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Photographs and Slides

Improve the odds – make duplicates of important images. Cool, dry, and dark are the best conditions for preserving photos, negatives, and slides.


  • Display copies of photographs, not originals, whenever possible and store the originals separately. Always make copies of damaged photos.
  • Protect photographs behind glass or acrylic that filters ultraviolet light, such as appropriate kinds of Plexiglas ©.
  • Frame photographic prints with acid-free stable materials. Use rag-board mats that pass the photographic activity test (PAT). This applies to digital prints as well as to traditional prints. The mats should be un-buffered for color photos and buffered for black and white.
  • Use acid-free, not “magnetic” or self-adhesive, photo albums.
  • Protect color transparencies, slides, and negatives in stable plastic pages. Polyester, polyethylene, and polypropylene are all suitable.


  • Store photos and negatives in envelopes or folders made of stable plastic or acid-free paper. Place the envelopes in acid-free boxes and don’t pack them too tightly.
  • Avoid storing photos in contact with brown kraft paper, glassine envelopes, mat board with high lignin content, rubber cement, or glue.
  • Store 35-mm color film slides, in cardboard or plastic mounts, either in custom size metal or acid-free boxes or in custom size stable plastic sleeves. Because the slides are so small, they can easily be shifted or lost in larger sleeves and containers.


  • Handle photographs, negatives, and slides only by the edges and avoid touching the image. Wearing cotton gloves is a good idea.
  • Try to label photographs on the backs of frames or on album page or sleeve. If necessary, use a soft, No. 2 pencil to write lightly on the back of the photograph itself.
  • Keep photos, negatives and slides out of reach of pests.

Much of the information in this section is taken from “Saving Your Family’s Treasures,” in My History Is America’s History: 15 Things You Can Do to Save America ’s Stories, a publication of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1999).  The complete guidebook offers a way to explore family history and shows how family stories can contribute to the history of the nation. An extensive resource section lists relevant books, films, and places to visit.  Look for it at your local library.