Preservation

How should I caption my photographic prints; is there a safe way to write on the back of photographs?

A safe way to caption a photograph is to write on the back with a soft lead pencil. Pencil is harmless to photographs, unlike some inks, and won't stain or run if the photo gets damp. However, modern snapshots and most photographs since 1960 are printed on resin coated (RC) paper-- a type of paper that is coated with plastic--which does not readily take pencil or ink. Usually a soft lead pencil will write on these photos, but it smudges easily (as does ink). Felt tip film marking pens, unlike ballpoint pens, do write well on RC papers as they are formulated for marking plastics. If film marking pens are used, allow the ink to dry before stacking prints together and take care not to smudge the ink before it dries. Inks are not easily removed from the front of photographs and many times leave a permanent stain. When writing captions on the backs of photos, place the photograph on a hard surface and write with light pressure to avoid embossing through to the front of the photograph. Label the back of photos along an edge; that way, if the inks cause damage the photo or if the photo is accidentally embossed, the damage will be restricted to the edge not the middle of the image

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
1-86-NARA-NARA or 1-866-272-6272

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