Jane, of A La Carte Albums, is a rockstar, and has gone and written this ridiculously useful post full of SOLID GOLD information for me. Everything you need to know, and all your options for keeping photos including very frugal ones. She knows her stuff. Thank you, Jane!
First up, managing your digital files. Digital files get corrupted, which sucks. Here’s what you need to do:
Get all your digital files in one place. Consider renaming, or adding to the metadata if you have a tool that will do that, the names of the people in the picture, so you remember 20 years from now. Then copy them to a second place – in the cloud is nice (dropbox is free for 2 GB, and google drive, too.) Or maybe a flickr account. Also, burn a CD. Burn a new CD every anniversary (with or without new additions), and look at them before you burn to see if anything got corrupted and needs to be restored from elsewhere. Print the important ones at least as 4x6s, and distribute prints widely to people that will actually keep them.
For the physical album, your concern is getting things in an archival format, so that the pictures won’t deteriorate over time.
Old-school paper albums with photo corners are a great combination of awesome and affordable. And I love that they are really archival, which is important for that heirloom, grandkids looking at it and making fun of your hairstyle aspect. I remember sitting in *my* Grandmother’s living room, looking at a big book with black paper pages and black and white photos held in with photo corners! Definitely a “not broke, don’t fix it” solution.
As to *which*, there are lots and lots of good options, both online and readily available in crafty stores, but I have a particular fondness for screw-post types like Kolo and others make, because you can add and subtract pages. This is good because a) you don’t have to design your layout to a page count; wiggle room makes things a lot easier and b) you can add stuff later, like honeymoon or kid pictures, or subtract the pictures of your cousin’s then-boyfriend-now-ex who everyone now hates.
If you fall in love with handmade Italian leather albums with gold leaf details, this stops being a frugal option, but the pretty (while truly awesome if you are into that) is not more archival; all as long as the paper is sturdy and acid-free, you’re pretty much good to go even if it wasn’t designed to be a photo album; Watercolor artist books made for sketching/on-the spot painting are also nice, and can be found very inexpensively at the art supply store. If the cover is ugly or plain, paint/collage over it.
If you don’t like the look of photo corners, check out “glue dots” and “adhesive sleeves” – basically, go hit up your local scrapbooker for knowledge on how to get your pictures to stay on with the look you want. Removable is better than totally glued down/collaged, in my opinion, in case you ever need to make copies or have something restored.
Leather that was actually made from a cow that you can get on an 8×10 or above book for less than $30ish is not good leather. Possibly not even good pleather, so if you are someone who actually notices the PVC fumes in bad pleather or is going to be really sad when the spine shows wear really quickly, don’t get cheap leather/pleather. Bookcloth/fabric/paper can be really lovely and quality while still being affordable. (This is more important to keep in mind when buying online; in person, your fingers and nose should tell you all you need to know.)
The Design-and-Print Album option 1: Blurb is still my favorite of the paper/pressbook places, because I think their design software is pretty easy to use and the quality is solid for the price. Also, get on their mailing list a while before you want to order your book, because they hand out coupon codes like candy.
I would not even hazard a guess on how these will look in 75 years; I just don’t know, but I don’t trust regular paper the way I do photo (silver halide) prints or good giclee prints, which have actually been tested for archival-ness. There is a lot of competition in this market, but it is not always obvious who is quality-for-a-good-price and who is cheap-because-cheaply-made. Pay attention to details like paper weight and sewn bindings (usually good) versus glued (more variable depending on the skill of the person making it and the glue used.) Design software that warns you when you are trying to make a low-resolution image print too large is a useful thing to look for when choosing.
Design-and-Print Album option 2: Adorama Pix has added books that use actual photographic pages, basically flush albums; I haven’t held them in my hands yet, or tried their design software, but have been hearing good things and I know they are solid as a print lab; they are more expensive than paper, of course, but you’ve got more assurance of longevity.
Get an archival box, like one of these, and fill it with 4×6 prints, and keep it where you will open it up and look at it occasionally. If you use the option that many labs have of printing the pictures with a quarter inch white border, it’s easier to look through them without worrying about fingerprints.
Books designed to be designer/architect’s presentation books are often very good looking, and can be (but aren’t necessarily, read the info carefully) archival and are look really cool in a very modern way, if traditional isn’t your style. You would be making bigger prints to fill these, which edges up the price. Prat and Pina Zingaro make lovely sleek options.
The make frames, sometimes sold as for children’s artwork, that are designed to be easy to switch pictures in and out of. Get one or two for your wall/coffeetable, and commit to changing the picture in it every month; you get to revisit the wedding memories in an album-like way, without sitting down and looking through a book. A mat between the photo and the frame both makes it look more elegant, and protects the photo from becoming stuck to the glass from time or humidity changes.
See? Solid freakin gold.