If you have been looking around at all the different websites for record sleeves, you’re going to notice that the term “archival” is used quite often. Basically, it’s almost a buzz word for the marketing of inner and outer sleeves. Let me explain….
If you search for a definition of “archival” it’s typically defined as “pertaining to archives of valuable records”. Not necessarily just vinyl records, but paper documents, photographs, etc.…
The term pertains to the materials that are used to store these “records” and if it’s suitable for long term storage, safe and stable to meet museum or library storage standards.
There is a myriad of plastics being used for vinyl record storage and they aren’t equally stable. For long-term storage of album artwork, it’s important to select sleeves that will not release decomposition residue as they age.
Archival plastic sleeves should be acid and PVC free. Vinyl record inner sleeves that are paper should be lignin free. Unfortunately, not all manufacturing materials are acid-free. The process of oxidation makes them destructive to unprotected album artwork.
Sleeves should be made of materials that are strong, durable, and chemically stable. Although acid-free materials aren’t acidic when they’re manufactured, they can become acidic over time. Inner sleeves should also be lignin-free. Lignin, a component found in plants and trees, can react with light and heat to produce acid.
Plastic sleeves are useful for delicate or frequently handled record albums. While clear plastic provides no protection from light (heat causing oxidation), items in these enclosures should be placed in boxes or shielded (like a storage shelf) for long-term storage. Polyester, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyethylene are types of plastic outer sleeves you will see for sale. Sometimes you will see terms like “HD Poly” or “polypro” or “high density polypropylene” or “Poly Vinyl”. I can’t really explain why retailers are using these terms.
Types of plastic outer sleeves rated, based from my experience and technical data:
You should also consider the “heat handling” and moisture absorption properties of these plastics. As the weight of multiple records add compression to the mix, plastic stability become paramount and any water (humidity) transferred between the cardboard jacket and sleeve will potentially cause damage.
A note of caution: PVC contains dangerous chemical additives including phthalates, lead, cadmium, and/or organotin, which can be toxic to your child's health. These toxic additives can leach out or evaporate into the air over time, posing unnecessary dangers to children. I can’t imagine what it will do to your record jackets. PVC won’t pass ISO 18916 PAT.
You now have 3 factors that could adversely affect the condition of your collection: heat (light), moisture and pressure.
All polyethylene sleeves are made on the same equipment as garbage bags. This a blown polymer that will always have a recycled content. That content can range up to 20%. Unfortunately, it can contain a mix of PVC, polypropylene and low/high density polyethylene. This contributes to it breaking down chemically over time. More so when exposed to light. Hence the grey or yellow colouring of the material over time. Polyethylene will not pass the ISO 18916 PAT and isn't used by libraries for long term storage.
“Okay, so what should I be looking for?”
If you have spent a small fortune on your collection, (I’m at $10,000…please don’t tell my wife!) you really need to consider the value of proper protection. The only way to do that is to use material that have been tested to conform with PAT (photographic activity test).
There are only a few labs that can complete testing to that standard. Like the Image Permanence Institute. This is where I have my materials tested and approved.
“The Photographic Activity Test, widely known as the PAT, is an International Standard in itself: ISO 18916. The PAT explores the possibility of chemical interactions between photographs and a given material after prolonged contact. It uses two special detectors. One detector screens for oxidation and reduction reactions which can cause image fade, silver mirroring, and red or gold spots. The other detector, screens for chromophores –compounds that can cause yellowing of the support. All materials must pass the PAT to be considered photo-safe.” (1)
So, when you’re buying you’re next package of sleeves, maybe give this some thought…”Has this product been tested?”….”What plastic is this made of?”….”Is the value of my collection worth buying an inexpensive sleeve?”…”Is the retailer or brand reputable or some name I have never heard of?”
Additionally, 2 mil is recognized as the minimum and 4 mil as industry standard “archival” thickness by libraries for proper photographic storage.
Image permanence institute