Remember going through your mom and grandma’s old photo albums? The sticky pages with the clear plastic and photos that likely have faded or turned yellow. If you’re lucky those photos are still intact, but many have probably been damaged from sitting in those albums for decades.
The higher levels of acid in the albums caused the damage to your photos. Now all we have is a pile of discolored and faded photos. Don’t get me wrong, thank goodness we still have those photos and memories! But if our parents and grandparents knew those albums would cause damage, they probably wouldn’t have used those albums.
We all want to be sure we are doing our best to preserve our family photos. To do that, I’m sharing more information on why acid-free is important, how to check your materials, and how you can prevent further deterioration.
This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, I will earn a small commission to help keep my blog up and running but it won’t cost you a penny more). Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
Why acid-free is important
According to the Family Tree blog, acid-free products are expected to last a minimum of 100 years or more. That may seem like a long time, but think about how old photos of your grandparents and great-grandparents. Future generations will be looking at our photos wondering what life is like for us today. (Kind of crazy to think about!)
To protect the integrity of your photographs, you should use acid-free products and scrapbooking materials. You want to know that the materials you use will not deteriorate the quality of your photos for years to come. When buying scrapbooking materials, you can find a notation of “acid-free” or “archival safe” on the packaging or label.
Adhesives are going to be the biggest culprits, but if you choose an acid-free option, then you’ll be safe. A lot of scrapbooking adhesive on the market is noted as acid-free, but you should always check the packaging before buying it.
Although it may not seem like it, other items like paper, die-cuts, and embellishments could have higher levels of acid. If used near your photos, they could cause fading or discoloration over an extended periods of time.
How to check if something is acid-free
For as many materials that note they are acid-free in the crafting world, there is about twice as many that don’t say whether something is acid-free. How would you know if the product is acid-free if it’s not marked?
Thankfully there is a great little pen that was created by American Crafts to test if something is acid-free. The pen is called the pH Tester Pen and it works best on paper and paper-like materials. You can make a test mark on the back of paper or the product to check the acidity.
When using the pen, if you mark on any surface that is acid-free or has an acceptable level of acidity, then the pen will result in a blue or lavender mark. If the surface is NOT acid-free it will result in a yellow or colorless mark.
When I tested the pen on acid-free products, the mark stayed clearly lavender. I searched for more materials that were not specifically marked as acid-free. Much to my relief, all of the products I tested in my scrapbooking stash produced a lavender mark. This meant they were acid-free, but I was on a mission to find something that wasn’t acid-free. I tested the pen mark on some of my grandma’s old photos and items from her sticky albums.
When I first marked the page the lavender line started to fade down to blue, then to a yellow, then to colorless. The mark I made on the paper frame immediately changed to yellow. However, the photos that came from the sticky album appeared to be ok. I also tested directly on the sticky albums. Some marks took 10-15 seconds to begin to fade, but it still indicated an acidic environment as I would have expected. This test of the older albums though helped me assure the pen worked, because I was a little skeptical at first.
How to prevent deterioration
To prevent deterioration you will want to consider a few things for both new and old photos.
For any new photos, you should consider the printing methods for the best quality to preserve them longer. If you are printing at home, you can check the quality of your paper and ink with the manufacturer. This will help to assure the photos you are printing will stand the test of time. If you print with an outside vendor, then you can check with their customer service about the integrity of their printing process.
For any old photos, you should always scan them and consider using a reprint for scrapbooking purposes. This will help you in a few different ways.
First, you’ll be able to preserve that photo for the future without causing any further damage to the original. You want to get the original photo out of the acidic environment and save a copy in case it continues to deteriorate.
Second, scanning the old photo also allows you to fix the damaged photo for reprints by correcting color issues, patching torn edges or creases, and correcting any other blemishes. You can still retain the memories of the photo, but without the damage.
No matter the scrapbooking method you choose, I would always keep a digital copy of your photos. Once you have printed the originals be sure to store them properly if you won’t be scrapbooking them right away. You can keep the original in an acid-free page protector or photo box to preserve their quality. Just be sure to check if the photobox is acid-free using the pH Tester Pen.
Whether using old, new, or reprinted photos you will want to stay vigilant about the products you use when scrapbooking. Do your best to protect the integrity of your photographs by using as many acid-free products as possible. As I mentioned before, if you are unsure about any products that don’t indicate “acid-free”, you can use the pH Tester Pen.
Let me know what you think and if you have any other tips about preserving your photographs.