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Working on a client’s ancestry digitizing project recently we learned a little information about photographs and film that we thought we would share.  While scanning I had a Kodachrome envelope in my hand and there is this disclaimer on it,  “Since color dyes may change over time, this product will not be replaced for, or warranted against, any change in color.”  With this we set out and did a little more research and found that most color photographs, slides, and negatives begin breaking down in just 15-20 years even when stored in optimum conditions.  This number varies greatly depending on the age of the photo, dyes used to print it, and by manufactured the dye/paper.  Each manufacturer gave their own estimates for longevity of their dyes and process, but truth be told we have not made it far enough into the future to know what really worked and what did not. We all know that color photos fade over time.  The more light especially sunlight they are exposed to will cause degrading.  This is known as Light fading and occurs when materials are exposed to light, e.g. while on display. The intensity of the light source and ultraviolet (UV) rays will affect the rate of change and fade. Magenta dyes will typically fade the quickest. If you have ever took a photo out of a frame that was hanging on the wall or on a table you definitely know what we mean. Dark fading occurs regardless of the procedures taken to preserve a photograph and is unavoidable. It is instigated by temperature and RH. Cyan dyes will typically fade more quickly, which will make the image appear too red in color.  We see this most often in slides, film, and negatives and some paper photos. There is also Highlight staining which occurs with older color photographic papers, and is a yellowing of the border and highlight areas of a photograph.  Dark fading and Highlight Staining are quite often correctable in digitized files.  It is a process we call color balancing and offer it at no cost with our scanning projects.

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