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How To Preserve, Organize, and Frame Old Photos

UPDATED: November 9th, 2022

When it comes to photos, you want to be able to preserve them for as long as possible. If you have an old box of pictures stashed in the closet or basement from days gone by, don’t let them get ruined by age or neglect! There are plenty of ways you can organize and store your old photos, whether they are digital photo files or actual printed photos (remember those?). We’re going to help you get organized, stay organized, and display the photos you love most! 

When you look through old photographs, you’ll probably notice some have a few flaws, especially if not stored correctly — yellowed hues, tattered edges, fading colors, and maybe even brittle to the touch. 

That said, there are several ways to protect and organize your photos so you can enjoy them for years to come. Because they are by their very nature delicate, you need to keep that in mind when handling them, storing them, and deciding on what materials to use when framing them. And although we are specifically talking about photographs here, these precautions apply when framing any valuable piece of artwork. 

Once you are all organized, why not choose a few to frame for your wall? With the right picture frame, you can make your photo last as long as your memories will. Give grandma’s chocolate chip cookie recipe the display it desevers on your kitchen counter or create a family tree using old family photos. Whatever it is you decide to frame, be sure it will last long with our tips!

Let’s Get Started

Different style frames on piano

This first part may take some time, depending on how many photos you have. Whether you are working with the pictures on your phone, laptop, or camera or you are working with photos you have printed out, you must first start with grouping them together. Add a new folder on your phone or get a photo album ready. If you don’t want to put your printed photos in albums just use appropriately sized envelopes (or even the ones included from the place you had them printed).

Group them by occasion, season, year, or even by a person. This way all the pictures that have a connection will be together and easily accessible at a later time. If you have run out of room on your phone’s camera roll, try downloading Google Photos which gives you unlimited space to store your photos. From there, create folders within the app to separate your connected photos. For your actual photos, don’t forget to label the envelopes with keywords.

Again, this may take you some time, so don’t try to tackle it all at once. Or make it a two-step process. First assemble them by year and then go back and organize them into smaller groupings. Remember, preparation is key to any task and although it’s not much “fun” it will be well worth the effort in the long run. 

Know When To Toss Photos 

Old family photograph

Speaking of things that are not fun, throwing away some of the memories you’ve made is probably not high on your list of enjoyable activities.  But let’s face it, you can’t keep every single photo you’ve had printed (well, you can but that’s called hoarding) and storing every digital photo you’ve taken, even if you have the space, makes it so much harder to find the one you want to print. So, as painful as it may sound, know when to get rid of some. 

Start with the photos that are of poor quality.  Some may look like they were taken by a professional, but others, not so much!  Toss those immediately. They’re blurry, out of focus, or in bad lighting. There is zero need to crowd your storage space with those. Delete them. Your printed photographs are faded, torn, or you’re not even sure who’s in them or where they were taken. Time to add them to the trash pile.

If you have duplicates (and who doesn’t?) you need to compare and select the better photo. We are all guilty of snapping away sometimes and getting the same photo over, and over, and over again. Honestly, sometimes they look like carbon copies of each other. Sure, you can keep unlimited digital photos, but why would you? And if they are printed already and you can’t bring yourself to throw them away, why not give the duplicates to the people who were there with you in the photo. Let them share the memories of your time together with you.

Now that that’s done, don’t you feel better? Getting rid of clutter really is good for the soul! And with all the good photos you’ve saved, chances are you won’t miss the bad ones you’ve tossed. Plus it’s easier to do the next step: storing them.

Storing Photos

Old photobook

The hard part is behind you. Once you have organized all your photos, it is now time to put them away. We’ve mentioned the different methods of storing both digital and paper photos already, but let’s discuss that a bit more. 

If you are storing printed photos decide which ones you want to store in an album so they are easily accessible for you to look through when you want or show them off if you choose to. There is nothing like going through an album of vacation pics or a special occasion to instantly bring back great memories! For all the “extras” keep them safe in the envelopes we mentioned earlier, and for added protection put those envelopes in a plastic storage bin to keep them safe from moisture and other damage. 

Digital photos can also be kept safe by backing them up, whether it’s to your iCloud, an app, or even Facebook. Pick a safe place to back them up to, even if it’s a USB, where you can access them anywhere, that way if something happens to your phone, you still have access to your photos. 

Tips For Framing Your Old Photos

Now that you have organized all of your old photos, it’s time to consider which ones you want to frame and give a grand display on your wall or table.

Note: While we’re showing you how to preserve old photos to help them last longer, these are also precautions you should take before framing any piece, whether photos, art pieces, or posters. The precautions we outline below are for most standard consumer purposes, but if you have something that is extremely rare or valuable you’ll want to consult an art expert.

Use As Many Acid-Free Materials as You Can

Old photos with colored matboards

With frames, acid-free should be the name of the game — whether you’re using tape, backing, matboards, or anything else. We cover this on our puzzle framing guide, too, but it’s important to repeat for emphasis.

Without getting too much into the science of it all, to determine if something is acid-free you’d need to know if it has a rating of 7 or higher on the ph scale. If it’s less than 7, it would be acidic. Most products — such as tape or glue —will tell you if it’s acid-free. The backing that comes with each frame and framer’s tape we sell on our accessories page are both acid-free to ensure the life of your pieces. 

Why are acid-free products important? Well, your print — regardless of what it’s made of — has acids in it that will eventually cause yellowing in the image itself. This explains why a lot of older pictures have that general hue. Acid-free components such as backing or tape can help slow this process and even combat it.

Find a Quality Cover

above bed decor

Acids can be harmful to your print, but there’s also the issue of ultraviolet rays (UV), which can severely fade and damage your photograph. Fortunately, there’s a way to combat that, too. Most frame covers — whether glass or acrylic — offer some level of UV protection. 

When working with a framer  — if you’re consulting someone other than us — we recommend reaching out to them to see what type of cover they use, as well as what sort of UV protection it offers. Be assured that our Acrylic covers (both Clear and Non-Glare) are UV filtering for normal consumer applications, and will protect your photograph while enhancing its beauty.

Choose A Safe Display Area

ancient home decor

Where you place your art is as important as your cover. No matter how much protection your cover offers, direct sunlight will harm your photos over time. Give careful consideration to where you will display your framed photograph. Avoid areas such as near doors and windows where natural sunlight can wreak havoc on anything in its path. Likewise, be careful when high humidity (as in bathrooms) or heat (near ovens or fireplaces) is an issue.

Artificial lighting can also be a foe to your photographs. Of course, to be able to enjoy your photograph you have to be able to see it, so we’re not suggesting you keep it in the dark. However, soft diffusing light bulbs over, around, and near your photographs are the preferable way to go.

Of course, we are talking about photographs here, so as an added precaution be sure to scan/digitize your photographs before framing and hanging them. Store them on your phone, computer, or even on a flash drive, so in the event that there is damage for any reason, you will have a spare copy. 

Avoid Using Cardboard-based Products

Large mat for small picture

Cardboard-based products haven’t been used in most frames for a long time, and for good reason. Cardboard is heavily acidic. In the past many frames, especially store-bought, included cardboard, often corrugated, with the frame to act as an anchor for photographs.

When cardboard is in contact with a print for too long, it often causes severe degradation and/or yellowing. While you’d likely only find cardboard backings in cheaper store-bought frames nowadays, check any framed photographs you’ve had for several years and remove any cardboard backing to extend the life of those precious memories. 

Use a Low Maintenance Frame

old wall decor

Frames can come with varying degrees of maintenance requirements usually depending on the material they’re made of and where you hang them. That said, we would recommend — for an older photo, at least — to use as low maintenance of a product as you can. This limits the need to handle the frame itself which in turn lessens the possibility of mishandling your photo from the equation. This means that you won’t compromise your photograph by repeatedly touching or maneuvering it.

Here at Frame It Easy, you can rest assured that your frame will require little to no maintenance. Our wood frames are made with high-quality North American hardwoods and are as sturdy as they are beautiful. Our metal frames are aluminum-based and either anodized or powder coated to be durable and corrosion-resistant as well as decorative. Our corners are carefully mitered to not only achieve a perfect fit but to help keep pollutants and moisture away from your photograph.

So give your frame a new home, then leave it alone!

Keep the Oldies As Goodies

old family of four photo

Sometimes our oldest pictures bring back the fondest memories. However, they may not have been lucky enough to have been preserved as they should have been. If a photograph you treasure has been damaged, there are both professional and DIY ways to try to fix imperfections that may have occurred over the years. 

And don’t forget, we will gladly print your digitized photos for you so when your frame arrives it is all ready to go. Simply upload your photograph and we will use our top-of-the-line equipment to print and mount your photos. If we don’t think you will be happy with the photo once we’ve printed it, we will reach out to you before we continue.

Final Thoughts

Frame family recipes

Okay, we know that organizing does not sound like much fun. In fact, with photos, it can seem downright daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. This could be a really fun activity for you to do with your family. Go through and remember all the fun times you had together, Tell a funny story from the memory or simply remember a loved one who may no longer be with you. Or if you’re doing it solo, make yourself a nice cup of tea or pour yourself a glass of wine and you may find it a lot more enjoyable than you thought.

Once you are done organizing your photos, choose a few to display for your home or give as a gift to a loved one. Head on over to our Frame Designer and start creating!  And don’t worry about the size of your photos or the space you have to display them. Check out tips on framing small art or if you want to frame a large photo we have tips for that too! Don’t forget what we always say, the best part about custom framing is that it’s up to you. We let you design your perfect frame from start to finish, so it arrives exactly how you want it! 

Be sure to share your framed photos with us on social media so we can see what you created. Want to be one of our Featured Friends? We will share your photo in our weekly email for all our framing friends to see. Join our mailing list and send your photos to creative@frameiteasy.com with the subject “Featured Friends” and tell us why you love Frame It Easy!

This post first appeared as How To Preserve, Organize, and Frame Old Photos on Frame It Easy - Learning Center for Custom Picture Framing.

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