Storage of Polaroid Black-and-White Photographs
Polaroid black-and-white photographs are an important part of many natural history collections. Often electron micrographs of objects are kept as part of the collection and these micrographs are most often in the form of Polaroid prints.
It is important, therefore, for anyone dealing with natural history collections to be aware of the proper care and handling of such photographs.
Douglas W. Nishimura
Image Permanence Institute
P.O. Box 9887
Rochester, NY 14623 USA
Tel (716) 475-5199
Fax (716) 475-7230
As with most contemporary silver images, Polaroid prints tend to be very resistant to deterioration from light, but are susceptible to heat, humidity, chemicals and physical abuse.
Humidities that are too high, can, among other things, promote mold growth. High temperature and humidity storage also tends to accelerate deterioration caused by chemicals.
Low humidity can cause the photographs to become very brittle causing cracking in the image surface. Under these conditions the photographs may also be very prone to curling especially if the recommended processing time was exceeded when the photograph was produced.
Polaroid photographs are also susceptible to many of the same chemical pollutants that other silver halide photographs are.
These pollutants include oxidant gasses such as ozone, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, peroxides from paints and varnishes, sulfides, fumes from auto exhaust and cleaning agents, solvents and bleaches.
Photographs should be stored either in good quality paper or plastic enclosures. Physical damage can be avoided by following common sense rules.
Materials Tools Supplies
- cotton gloves or nylon gloves
- paper folders, (pH 7.0-8.5) high alpha cellulose pulps
- polyester sleeves or polyethylene sleeves or polypropylene sleeves
- Carefully handle all photographs, including Polaroid prints, with either lintless nylon or cotton gloves.
- Avoid using paper clips and staples.
- Do not flex prints, particularly the integral-type prints. Bending of these prints can cause separation of the image layer and the base.
- Do not cut or trim, as this may also cause separation of the base and image layers.
- To prevent abrasion, interleave photographs with a high quality tissue when a number of prints are stored together. Note that coaterless prints tend to be more resistant to physical damage than the coated prints.
- Store photographs in paper enclosures made from neutral to slightly alkaline (pH 7.0-8.5) high alpha cellulose pulps or good quality polyethylene, polypropylene, or polyester sleeves. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and nitrated plastics should be avoided.
All enclosures should meet the requirements of American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard IT9.2-1991, Photographic Processed Films, Plates and Papers: Filing Enclosures and Storage Containers.
- Take care when sliding photographs in and out of enclosures to prevent abrasion.
- Store photographs at 60-70ºF (16-21ºC) and 30-50% RH with minimal daily fluctuations.
- If low humidity can also be maintained, cool or cold storage is recommended, otherwise low temperature storage may cause more harm than good. Avoid humidities lower than 30% RH, although they are less damaging than very high humidities.
Paper enclosures have the advantage of being less expensive than plastic as well as being less prone to causing blocking or ferrotyping of the photograph under humid conditions. In cases where photographs are frequently referenced, plastic enclosures have the distinct advantage of allowing the objects to be viewed without removing them from the enclosures.
Polaroid photographs should not be stored in contact with conventional photographs (especially poorly processed and stabilization-processed images), radiographs, electro-photographic copies or poor quality paper objects such as newspaper clippings. In all of these cases, there is concern about deterioration caused by contamination of the Polaroid print.