Why Old Photos Fade & How to Prevent It

As time goes by, old photos fade. Their colors become washed out, and black and white shades lose their distinction turning a dull grey. Sometimes, the image almost disappears completely. It’s sad to see the memories disappear along with it, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

Why do old photographs fade?

Faded Photo

Sunlight, air, and moisture all play a part in the deterioration of old photos. Plus, household chemicals, smoke and the acidic adhesives that are used to display photos affect their chemical makeup, leaving discolored marks and yellow or brown blotches. So, why does this happen?

Since the start of photography, there have been numerous printing methods – from albumen prints to gelatin-silver prints and dye transfer prints. They each use different techniques, but all contain three layers. Firstly, there’s the paper or equivalent backing, then a binding substance, and finally the pigmented materials used to create the picture itself. Each part of the photograph is sensitive to light and is vulnerable to its surroundings.

Most notably, it’s sunlight that’s the most common culprit of damaging precious old photos. The UV light causes photodegradation to the three layers in a way that’s not dissimilar to sunburn on our skin. Their high-energy rays break down the chemical bonds that bind the photograph’s pigments and dyes – destroying or rearranging the molecules. This process alters their appearance, causing them to break down and fade away.

Hays Family History

How to keep old photos from fading

Happily, you can save your treasured old photographs from fading. Here are four simple techniques that will help:

  1. Mount your photographs using museum-quality frames, which are acid-free and with UV resistant glass. They’ll also have a spacer that ensures the photograph doesn’t encounter the glass itself.
  2. Avoid displaying the original copy of the old photograph. Instead, make a high-quality scan and create a display copy that’s easy to replace.
  3. Store your photographs somewhere dark, cool and dry – often this means NOT in your basement, attic or garage.
  4. Keep photos away from sunlight, fireplaces or open windows to reduce the effects of UV rays, smoke, and air exposure.

Finally, always, always take a backup of your vintage photographs. They are precious antiques, containing your unique history and memories, so it’s worth caring for them. If you’re new to this, see our beginners guide to scanning old photographs for preservation and restoration.

Restored faded image, colorized

Can old faded photos be restored?

In short, yes. More times than not our photo restoration experts can bring even the most damaged images back to life.

You may be reading this because you have some photos that are already faded. Perhaps they’ve been hanging in a hallway for many years or sat in an old shoe box. Don’t despair – they may well be retrievable by our professional photo restoration services.

Get in touch today for a complimentary quote, and we’ll be happy to help.