Connecting to Collections Care Online Community

writing on the backs of photographic prints, photos

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    • #134163
      Charlene Martin

      I would like to write brief descriptive metadata on the back of my photographs. I have recently heard this is not good, that I should use strategies such as writing on foil-backed labels $$ then sticking them to photo backs, or use surrogate photocopies and indexing systems. However, I worry about the data getting separated from the photo. I don’t have the access regulation control that I would like to have, so this is a real possibility (except for the stickers).

      My question is: can I use Pigma Micron archival ink pens (Sakura Color Products Corp.), or should I stick to using soft-graphite pencils that the archival vendors sell? My impression was that the micron pen ink would eventually sink through the paper/RC layer of the photo, and end up on the emulsion side.

      Thank you!

      Charlene Martin/Archivist
      Sisters of St Francis
      Syracuse NY

    • #134164
      Anne Schaffer

      I wouldn’t advise you to write on the backs of photographs in anything other than pencil. I am not sure about the Pigma Micron pens, but a lightly pressed, soft-graphite pencil is a much safer bet.

      If your metadata is lengthy, then labels might be best.


    • #134165

      I always use a soft pencil to write anything on the back of photos. If they are tin types, we use a layer of fingernail polish, archival marking pen (white) and then a layer of marking pen after number has dried.

    • #134166
      Rachael Arenstein

      I thought that I’d make a quick comment on the use of fingernail polish. The process of putting down a barrier layer, then marking and then a top-coat (which is what I assume was meant!) is a commonly accepted procedure and is outlined nicely in the National Park Service Conserve-O-Gram on marking objects The Conserve-O-Gram also explains why the NPS was encouraging a switch to using Paraloid B72 as the lacquer layer over nail polish or other nitrocellulose based lacquers. Nail polish is certainly cheaper but it is not meant to last over time (think about how long a manicure is expected to last!). Nail polish is often chosen due to its ease of application in small bottles complete with brush applicator, but Paraloid B72 can now be purchased in this easy to apply form from preservation vendors such as University Products and Gaylord. If you are already spending the time on the right process then just a slight revision would make your procedure even better for the long-term!

    • #134167

      Thanks Rachael,
      I knew as soon as I recommended nail polish that there were better alternatives out there. I have had a few products recommended to me and you are the second one to recommend Paraloid B72. I think I will try it the next time I put in an order for archival supplies. Our archival supplier, Carr McLean (we are Canadian) sells it for 16.30 a one ounce bottle. I have tried it and found it satisfactory.

    • #134168
      Rachael Arenstein

      Evelyn, You are not alone! B72 has some quirks in its drying (some bubbling if the consistency isn’t quite right) that make it a little less appealing to some but that is outweighed by the long-term benefits. The cost is also an issue but that one ounce bottle will last a while and the Conserve-O-Gram explains how to top it off if it gets too thick. Best, Rachael

    • #134169

      Thanks Rachel, I have just printed the Conserve-o-gram and reread it. One thing that I have never noticed before is that it comes in white which means you can write on it and not need a layer of paint for dark objects, that would save a lot of time.

    • #134171


      Sign up for the next Webinar – Labeling and Marking Objects which will be presented on October 27 at 2:00 EDT. I think you’ll find helpful information there.

      It is better to record the Accession number on your photos and then, include their metadata in your catalog.


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