Old Photographs – How to preserve, archive, & restore.

January 4, 2021

Photographs that you can hold in your hands have been important to me as long as I can remember. As a child I spent countless hours looking through my grandmothers old photographs, my aunts, my mothers, I loved them all. I love the stories they tell & the memories they hold. I love the glimpse into another time in the lives of those I love.

I am often asked about restoring, preserving, & storing these pieces of the past. I’m always excited to help families with this. I have lots of helpful information to help you with this important task. You can do this! However, if this is all overwhelming, too time consuming, or too daunting, these are all services I offer! I can do all of this for you! More on this at the bottom.


-It’s important to handle old photographs with care. Avoid touching the print side of the photograph with your fingers, as this can leave behind oils that can damage the photograph.

-If you have pictures that are still in old photo albums where the pages are turning yellow on the edges, and the photos are fading, you need to act quickly.

Magnetic Albums 

Older magnetic photo albums have pages that are covered in strips of sticky glue that hold the photos to the pages. The pages are then sealed under a sheet of clear plastic made from Mylar or PVC. The glue in these older albums is highly acidic over time; it is also aggressive, making it difficult to remove the photos. The acid in the glue combined with chemicals in the plastic combine to make these photo albums very destructive for your precious family snapshots and memorabilia.

To remove photos from these pages, you need to use extra care. Begin by carefully trying to lift a photo from the page. If it is stuck and will not easily be removed, do not force it. Here are some steps to try; experiment on a page of your album that does not contain irreplaceable photos:

  1. Chemical – Adhesive remover such as Un-Du (found at your local craft store while supplies last) or Bestine Solvent and Thinner both of which contain the chemical Heptane, which works well for removing labels and stickers. Use this with a plastic scraper or spatula, allowing the chemical to loosen the adhesive while the spatula lifts the photo. The liquid chemical will quickly evaporate from the photos without damaging them.
  2. Physical – If you want to try removing the items without chemicals, you can try the purely physical method of sliding dental floss beneath the corner of the photo and carefully sliding it back and forth to gently “saw” through the adhesive.
  3. Heat – You can try gently heating the adhesive with a hairdryer. Be sure to try this in stages and do not over-heat the front of your photo, or you may damage it. Combining heat with the dental floss technique has been known to work very well.

Any of these techniques always has a chance of damaging the photographs and memorabilia. Get color photocopies or high-quality scans made of important photos and documents before you make any attempts to remove them from unsafe albums.

Glued Down Scrapbook Pages 

Some older scrapbooks/photo albums were constructed by simply gluing items to heavyweight paper. The adhesive used may have been rubber cement. These albums pose special difficulties for photo removal. The chemical means above will probably not work. Heptane works to remove sticky adhesive like those found the back of stickers and labels, but it will not work on dried adhesives like Elmer’s glue. Color copy the photos, documents, and memorabilia that are especially important and then store the original album in a safe place.


-When storing photographs avoid seas with temperature fluctuations, high humidity, & lots of sunlight. Do not store in basements, attics, or garage.

-Ideally, stop below 75 degrees.

– It’s very important to choose boxes, folders, & sleeves that are acid free & photo safe.

What does “archival safe” mean when it comes to storing your photographs? Archival safe means the photo box, album, sleeve, etc is lignin-free, acid-free, PVC-free and has a neutral pH to prevent the degradation of your photos.

Photo boxes are a popular way to store family photographs. Even when you use archival safe photo boxes, there are ways to further safe guard your precious photographs.

  • Do not over fill the photo box. Stuffing “just one more” into the box risks scratching or tearing of your photo.
  • Do not under fill your photo box either. Under filling a box encourages bowing of the photographs.  Avoid this by using the correct size box or use a spacer to if needed.
  • Store like sized photos together. This prevents excessive shifting that could scratch your photographs.
  • Use archival photo sleeves to further protect your old photographs. Sleeves come in a variety of sizes.  Place only one photo in a sleeve and use a sleeve that is slightly larger than the photograph.  You do not want the edges of your photo extending beyond the sleeve.
  • What about over-sized photos?  Store in the appropriate sized  flat box. Archival photo boxes come in a variety of sizes.
  • When you are handling your photographs, make sure your work area is clean and dry and your hands are free of any lotions or oils.

Here are some of my favorites:

Archival Photo & Document Folders: These are great & come in different sizes. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00ZDHGYU0/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=sl1&tag=wwwlisalissoc-20&linkId=7de24ae91e2a20213d817bcb5f5405eb&th=1

Photo Storage Boxes: My personal favorite box. https://www.amazon.com/Pioneer-Photo-Albums-B-1BLK-Storage/dp/B000P187PY/ref=pd_bxgy_img_3/131-4939108-8566616?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B000P187PY&pd_rd_r=926e90f3-38e6-4833-afa3-47fe3c1fe92d&pd_rd_w=CvM7j&pd_rd_wg=k0GP7&pf_rd_p=f325d01c-4658-4593-be83-3e12ca663f0e&pf_rd_r=TYHM1PKY5JA6YAHFZRA0&psc=1&refRID=TYHM1PKY5JA6YAHFZRA0

Tin Box Set with Archival Sleeves & Dividers: https://www.amazon.com/Jot-Mark-Organizer-Storage-Dividers/dp/B086PHHR2S/ref=sr_1_12?dchild=1&keywords=archive+photo+safe+storage&qid=1609738027&s=arts-crafts&sr=1-12

A Different Boxed Option: This box allows for great organization. https://www.amazon.com/IRIS-Extra-Embellishment-Keeper-Handle/dp/B00GLQX3CO/ref=pd_sbs_201_3/131-4939108-8566616?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B00GLQX3CO&pd_rd_r=30eecb29-9186-468c-b278-a6baed62dd59&pd_rd_w=cx30y&pd_rd_wg=Ym8Bt&pf_rd_p=ed1e2146-ecfe-435e-b3b5-d79fa072fd58&pf_rd_r=Y0JHP85J7B01P085HDFT&psc=1&refRID=Y0JHP85J7B01P085HDFT


LABEL: It’s a great idea to label photos. To do this you want to use an acid free permanent marker. Include as much info as possible on the back of the photo, including names, ages, & location. This will help those who may inherit the photographs years from now.

I like these:


*Do NOT write on pictures with a ball point pen.


It’s a great idea to preserve your photographs digitally.

Scan the photos from your own older albums, you can use an all-in-one printer, if you have one. Before scanning, you will want to gently dust the photographs with a soft cloth. You also should make sure you keep the scanner glass free of dust, and use gloves so you don’t transfer any dirt or oil from your hands onto the prints. If you don’t have an all-in-one printer, there are a number of inexpensive scanners you can get on Amazon.com or at office supply stores.

Consider your ultimate goals when deciding on your DPI settings. The DPI setting typically means “dots per inch” and determines the clarity of the photo as you enlarge it.

For most projects, you’ll want to use at least 600 DPI. If you want to enlarge your print photo (digitally, or by getting a larger printed version), start with 600 DPI and consider raising it if you know you want to create a really large version of the photo. 

Some quick examples: If you’ve got a 3×3 print, start with 600 DPI – this will be sufficient in most cases for regular backup purposes. Use 1200 DPI if you want a really large version of the original print, but be aware that you will be enlarging everything on the print, including any imperfections or discolorations in the image. If you have a larger print (like an 8×10), then 600 DPI will be just fine.

Once you have scanned your pictures into your computer you can order any copies you would like but even more important, you can back these digital copies. I recommend uploading your images to a cloud service, such as iCloud, Dropbox, or Amazon storage.


If you have old photos that are already damaged, there is a chance they can be restored! This is a service I offer & I would be glad to take a look to see if I can help. Here are some restoration examples:


If all this has you feeling overwhelmed or even scared, I can help!

I offer preservation, digitalization, restoration services & more.

You can even have all of those old photos made into new albums.

This also makes great Mothers Day, Fathers Day, & Christmas gifts. It’s important to note that I only offer preservation & digitalization services January-August.

It is certainly a task but one you won’t ever regret doing!

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