your photographs or documents are in an attic or basement that have not been insulted. In the summer, temperatures in an attic could reach 125 degrees F. while in the winter they can get down to less and 0 degrees. With the constant high temperatures and humidity in the summer and low temperatures and humidity in the winter, the photographs or documents will become brittle. In severe cases, the emulsion (image) on the photograph can separate from the base (paper). These cyclic conditions will have a devastating effect on any paper product.

Basements, which are not insulated, are usually moist which can cause photographs to stick to each other. Another problem encountered in basements is that they are great breeding grounds for insects and rodents which are strongly attracted to gelatin and cellulose in the photographic emulsion.

The best places to store important photographs or docuents ar in a safe deposit box at your bank. They are usually climate controlled and kept dark to provide almost ideal storage conditions. The ideal storage conditions are 68 degrees +/- 2 degrees and 50% relative humidity +/- 5% relative humidity.

Wood, Paper and Paper Products – Wood and papers contain harmful additives such as bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Use only paper products that are acid free. Proper storage containers are available from archival suppliers (see below).

Miscellaneous Materials – Rubber bands or rubber cement contains sulfur. Sulfur degrades photographic emulsions. Paper clips can abrade or scratch the surfaces of prints or negatives. A pressure sensitive tape usually contains acid, which can accelerate the deterioration process. Any kind of ink also contains acids. Fingerprints on prints or negative create physical damage from the oils and acids from the human skin.

Fumes and Vapors – From oil-based paints, varnishes, shellac, carbon monoxide (automobiles stored in garages) and photocopiers including laser copiers (most produce ozone as a by-product which is a bleach and the fumes may accelerate the deterioration process). In addition, the the intense light and heat fro copiers are detrimental to photographs.

Recommended Storage Materials

Paper – Use only lignin free (from paper pulp), acid free, un-buffered paper. Use this paper to store photographs or as interleaving paper in albums.

Plastics – Any of the following plastics are safe to use in storing photographs, negative or documents. Polyester, Mylar, Polypropylene, Polyethylene, and Tyvek.






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