Knowledge is Power!
Acids used in the pulping process of paper manufacturing to separate the lignin (a chemical compound found in wood which hardens and strengthens the cell walls of the wood) from the pulp of the wood can turn paper yellow and make it brittle over the years. Which means pictures that are printed on this type of paper will fade and turn yellow over time. Once paper manufacturers realized this, it led them to create lines of "acid-free" paper. It is much better to use an acid-free paper for the pages of a photo album, but since this technique didn't come along in time for many people who have photos in albums from their childhoods, photo restorers have created ways to restore antique photos. These professionals use a variety of methods to turn your cracked and damaged pictures into photos that look like they were just taken yesterday.
Chemical, physical, electronic, or airbrush restorations can all be done to make those faded photos look new again, but there are various reasons to use each type of restoration. For example, chemical restoration is best for redoing black and white images. Old-time photos contain oxidized silver and if the restorer redevelops the photo in a back and white developer medium, the chemicals will activate the silver and turn it into silver metal so you'll be able to see the image clearly. In electronic restoration, your photo is scanned into a computer and restored with a type of photo-editing software. This is a complicated procedure and the equipment is generally beyond the reach of the normal consumer (so don't run out to buy the software and do-it-yourself!). Physical restoration involves the use of a combination of photography, neutron irradiation, and autoradiography to restore antique photos. While the physical restoration process is great because it is not damaging to the photo, it can be hard to find a company who will do the process because of the equipment involved. Airbrush restorations restore antique photos by employing an artist who uses an airbrush to "brush out" defects such as scratches and cracks. These retouch technicians can repair tears, discoloration, water damage, mold spots, and red eye. They can also correct over- or under-exposure and contrast when they restore your photos.
These tips will help you maintain the pictures you already have:
Remember, it is much easier to display and preserve photos properly than to worry years later about having to restore those antique photos of Aunt Mary and Grandpa Bill. Pictures are records of the past and should be treated carefully to maintain the precious memories they invoke. But, if you have an old photo that is faded and brittle, get a professional to restore the image. Then those family images will be around for generations to come!
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