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Now, this is what it's all about...

In order to preserve your autographs for a long time, it is important that they be preserved as best as they can be.  This means controlling the envrionment that they are displayed or stored in.  This page is for those of you who don't know what to do with your "prize" once you receive it.  In my ongoing research, I have found two different opinions on what to do.  One side believes that autographed items should only be stored in acid- and PVC-free plastic sleeves which should then be kept in binders under optimal conditions.  The other side says that the only way to go is to frame it and hang it on the wall.  Since you can archive anything that is priceless to you (dresses, newspapers, magazines, family/friend photos, AUTOGRAPHS!!!, etc...) I will discuss how to do it to autographed photos and cards (for ease, any term "item" used here is in reference to a photograph or card).  However, you can still use the ideas behind the process to archive just about anything.

While I agree with both opinions, I enjoy the hobby so much that I don't feel that I get the full benefit unless I display my autographs on my walls.  While I wait to have the time to frame them all, I do store them in protective sleeves and binders.  I particularly enjoy sharing them with my friends whenever they visit.

There are three ways to archive your autographs:  framing, storage, or encaspulation.  Framing and storage will be covered here but since I haven't tried encapsulating anything, I will not discuss it in detail (maybe later).  Encapsulation is the total confinement of an item within two sheets of transparent polyester or mylar film, which are larger than the item, and sealing it off from the outside environment using special double coated film tape.  Since the item will be protected from damages caused by handling, moisture, contact with acidic material and harmful chemicals (as long as the item is still 100% sealed), it can then be framed, handled or stored away.

Basic Guidlines on Handling Autographed Items
Here a few guidlines about preparing and archiving your precious items:
  1. ALWAYS clean your hands before handling any autographed item.  Only hold photos or cards on the edges and never touch the photo surface.  Oil from your hands can smear or stain it; I always wear gloves.
  2. ALWAYS store your autographs, whether temporarily or permanently, in a dark, low humidity area.  The UV rays emitted by sunlight is the most damaging way to lose your item.  Also, humid areas will cause a fungus to grow, yellowing the paper or photo (also known as "foxing").  Both types of damage are irreversible.
  3. ALWAYS use acid-free materials (neutral pH) whether it is a backing board, mat board, tape or paper. An acidic environment will turn the paper or photo yellow and make it brittle.  Acids have a pH of 6 or lower; neutral pH is 6.5-7.5 and alkyline is 7.6 or higher.  You can purchase acid-free materials at frame shops, hobby shops or office supply stores.  Only buy it if it states on the packaging that it's acid-free.  Alot of paper products are processed in an acidic state (wood pulp and recycled paper products), which stay acidic in its final state.  To make sure an item is neutral, you can purchase pH markers that will detect pH ratings.
  4. ALWAYS use PVC-free plastic.  This pertains to the plastic protective sleeves and corner tabs used to store and secure your photographs.  Use only sleeves that are made of polypropylene.  PVC gasses will permanently damage any item it comes into contact with (see the STORAGE section below).
  5. If you frame your autographs, you should purchase UV protective glass.  It may not provide 100% protection against damaging UV rays, but it will protect them better than regular glass (remember, sunlight is very damaging).  It is a little bit more expensive but well worth it on valuable or precious items.  You can purchase this glass at hobby shops like Michael's or you can ask for it at glass shops (duh!).
  6. NEVER use tape, glue or any other adhesive if it is not intended for photographic or archival purposes.  Regular, every-day tape is not acid nor PVC free.  The adhesive will not only damage the item but it will stay on it even after the tape has been removed.  You can even use transparent self-adhesive photo corners.  You should always have it in mind that one day you may want to replace the item's environment so make sure that you are able to remove it cleanly.  The safest way to.
  7. A mat SHOULD be used to compliment the item.  Also, due to changes in humidity, if the photo is not matted and is pressed against the glass, it may eventually stick to it, permanently.  Believe me, I have lost a few non-autographed photos trying to peel the photo away from the glass.

If you don't feel comfortable with framing a valuable item but you really want to display it, I recommend making a photocopy of it and then frame that.  You can then safely store your "original" in a safe and secure environment.

Storage (Sheet Protectors)
Through my fiance, Erica, I found lots of information from various wonderful and informative articles on sheet protectors through a great magazine called Creative Keepsakes.  This magazine is THE leading publication for the scrapbooking hobby.  I highly recommend this magazine as it is very thick and nicely printed with TONS of information, ideas, and tips not only for scrapbooking but also archiving photos.  They also have a committee made up of the industry's top leaders and researches who give their own "CK OK" stamp of approval on archive quality.  I invite everyone to subscribe to it (no, I don't work or, in anyway, profit from this promotion) - you can subscribe by writing or calling: Subscriber Services
Creative Keepsakes
P.O. Box 469007
Escondido, CA  92046-9007
Web site:   www.creatingkeepsakes.com
Phone:  888-247-5282
International:   760-745-2809
Fax:  760-745-7200

Subscription rates are $23/year for ten issues (for multiple years and International subscriptions, I recommend calling or writing them for more info)

Now on to protection...here's some information from an article from the Sept./Oct. 1999 issue of Creative Keepsakescalled "The Skinny on Sheet Protectors" by Gayle Humpherys.  It details what are the good types of sheet protectors and the types to avoid.   Although this article talks more in regards to protection of the photograph itself, it is a great bit of information that can deal with autographed photo preservation.  The author of the article interviewed a preservation specialist named Jeanne English to get the straight facts on what makes sheet protectors safe for your memories.

Types of Sheet Protectors Materials
  • Mylar/polyester.  Mylar and other forms of polyester are an excellent archival material.  Mylar is fairly stiff and is used often for side-loading protectors.  these types of protectors usually have holes punched in them and also require the material stored inside to have punched holes.  They often include a black backing paper, which you can discard.
  • Polyethylene.  Polyethylene isn't commonly used for top-loading sheet protectors.  Instead, you'll find it used for protectors with divided slots, such as designed to store negatives.
  • Polypropylene.  Polypropylene is the preferred - and most common - material for top-loading sheet protectors.   Several different companies make quality polypropylene protectors.  For a list of companies whose sheet protectors carry the CK OK seal of approval, see the "Certified to Be Safe" list below (along with web links or addresses of the companies).

All three of these plastic materials are soft, pliable and have no odor - characteristics to look for in an archival product.  Two plastic materials to ALWAYS avoid are acetate and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).  Acetate can appear similar to Mylar, but Jeanne suggests that one way you can tell the difference is that acetate tears very easily, while Mylar won't.  PVC - or vinyl - is a stiff plastic.  It will stick to itself, as well as to the top emulsion layer of your photographs.  As mentioned earlier, vinyl emits harmful gasses, so vinyl sheet protectors usually have a definite chemical odor.  Jeanne cautions that you should NEVER use any sheet protector, or any archival material for that matter, that has an odor.

Sheet Protector Choices
Sheet protectors come in several different varieties, including different weights, appearances, and styles.  Here are a few thoughts on these topics:
  • Weight.  Heavyweight sheet protectors are usually more durable.  this gives you more protection but also adds more bulk, resulting in fewer pages per album.  However, what one company labels as "heavyweight" might be different than another company's definition, so compare different brands to find a weight you like.  Jeanne's favorite is a medium-weight protector, which is still durable but not too bulky.
  • Clear vs. non-glare.  The choice between clear or non-glare sheet protectors is often thought of as one of personal preference.  Jeanne recommends clear sheet protectors as the best choice - not only because the colors in the photos show through more brilliantly, but because some companies might add "particulate matter" to make their sheet protectors non-glare, which can result in scratching on the top emulsion layer of your photos.
  • Pocket divisions.  In addition to full-page, top-loading sheet protectors, you can also find protectors divided into pockets designed to hold individual photos or negatives.  Jeanne points out that these types of protectors are a fast and easy alternative to traditional scrapbooking.  You can also get more pages in a single binder, and the photos can be labeled by writing directly on the sheet protector with a permanent, photo-safe pen.  Many protectors also leave a strip beneath each pocket for writing in a caption or label.

Certified to Be Safe (according to Creative Keepsakes)
Numerous companies manufacture sheet protectors.  The following offer protectors that are CK OK certified.  You can count on them to be safe for your pages!
C-Line Products, Inc.
Mt. Prospect, IL
Fiskars Inc.
7811 W. Stewart Ave.
Wausau, WI  54401
Generations by Hazel
Eagle OPG, Inc.
St. Louis, MO  63141
Paper Adventures
Pioneer Photo Albums, Inc.
9801 Deering Ave.
Chatsworth, CA  91311
Fax: 818-882-6239
E-Mail: pioneer@pioneerphotoalbums.com
The Archival Company
PO Box 1239
Northampton, MA  01061-1239

Slip Agents in Polypropylene Sheet Protectors
Here is also some information on about slip agents in polypropylene sheet protectors that may cause smudging :
"If you're using polypropylene sheet protectors, you might see some smudging when the scrapbook pages are removed. According to Ed Stack of C-Line Products, a leading manufacturer of sheet protectors, this smudging is the result of "slip agent."  Slip agent is a material added to polypropylene during the manufacturing process to allow the sheets to run smoothly through the machinery.  As the polypropylene ages, the slip agent migrates to the surface, where it's needed to work properly. If the polypropylene rolls are processed too soon or if too much slip agent is added, the residual slip agent can continue to migrate to the surface of the processed polypropylene.  Heat and pressure speed up this migration process, and smudging can result.
Ed assured [Gayle, the writer] that slip agent isn't harmful to photographs and doesn't affect the quality of the sheet protectors. Storing sheet protectors away from heat and direct light can reduce the smudging.  Contact the manufacturer if a great deal of smudging occurs, as the sheet protectors might be from a faulty batch of polypropylene."
Source: Sept./Oct. '99 issue of Creative Keepsakes by Gayle Humphreys

Note:  In my opinion, although the article is mainly concerned with possible cosmetic effects on the photo, with autographs, this may be more of a concern with potential damage to any paint pen-used autographs so take great care in choosing the right material.

(WARNING:  Still Under Construction and not anywhere as complete as I want it to be)
Here is a list of basic items that you will need before framing:

  • frame with glass (I prefer aluminum frames with UV reflective glass)
  • mat cutter (there are various styles ranging from $25 to $1300 - Logan makes very nice ones)
  • utility knife
  • razor blade
  • pencil (3H or harder)
  • kneaded eraser
  • ruler with at least 1/16-inch increments
  • metal straightedge with a non skid base
  • acid-free backer board
  • acid-free mat board (they come in many different colors and textures)
  • acid -free linen tape
  • clear polypropylene corner tabs
  • large, solid and smooth surface to work on
  • straightedge clamp (optional)
  • matline (optional)
  • dusting brush (optional)

On this page I will attempt to show you how to do it correctly (with alot of help from Light Impressions).  The materials you should use are VERY particular and some of it can be purchased at your local hobby shops or picture framers.  Some of these places may even hold classes that teach you proper techniques.  Here is a company I use that specifically sell archiving materials:

Light Impressions
PO Box 940
Rochester NY  14603-0940

Check out Light Impression's web site for more detailed, professional information.  You can also order directly from their site but at least order their free catalog and tip pamphlets!

Below, you will find descriptions and pictures showing, step-by-step, how I mat and frame my pictures.  Since I am a HUGE fan of signed index cards, I will also show you how to combine them with your favorite photo into one frame.  Now, I am not a professional picture framer (I learned on my own), I'm sure I'm not doing it everyone's way but, mine look good, nonetheless.  I will also show you the finished product.

I hope this page helps, because I have yet to find one that will tell you how it's done much less show you.  Besides, I have as much fun framing my own items as I do collecting them.  If you still don't feel comfortable doing it on your own, you can always go to a professional picture framer if you are willing to pay the high cost.  This way you know you will have it done right.

And now onto the show...

Purchasing the frame and preparing the mat:
  1. Choose a frame big enough to hold not only the autographed item(s) but also part of the mat.  The chart below will help you choose the right size frame.  Custom frames cans also be ordered or built using frame kits.
    Item(s) To Be Matted: Frame Size:
    3" x 5" card or photo 5-1/2" x 7-1/2"
    4" x 6" card or photo 8" x 10"
    8" x 10" photo 11" x 14"
    8" x 10" photo and index card 14" x 17"
    11" x 14" photo or other item 16" x 20"
  2. To get the right size of the mat, pencil small marks twice at each edge of the glass from the frame onto the back of the mat.  Try to place the glass along an edge that was factory cut because it should already be clean cut and straight.
  3. Line up the straightedge with the marks and using the utility knife, cut from side to side.
  4. Find the center of the mat and pencil in lines showing the center both vertically and horizontally.
Preparing the window:
  1. Measure the viewable area (the part of the item that you want showing through the mat window) of the item to determine the size of the window .  Using light pencil marks, mark the center of the item with marks at the top, bottom and both sides.
  2. As a general rule, mat borders should be at least two inches wide with both sides and the top having the same width; the bottom should be 1/4" to 1/2" wider.
  3. Using the centering lines on the back of the mat as a starting point, transfer the measurements of the item onto the the mat and mark them with the pencil.
  4. Since the window should be smaller than the item, the mat should overlap it by at least 1/4" (if the desired viewable area is to the edges of the item, measure in 1/4".)
  5. Before moving on to the cutting out of the window, measure each side to make sure that the window edges will be exactly parallel to the mat edges.  If they are not, cleanly erase all the marks with a kneaded eraser and begin again.
Cutting the window:
  1. Line up and secure the straightedge to the left of the window guideline - the mat cutter must be lined up on the inside (right) of the window's cut-away section in order to get the correct beveled cut.  (Note:  use a clean, sharp blade to get a smooth, clean cut)
  2. Starting at one corner, place the mat cutter against the straightedge; if your mat cutter comes with a start/stop indicator and a retractable blade, lower the blade when the indicator lines up to the guideline perpendicular to it.
  3. Push the mat cutter smoothly along the straightedge with a downward 45 degree angle.  This helps prevent the cutter from raising up.  The cut should follow the guideline.
  4. Slow down as you approach the last of the cut.  Stop when the indicator reaches just past the other perpendicular window edge.   Cutting barely past the window guidline will ensure that the cut-away will come out without ripping it.
  5. Raise the blade and repeat steps 1 thru 4 going clockwise until all four edges of the window have been cut.
  6. Carefully remove the cut-away.  If a corner of the cut-away is still attached, cut it off with a sharp razor blade.
  7. Erase all of the pencil marks on the back of the mat.
Assembling the mat:
  1. After the window mat is cut, it must be attached to a backing board.  Cut the backing board the same size as the window mat.
  2. Lay the mat face down and the backing board face up with the tops butted against each other.
  3. Cut a strip of linen tape about 1 inch shorter than the width of the mat.  Place it across the seam between the mat and backing board.
  4. Close the mat like a book and check that the corners of the mat and backing board line up.  If not, remove the tape and realign them.