2015 February 25    Film    How-To

Updated April 2016


Negative and slide storage is something that many photographers take for granted.

I've done my share of throwing negatives in an envelope and forgetting about them, but there are much better (and more archival) ways to store your negatives.

Readers have asked me about this.  Concerns have been expressed about sleeves, because there is the potential to scratch negatives.

I'm sure it's possible to scratch negatives in sleeve-type holders, but that is not likely to happen if you keep them clean.  Just make sure there is no grit or dust on the negatives or in the sleeves. 

I've used the flimsy accordion-type film sleeves from pharmacies, but they're not as good as the real ones.  And the nice thing about the real ones is that you can put them in a three-ring binder.  Get a binder that zips shut, and your negatives will be protected very well from dust.

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In This Article

Alternative Methods

Film Sleeves and Binder Pages

Storing 120 Negatives

Unused Rows or Columns

Storing Slides


Alternative Methods

Let's face it:  negative-storage sleeves are not glamorous or especially fun.  It can be tempting to use whatever cheap, makeshift storage method we might find. 

Paper envelopes are not suitable, unless you can get acid-free.  Even there, the negatives are just thrown together in the envelope, all disorganized. 

Many photographers in the Seventies and Eighties used glassine envelopes.  This at least made it possible to see what was what.  Too bad it's not an archival storage method.  If you have negs stored in glassine, it would be a good idea to take them out of the glassine and use the proper storage.  Glassine can actually damage negatives over long periods of storage.  It is not acid-free, because actually it's made from wood, just like ordinary paper.

Today there exists acid-free glassine, but most of what you'll find from the Seventies and Eighties probably wasn't acid-free. 

I've also tried those plastic sleeves that are cut from 100-foot rolls.  They are definitely better than no sleeves at all, but I greatly prefer the 3-ring binder sleeves.  The ones cut from rolls are too easy to get lost in a shoebox somewhere, or a dusty corner of the room, and then dust gets worked into the sleeves and makes a mess of the negatives. 

When dust presses on the emulsion for long enough, it seems to work its way in there and will not go back out. 

You did all that work to take those nice pictures;  why not protect them?  The "fun" and "test roll" negatives you take for granted today could become classic to you or someone else down the line. 

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Film Sleeves & Binder Pages

For 35mm negatives or strips of unmounted positives (slide film), I would get a pack of these.   Or, if you want thicker material, get this kind instead.  I usually use the thinner ones, but they can be somewhat annoying;  the corners of your negatives will occasionally stick in them.  The thicker plastic sleeves don't seem to have this problem as much.

Thus far, I have not found a better way to store negatives, especially if you develop your own.

For 120 negatives and positives, obviously get the 120-size sheets.  It helps if you don't have the lab pre-cut your negatives;  then you can cut them to fit the binder pages.

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Storing 120 Negatives

Print File makes two different types of pages.  One of them has four rows; the other has three columns. 

If you shoot 6x6, the first kind will hold four strips of three pictures each.  The second will hold three strips of four each. 

Both pages will fit a standard binder;  both pages are the standard width.  So, which one to use?

If you shoot 6x6, the 120-3HB are probably better.  Four pictures per column, vertically, and you've got a full roll of 120 negatives. 

If you shoot 6x7, again I'd say get the 120-3HB.  They will accommodate three 6x7 negatives per column. 

The 120-4B, on the other hand, will take two 6x7 negatives per row, or three 6x6 per row.  I thought these would be necessary after cutting some negs into three 6x6 pictures each, because I wasn't paying attention.  However, since I already had the 120-3HB, I just used those. 

For 645, the 120-3HB is still probably the better choice.  It holds fifteen 6x4.5 negatives, as opposed to twelve in the 120-4B pages.

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Unused Rows or Columns

Sometimes you'll have to use two pages for a roll of film.  Very often this will leave empty rows or columns.  Try this.  Cut a piece of oaktag or card stock the same width as a roll of film.  (A straightedge helps.)  Fit it to an empty column or row of the Print File page.  Use this to write down the details for each picture;  if you can't write that small, use a computer. 

This keeps the information with your negatives.  Over time, the tech details and location data might otherwise get lost.

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Storing Slides

The better pro-labs generally provide nice storage boxes when you get E-6 development.  If you want the best macro scans, though, you're actually better off getting un-mounted slides and storing them like negatives

I've seen old Agfa color slides that were sandwiched between thick pieces of glass.  This was not really an archival method, because various glues and cements can yellow and crack over many years.

Gepe used to make some nice anti-newton-glass slide holders, but they're not available new anymore as far as I know. 

What's cool is that they even made the mounts for panoramic 35mm slides.  You know, the real ones, which are actually two 35mm frames wide.  These are the ones you'd get from a Sprocket Rocket (minus the sprocket holes), or if you're lucky enough to own a Hasselblad XPan

For mounted slides, you can also get 3-ring binder pages to store them.  I never do this for slides, but I do see the utility... it would be cool to be able to throw the whole binder page onto a 9x12 light pad and decide which slides you want to scan.  Or, just admire them because the colors are awesome.


There are other ways to store slides and negatives, but many of them allow dust and moisture to get to the film.   For the money, the Printfile binder pages are probably the best solution out there.

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