In the age of smartphones and professional cameras, Polaroid pictures remain popular thanks to their nostalgic appeal. There’s just something about holding a physical print that never seems to get old.
Unfortunately, Polaroids can fade or become damaged over time, just like regular printed photos. Luckily, there are some easy ways to slow down their aging process and keep them from fading.
In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about preserving Polaroids. We cover the best places to store them, common storage mistakes to avoid, and proper maintenance – by the end, you’ll know how to keep every picture in excellent condition!
Why Polaroids Are So Popular
Polaroids provide people with a convenient and nostalgic experience that digital photography just can’t compete with. After all, who wouldn’t want an instant print of an Instagram-worthy moment?
Its point-snap-print feature allows users to have instant physical copies of moments that catch their eye. Because of this, it isn’t surprising that people still find value in keeping their one-of-a-kind Polaroids in the best condition for as long as possible.
How Long Do Polaroid Photos Last?
The key to preserving any Polaroid photo is knowing how to handle the film and developed print. Ultimately, making sure that photos are kept safely in an ideal environment is one of the best ways to prolong their life.
Polaroid photos can last decades when they’re stored in a dry, cool, and dark environment like an acid-free photo box or album.
Why Do Polaroid Pictures Fade?
There are three culprits behind why Polaroids yellow fade or become damaged: sunlight exposure, moisture, and room temperature fluctuations. The UV rays in direct sunlight, a humid environment, and heat are all known to degrade the chemicals in photos after some time. As much as possible, you want to avoid placing your Polaroids in these conditions to slow down their aging process.
Can You Fix A Faded Photo?
No. Sadly, once a photo fades or begins to yellow, there’s not much you can do to fix the original. When a photo fades, the film chemistry shifts and the changes on the image are irreversible. This makes it all the more important to take exceptional care of Polaroid pictures from the beginning to prevent them from taking on any damage.
However, all is not lost – you can have faded photos digitally restored at image restoration studios. Your original will still be damaged, but you’ll have a copy of that captured moment forever!
How To Preserve Polaroids
As mentioned, storing your Polaroid photos in a cool environment and out of direct sunlight exposure is the most effective way to protect them from damage. But there are even more simple tricks to ensure that they stay in their best condition for years to come!
Don't Store Them Right Away
Once you capture new Polaroid images, you may be tempted to add them into an album for safekeeping right away. Unfortunately, this is one of the most common storage mistakes that people make.
Give every Polaroid photo some breathing time for all the chemicals to set for the first 30 days. The image will need to dry for several weeks, so it’s best to temporarily store new Polaroid shots in a photo box first before displaying or adding them into an album.
Be Mindful Of The Storage Material
The American National Standards Institute mentions that Polaroids are no different from regular photos when it comes to deteriorating over time. It all comes down to storing them in the safest ways possible to ensure the longevity of images.
To prevent chemicals from reacting with your Polaroid prints, avoid storage materials like magnetic or plastic albums. The chemicals present in these materials can stain your photos and turn them yellow after some time. Instead, opt for albums or storage containers that are acid-free to help your photos retain their colors.
Don't Cut Your Polaroid Images
Drop those scissors right now! Before you cut the white borders of your Polaroid photos, you should know that doing so will severely and irreversibly damage them. When you cut off the borders, you’re breaking the protective seal of the Polaroid and introducing air into it. So unless you want your pictures to fade much faster, it’s best to ditch the idea of removing their borders.
Tip: To achieve the borderless look in your Polaroids, have them scanned and printed without borders instead!
Lay Them Flat In Storage
When storing your Polaroid photos, keep them lying flat where it has the most surface area. We don’t recommend storing it on its side since the photos are more likely to develop yellow stains on the edges.
Hold Them By Their Corners
Take care of the quality of your Polaroid prints by only touching their borders. Our fingers naturally secrete oil, so we risk leaving smudges or getting dirt on the photos when we touch them directly.
Protect Your Polaroid Displays With UV Filters
The majority of people hate stashing away their Polaroid images since they prefer to flaunt them on their walls or shelves. Luckily, you don’t need to choose between preserving or displaying them – simply glaze them with UV protection! Acrylic and glass with UV protection work very well for picture frame glazing, so try it out if you want to create a nice display for yourself without risking damage to the photo.
Scan your Polaroids
No matter how well you take care of your Polaroid photos, they’re eventually going to fade or become brittle. Unfortunately, Polaroids are not archival, but there is a practical way to preserve your memories.
Scanning your Polaroids allows you to have digital copies of every precious Polaroid photo you own. While you can (and should) still do your best to keep the original photo in great condition, you’ll at least have a backup in case of any mishaps.
The Best Places To Store Polaroids
Protect your prints from unwanted light exposure and fluctuating temperatures in a creative and fun way. Here are some ideas on where you can place your Polaroids!
Time Capsule Photo Box
Want to make a “buried treasure” for your future self? Collect all your Polaroids and keep them in a treasure chest (or shoebox) to make a time capsule. Add a date for when you should open it, so you can take a trip down memory lane and revisit some of your favorite photographed memories in the future.
DIY Photo Album
Use photo albums and scrapbooks to organize your Polaroids and show them off to all your loved ones. Get creative and come up with a fun theme, or design them with embellishments or doodles! To get things started, stock up on acid-free materials of archival paper, markers, and a hardbound cover.
Tip: Remember that a print stored on its side is more likely to develop yellowing, so lay your albums flat in storage. If you have a lot of albums, stack them on top of one another rather than positioning them upright.
Recycled Polaroid Film Pack
Why toss out a perfectly nice film pack when you can repurpose them into a sleeve for holding several Polaroids? Recycling the film container is an awesome way to save money and space for storing your Polaroids. On top of that, you can conveniently place them away from direct light and easily move them anywhere.
How To Produce The Best Polaroids
While it’s good to understand the best practices of storing Polaroid photos, it’s even better to have photos developed in optimal condition before you even store them. When you have developed images that look great, they stand a greater chance of lasting much longer.
Here are some tips on handling new Polaroid film and preserving the unused film inside the camera:
Properly Store & Use Polaroid Film Packs
The cardinal rule for unopened Polaroid film is to keep it out of harsh light at all costs. Polaroid film is tightly sealed in a cartridge that protects it from light exposure, so that every image retains a rich, vibrant color contrast once it’s ejected.
However, Polaroid film only lasts 12 months after its production date. They need to be used before they expire if you want to produce photos of the best quality. Typically, the film package will have a stamp that indicates its expiration date at the bottom corner of the box.
To achieve the best results for any photograph, don’t take too long to use up all the film once it’s in the camera. If you’re a photographer with multiple cameras, it would be helpful to keep track of when you opened a new film package.
Note: Any film used beyond expiry will leave you with dull color contrast due to the chemicals damaging the image in the development process. This is also true for Instax film, according to Fujifilm.
Stick Your Film In The Fridge To Prolong Its Shelf Life
Although film ages pretty quickly, you can slow down the process by sticking it in the fridge. Yep, you read that right. Placing your film in an air-tight container in your fridge keeps it at a constant cool temperature and protects it from light exposure that could damage it.
Ideally, you should keep your film at a temperature of 41°F-65°F. Just remember to let it return to room temperature before use. You also shouldn’t let it reach freezing temperatures – otherwise, you could damage the film chemistry and ruin the whole film pack.
Take Care Of Film Inside The Camera
Generally, you should use the film packs inside the camera within the first month to get the best color and image detail in your photography. Once the film is inside the camera, it becomes susceptible to moisture as it isn’t safely sealed in a cartridge anymore. As a result, the film may not perform very well because of the damage from moisture or humidity.
Be Mindful Of Temperature Changes
For any photographer who frequently has to work in environments with temperature fluctuations, moisture and humidity are prevalent issues. For example, when photographers move from a cold to a warm temperature, moisture can build up inside the camera and damage the film.
Since Polaroids tend to be quite sensitive to drastic temperature changes, this limits where you can shoot. For this reason, you should make sure that the temperatures are safe enough for your Polaroid cameras before attempting to use them so that you don’t end up destroying them or the film.
Clean The Camera Roller Regularly
It’s not enough to take care of your film, you also need to keep every part of your camera clean, especially the camera roller! Take a microfiber cloth and dampen it with a little bit of water to remove any dirt or residue that may stain your print as it rolls out from inside the camera. Sometimes, dirty rollers prevent the film chemistry from spreading out evenly, producing distorted images as a result.
Learn The Image Settings
To get the best image results, you need to study the camera settings and their functions. If an image is overexposed upon being developed, its color will only continue fading with age. This creates Polaroids that are difficult to preserve! Practice shooting in different lighting environments to get the hang of the settings and take stunning photos that you’ll want to keep forever.
Let Your Polaroids Last A Lifetime
Polaroids can stand the test of time when you know how to store them well. With the help of this article, you learned the proper ways of photo storage and how to take excellent care of film.
While we strongly encourage everyone to preserve their original Polaroids, you may have some prints that have faded from improper storage in the past. Luckily, professional photo restorers like Image Restoration Center can save and digitally repair even the most damaged prints. So what are you waiting for? Start protecting your Polaroids safely and restore the old ones to look back on every memory in amazing quality.