The Best Way to Safely Label Photos

The Best Way to Safely Label Photos

Safely label your old family photos to preserve your genealogy and keep your family memories alive.

p>We tend to assume that people will know who those people are in photos, but as you may have learned, that’s not always the case. But it’s important to understand how to safely label photos to preserve the information for future generations. We had one reader write in that, “Before I knew any better, all my family photos are marked on the back in ballpoint pen. Will this damage them? Will the ink eventually seep through? I now have an archival marker for pictures going forward.”

Another reader wrote: “It seems that all the articles about photo restoration say not to write on the back of photos with anything other than a soft-lead pencil. Several years ago, I wrote names, etc. on the back of some of my photos using a waterproof and permanent ink marker that I purchased at a photography store. The pictures are still in perfect condition today. Is there any reason I shouldn’t be using this marking pen?”

Old Photos of People sepiaBoth of these questions address a similar issue: how to safely label photos to identify the occupants, locations and occasions for future generations. There are products on the market that make this question easy to answer.

Protect your old family photos

If you can, use a soft lead pencil to write information—including who’s in a photo, the date it was taken, the occasion, and where it was taken—on the back of a photograph (where the information will never become separated from the image). Soft lead is important because hard lead pencils will leave an indentation. Place the photo face down on a clean, dry surface and write with light pressure.

Unfortunately, pencils won’t work on the coated papers used for today’s photographs. Instead, purchase an odorless (when dry), waterproof, soft-tip marker. Just be careful to let the ink dry completely before you stack or store the image, because it is permanent. Ballpoint pens and regular felt-tip markers are not good choices for labeling photos: Ballpoint pens smudge and leave indentations in the photograph, and felt tip markers can bleed through the image. The good news is there are lots of choices for safe labeling tools in art supply stores and craft shops.

Repairing old damage

If you have photographs marked with ballpoint pens, any damage is already done. Previous generations didn’t have access to the photo-safe tools we have today. Don’t worry too much about it. You can scan the photos to preserve the image and digitally repair ink smudges, and make sure that you use appropriate products when identifying your photographs.

Learn to identify and safely label photos, and preserve your family memories with our Rescue Your Family Photos kit. Our Family Archivist’s Photo Preservation Kit has photo-safe labeling tools, storage materials, instructions and more to help you preserve your family photo collection for generations to come.

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