Buying archival-quality storage isn’t as hard (or expensive) as it used to be. Thank goodness! But it is still important to make sure that you’re buying (and using) the right equipment for storing important family documents that need to be preserved for the future.
Storing family documents in archival-quality containers in safe, cool, and dry environments is the best way to ensure they last. Archival-quality containers are acid-free, lignin-free, and generally cost more than their non-archival quality counterparts. Use top brands to ensure your documents last.
Ready to make sure that your family documents (or any other important documents that you need to store for years to come) are preserved properly? Let us show you the best products we’ve found, use, and love.
Archival Quality Storage Defined
Thankfully, buying archival-quality storage containers isn’t as expensive as it used to be.
However, buying archival-quality storage containers (like sheet protectors) will still cost you more than if you bought the cheapest option you could find. There is a huge difference in the materials, so expect to pay more for the better quality sheet protectors. However, the difference in the materials used will be clear within a few months.
Let’s look back at our sheet protectors example.
- Cheap sheet protectors are usually made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). These work well for short-term storage, but they will absorb the impression of whatever they’re storing over time. And, over time, the stored papers may degrade quickly.
- Archival-quality sheet protectors are made from polypropylene or polyester. They are acid-free and lignin-free. They won’t absorb any images, nor will they destroy your stored documents.
The same is true for other types of archival-quality storage containers. Look for products labeled as archival quality. They’ll have these features.
- Acid-Free. This helps make sure they don’t take anything (or absorb any images or words) from the stored documents.
- Lignin-Free. Lignin is an organic and naturally-derived compound found in plants. It helps water move across membranes or whatever else it’s in. So you don’t want it in your archival storage containers.
- High Cotton Fiber Counts. Cotton works really well for storing precious documents. This doesn’t apply for sheet protectors, but it is important in boxes, folders, or other soft storage containers.
- Appropriately sized for the documents or items. A storage container that’s too big will damage the documents when they shift. A container that’s too small will damage the edges of the document. Get the right-sized container and store the item in the proper position.
From here, please make sure that you store your precious containers in an appropriate area. The garage is pretty well never an appropriate area. Here are the characteristics of a good storage area.
- Temperature controlled. The area needs to be an even, cool temperature.
- Humidity and moisture controlled. The storage room needs to be as dry as possible. An air-conditioned room is a great option.
- Light controlled. Precious documents need to have controlled exposure to light. Ideally, these will be away from sunlight. Light (especially sunlight) will fade the documents over time. An office or a shelf that’s out of direct sunlight is usually fine.
- Clean controlled. Keep archived documents in a clean area. This doesn’t mean it has to pass a white glove test – it just needs to not be visibly dirty or dusty. Although if you want to clean the room to pass a white glove test when you get out your archived papers, that’s not a bad idea, either.
All right – after that quick review of what “archival quality” means, let’s dive into our recommended products and brands.
Best Brands for Archival Quality
In all of our efforts, we’ve found a few brands that specialize in archival quality containers. Here’s some of our favorites. These brands are available in stores and on Amazon, which is awesome when all you want to do is shop in your pajamas (we’re not judging – we’re right there with you).
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- Gaylord Archival specializes in archival quality storage. Click here to visit Gaylord Archival’s storefront on Amazon in a new window.
- Lineco also specializes in all sorts of archival quality storage. Click here to visit Lineco’s products available on Amazon.
- BCW specializes in storing lots of things, including comic books and trading cards. You can click here to go check out BCW’s Amazon storefront now in a new window.
Binders are a great way to store papers – especially if they’re already hole-punched.
- 1.5″ Archival Binder with slipcase (check availability on Amazon)
- Archival Safe-T Binder (available on Amazon)
Or, if you’ve got papers that aren’t hole-punched but need to be stored on some archival-quality backing board (like this one, available on Amazon) for added support, those could be hole-punched to store in a binder. The downside to that is that, if the letter is two-sided, it’ll be harder to read – but it’ll also last longer. So it’s a bit of a trade-off unless you want to opt for a sheet protector instead.
Boxes are a great storage container option for photos, delicate stacks of papers, and many other family documents. Here are some of our favorite options from Amazon.
- 5″ wide for letter-sized prints and photos (on Amazon)
- 8″x10″ Museum storage box with removable lid (click here to see the price on Amazon)
- 11″x14″ faux leather clamshell archival folio (click here to see color and pricing options on Amazon)
Just remember to store those boxes up on a shelf – and never on the floor.
Envelopes are a great way to keep smaller items or photographs. Never store letters folded up, no matter how awesome the envelopes are. Even so, envelopes can hold whatever else came in the letter beside the actual letter itself.
- Look for poly and waterproof. There are various sizes available – click here to see the ones we found on Amazon.
If you’re wanting to store letters, store them in a sheet protector or on a backing board in a binder.
Once you’ve made a digital version of your important documents, it’s vital that you store the digitized version in two specific ways.
First, you’ll want to keep a local copy. This can be done via a hard drive, a thumb drive, or a cloud-based software that syncs with local files. Here are a few ideas to get you going.
- Hard drives – get the biggest sized drive that fits your budget.
- M-Disc BD-R (on Amazon, as recommended by Breanne’s husband)
- Thumb drive – Sandisk (click here to see size and price options on Amazon)
Second, you’ll want an off-site copy of your files. This is to ensure they’re kept safe in case of an emergency, file corruption, file loss, or any number of other problems that happen with digital files.
Here are some of our favorite cloud-based storage options.
- Google Photos
- Amazon (AWS)
- OneDrive (Microsoft)
- Apple’s storage and automatic sync
- FamilySearch Memories (for video and short audio clips)
- My Heritage (for videos – it’s the only genealogy software that allows video at the moment)
You could also keep an off-site physical copy of your digital files by doing a mirrored hard drive – but then you’re also your own technical support. Using a cloud-based storage is a great way to not have to do your own support.
We recommend having more than one copy and backup of everything. So if you use local files and sync with Google Drive, that fits our “two copies!” rule. Or you could do a thumb drive (kept in a fireproof safe) and the second copy on AWS. Feel free to mix and match with whatever as long as you have backups and redundancies.
Sometimes you just need a good file folder. Here’s a decently-priced option.
- A regular, 1/3 cut top tab, manila-colored – click here to check the price on Amazon.
Using a good, archive-quality file folder within another storage container will help you find what you’re looking for without getting a headache.
For the most important family documents, you’ll want to put your properly-stored, archival-quality storage containers into a fireproof storage container, too. Because archival-quality containers aren’t usually fireproof.
- A fire-resistant document bag (click here to see on Amazon)
- Fireproof safe with a key (via Amazon)
You may also find these waterproof bank bags (check availability on Amazon) to be a great way to store family documents or items, too.
Sheet protectors are a great way to store letters, papers, and anything else. Just make sure they’re acid and lignin-free. There are all sorts of sheet protector sizes, so here’s the most popular one to get you going.
- 12″x16.25″ size – (available on Amazon – click here)
If the papers you’re wanting to store are already fragile, get some archival-quality backing board (like this one, available on Amazon) for added support. The only real downside to the backer board is that you’ll have to pull the papers out to read the back of the paper. So this works best for one-sided things.
Storing your important family documents and heirlooms doesn’t have to be hard. If you’re ever concerned about picking the right archival-quality storage container or we missed your favorite type, please email us. We’d love to help and to keep this resource as thorough as possible. You can email us via our contact us page here.