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What Photo Album Is That? Advice and FAQs

How can I get my photos out of old self-adhesive photo albums?

DO NOT RUSH. The photos have been there a while already, and it's best to find the right method to ease them out, rather than rush and ruin them.

FIRST AND FOREMOST ensure you have a backup. If you don't have the negatives or digital files, consider scanning or re-photographing your photos to create a backup before you do anything else. Pulling stuck photos out of an album is very likely to damage the photos. There are other methods which can work. We stress that these methods are not guaranteed and may even cause damage.

FOR PRECIOUS PHOTOS, WE RECOMMEND SEEKING ADVICE FROM A PROFESSIONAL CONSERVATOR. Inquire at your local or state library, museum, art gallery or historical society and they may be able to direct you to someone who can help. Following are some home methods we are aware of, but we strongly suggest trying these methods with unimportant photo first to see if they work for you:

HEAT. Heat the album pages lightly with a hair-dryer or blow-heater, held a reasonable distance from your album page. Be very careful not to cause burning. This may loosen the old adhesive enough to make the photos easier to remove from the page.

FREEZER. Place a page with photos on inside a plastic bag. Seal the bag carefully. Place the bag inside your freezer compartment for a few minutes. This may make the old adhesive brittle, making it easier to remove the photos.

SOAKING. This only works with wet lab photos (not inkjet prints / dry lab photos), and requires the destruction of your old photo album pages. Soak a single page with photos in a tub of luke-warm water. The photos may float off, or they may at least become easier to peel off. DO NOT TOUCH THE SURFACE of the wet photos, as this is likely to leave a permanent mark. Set the photos face-up on a rack to dry. Let them air-dry naturally, do not heat them. As the photos dry, they are likely to curl up. When they are completely dry, they can be pressed flat again (in a press, between books, etc).

Be aware that this method may cause hand-tinted or coloured photos to run, and it only works for prints that have been made using a wet lab photographic process - i.e. NOT engravings, photocopies, ink-jet prints, etc.

SOLVENT. Solvents may loosen the adhesive without having an adverse effect on your photos. We've had great success with eucalyptus oil, and we've also used 3M "700" solvent. There may be similar products available in your area - inquire at your local art store. Please be sure to follow all safety directions for the product which you use, as these solvents may contain harmful chemicals.

Try to keep the solvent off the surface of your photos; it doesn't need to be there. Apply the solvent gently to the edge or under a loose corner of a photo using a small paintbrush. Allow enough time for the solvent to work, then lift the photo further and apply more solvent.

As we mentioned, these methods ARE NOT GUARANTEED and may even cause damage to some photos, and we strongly recommend seeking professional advice from a qualified conservator if you are dealing with very precious or valuable photographs.

Why do photos fade?

All photos have a limited lifespan, even when stored in the best photo albums. With luck, this life could be as long as fifty years for a colour photo - quite likely, it will be much shorter (check out the reference list for links to more information). The reason for this is primarily that the dyes used to put the colours in the photos are chemically sensitive, and they degrade over time. This degradation is caused by many factors; main contributors include exposure to acidic compounds released from adhesives, plastics and papers used in photo albums, as well as exposure to atmospheric pollutants, light and heat. There are several simple points you can follow to easily protect your photos from premature fading.

Another major factor in the lifespan of your photos is the processing or printing. Poor quality processing can doom your photos no matter how well you store them, either through the use of cheap photo paper or chemicals, inadequate fixing or stopping, or poor drying. Choose a reputable photo lab, and remember that the cheapest (or quickest!) may not be the best. "Archival quality" photo processing is becoming more widely available, but this is can be an expensive option.

Black and white photos using silver chemistry are chemically much more stable than colour photos; this is why you can see very old B&W photos. It is unlikely that today's colour photos will last 150 years into the future.

The quality of home printing and consumer non-photographic photo printing (such as inkjet and laser printing) is generally improving, but still wildly variable. In the absence of strict and specific advice that chemicals, inks and papers are ALL archival quality, and some sort of guarantee about what that definition of "archival quality" actually is, it would be extremely unwise to assume that any non-photographic printing is likely to endure.

Why should I protect my negatives?

Even if your photos are set up in the best quality album - even if they're in an archival storage system - it's still possible that your collection could be lost in an unexpected catastrophe (flood, fire, child, etc).

For this reason, it's a great idea to store the negatives properly, so that you have a back-up system to safeguard against the loss of your photos. Also, if the negatives are stored well, they can last longer than the photos, and you can make more copies from the negative which will be exactly the same quality as the original photo. Remember, every photo is only a copy of the negative.

However you choose to store your photographs, your negatives (the originals of your photos) should be stored in an archival storage system, and kept in another location from your photo album - preferably in a different building.


How can I protect my photographs, negatives and slides?

The best protection for your photos, negs and slides is a polypropylene or polyester archival storage system. However, acid-free slip-in, dry-mount and scrapbook-style albums can provide a very good alternative if display and presentation of your photos is an important consideration.

The best place to store your photo album in the average family home tends to be up high inside a cupboard or wardrobe. This sort of location is usually dry, cool and dark, making it an ideal place to keep your albums. Keep in mind that all photographic materials last longer if protected from:

  • acidic environments - ensure you use an acid-free album and mounting products; try to use acid-free papers and polypropylene or polyester plastics. Avoid PVC which can contain dangerous plasticisers and solvents.

  • heat - avoid hot places; e.g. near radiators or water heaters, on the front seat of cars, etc.

  • light - store photos out of direct sunlight, away from windows, etc.

  • humidity - encourages mildew, meld and fungus growth, as well as accelerating the decomposition of photographic materials, papers and adhesives.

  • grease from fingerprints - surfaces of photos, negs and slides are very difficult to clean; it's best to avoid direct contact where possible.

  • insects and vermin - love to eat paper products; this is another advantage of polypropylene systems; avoid spraying chemicals near your photos.

  • atmospheric pollutants - may cause adverse chemical reactions with the colour dyes.

  • other chemical reactants - try to avoid using adhesives, sticky tapes, inks and other chemicals near your photos.


What is an archival storage system?

Archival storage systems are primarily designed for safe long-term storage of your prints, negatives or slides. Unfortunately, since there is no strict standard for the use of this term, there are many products on the market which claim to be "archive quality". Below we give some guidelines to help you choose a legitimate product for safe archiving.

Polypropylene (PP) and polyester are the most renowned and commonly available archival materials. There are several brands of economical archival storage systems using these materials; for instance, our Albox range of Australian-made archival products. An important consideration is to use a clear plastic rather than a frosted plastic, as this allows objects to be copied or photographed through the plastic, rather than having to be removed every time.

It's best to avoid all types of PVC and PVA plastics. Some claim to be archival quality, but there still tends to be strong suspicion of these materials amongst archivists and conservationists.

Generally, try to avoid anything which could generate a chemical reaction near the photos. This includes adhesives (especially cheap self-adhesive pages, and general-purpose sticky tapes), metal fittings (which can rust or tarnish) and inks (although 'India ink' and lead pencils are quite safe).

Since archival systems are primarily designed for the safe storage of collections, they may not be ideally suited for priorities such as display and presentation of photos. If this is important, we suggest that prints can go into a regular photo album, where they can be neatly displayed, and negatives (the 'originals' of your photos) should be stored in a separate archival filing system, and preferably even kept in another location from the photo album - certainly NOT in the back of the album, where both prints and negs might be lost together.


What is a dry mount photo album?

"Dry-mount" photo albums have plain cardboard or card pages, ideally also with interleaving. These albums require the use of photo corners, tabs, tape or paste to hold photos in place on the page. They allow for greater artistic control over the presentation of photos and other memorabilia.

Dry-mount albums are ideal for storing and presenting mixed sized photos (for instance, older photographs, enlargements or modern digital inkjet prints, colour laser prints, etc).

It is important that dry-mount photo albums have interleaving between each page, as this plays an important role in protecting the photographs from scratching and chafing on each other, and from sticking together in humid conditions. If a dry-mount album does not have interleaving, consider mounting the photos on one side of the page only.

more information on dry-mount photo albums

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What is a "slip-in" photo album?

Slip-In photo albums have pre-formed pockets or slots into which photos are inserted. These albums tend to be plastic over paper, or all-plastic pages. They are convenient and economical albums for regular-sized photographs, but unlike dry-mount photo albums, they restrict the size of the photos that can be stored, and they have a restrictive page layout.

It is important that the paper and plastics used are acid-free materials. Avoid PVC plastics - these tend to be 'pitted' plastic pages, which contain plasticisers dangerous to the dyes used in colour photographs. PVC pages will often shrink if the album is exposed to sunlight, heat, etc, causing damage to the photos inside. This style of album is often produced at very low cost, so there are some terrible-quality albums on the market. Be careful, buy a reputable brand, and remember - you invariably get what you pay for.

buy SLIP-IN PHOTO ALBUMS at The Photo Album Shop

What is a "scrapbook" album?

Scrapbook photo albums are different things to different people. In Europe, any dry-mount album can be used as a scrapbook album, and there is no standard format for a scrapbook album. However, in the USA and Australia, scrapbook albums typically have a plastic page protector with a removable card insert, usually either in 12"x12" or 8.5"x11" sizes. Photos are mounted on the card insert, which is then decorated with stickers, stamps, frames, etc, and the insert is then returned to the page protector.

As with all albums, it is important that the paper and plastics used are acid-free materials. If you are concerned about the longevity of your photos, it is best to completely avoid PVC plastics.

buy SCRAPBOOK ALBUMS at The Photo Album Shop

What is a "matted-page" album?

Matted-page photo albums are premium albums, usually used as wedding albums, modelling portfolios and in other uses requiring very high quality photo presentation.

A matted page involves a "mat" of heavy card or picture-framers' matboard, with openings cut into it. These mats are mounted on both sides of a base leaf. Photos are mounted behind the mat, to create a framed display page similar to a professionally framed photograph.

Leaves for these albums are thick, heavy and expensive. For these reasons, matted-page albums are better suited for a limited selection of photos.

Mats range from simple card with openings to picture-framer's matboard with hand-cut bevelled-edge openings. Our matted-page wedding albums are custom-made to your exact requirements, and involve a great deal of highly skilled craftsmanship. The end result is a premium album to complement a special occasion such as a wedding, corporate function, etc.

click here for more information on matted page wedding albums.

What is a "self-adhesive" or "magnetic-page" photo album?

Self-adhesive or magnetic-page photo albums have an adhesive-lined page with a plastic overleaf. The overleaf is peeled back, photos are mounted on the adhesive-lined page, and then the overleaf is pushed down to seal the photos in.

This style of album as very popular from the 1970's, when colour photography was relatively new, and before there was widespread awareness of the need to store photos safely. Cheap, low-quality albums were widely available, and are why you may have albums with yellowing, spotty pages and faded photos that have all fallen out (if you're lucky) or are stuck down permanently (if you're not).

Problems may include dangerous chemicals released by the decomposition of the adhesive which can attack photos (especially colour photos) and the promotion of mildew and fungal growths due to moisture sealed in under the plastic overleaf. Commonly, people also report great difficulties in removing photos from these albums after a length of time.

If you must buy this type of album, always make sure that you buy a reliable brand which is responsibly manufactured using archive quality materials. If you are using this style of album, it is also a good idea to preserve your negatives in a separate archival storage system, to act as a back-up for future use in case any of the problems outlined above do occur. As with all albums, it is important that the paper and plastics used are acid-free materials. If you are concerned about the longevity of your photos, it is best to completely avoid PVC plastics. A general rule of thumb is that "you get what you pay for".

We only sell high-quality self-adhesive albums which are safe for long-term storage of your photos.

buy SELF-ADHESIVE PHOTO ALBUMS at The Photo Album Shop

What is a "book-bound" photo album?

Book-bound photo albums have pages that are stitched or glue in. This means that the albums are not refillable; you cannot generally add or remove pages, or change the order of the pages.

Book-bound albums typically have a one-piece cover. The spine of the album is covered, which makes for a very neat presentation like a hard-cover book. book-bound albums tend to be either mass-produced albums (usually with machine-made glued page-blocks) or premium custom-made albums (usually with hand-finished stitched page blocks). With most book-bound albums, pages turn neatly and lie quite flat when the album is open.

click here for more information on custom-made book-bound wedding albums

click here for more information on our range of dry-mount photo albums

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What is a "post-bound" photo album?

Post-bound photo albums have pages that are held into the cover by a post-and-screw system. In most instances, refills can be added to extend the album (with extension posts), or pages can be removed or their order changed. This is very convenient for ongoing collections, when a chronological sequence might need to be maintained by inserting extra pages throughout the album as new material becomes available.

Post-bound albums may have exposed page-ends at the spine of the album, or they may have a separate spine-cover which conceals the page-ends. Usually the spine-cover can be adjusted to cover the page-ends even when refills are added to the album. Better post-bound albums have hinged and/or scored pages, allowing the pages to turn easily and lie flat when the album is open.

click here for more information on our range of custom-made post-bound wedding albums

click here for more information on our range of dry-mount photo albums

buy DRY MOUNT PHOTO ALBUMS at The Photo Album Shop

What is a "pin-hinge" photo album?

Pin-hinge photo albums have an interlocking piano-hinge style hinge on the spine end of each page. These lock into each other, and into the front and back covers of the album. The interlocked hinges create a solid yet flexible spine. This page-style is only available in certain matted-page wedding albums.

Pin-hinge albums provide a very neat presentation, as well as the option of easily adding, removing or swapping over the pages in a photo album. The hinge mechanism itself forms the spine-cover of the album. The pages in the album turn very neatly, and lie very flat when the album is open.

click here for more information on pin-hinge wedding albums

What is a "spiral-bound" photo album?

Spiral-bound photo albums have pages held in by a wire or plastic spiral. This means that the albums are not refillable; generally pages cannot be added, changed or removed.

Spiral-binding allows the album to be opened fully without stress on the spine, and the pages should lie perfectly flat, allowing the use of the full page surface for mounting photos, writing notes, etc. Potential problems to be wary of include spiral-binding which is not wide enough to accommodate the extra thickness of the pages when they are fully loaded with photos. If you realise that this problem is going to occur, it may be a good idea to trim some unused pages out of your album before you finish.

Also, these albums often lack interleaving, which is important to protect the surfaces of photos on facing pages from chafing on each other, or sticking together in humid conditions.