Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge advocate of printing your work, and I have recently had a few questions about storing and transporting prints. When you start printing, it doesn’t take long for you the prints to start piling up. It won’t be long before you have stacks of prints on your desk, the floor, bookcase, on top of the printer, and just about any other flat space you can find.
The feng shui is horrible when you have piles of stuff laying around. Prints can easily get scratched, dented, corners bent, covered in dust, spilled on and god knows what else can happen. You need to store your prints in something and keep them organized. For my portfolio work, I use archival boxes for storage. Archival boxes have a neutral PH so there isn’t any acid in the paper of the storage box that can contaminate and ruin the prints. While it might not seem like a big deal at first, these prints will live in these boxes for years, in some cases, and over time can damage the work. For my working prints, I prefer archival storage boxes. You can see a theme starting to emerge. They are more expensive but not when you add in the time, paper and ink to reprint.
Because a working print is one that will be handled a lot, sorted, edited and used over and over again, I like to make sure that my working print box have a drop front. A drop front allows you to slide the prints out without having to risk bending the corners to lift the prints out of the box. The working prints are accessed a lot, so anything that can ease that access is a plus. In contrast, the portfolio images are more delicate and not touched as much. I don’t worry at all about color inside or out. These are just boxes to hold things
The boxes for portfolio prints are thinner and more classic looking to me. I use boxes that are black exteriors with white interiors. These boxes are used to showcase the work. I want boxes that look as clean and professional as possible. For my larger portfolios, I always make sure that the box has a drop front for the same reasons discussed above. And, if the portfolio box ever gets a rip or tear in it is replaced with a clean new box. The older box is converted into a working print storage box.
I have general boxes for the various print types. I have a working box for color, black and white, alternatives processes, etc. I also have working boxes for specific projects. The boxes come in a variety of heights, and so I get the taller boxes when possible. I also have a variety of sizes of print boxes. I have found over the years that if you have prints that are significantly smaller than the box they are in that they will slide around and get damaged. So you want to make sure that if you are printing 8×10 and 13×19 that you have the appropriate size box for each print size.
It is also important to label your print boxes. As you print and build collections, you will end up with multiple boxes. Most of these boxes will look alike so having a label on them allows you to know easily what is in the box and keep you better organized. I have a template for some Avery 2×3 inch packing labels that I use to print my labels. That way they have my branding on them and add a touch of professionalism to the work, and it is easy to spot my box in amongst others at reviews.
I have been asked about using the old boxes that the paper comes in for storage, and if you are on a tight budget that is a good temporary solution. Those boxes aren’t archival and meant for long-term storage. I also think it is much more professional to show up with a storage box, even it is full of work prints, that doesn’t have Epson or Canson on the outside.
You want your photographs to stand on their own, and the presentation you provide starts the minute the prints are in front of someone. Having them open a nice archival box tells them that you care about the images and in turn so should they.
Here are some links to the products that I use for both my working prints and portfolio prints. Like I said the biggest thing to look for is acid-free and archival. Also, you can get some great information from the Library of Congress on long-term photographic handling and care here.
Archival Products sells an amazing amount of image storage boxes. Not all of them are archival, but great selection. I like the Onyx Portfolio and Museum drop front boxes. The also make a drop side box for large print storage. Archival Products has great shipping times and I have had good customer service from them.
Light Impressions Direct has a lot of archival products. I like TrueCore and Black Portfolio boxes. I have had a lot of products shipped from them for film, negative and print storage. Everything has always shown up on time and well protected.
Gaylord Archival also has a great selection of acid-free boxes and portfolios. They have nice portfolio and drop-front box options.
Systematic Filing has a number of boxes available including flat storage boxes and negative storage boxes
Just in case you are doing tintypes Lund Photographic makes an awesome storage box for your plates.