Album Redux: Questions and Answers, by Maureen Taylor

In May I wrote a column on photo albums to answer some of the questions posed in a previous article. The response to both of those has been a little overwhelming. There were so many questions about family photo albums that I barely know where to begin. I’ll start by addressing specific queries that appeared in the comments section of the blog.

Removing Photos from Magnetic Albums
Several folks wrote about using hair dryers to soften the glue on those magnetic (actually glue) pages. While initially that appears to be a good solution, let’s think about it. The golden rule of caring for photos is not to do anything to an image that can’t be undone. Resin-coated photos from the latter half of the twentieth century have surfaces that soften with heat, so by using a hair dryer you’re actually damaging the print. The hot air will soften the surface (or burn it if the setting is too high) then when the heat is removed the surface will once again return to its regular state. Also as soon as the glue begins to melt you start to remove the photo from the album and end up handling the heat softened surface of the print. The two solutions I mentioned–using a microspatula or dental floss–don’t involve changing the chemical properties of a print and are less likely to damage your pictures.

Scrapbook enthusiasts are very fond of a product called Un-Du for removing adhesive from the back of photos. However I think that some caution should be used. I realize this is going to be an unpopular piece of advice. Un-Du does a wonderful job of removing glue, but it is a chemical solvent. I wouldn’t use it on any heritage photos with a porous surface (e.g., a cardboard back). One of the ingredients in Un-Du is heptane–a solvent. If you are going to remove resin-coated photos from magnetic albums, use it sparingly. It’s not my first choice, but you can write in and convince me that it’s safe.

Scanning Resolution
One reader wondered why I recommended scanning all photos as TIFFs and not JPEGs. A TIFF is an uncompressed digital file which means you haven’t lost any of the digital data. Your photos will look like the original. If you want to edit your photos or resize them later, then TIFF is the format you want to use. Sure, JPEGs are great for sharing but it’s not considered an “archival” format.
Long-term Storage
Electronic storage solutions are only good for as long as the technology stays available. Use an external hard drive to back up your digital pictures, but also consider printing out special images using a dedicated photo printer with long-lasting inks and archival paper. All the major manufacturers now have products on the market that fit these criteria. You can read about product testing and recommendations on the Wilhelm Imaging Research website.

Several of the comments/questions require a column of their own. So watch for more updates in the future and keep posting your questions in the Comments section. You’ve given me great ideas for new articles. Thank you!

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Maureen Taylor, is The Photo Detective Her work on family photographs was profiled in the Wall Street Journal. You can read her blog at

You can buy Maureen’s latest book Capturing Memories: Your Family History in Photographs in the Ancestry Store.

4 thoughts on “Album Redux: Questions and Answers, by Maureen Taylor

  1. Another advantage to using TIFF format is that it allows you to store information about that image in the “file info” area. This is great for identifying persons in an image, a repository where it was located, and/or copyright data.

    I scan and keep my original images in (at minimum) 300 dpi TIFF format and create lower resolution JPEG copies to share with others initially. If they decide they want to keep that image I’ll send them the TIFF.

  2. for saving material – written, images, consider saving as .pdf files. This format is unlikely to go away any time soon and because it is controlled (essentially) by a giant company, it is more likely they will have backward compatible capabilities. I realize this involves purchasing the software, however given the benefits, it maybe a purchase worth making. (I am not associated in any way with Adobe)

  3. Thanks for your articles. They have been a tremendous help, but I have an additional question. I would like to get a quality scanner in order to scan old photos into my computer at the highest quality possible. Is there anything, in particular, that I should be looking for? Should I look for a dedicated photo scanner? Are there good ones that scan film images and 35 mm slides as well as photos? I looked at the Wilhelm Imaging website that you mentioned, but it didn’t direcly address this issue. Thanks.

  4. You are correct in telling people to print their pictures in addition to storing electronically. A distant cousin had hers stored on CDs and when she upgraded her computer and software, she was unable to access them. Ten years from now, our descendants will probably no longer be able to access our electronic records without taking them to someone who uses old equipment and charges an arm and a leg to convert them — case in point, old video camera cartridges and Also easier to make 2 copies and give someone else a copy in the event of a disaster so that all won’t be lost.

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