Why use acid free paper for packaging and preserving old photos?


Why use acid free paper for packaging and preserving old photos?

By: Yolanda Silva, author of the online course Preventive Conservation of Photography.

What is the deterioration?

photo deterioration why acid free paperDeterioration is basically any physical and chemical transformation occurring after processing.

It usually consists of a change in the original colour, or the fading and the loss of contrast of the image,…

It can have various forms and origins, such as changes in temperature and humidity, the formation of fungi, animal or insect infestations, among others.

How to avoid this by using acid free paper

Improper packaging may also potentiate its degradation. For this reason, the most recommended materials are acid free papers.

But, what does this mean…?

The acid that exists in most papers and tissues causes several changes in photographs, weakening them with time. The paper gets stained, ages and dries out, the image fades out progressively, the emulsion gets pasty or breaks…

What is the acid free paper…?

In 1930, William Barrow concluded that paper itself deteriorated over time and that, without the proper control of its acidity level, the contact with the light itself can wear out and affect the composition of paper.

Thus, it becomes important that the paper has a neutral (or basic) chemical composition, with a pH equal to or slightly higher than 7.0.

acid free paper

The manufacturing process of this paper implies the treatment with calcium carbonate (which is called an alkaline reserve) that neutralizes the acids naturally created by cellulose.

In this way, it can be ensured that papers with this treatment maintain their alkalinity for at least 100 years, favouring the conservation processes of the photographs.

However, if you want to conserve albumins, chromogenic or dye-transfer processes, paper with an alkaline reserve is not recommended because it can react with the compounds in the photograph.

Another important detail is to guarantee that the paper is equally free of lignin.

Lignin is a chemical compound naturally present in cellulose, whose oxidation acidifies and stains the paper. It is the main responsible for the appearance of yellow spots.

How to identify acid free paper?

Acid free paper generally presents a quality certificate where you can read its main characteristics and tests to which it has been subjected.

In some cases, standards such as ISO18902 and ISO18916 are specified, but it is not crucial they be mentioned.

acid free paper

The Image Permanence Institute (IPI) website has more information about the tests made for photographic papers.

Basic points to keep in mind

If you are looking for paper to store your file or photo album, keep these basic points in mind:

  • it is important the paper has a neutral pH,
  • is acid and lignin free,
  • it may or may not have an alkaline reserve (make sure your photos are secure with it)
  • and search for duly certified paper so as to ensure its quality, efficacy and Durability.

Study the needs of your photos and suit the materials to them.

Learn how to do a photo storage program of our private collections.

Preventive Conservation of Photography:  course program

1 – Preservation | Conservation | Restoration

2 – The Photography

Structure: base, support, emulsion, album, etc.
Most common typologies

3 – Common deterioration factors


4 – Environment and pest control

5 – Best practices

Packing Systems

6 – Preservation Program

What students say about this course

EN Conservation of photography

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed