Thinking of Shooting Film? You Need an Archival Plan.

Thinking of Shooting Film? You Need an Archival Plan.

If you are new to shooting film there are many things to think about. For instance, what format(s) are you going to try? What camera will you get? What film stock should you shoot?

There are lots of blogs out there to help you through those decisions but many fail to address what is quite possibly the most important stage in the imaging lifecycle regardless of medium. How do I archive my pictures?

For digital there's the cloud or hard drives of various types. For wonderfully tangible film, there's a few options too. There are shoe boxes, a big roll, sleeves, archival sheets, and some others. As you might have guessed, some options stand out above the rest.

Here's what's worked for me as I manage the lifecycle of an image captured on film.

Uncut or Cut?

Whether you take your film to a lab or develop at home, you will need to decide how your film will be stored. Typically you need to decide between uncut or cut, but what does that mean?

Uncut - This means that you or the lab will leave the film intact as one long strip, typically insert it into a protective sleeve, and return it to you in a loose roll.


  • Keeps your options open while still working with the images.
  • Easier (sometimes cheaper) scanning for auto feeding scanners. If you initially scan at a low resolution as a means of proofing knowing you'll scan many of the shots at high res, then it's best to leave the roll uncut.

Cut - As you might guess this means that you or the lab will cut your film typically to a length meant to fit in archival sheets that go in 3-ring binders. Best practice is to cut your roll if you have sufficiently scanned your film and it's ready for archiving.


  • Easier to store because they lay flat and you can provide details about the photos on the archival sheet.
  • Saves time if you lab will cut and insert into archival sheets. I can attest to having to cut and insert over 100 rolls into archival sheets. Some rolls had been so tightly wound they were a pain to get in and caused the archival sheets to coil. Basically a mess that could have been avoided.

What I Use

I have worked out a great relationship with my lab where I drop film off and just tell them, "the usual please." That consists of:

  1. Develop
  2. Scan
  3. Cut
  4. Insert into archival sheets

For Film

I use archival sheets and 3-ring binder boxes. The binders are solid all around and that means you can stack them vertically or horizontally without fear of your film being crushed.

For Scans

I also scan all my film and my lab provides them on DVDs. I purchased 3-ring inserts to hold them in binders to keep them organized chronologically. I do NOT store film and the DVD sheets together in the same binder as I don't want pressure from the DVDs affecting the film.

I also archive scans on hard drives and in the cloud for easy digital access and backup.

That Wasn't So Bad

It's easy to stay organized if you have a plan from the beginning! Talk with your lab to find out what options they offer and plan on it from your first roll.

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