Ways To Frame and Preserve Old Photos

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! With the right picture frame, you can make your photo last as long as your memories will. 

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 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. 

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 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

old wedding photo

So take a look around your house, on your phone, or in your photo albums for those frame-worthy photos and start planning to frame them! By using these guidelines we believe you will enjoy them for years to come. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Check out our Learning Center if you need help with measuring your pictures before framing to get the best results. As you may know, the smallest “Art Size” our frame designer will allow is 5″ x 5″ (the smallest frame rails our operators can safely cut!), but if your photograph is smaller than that we can still work with you — just check out our post on how to frame small art to learn how. 

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