Greener Albums

The Issue:

  • Most photographic albums are archival, but their production may not be inherently eco-friendly.
  • Ask your album companies about their production process; asking questions about archival materials is especially recommended.

What you Need to Know

  • Albums are one of the best ways to preserve photographic prints, but we still should use the most archival and environmentally-friendly components available.
  • Some album companies are based domestically, but outsource their album production oversees and/or import their materials from overseas.
  • Animal-free album covers often mean petro-chemical plastic, unless it is a natural fiber.

Greener Photography's Recommendations:

  • Insist on archival quality materials and manufacturing from your album company.
  • Find a domestic album company that produces/sources all of its album components domestically.
  • Use ground shipping when sending or receiving albums and album prints.
  • Choose a natural fiber cover material to offer clients greener album choices.

Albums offered by professional photographers are the ideal way to showcase and preserve cherished memories. There are two broad categories of bound volumes: Albums, which are created with prints on photographic or cotton paper, and Books, which are created with images printed on book paper. This article will focus only on bound photographic albums. We will address books in a future article.

Professional photographic albums consist of photographic prints mounted or matted on stiff pages, bound together, and finished with a cover. Because albums are considered dark storage, even the least archival prints are rated to last 200+ years.  Traditional lab prints, or RC prints, have their own environmental impact; to find out more about photo paper, please see our discussion of greener prints. The good news is that the many components to a professional album afford you multiple opportunities to choose greener options. Let's take a look at each component of an album.

Album cover material:
The album cover is a decorative finishing element, often personalized with text or images.
There are many cover material options from man-made or natural materials/fibers - each has advantages/disadvantages, but there are hundreds of options.

Typical choices include:

Leather - made from a by-product of the leather industry.

Silk - a natural fiber made from the silk threads spun into a cocoon by insects, primarily the caterpillar of the silk moth. Commercially farmed silkworm are killed in the harvesting process by being dipped into boiling water. There is a new way of harvesting silk that does not require killing the worm, commercially produced in the US as Aurora or Peace Silk.

Synthetic Materials - made from petro-chemicals.

Other Natural Fibers - including linen, fabric, hemp, recycled kraft paper, and lotka paper. Certainly the most environmentally-friendly album cover options depending on their place of origin. These covers, with the potential exception of hemp, may not prove as durable as leather or synthetic covers.  Despite this we believe it is still the greener choice.

Album pages and mats/frames/liners:
Photographs are typically mounted to a substructure or page using glues; make sure the adhesive used is archival. Some companies offer pages, mats and liners that are tree-free or made from recycled materials.

Typical choices include:

Flushmount albums contain photographs mounted directly on a page. Make sure that your flushmount pages are both PH neutral and acid-free.

Matted albums contain images that are sometimes adhered to a liner on a page with a frame or finishing mat over or around the image. Mats and liners must be acid-free to protect your images.  Any reputable album company's pages will be, but it is important to ask!

Giclee albums typically involve printing images directly on cotton-based paper. Overall this might be the greenest choice, since cotton is a natural fiber that does biodegrade. However as with all products, each component of the whole must be considered.

Photographic prints:
Prints going into an album will be protected by the components of the album.  It is still important to insist of the most archival and eco-friendly paper and printing process.  Please see our discussion of greener photographic prints for more information.

If you are offering traditional RC prints, insist on professional-grade, archival photographic paper. Please check your manufacturers technical details.

Textures and sprays may be added to prints to further protect. They add to the longevity of resin-coated prints by approximately 15%. Insist on water-based textures and sprays, not oil-based.

Consider albums made with giclee prints (see above).

Various adhesive materials are necessary to install your prints in the albums, bind pages together, and finish the album cover.

Album manufacturers should use adhesives that are acid-free and archival quality.  Be sure to ask your manufacturer.

Many of these glues and adhesives have some sort of animal product in them.  It may be difficult or impossible to find a truly animal-free adhesive, but it never hurts to ask the vendor. Just like anything else, if there’s enough demand, there is potential for a new market!

The source of your album:
There are beautiful options available from many different countries. However, in our greener opinion, shipping albums halfway around the world incurs an unnecessarily large carbon footprint.

As we mentioned in the environmental cost of shipping editorial, asking where the various components are made and expressing concern about the carbon footprint of the whole product is another way to fuel demand for greener albums made closer to home.

And there you have it, greener albums!  Please let us know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.  If you are an album producer who offers a product that fits our above recommendations, please contact us!

No votes yet


LarryCrandall's picture

Greener Albums

Really great story - there are so many aspects to green albums and you've really covered them well in the article.

Lawrence Crandall

Invite a friend

Recommend Greener Photography to:
site credits: design - amber haynes, build - 10K webdesign