Do you have a box somewhere with old printed photos in it? I do. And if you’re like me, maybe you didn’t get around to putting them all in albums. Maybe some are just tucked in between your high school report cards and 7th grade birthday invitation. Prints are kind of floppy to begin with, so some corners have probably gotten bent from not being perfectly stacked. Over time, little pieces of dust and debris worked their way between the pictures and eventually scratched them. Some might have already faded or discolored. Or maybe you taped them up on a cabinet above your desk at work, or stuck them on the fridge, and over time the edges became raggedy. Sticky fingers grabbed them, you brushed past it too hard when you were rooting around in the fridge door for ketchup. In short, life happened.
Small prints take quite a beating, whether you neglect them (see: old box), or love them (see: hung above your desk). We want them to last, but they just…..don’t.
I’m out to save the small print.
Small prints, or Gift Prints, are the sizes you’d want to put on your desk or send to Grandma: 4×6, 5×7, and 8×10. We want to use and see and hold these prints often. I believe in USING images, not treating them like artifacts. Here are some tips for taking care of your prints so you can enjoy them longer:
1) Start out with the best print possible. When my clients purchase Gift Prints, the print they receive is mounted on a sturdy, archival 2mm backing. This makes the print thicker and stronger, but still thin enough to mail. Mounting not only protects from bending, it also turns a regular print into a real gift. It gives your image a permanent, professional feel, that your family and friends will recognize immediately. (I wish I could put a mounted print in your hands right now so you can see what I mean). Gift Prints are then coated to protect against scratching, fingerprints, and (bonus!) UV damage. The prints are archival quality to begin with, but adding coating and mounting further lengthens the life of the image – enabling you to enjoy it longer.
2) Display The Right Way. Scotch tape and/or sticky tack might seem like convenient ways to put a print up, but these can irreversibly damage the print. Most kinds of tape and sticky tack are not acid free, and will discolor the image over time. Additionally, tape can tear or stress the paper when you try to move the picture, and sticky tack bends the corners when you push down on it. Use frames, or add a magnet to the back of a mounted print, and you’ll have a cleaner, longer-lasting display.
3) Protect from The Four Main Causes of Damage. The four main causes of damage to prints are: acidic materials, temperature, humidity, and light. The reality is that we don’t live in dark, totally dry, non-humid and acid-free places. But you can still be smart about where you display a print. When you’re putting up a small print, quickly evaluate the environment. Try to display it so that it does not face direct sunlight, particularly if you do not have a coating that protects against UV rays. Avoid placing the print in a place that will experience a lot of humidity (i.e. if displaying something on the fridge, keep it on the side away from pots of boiling water). Additionally, try to display the print away from places that receive direct, strong air flow from vents – quick shifts in temperatures over a long period of time can weaken the paper. And of course, choose acid-free frames and backings for the image.
Confession: If I have a digital file of an image that is securely backed up in multiple places, I admit that I’m less cautious about where I display small prints. Having the digital file allows you the fabulous luxury of creating your own prints. However, replacing prints tends to fall on the bottom of your packed to-do list, so it’s worth taking some extra care when displaying the print the first time around.
4) Long-term Storage. The name of the game in storage is acid free. Most cardboard boxes are not acid-free, and will cause prints to yellow over time. Your best option is to store them in an acid-free album, or place them in an acid-free box with acid-free tissue between each print. Common household pests can eat through paper, so keep that in mind when selecting your boxes. Prints are best stored lying flat, in a dark and low-humidity environment.
If you’re going to be extensively handling a set of prints, either to display them or prepare them for storage, wash your hands first to reduce the transfer of oil from your hands to the paper.
Now that you know how to best care for prints, go dig out that box and display away!
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