Creating a scrapbook

Scrapbookers, or scrappers, create layouts using photographs and mementos embellished with a variety of decorative features. These are compiled into albums or scrapbooks as keepsakes, often with the hope that they will last for generations.

With this in mind, there are several issues for scrapbookers to consider:

  • archival principles – the importance of preserving the integrity of irreplaceable original documents and photographs
  • materials – how to choose materials that age best
  • storage – how to reduce the risk of damage over time.

Preserving the integrity of original materials

It is important to keep significant original documents and photographs intact to ensure that they remain unchanged for future generations. Original records can be seen as evidence of our activities and our lives. Scrapbookers interpret people and events in their own way. While this process creates a new and unique record, it is important that what happens to the original photographs and documents does not prevent others from using these materials later.

In archives practice there are several important principles that are applied to ensure that the integrity of original materials is preserved. These principles are also relevant for scrapbookers. They involve keeping original records intact and keeping evidence of provenance or where they came from. In practice this may include:

  • keeping old albums intact rather than dismantling them
  • retaining the links or connections between original records and their original context, eg keeping records in their original order and keeping old inscriptions and labels (even if the significance of these links is unclear now, they may provide clues for future generations)
  • including sources of information and dates, eg when using magazine and newspaper clippings, include the name and date of the publication
  • ensuring that the most unique and important items receive the best care but the least intervention, eg using appropriate mounting methods to prevent long-term damage to originals
  • using copies of photographs or documents in layouts rather than originals.

Choosing materials that age best

Scrapbookers can give their creations a better chance at longevity by carefully choosing the materials they use.

'Acid-free' materials

The term 'acid-free' is problematic because it can be misleading or misapplied.

With papers, it is true that acids contribute to the accelerated deterioration of paper. However, on its own, the term 'acid-free' does not guarantee that a paper will be inert or long-lasting. For example, although many papers are acid-free when they are new, if they are made from poorly purified wood pulp, or if they contain unstable dyes or other ingredients, they can become acidic over time. It is better to look for more specific information.

It can be meaningless to describe plastics, adhesives and tapes as 'acid-free' because acids are not always responsible for the ways in which these materials deteriorate. Look for specific information about the particular type of plastic.

Choosing paper materials

Rather than looking for 'acid-free' papers, scrapbookers should look for the following terms:

  • lignin-free – lignin is found naturally in wood and is the substance that causes poor-quality papers such as newspapers to yellow and become brittle. If a paper is ‘lignin-free’ it means that the wood pulp has been more highly processed to remove lignin.
  • rag, rag pulp, cotton – these terms mean that the paper is made from cotton fibres rather than wood fibres. Cotton fibres are stronger and do not contain any lignin. Papers made from cotton can last for hundreds of years.
  • buffered, alkaline buffered, alkaline reserve – these terms mean that calcium carbonate has been added to the paper. Its purpose is to neutralise any acids, either from within the paper itself or from external sources such as acidic storage enclosures.
  • archival paper, permanent paper – archival paper or permanent paper is paper that has been tested to meet specific requirements to ensure that it is chemically stable, physically strong and has the potential to last for a long time.

The National Archives has its own standard for archival paper and has developed a trademark used to identify and certify papers that meet that standard. More information on this scheme can be found in 'Archival quality' trademark.

Scrapbookers should use a paper that claims to be permanent or archival. To ensure the claim is legitimate, it should be accompanied by a reference to a standard such as AS 4003 – 1996 or ISO 9706.

Choosing plastic materials

When choosing plastics, scrapbookers should look for the following:

  • PET or polyester (brand names Mylar and Melinex) – this is the most stable and inert plastic and should last for hundreds of years. It is also the clearest and the most expensive.
  • PP or polypropylene – this is much cheaper than polyester. It is not as clear, but is inert and does last well. Copy-safe sleeves are usually made from polypropylene.
  • PE or polyethylene – this is the cheapest option, yet still inert and quite long lasting. Zip-lock bags are usually made of polyethylene.

Scrapbookers should avoid products made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), easily recognisable because they are generally stiffer and heavier than other plastics, have a strong smell and a greasy feel. These features indicate a plastic with ingredients that will, over time, harm scrapbook pages. Plastic pockets and sleeves marketed as ‘archival quality’ are usually less likely to contain harmful ingredients. Even so, care should be exercised as there are no controls over the use of the words 'archival quality'.

Adhesive tapes and stickers

Self-adhesive or pressure-sensitive tapes, stickers and dots are not recommended for situations where long-term preservation is important, even if they are marketed as being 'acid-free' or 'archival'. This is because the adhesive spreads through paper and in most cases will eventually cause permanent stains. When the adhesive deteriorates, the tape or sticker may fall off. or it may become impossible to remove.

Some manufacturers have attempted to make tapes with inert backings and inert adhesives that are non-yellowing. However, these products have not yet stood the test of time and scrapbookers should be cautious about using them in direct contact with any valuable original items. The best approach is to use indirect methods to attach original items to scrapbook pages, such as photo corners or Mylar or polypropylene pockets.

Metal fasteners and embellishments

Many metals, particularly those containing iron or copper, react with paper and cause it to break down, leaving irreversible stains in the process. Metal staples, paper clips and embellishments such as brads and eyelets are not recommended where long-term preservation is important. They should not be used in direct contact with original photographs and documents.

Storage requirements

Choosing the right materials when creating scrapbooks will help to reduce deterioration from within, but it is also important to protect scrapbooks from external sources of deterioration. These include the materials used to store scrapbooks and memorabilia, as well as environmental conditions and potential disasters.

Housing and packaging

Some poor quality envelopes, folders and boxes may give off pollutants or acids that can accelerate the deterioration of layouts and scrapbooks.

Choose inert storage materials that are stable and less likely to react with different items of memorabilia. Some examples include good quality cardboard or plastic boxes (see above) and powder-coated metal filing cabinets or shelves.

Wooden cabinets, shelves or boxes are not inert. Wood, plywood and chipboard give off organic acid vapours that can discolour paper and make it brittle. Melamine coated chipboard (commonly used for shelves in new cupboards) is suitable, as long as the edges of the chipboard are also covered, because the melamine slows down the release of vapours.

Environmental conditions

All materials deteriorate faster as temperature and humidity levels increase. Scrapbookers should choose the coolest, driest place in their house to store scrapbooks, family documents and photographs. Avoid hot areas such as sheds and attics, damp areas such as basements, and steamy areas such as near bathrooms or kitchens. It is best if the storage area is not subject to extreme changes in temperature or humidity. Keep the area clean and well ventilated, and inspect memorabilia regularly for any signs of mould growth.

Light causes paper and other materials to deteriorate and inks to fade. Scrapbookers should avoid displaying layouts for long periods of time and should also ensure that the light in storage areas is as low as possible.

Pest control

Insects and rodents can cause a lot of damage to paper and other materials in a short space of time. Scrapbookers should examine storage areas regularly for evidence of insect or rodent attack.

Disaster planning

It is important to assess risks to scrapbooks from unforseen events, whether large or small. For example, water, whether from a major flood or a burst water pipe, could destroy a scrapbook very quickly. Once the risks have been assessed, put measures in place to protect scrapbooks and other memorabilia from potential disasters.

Handling and use

Frequent handling can cause damage. Whenever people handle anything they leave behind small amounts of oils, salts and dirt as well as tiny creases. Dirt and damage accumulate over generations of handling. For example, if letters or documents are repeatedly unfolded and refolded, the creases weaken and tears start to form. It is best to store items unfolded and in clear plastic sleeves that allow them to be looked at without being handled.

Avoid cramming too many items into sleeves or boxes – this increases the likelihood of damage when trying to put items back.

Never laminate important documents or photographs – the process uses heat to bond harmful plastics to documents. To protect important documents from damage caused by handling, it is better to encapsulate them inside Mylar or polypropylene pockets.

Digital scrapbooking

Digital scrapbooking using computer software, scanned photographs and documents is increasingly popular. Although this is a good strategy to preserve the integrity of original items, digital scrapbookers need to be aware of issues that relate to the long term-preservation of digital scrapbooks:

  • It is important to back up files onto CD or external hard drive in case of computer malfunctions. Purchase the best quality CDs possible. Do not use hard-tipped pens to label CDs. Store CDs as carefully as you would other important documents.
  • Digital files and hardware become obsolete as technology evolves. Consequently, digital files created now may not be accessible in the future unless files stored on CDs and hard drives are updated as technology progresses.
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019