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Negatives and transparencies can be stored the same way as photographic prints, using the same high quality papers and plastic which pass the ANSI IT9.16 Photographic Activity Test (PAT). (The PAT was developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and is a test that determines whether or not a storage material will cause fading or staining in photographs.) There are paper and plastic enclosures and storage boxes designed for film formats available from most manufacturers. Like prints, negatives and transparencies should be stored in a cool, dry location.

Fortunately, many negatives now return from the photo lab stored in plastic pocket pages that appear to be safe for the films (they frequently are polyethylene). Likewise, the plastic boxes that store slides are usually safe (they frequently are polypropylene). Slides can also be stored in plastic slide pages (a type of pocket page which holds 20 slides) or stored in metal or cardboard slide boxes. Older plastic or paper enclosures which came from the photo lab may not be safe for long term storage of photographs. If the paper has become brittle, has stained or marred the photo, or has caused fading, it should be replaced with a high quality envelope which passes the PAT.

Old film negatives may develop a vinegar odor with time, or warp and wrinkle. This is a sign that the plastic is deteriorating. Only storage at cold temperatures can slow this irreversible decay process. Cold storage is not practical for most people and can even cause more immediate damage if used improperly. However, frost-free freezers can be used as long as special enclosures and handling procedures are followed. Below are a few precautions that should be followed but, it is recommended to confer with a professionally recognized conservator for additional recommendations.

If the negative is historically important and/or has significant family value, it should be duplicated, before it deteriorates beyond salvation.

Use Clear plastic bags such as Freezer Zip-locks or flush-cut bags with twist-ties (polyethylene or polypropylene plastic bags). Squeeze out the excess air from the plastic bag and seal the bag.

Do not use the bag if: the Zip-lock seal does not work or the bag has tears or holes. It is very important to have an air tight seal.

When removing negatives or film from the storage area; spread out the bagged items to allow better air circulation. Allow items to warm up slowly in a cool dry area. Small quantities of photographs will warm up faster than large groups or boxes. Warm up time to room temperature may take 30 minutes for one or two items or two to four hours for boxes, depending on the size of the box and quantity of negatives inside.

DO NOT REMOVE BAGS UNTIL ITEMS NO LONGER FEEL COOLER THAN THEIR SURROUNDINGS! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SPEED UP THE WARMING OF THE ITEMS BY PLACING NEAR HEAT!


When bagged photographs or boxes no longer feel cool to the touch and are at room temperature, wipe off any excess moisture condensed on the bag and then open the bag to remove items.

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