How to Preserve Your Negatives (as Much as Possible)

It turns out that taking care of your film after processing... is, well, a process.

You might be wondering, ‘is there even a reason to keep my negatives?’ Well yes, there is—They contain the most image detail; meaning they produce the highest quality prints & digital images. If you plan on exhibiting or selling your photographs, you’ll have the opportunity to scan them directly to digital and make improvements to the clarity and color of your images. And as technology improves over time, you’ll have broader restoration opportunities for your film, and may get more out of keeping your negatives.


However, the truth is, there's no way to make sure photographic materials last forever. But there are ways you can try. 


You might already know that you should...


  • Keep your films and prints somewhere dark, except when they are being used of course.
  • Keep them somewhere dry, without too much exposure to humidity.
  • Keep them somewhere cool, ideally less than 21 degrees celsius.
And, of course, always handle with care!
  • Only touch your negatives with clean and dry hands. Be sure to hold them by the edges, as the oils on your hands can damage them.
  • Keep your negatives free of dust & dirt prior to storing them.
  • Make sure to store negatives flat, as they can warp, which causes image distortion. This could also make them difficult to scan.
  • Don’t stack negatives. Any moisture in the air can cause the sheets of negatives to stick together. This could cause distortion and rips, and even completely destroy the film.
For the avid film photographer, these some pro-tips for long term negative and print storage:
  • Be weary of using grease pencils too liberally—if marks are made on your contact sheets, they should be rubbed off before they are filed, otherwise you might get contamination or staining. 
  • Consider your containers—the wood pulp used to make some cardboard containers and envelopes can cause degradation of the film. Use archival-grade rag paper or board instead. Make sure your storage materials are acid-free.
  • There's good plastic, and bad plastic—Put clean negatives in polyethylene sleeves. This kind of plastic is safe and won’t cause any damage to film. You can choose our archival film sleeves for safe storage of your 120 film and 35mm by PrintFile, which is the industry standard for film sleeving. They are PAT tested and passed, and PVC free, perfect for long-term preservation. 
But by far, the best way to keep your film photographs is to digitize them.
Creating digital scans of your film means you'll retain and improve quality, have more longevity, easier access, and be able to move your photographs across newer formats more easily as technologies evolve.
If you notice your film warping and wrinkling, or releasing a slightly foul vinegary scent, the natural breakdown process has already started. While that's likely a good thing for the environment, it's probably bad news for your photos. The best way to slow that process is to keep the negatives in a colder, dark place (careful not to let that temperature fluctuate too much, since humidity is also a culprit here), and you might like to attempt to digitize the film as soon as you can. If you have degraded negatives, it may still be possible to retrieve your images, and if so, you should consider getting them digitized.

Need to scan your negatives?

Leave it to us.

Equipped with an Epson Perfection V750 Pro Scanner, we offer high resolution digital scans at 12800 DPI, if you're looking to print your photos with us. With our scans you'll be able to print your images as large as A1, and comfortably crop, zoom in, maintain sharpness and fine detail in your images. Visit our dedicated page for film development and scanning to learn more.

Last little thing.

If you’re curious about ways to properly to archive your negatives and film photos, get a taster of film photographer Wesley Verhoeve’s PROCESS Newsletter where he shares his archiving methods via the Carmencita Film Lab blog. 

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