"Archival" qualities of various Polaroid films

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I'm thinking of taking a 4x5 camera on my recurrent trips to South India. I am interested particularly in environmental portraits and would like to expose regular b/w negs for myself and provide Polaroids for the subjects. In my previous experience doing something similar with smaller format, I had a Polaroid camera using the pack film (Color, Spectra?). Very popular, but on my next trip only a year later, I had people showing me sadly faded photographs. These photographs will not be well cared for and generally will be in hot conditions except during the winter monsoon. There may be intermittent exposure to near-equatorial sunlight.

So, if I take a Polaroid back with my 4x5 are there any recommendations for both color and b/w which would have the best longevity. Also any recommendations for *simple* daylight processing which might improve longevity. (Sistan?)

Thanks in advance, Eric Pederson

-- Eric Pederson (epederso@darkwing.uoregon.edu), December 04, 2001


I used to use a lot of type 55 poloroid in the studio in 4x5 format. During the course of a day, odd ones would wind up laying on a shelf or countertop as we would make adjustments to the set or product. The final polaroids I would have my assistant coat with the swab included in the pack. At the end of the shoot, when things were cleaned up and put away, I would see a very significant fading after only a day or two of the uncoated polaroids. Those that were coated, however, looked excellent. And when I've come across polaroids of past shoots, some as old as 20 years, they still look good. Granted, most of these were tucked away in job folders and not exposed to light. How long they might last exposed to constant daylight I cannot answer, but I can say, unequivocally, if you coat the polaroids with the stuff Poloroid includes in the type 55 packs, they will last a lot longer than those uncoated. One caveat, the coating material is pretty sticky until it drys. If you are doing this in a dusty environment, it might not be feasible to coat them.

If it's still available, SX-70 film would be perfect, though you could not give the person exactly the framing you had with your 4x5. But the image stability is excellent, and it has a built-in coating that will accept considerable mishandling.

-- Ted Kaufman (writercrmp@aol.com), December 04, 2001.


I'd recommend type 56 film; it's Polaroid's monochrome sepia film. I've used it since they introduced it and the prints show no signs of aging. The sepia toning is a form of accelerated aging, so essentially the prints have already faded and should remain stable for many, many years. As for Polaroid's color material, I can't recommend any and believe they will all fade rapidly, especially when stored in less than ideal conditions. Good luck!


-- Pete Caluori (pcaluori@hotmail.com), December 04, 2001.

Polaroid doesn't seem to provide information about expected lifetimes of their products, or statements about which are expected to have longer lifetimes. I have read their datasheets and two excellent booklets from 1983, "Polaroid Black & White Films" and "Storing, Handling and Preserving Polaroid Photographs: A Guide". Of course, I may have missed some statement.

The "Storing, Handling and Preserving" booklet provides a lot of information about the topics in the title. The brief summary is that aiming for the maximum life of Polaroids is pretty similar to the procedures for conventional photographs: avoid chemical fumes, high temperatures and high humidity. For color photographs, light with UV content (light sunlight) should be avoided. This is not very promising for casual handling in the tropics.

In terms of ASA and tonal scale, I find Types 52 and 53 to be virtually identical. Type 53 is more convenient since it is coaterless. In the field, coating Type 52 without getting dirt in the coating can be difficult. Some of my earliest Type 53 prints have very slightly changed tone, so they may be less long-lived than Type 52. (The slightly changed tone looks nice, but is probably not a good sign.) Someone on a newsgroup reported that Polaroid had told them that Type 52 will last longer than 53.

Another poster suggested the sepia colored Type 56. The reasoning seems to be that toned photographs are more enduring--the silver has already reacted with the toning chemicals and is therefore more stable. However, I don't think Type 56 is sepia colored via chemical toning. My guess is that it is sepia toned for the reason that warm-tone photo paper is warm-toned: finer silver crystals. This would make it more, not less, vunerable to chemical deterioration.

The booklet "Storing, .. Preserving" gives directions for selenium toning negatives from Type 55 and all types of coaterless prints, such as Type 52. For the prints, unusual directions for toning are given. The procedure looks quite inconvenient for field use.

Your best bet is probably Type 52. You might want to call Polaroid for their advice.

-- Michael Briggs (MichaelBriggs@Earthlink.net), December 05, 2001.

Thanks for the thoughtful replies. Nothing very encouraging about color. While I would love to use sepia for test shots since I sepia tone many of my prints, I'm not sure how they would be received by those I plan to photograph. I too had assumed that these weren't literally sepia toned (i.e. with a sulfide), but just "colored" somehow. I will indeed call Polaroid before I go (not in the immediate future, so I hope there is still someone to call!) to see if they think any of their coatingless prints hold up well enough -- as that would be far more convenient.

Thanks again (further thoughts always welcome of course!)

-- Eric Pederson (epederso@darkwing.uoregon.edu), December 05, 2001.

Eric, we mostly just shoot the type 55, but I can tell you that the coaterless prints are not really that durable....they can knick and scratch rather easily as well...it's not like an SX-70 print all encapsulated in a little package...we basically just proof of the 55, and coat the prints to help ID our film before filing. I've got a box near me that has a couple of thousand of prints tossed in it and they fare rahter well coated...I wouldn't really call them "art" prints though...the problem with polaroid prints and alot of their materials is that they become one-of-a-kind pieces. Yeah, you can tone the prints...I recall seeing instructions someplace, not from the company, for using spray bottles to mist toners on the prints...I would avoid this route personally, for safety reasons if nothing else. As for toning the negs...all silver based negs can be toned with sulfide or selenium toners (sulfide--brown toners are best) for permanence...this is what's done with microfilm and it's done with some preservation negs as well....the theory goes something like: use the most stable film base, then tone the emulsion for protection against pollutants (just like a print)....but then there's also the theory that all color prints & films are unstable in the long run, and if you actually _use_ something, then it's lifespan dramatically decreases as well.....I know with color prints, and negs & chromes that heat is the big factor in lifespan....humidity affects film bases and b&w materials more. So, I think it probably doesn't really matter what you use in the end...if it's hot & humid, and there's alot of UV bouncing around and the prints are handled alot...then, yeah, just about anything, even a cibachrome, would suffer....something like an SX-70 might be best...I don't know though...good luck. Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), December 05, 2001.

Oh, hey I just want to echo ted's advice on the 55 as well....the coater can be a pain to use and attracts all sorts of dust etc...it can be kind of fun to not coat the 55 prints, and to watch them age & brown out unpredictably...especially fun to see where your fingerprints are...I guess that's why the conservators wear gloves....you could think about finding a small laminator, if there is such a beast to use in the field...this is in NO way an "archival" solution, but it might help with handling. Lamination is pretty bad in the long run, and brings in all sorts of problems, but you're not talking about archive stuff, just people handling them. A problem with this might come in trapping in moisture in the print at the time of the lamination...and then stressing the prints out through cycling temps/humidity, not to mention the possiblity of ruining them during the lamination..... The best material might be something on a really stable plastic base, like polyester...but I can't think of any polaroid sheet material like this. So let me say that none of this is "archival", and please don't do it on valuable prints....(my CYA statement)..better end:Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), December 05, 2001.

Maybe a dumb idea, but what about thoes little fold over frame cards that you get from he portrait guys. Make it look fancy, no fingers touching, and it's own built in light lid. Dean

-- Dean Lastoria (dvlastor@sfu.ca), December 07, 2001.

Actually, the cover idea is a wonderful one. I've never seen 4x5 Polaroid sized ones though. Anyone?

-- Eric Pederson (epederso@darkwing.uoregon.edu), December 11, 2001.

Unless you pull the tab off the sheet, the actual dimension of 55 (at least) is like 4.25 x5.25".....what I might suggest would be to check with an archival supply house, and get some foldlock type sleeves made of polypropylene (cheaper than Mylar D, less likely to stick as well at higher RH)....or maybe to look at the enclosures made for postcards etc...these are usually made of thick Mylar D, and are heat sealed on 3 sides...making a nice, tough little pocket. Mylar D can stick to a material though under really high humidity...like 70%+. Probably the cheapest solution would be a zip-lock bag...

I found some references on a conservation site the other day about longevity of polaroid materials...I wasn't looking for them, but you interested??

-- DK Thompson (kthompson@moh.dcr.state.nc.us), December 11, 2001.

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