Do Polaroids Fade?
Do Polaroids Fade?
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Do Polaroids Fade?

By Dillon Wallace

In an age where shutter enthusiasts can snap any and every picture on a whim thanks to the infinite forgiveness of smartphone cameras, it’s crazy to believe just how far photography has come. 


However, that doesn’t mean what’s old has necessarily been forgotten. At least, not entirely. In today’s continually growing digital age, polaroid film still holds a special place in many casual shooters’ hearts. Why? Because there’s something beautifully nostalgic about being able to grab a camera and a pack of film, snap a photo, have it develop in seconds right before your eyes, and then walk away with your instant photo as a memorable keepsake.


Whether it’s a dose of throwback nostalgia for Gen Xers or a newfound interest in vintage for Gen Zers, Polaroid photos are back. But for how long? And do they physically fade over time like a fad? Let’s find out.


Instant Photography Was Instantly Born

Long before Outkast was telling us to “Shake, shake, shake it like a Polaroid picture,” Polaroid film camera users had to wait exactly 60 seconds before peeling off the negative backing of the image to reveal their final image. But, “Wait, wait, wait and peel apart your Polaroid picture” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, you know?


It’s hard to believe, but the first Polaroid camera went on sale nearly 75 years ago in 1948. It was called the Model 95 (super catchy name), and it sold out at its lone Boston department store in mere minutes. And for good reason! Inventor Edwin Land had created something entirely innovative, revolutionizing the traditional photography process by compressing the tedious darkroom development process into a matter of seconds.


Caring For Your Polaroids

Instant Cameras were such a huge success for the casual photographer that their popularity lasted decades until the digital camera hit the scene in the late 90s/early 2000s. And while you or your parents (even grandparents) may have some good ol’ three-ringed photo album binders full of Polaroid instant film, it’s important you know that those photos are fading with time.


After all, photographs (whether developed traditionally or instantly) are sensitive images susceptible to damage from the elements. Too much sun here … or too much moisture there can ruin a print. And while you may feel your Polaroids and other photographs are safe and sound in their albums, the truth is they’re fading, too. Just more slowly and with grace. But as the Cranberries once sang, “Don’t let it burn. Don’t let it fade … Do you have to let it linger?” (a song totally about aging photography …). So how long do Polaroids actually last? Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prolong their lifespan and with proper precautions, your Polaroids can last for decades.


How To Keep Your Polaroids From Fading

The sun, moisture, and fluctuations in room temperature make up the trifecta of culprits responsible for ruining Polaroids and giving them an early expiration date. So, let’s figure out how to preserve your Poloraids from the trinity of death and other would-be memory faders.


  • Avoid storing them immediately. Even though Polaroids are instant, the chemicals, developer dyes, and chemical reactions in them need more time to settle than just a few shakes. Once you snap a Polaroid, you should try to wait around 4 weeks before storing it in any album sleeve. If you must, keep your fresh Polaroids in a photo box for 30 days or so before transferring them into an album.
  • Where you store them is just as important as how you store them. Polaroids are no different than regular photos as far as time and deterioration are concerned. That’s why it all comes down to safe storage to increase longevity, including the avoidance of storing materials like magnets or plastic albums, which can interfere prematurely with the Polaroid’s chemicals and cause them to yellow over time. Instead, opt for acid-free storage sleeves and containers to help keep your Polaroids looking sharp and vibrant.
  • Skip the scissors. You know that recognizable white border that frames every Polaroid? Yeah, don’t cut that to achieve a more seamless look. If you do, you’ll end up breaking the protective seal of the print, allowing air to get inside. 
  • Keep them flat. Storing your Polaroids flat is the best way to prevent gravity from taking its toll on them. If you store them on their sides, they have a greater chance of developing a yellow tint around the edges.
  • Use the white border to hold them. Treat your Polaroids as you’d treat your vinyl records (if you have any). Avoid touching the actual print face and exposing the surface to the natural oil from your fingers. That seemingly harmless smudge can attract dirt, dust, and other image deterioration.
  • SPF 40 for your Polaroids. Alright, so you’re not actually going to rub sunscreen on your Polaroids, but just like your skin needs protection from the sun, so do your photos. If you’re adamant about displaying your photos, consider getting an acrylic or glass UV protection frame in order to flaunt your retro Polaroid collection and keep them safe from direct sunlight.



      Digitization Is the Future for Your Polaroids

      If you’re truly adamant about saving Polaroid originals as well as new Polaroid prints, then the only sure way is through digitization. Over time, your photos are going to fade (sorry, it’s science and simply how this film works), but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep their memories forever. 


      While you should always try to do your best to keep the original print in good condition, there’s only so much you can do in the long run. So, you can still shake your new Polaroids to the tune of “Hey Ya,” but also remember to digitize (or scan) your Polaroids to make sure all those Polaroid pictures last forever.

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