Methods of storing sheet film negs : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

The larger my overall body of work becomes, the more I get the feeling that I need to work out a better system for storing my sheet film negatives. I currently have all of my 4x5" negs and transparencies stored in standard storage sheets, 4 to a page, in two three-ring binders. My 8x10 negatives are stored in individual sleeves in an archival box. Both systems, especially the former, leave a lot to be desired, especially in terms of identifying and organizing negatives. I've looked into the various storage systems on the market, and while they all show certain advantages and disadvantages, I would like to hear what systems are being utilized by people here on the forum. Anything particularly good or bad I should give some thought to? Thanks in advance. Maybe once I get the sheet film issue squared away I can do something about the 6,000 35mm slides under my bed....

-- David Munson (, December 29, 2001


David, like you I use the ring binder system where each sheet holds 4, 4x5 to a page. These are the transparent type from Printfile. I simply write a number beside each neg. with a permanent OHP pen this of course prints as a white number on contact sheets. This certainly speeds up a neg. search for me.

I only file worthwhile negs. these days the rest are binned.


-- Trevor Crone (, December 29, 2001.

I use 4"x5" paper sleeving for my 4x5 negs, with the negs individually numbered, labeled and dated.. The negs are stored in the paper sleeves inside of mylar sleeving. These negs are then stored in a metal filing cabinet - the draws take two rows of negs, 1000 per row; the cabinet has four draws, for the entire thing holds 8,000 negs under one corner of my darkroom (an image is at )

For my 8x10 work I have two systems - my older work is in paper sleeving labeled as above, in archival boxes (plastic with a carrying handle). My newer work is in plastic sleeving in binders. I labels the neg number, date and subject on the sleeves, and also mark the sleeving with an archival marker with brurning and dodging info. I am still undecided which way I will end up with the 8x10, but I suspect the plastic sleeving will win - more economical, and the notes on the sleeve help a lot with my bad memory.

-- Eric Boutilier-Brown (, December 29, 2001.

hi david i have all my 4x5 negatives in paper sleeves, and non-buffered envelopes. the envelopes are id'ed and stored in archival storage boxes. 5x7s are stored the same way. i used to have everything stored in standard storage sheets in binders ( i still have all my smaller format negatives stored that way) but when i started to do habs work their submission / storage requirements kind of rubbed off on me. good luck john

-- john nanian (, December 29, 2001.

I use printfile sheets and hanging bars in a file cabinet for 4x5, 645, and 35mm. I like the easy access and organization of the file cabinet, especially as the volume of my archive increases over the years - 300+ 4x5, 200+ 645, 15,000+ 35mm. I label individual images and pages (depending on format). You can use standard hanging file folders as dividers and tabs for labelling groups of images (I group by geography and subject). The tabs are then easily visible when you open the file drawer.

-- Scott Bacon (, December 29, 2001.

I forgot to mention that a bonus to using the pages with hanging bars is that they fit perfectly into Xerox paper boxes. You can usually get these boxes free from any 'Kinkos' or similar store. They make moving, from apartment to apartment or house to house, more convenient. I make sure that boxes of negs and slides go with ME - never with the movers (even if they are my friends). This is not such a big deal now that I'm settled down, but it worked great when I was just out of school and changing apartments every year.

-- Scott Bacon (, December 29, 2001.

I use the same sheets and binders that you are using (18 binders so far) for 120 and 4x5. I keep the negative and contact sheets together and the binders are in order by date. I keep a proof of each negative that I print and put the date and other identifying information on the proof so that I can easily locate the negative if I need to reprint. It seems to be a pretty good system. It certainly makes it easy to find negatives. Even if I don't have proof, I usually can remember within a year or two when a particular photograph was made. The only other system I've seen for sheet film is the one several other people have mentioned - storing each negative individually in its own envelope. I do that for 8x10 and it too works fine but it does seem to take a good bit longer to find the negatives that way than when they're in binders. With archival envelopes and storage boxes it may be more archival than the clear sheets and binders, I don't know.

-- Brian Ellis (, December 29, 2001.

I asked this question within the last year and you might want to look for the old archived thread; it was quite helpful. I settled on the light Impressions Mylar D interleaving plastic and an archival envelope for each 4x5 negative. I really like it beacuase it makes handling so easy. Light Impressions sells a kit with an archival box as well. No scratches sliding in/out, interleaf is easy to get open in the darkroom, envelopes can be written on with all knids of data. I keep a database with all the info and number my envelopes consecutively. I haven'r had any trouble finding the negs this way.


-- Scott Jones (, December 29, 2001.

I keep my 35mm slides in various places - some in binder pages, some in boxes and some in drawers. My 35mm negatives and all of my larger stuff (120, 4x5 and 8x10) is kept in clear binder pages. I put the page number on the page, and scan every film. The file number reflects the page number and the negative position on the page (except for 8x10, of course). I then size the image to a convenient size and file that on the computer I usually use, according to the subject matter. That way, the file name of any image I need corresponds to the location of the original film.

Don't need the best of scans for this purpose. I do use a dedicated scanner for 35mm (HP Photosmart), but a flatbed works just fine for the bigger films.

-- Anthony J. Kohler (, December 30, 2001.


Recently I redesigned my storage system to a relatively better one. I used to keep all my negatives in a binder folder just like other people have and discovered that I find it hard to find my negatives without leafing through the whole binder. I decided to buy a file cabinet from Office Depot and file them in hanging file alphabetically arranged by project name/place the negatives were taken. I also created a numbered database using ACCESS software giving titles/names and automatically assign index number before I file into the file cabinet. This process has reduced the leafing when I am looking for negatives to be printed. I will just go to the database search the project/name and get the index number and jump into the file cabinet and pull out exactly what I want. This has helped me reduce the rate of going crazy every time I am about to go to the lab - I no longer spend the evening organizing myself and missing my sleep or doing something else. I hope you will find this method useful.


-- Adrian Ng'asi (, January 02, 2002.

Dave, if you can afford it, try using the locking type sleeves ....Mylar D is about the best, get the clear type, not frosted though. No seams, either. They used to recommend an unbuffered, acid & lignin free envelope, but the stanadards are changing a bit about buffering and color materials now...anyways it used to be, unbuffered for color, buffered for B&W. Like some of these folks are saying, you can get flip top box kits from alot of companies....if you're concerned for the long term, select a box that passes the PAT test. The better companies will print their specs someplace, or supply them upon request. PAT is the standard for film storage materials.

If you can really afford it....look into Russ Bassett film cabinets. They make a cheaper 2 drawer "stackable media cabinet" that holds about 900 4x5 envelopes per's a baked enamel steel drawer, that is a really high-quality build. We use these and have about 15-20 of these in our file room ....the place next door has a ton of these...a basic "starter" unit (2 drawers and a top) runs around $300, but is built to last....LI doesn't carry them anymore, but library supply houses do, they're similar to flexible drawers for filing microfiche.

We file by "accession" numbers mainly, since we document objects, but we also assign fields and number sets as well...broken down into subjects, like "artifact trips" , "events", "Publicity" etc.....a sample file number would go like this: AT202-0102-1....this would be Artifact Trip 2002 (year)-Date-Shot number. We use a similar system for roll films as well, but include a a frame number for the neg for print data as well....the accession numbers follow the types of rules you'd find regsitrars using in an can get some ideas for that from NARA online probably, they refer to it as MARC home, I just keep it simple (although I do use the same filing products as well) and run off a number system of year & then roll or sheet 0201 would be 2002 #1 shot. I would say to keep the numbers as simple as possible though, and do it right the first time....I've had to renumber _alot_ of negs in the past, and it's anything but fun.....

Hanging files are great for slides, so-so for negs...the problems with notebook type sleeves are if there are any slip coatings in the pages, there's a risk that they may leech out in time & stick to your's a waxy type substance, and it won't chemically harm your negs, but you can't get it off either....there's maybe only one notebook sleeve on the market that supposedly doesn't have any slip agents in it's a high-density polyethylene page, and it's not clear...if you absolutely have to use the notebook pages, try to use ones that will let you use a l-velope, or fold-lock sleeve for your keep it off the neg page. The best plastics are uncoated polyester (Mylar D), uncoated polypropylene, and uncoated polyethylene....but uncoated means *no* slip agents, no anti-stat additives, adhesives in the seams either...look for heat welded seams, or ones that are just folded. Mylar D will be about 3 times as much as uncoated polypropylene. Polyethylene, will be the cheapest....with High-Density being more expensive than the low-density pages more commonly used.

For sheets, though, there are 3 types of enclosures....there's the locking sleeve, which is great for long term, and you just insert the neg/CT into the sleeve and it doesn't slide against anything....there's the interleaving type sleeve, which is cheaper & okay too, but in practice, the film can shift around in these over time...and then there's the type that is heat sealed on both sides & you have to slide the film in & out, like a tube....these are okay, but there's a risk of scratching if there's any grit or whatever on the sleeve....and then, some places will use just buffered/unbuffered acid &lignin free envelopes sleeves. There's nothing wrong with this either, if the envelope is good...the seams should run along the edges of the envelope, not down the center. In practice, you place the emulsion of the neg facing AWAY from the seam. If you use an envelope with a finger cut in it, avoid the temptation to pull the neg out, but instead sorta "cup" the envelope and gently tip the neg you don't put your slimy/greasy fingerprints right smack on the neg & pull it out....again, there are 4 flapped envelopes that open up flat for glass plates & large negs use paper mostly on older film bases...anything prior to the mid 60's should go in paper only....Plastic sleeves create a little environment & can trap all sorts of byproducts from aging film, pollutants, and humidity in your area as well...these can attack the film over the longterm too.... Whatever you do, always use gloves when you handle your oils do more damage than practically anything else in regards to negs....

Good luck, it can be a real confusing mess trying to get started with a filing project, but better to get started sooner than later. Oh, and if any manufacturers are reading this: these are MY opinions only, Here:

Opinions expressed in this message may not represent the policy of my agency.

-- DK Thompson (, January 02, 2002.

Oh helps to file the different types away from each other as drawer for CTs, one for negs etc.....they all need slightly different storage materials. Don't file your negs with your contacts either....we pretty much did away with our contact files years ago, but will use them for roll film and some sheets. We run a separate system that uses a buffered 9x12 acid/lignin free envelope with a side opening flap (non-adhesive). The contacts have a corresponding file number, and they're all stored in a baked enamel file drawers. If you need help deciphering the catalogs, or whatever, feel free to drop me a line....filing is a big, boring chunk of my job (sigh).....

-- DK Thompson (, January 02, 2002.

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