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Q. I plan to scan and digitally repair my early-1900s photos. Should I laminate the originals before I put them in an album?
A. In a word—no. Lamination, which permanently sandwiches a photo between two layers of plastic, can seem appealing because it adds durability and moisture resistance. But laminating photos violates the cardinal rule of conservation: Never do anything that can’t be reversed. “Any good practice will let you undo what you’ve done—in case technology changes or you change your mind about storage,” says Nancy E. Kraft, Preservation Librarian with the University of Iowa Libraries.
But if you try to remove the plastic laminate, you’ll end up tearing apart your photo. Lamination isn’t just irreversible; it’s also damaging. “The heat lamination process uses harmful adhesives to permanently bond the document to the plastic. It actually accelerates the chemical aging of documents and other items,” Kraft says. In a few years, you’ll notice that premature aging as fading and yellowing. Cold lamination, which doesn’t involve heat, is less damaging if the laminate is photo-safe. You could cold laminate a copy of a photo so it’s sturdy enough to, say, pass around at a family reunion. But since the process is permanent, preservationists don’t recommend cold laminating an original photo.
An archival-quality album is probably sufficient protection for photographs, but if you want an extra measure of security, there’s an alternative to lamination: You can encapsulate your prints between Mylar sheets secured with photo-safe double-stick tape. If a flimsy item needs support, Kraft suggests mounting it with photo corners on acid-free cardstock before you encapsulate it. You also could place your photo in a storage sleeve, available at craft stores.