Why It’s Important to Print Photos

Why It's Important to Print Your Photos

There’s so much focus these days on digital photo storage.  There are all sorts of suggestions out there:  cloud, DVD, flash drive, photo storage companies.  It can leave us feeling like we need backups of our backups.  But what good is a stored photo that you don’t ever see?  Whether you actually remember the days of film and negatives or not, there’s an important thing to be learned from those days:  we didn’t focus on storing our negatives in multiple ways and multiple formats.  The focus, rather, was on the photographs.

This month on #familyhistoryfriday we’re going to talk about getting your photos out of digital form:  the why, the how, some tips, and how to move forward.

The WHY of getting your photos out of digital form

Yes, digital photo storage is a good idea.  Yes, technology is fickle and ever-changing, so storing photos digitally in two ways really is a smart thing to do.  However, don’t lose sight of the fact that digital photo storage is the same as film negatives — it’s a backup. 

You’ve probably never thought about it this way, but all those digital photos you have on your phone, camera, computer, even in the cloud–they are not the real thing.  They’re not photos.  They are simply files with the potential to become photos.

It’s way past time to settle down the hype of digital photo STORAGE and get back to actually prioritizing the printing of photos.  And here’s why.  Printed photos, not digital ones, can be interacted with, held, seen, and loved–with their stories intact.  Photos in digital form don’t really provide a place to record memories or tell the stories of those photos.  A book, scrap page, or album provides a home for your photo where it can be loved and have its story told.  And if you don’t record the memory behind the photo, that photo loses half its value.

Dr. Linda Henkel, a psychological scientist, described this well:

“The sheer volume and lack of organization of digital photos for personal memories discourages many people from accessing and reminiscing about them.  In order to remember, we have to access and interact with the photos, rather than just amass them.”  ~Linda Henkel

It’s not about amassing or stockpiling photos.  That’s not what they’re for.  Photos were meant to be seen, “accessed,” and “interacted with.”  Unfortunately, most people I talk to have a lot of files, but very few photos.  But our memories are better, our connections are better, when we see and hold a photo.  It’s easy to re-live a moment when you’re seeing it again, especially if it has details (memories) recorded along with it.

When I talk about photos in “print,” that can mean printing the photos and putting them in albums, printing the photos and putting them in scrapbooked pages, or publishing the photos in digital books like the ones I mentioned a few weeks ago.  “Printed” just means a tangible, non-digital form.

How long does a printed photo last?

Did you know a printed photo can last upwards of 200 years?!  There are photos from the 1800s that are still in existence.  Their current state is dependent on their exposure to the elements, of course, and how well they were taken care of, but printed photos can last a long time.  In fact, if you Google the best ways to store photos, you’ll find a lot of opinions, but there is one common theme:  “make sure you have a hard copy.” 

How long does a digital photo last?

Indeed, that’s a very good question.  The answer is:  we don’t actually know.  According to www.millenniata.com, hard drives can last around 5 years, DVDs can last 7, and flash drives about 8 (before data on them can be corrupted).  We’ll talk more about the MDisc in a few weeks, but the fact remains that technology changes very quickly.  What will be the VHS tape of photo storage in ten years?  We just don’t know.

Accessing and interacting with printed photos

Storing photos digitally is a good idea, as a backup, but that’s the START, not the END.  Getting your photos out of digital form gives them life.  It makes them into photos.

Methods (or products) for storing printed photos have improved in recent years, and we have all sorts of options now.  We learned about acid-free albums along the way, so most products available these days are much better than those from the ’60s and ’70s.  There are lower-quality and higher-quality options now, obviously, but there are some excellent possibilities and tools out there.

Whether you print your photos at your local photo-processing place and then store them in store-bought albums or print them in digital storybooks or yearbooks or scrap pages, the printed version of your photos is the meaningful one.

Getting your photos out of digital form starts with a change of mindset– focusing more on making sure your photos are printed than making sure they’re stored digitally in two methods.

Start there, and you’re on your way to having meaningful photos, not just files.

~Jennifer #familyhistoryfriday


  1. Association for Psychological Science. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/no-pictures-please-taking-photos-may-impede-memory-of-museum-tour.html#.WNRvu_krLIU
  2. Millenniata.com. (2011). Retrieved from https://www.millenniata.com/new-write-once-optical-m-disc-stores-your-dirty-photos-forever-hothardware/












Jennifer Wise

consultant at Heritage Makers
I'm Jennifer, and I'm passionate about connections.I enjoy helping people discover the very real benefits of preserving stories, photos, and memories because of the impact they have on children, families, and individuals. I blog weekly at www.lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com sharing tips, ideas, solutions, and inspiration, and I'm over at www.heritagemakers.com/jenniferwise, too. Learn more about me at the "About" tab.

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8 thoughts on “Why It’s Important to Print Photos

  1. Lots of great information! I use chatbooks to print books of my Instagram photos and Walgreens online service when I need actual photos. I still like to scrapbook! Thanks for this post!!

    • I’m glad you’re a photo printer, Sarah. It makes a world of difference. Digital photos left as digital files don’t allow us to record the memories along with the photos, and that’s what makes them so meaningful. Keep printing! 🙂