Making scrapbooks to preserve family memories has made an extraordinary comeback in recent years. It originally became very popular, in a slightly different form, during the European Renaissance. The earliest books were called commonplace books, and were used to copy down bits of philosophy, quotes, poetry, and anything else of personal interest to the writer. As magazines and newspapers became more prevalent, commonplace book creators found it easier to snip out an article and past it into a commonplace book than to hand copy it.
Todays scrapbooking is more than just cutting a few items from a newspaper and gluing them into a book. A whole industry is devoted to special pages, stickers, photograph holders, fancy cutouts, and multicolored papers. There are even websites and magazines devoted to it. Unfortunately, even with so many products available to choose from, many of them are not the best materials to use to keepsake memories.
Before we get started, first read Buzzwords in the Archival Industry.
Here are some clues to use when buying scrapbooking materials and laying out your pages.
Mounting photographs, paper, and other items on a scrapbook page adds quite a bit to the thickness of the book. Use albums that can expand as you go, or the type that comes empty and takes refill pages. This will avoid strain on the spine and bending of the covers.
Using a binder style album allows for mixing of different kinds of pages: photograph and document sleeves, polyester envelopes, heavy paper, even matting board or heavy cardstock.
Page protectors are a good idea. They are used to keep one page from sticking to or discoloring its facing page. Look for polypropylene, polyester, or Mylar page protectors and strictly avoid any made from vinyl or PVC. The one caveat here is that polyester and polypropylene page protectors can create some static cling with the pages they are supposed to protect. Therefore, if you have items with chalk, pencil, colored pencil, pastel, charcoal, etc. on them, avoid the polyester and polypropylene page protectors and use a paper interleaf of acid free/lignin free/unbuffered paper.
Buy materials that have passed the Photograph Activity Test: they will last longer, and so will your scrapbook.
Paper that is acid free, lignin free, and pH neutral is best for use in scrapbooks which hold photographs and are intended to stand the test of time. Paper that is buffered, or with a pH above 7.0, is not good for color photographs but is fine for many other scrapbook enclosures.
The paper used as pages in scrapbooks needs to be rather thick to hold the weight of the keepsakes being attached to it. A good weight of paper for the pages is 80 lb. Artists 80 lb 100% rag paper can make fine scrapbook pages in a binder style album. Acid free/lignin free/ and pH neutral paper is best for this use.
Decorative papers come in many colors and patterns. However, they are not necessarily colorfast and so will bleed if they get wet. Even a little moisture can cause a non-colorfast item to discolor an adjoining piece. Non-colorfast papers also fade more over time than colorfast papers. Many decorative papers are now being made to be colorfast. Other terms for colorfast are lightfast and fade-resistant.
While adhesives are necessary in scrapbooking, some adhesives are better quality than others, and youll want the best type to keep things in place for a long time. Do not use rubber cement, glue sticks, hot glue guns, and many types of tape. There is tape available with acid free adhesive: look for the kinds that are acid free, with an acrylic based adhesive. Many have even passed the Photographic Activity Test. There are also some acid free types of glue, usually polyvinyl acetate (PVA), than can be used in small quantities.
Stickers might say they are acid free, but be sure that includes the adhesive as well as the paper. Look for stickers that have acrylic based adhesives.
Pen inks, stamping inks, and printing inks
Many inks are water soluble and will run when damp or wet. Some inks also contain solvents (such the ink used in Sharpies) and can dissolve photograph emulsions or eat through pages. Many inks are dye based, are not colorfast and will fade very quickly. Look for pigment based inks, as they are more stable and will last longer than dye based inks. There are pigment based inks available in pens, on stamp-pads, and for ink-jet printers.
Traditional Photographic Prints
The photographs that will last the longest are black and white, platinum photos, followed by black and white, silver photographs. Color photographs are not as long lived, but the right materials will lengthen their lifespans immensely. Instantly developing photos are not good for use in scrapbooks and tend not to last more than a few years before they discolor.
Photographs in scrapbooks are at higher risk of damage than properly stored photographs, so copies should be used rather than originals.
It is best to use materials which have passed the Photographic Activity Test with photographs. This includes adhesives, page protectors, mounting corners, and the like.
Wash hands and dry them thoroughly prior to handling photographs. Handle them by the edges, as fingerprints on the face of photographs can permanently damage emulsions. Be sure not to have any hand lotions or creams on your hands when working with photos.
Gluing a photograph directly to a page, even using acrylic based adhesives, can stain it and make it difficult to replace it if the need should arise. Mounting a photograph on a page using photograph corners is the best approach. There are many types of photograph mounting devices; the best to use are polyester, polypropylene, or acid-free/lignin free pH neutral paper photograph corners. They come in decorative designs and colors and can add art, as well as safety, to your page. Photocorners are also good for mounting postcards and similar items.
Photographs can be damaged by being next to buffering chemicals, such as those found in buffered paper, buffered tissue, or an item that has been sprayed with deacidification spray.
Placing stickers directly on top of photographs will destroy emulsion and ruin the photo wherever the sticker touches. The damage is not reversible.
Many scrapbook magazines advocate silhouette cropping of photographs. However, this will cut out the background completely and perhaps lose salient points of the photograph. As decorations, silhouette cropping may be effective. As a way to remember family settings, it may throw the baby out with the bath water. Keeping some background in a photograph will help future generations to place the subject, especially if it is the only photograph with that background in the album.
For more information on traditional photography, see the traditional photography section of "Starting out right - choosing the media for your purpose."
The printing inks and the paper used in printing a digital photograph on an ink jet printer have a direct effect on how long that photographic print is going to last. Many new printers and inks are coming out on the market daily in answer to demands for longer lasting photographs. Photographs from many early digital printers have lasted only a few years before fading. When choosing inks, look for those that are pigment based.
Use high quality paper: acid free/lignin free/pH neutral. Fine art paper works very well for printing photographs on inkjet printers. A number of companies that make photographic printers also have developed long lasting paper that is made specifically for their printers.
Dye diffusion thermal transfer printing, sometimes also called dye sublimation printing, is available at many photo labs and now even at home on small, specialized photograph printers. This process uses heat to vaporize dyes and plant them into paper. This process is relatively new and has not been effectively tested for longevity. However, the photographs usually have a UV protective coating on them and are considered to be fairly waterproof. There are some good quality papers available for use in these printers.
Dye sublimation has not yet been tested extensively for longevity at this time. Further testing may show that this type of printing will be permanent.
For more more information on digital photography, printers, inks, and papers, see the Digital Photographs section of Starting out right - Choosing the media for your purpose."
There are two kinds of lamination, neither of which is any good for preservation purposes. One involves heat, and the other involves a lot of pressure sensitive adhesives on both sides of the paper. Lamination does quite a lot of damage to whatever is inside, and it is not permanent. When delamination occurs, the item will fall apart.
Encapsulation is a much better option for protecting a fragile document. For more information, see "Encapsulation."
Deacidification spray is sold in scrapbooking stores and art supply stores and is touted by many scrapbooking instructors as a solution to all acid problems. Unfortunately, it cannot be used on everything. Deacidification solution works by adding a buffering agent to the item it is coating. Any acids in the item will be neutralized for a while but not permanently. Depending on the acidity of the item, the acids will eat their way through the buffering agent in seven to fifteen years. Also, most deacidification sprays use alcohol as their base solution. Although it dries quickly, it is still a wet application. Inks are very likely to run or smear when sprayed, as are non-colorfast papers. Even colorfast items and inks will be discolored by the buffering agent in deacidification spray. Color photographs are especially in danger of changing their colors through contact with deacidification solutions or items that have been sprayed with such. It is strongly advised that deacidification sprays be used sparingly and with caution. Also, only use them in a well-ventilated area.
Flowers, newspapers and other problematic enclosures
Locks of hair, flowers, and other fragile keepsakes are best added to a scrapbook page inside a polyester or polypropylene envelope mounted to the page. Small or specially sized polyester envelopes can be made easily with double sided tape. See Encapsulation for more information. Flowers and similar items will need to be thoroughly dried before being added to a scrapbook. One way to accomplish this is to press them between pieces of cotton blotting paper. Do not press them directly into a book.
Newspaper clippings are best added to a scrapbook as photocopies on permanent paper. Another option is to deacidify them and enclose them in a polyester envelope or sleeve. This option is not permanent, as the deacidification spray will only add buffering to an acidic paper. In time, the buffering will be gone and the paper will return to its acid state.
Menus, maps, and other folded items can be tucked into polyester or paper sleeves and the sleeve mounted on the page. The enclosure can then be slid out of the sleeve for perusal without damage.
Metal items such as coins and decorations may tarnish or darken over time. It might be convenient to be able to remove them easily if polishing is required. Photo corners are an option here, properly spaced, or use a polyester envelope. There also are polyester or polypropylene sleeves specially made for coin and stamp collectors which might be helpful to those interested in saving foreign coins and other mementos. A museum or archival supply company has materials made for mounting specific items. For information on museum and supply companies, see Conservation OnLine at http://palimpsest.stanford.edu/bytopic/suppliers/.
Material, lace, ribbon, embroidery floss and other fabric decorations
Many fabrics are acid free and perfectly safe for archival scrapbooks. Cotton and polyester are the longest lasting fabrics and tend not to decay when in contact with other items.
Silk deteriorates over time and can become very fragile.
Rubber contains sulfur and will deteriorate quite rapidly, sometimes affecting anything that it is near.
A note on journaling
Scrapbooks are todays memories saved for tomorrows generations. When you are journaling in your scrapbook, think of things that you would like your great-grandchildren to know about you and the family. It might be handy to keep in mind the reporters five key words: who, what, when, where and why.
Who is in the album? Not every picture needs a full label, but at some point, each person in the album should have their name and relationship to others filled out next to a photograph.
What is going on? What is it about this picture or this situation that you will want to remember clearly many years from now?
When and where did it happen? Be specific. Dates without a year in them will not be helpful in thirty years, and there are many places with the same name (Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon for example).
And why is it so interesting?
Journaling can happen on each page, or it can happen on pages in between, or at the end of the book. But having the memories written about with a bit of detail can help with particulars that might go missing over the years. If you are planning on making a scrapbook about a vacation, for instance, keep a journal with you to jot down little bits of information that might otherwise get lost when later working on the scrapbook.
For more information on preserving Scrapbooks, see Protect your Historic Scrapbooks.