Archival quality is a term used by vendors to imply long lasting or permanent. However, no standards apply to the term, and so it has become a bit of a buzzword in the fields of preservation, conservation, and scrapbooking. Not everything advertised as being archival actually is either long lasting or permanent.
Many manufacturers also put the words photo safe on their packaging. This implies that photographs will be safe should the item be used, but again, there are no standards applied to the term. Something advertised as photo safe might actually be anything but.
Another term to be careful of is acid free. Acid free means the item is not acidic, but it does not necessarily meant it is alkaline. Acid free also can mean acid free at the time of production but not that the product will stay acid free for any length of time.
In order to determine whether a product is truly long lasting and suitable for the use you are planning for it, some further information is needed.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- pH, acid, and alkaline pH is the measurement of how acidic or alkaline something is. pH neutral is 7.0, anything above 7.0 is alkaline, and anything below is acidic.
- Buffering, buffered
Buffering is the act of adding something alkaline to something acidic in order to neutralize it. Buffered paper often is an acidic paper that has had an alkaline solution added to it. It has a pH higher than 7.0, but only at the time of its production. In time, acids eat through the buffering and the paper becomes acidic, usually in about 7-10 years.
Lignin is a natural part of wood that carries a high amount of acid. Much of the lignin can be removed from the wood pulp in the initial stages of the paper making process. Paper that is lignin free is apt to have a far lower acid content than any that is merely acid free and is less likely to become acidic over time.
- Photographic Activity Test
The Photographic Activity Test, or PAT as it is sometimes called, is an international standard to determine whether a product is safe to use with photographs. There actually are two PATs, one for black and white and one for colored photographs. Some items that may have passed the PAT for black and white photographs may not necessarily be safe to use on color photos. Most manufacturers do not make it clear which Photo Activity Test their product has passed, so it might be a good idea to ask them. The tests include items such as photo sleeves, folders and other enclosures, adhesives, inks, paints, labels, mounting corners, and tape.