Pop-Up Heritage Session Tips on “Preserving Digital Prints”

Jun 26 2017

Pop-Up Heritage Session Tips on “Preserving Digital Prints”

On June 6, Maria Day, Director of Special Collections and Conservation at Maryland State Archives, launched Four Rivers Heritage Area’s “Pop-Up Heritage” series with her lecture on “Preserving Digital Prints: Protecting Your Photos and Ink jet Documents from the 1980s to Now.” Maria shared with the audience her advice for preserving digitally-printed photographs created within the past 30 years.

Did you think digital prints were a relatively new concern? As Maria showed in her talk, many of the photographs in your collection are probably digital prints. Although the process of digital printing has been around since 1439 thanks to the Gutenberg press, its use for photographs really began to take off in the 1980s, which means most of those photos you had printed at photo kiosks, online photo printing services, or you printed from a printer at home, are digital prints. So how do you tell the difference between digital and standard prints? Standard prints are developed using pigment. Digital prints are produced using dye and ink. Graphics Atlas can provide further assistance in identifying and comparing different types of printed images.

Because this form of printing was so experimental during the 1980s, it is still unknown as to how well your photographs will maintain their integrity over the long-term. This means you need to start thinking about protecting them now! Water and dampness can be especially damaging to these photos (see : if you have boxes or albums stored in the basement, now is a good time to pull them out and move them to a more climate-controlled location.

Here are a few dos and don’ts for protecting your prints:
Don’t: flex the print, roll the print, or stack prints directly on top of one another.
Do: Wear gloves when handling prints, keep prints covered by plastic films (Mylar is the most reliable), and make sure to hold prints from underneath or by edges.

You also many not know that the adhesives in the “magnetic photo albums” that many of us used in the past can degrade over time, harming your photos. If you put your photos in one of these albums, watch this video from the Smithsonian: Preserve Your Treasures: How To Remove Photos from a Sticky Album.

And for more information, check out the Image Permanence Institute at the Rochester Institute of Technology. You’ll find resources including webinars and videos to help you learn more about preserving your images. Good luck!