It is important to mention at this point that print quality is more a factor of the negative than it is of the equipment used to print. Remember what Ansel Adams said: “The negative is the score. The print is the performance.” That says it all. It is very difficult to get a satisfactory print from a bad negative.
Darkrooms, studios, closets and basements can be messy places. Water, dust, humidity and other damaging factors can easily destroy negatives. Having a system for categorizing, storing and preserving your valuable negatives is more than a good idea. After all, if you've gone through the trouble of going to the ends of the earth to get the photographs, why wouldn't you want to ensure those images are kept safe and secure?
There are many ways to protect and file negatives. The most popular ones are the clear pages that you see hanging in packs of 25 or 100 on pegboards in your local photo store. They come in a variety of sizes to accommodate any size negative. Sleeves can be made from various materials such as polyester, polypropylene or polyethylene. Polyester sleeves are the most costly and are most susceptible to dust. Polypropylene sleeves are made from a firmer and very clear material, renowned for stability. Polyethylene is also a stable material but not as visually clear as polypropylene.
It is important to point out that sleeves that are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) are not rated for archival storage because of the hydrochloric acid they may emit as they “gas off” over time. As a rule, you should only use negative and print sleeves that are certified as being of archival quality.
Once the negatives are stored in the sleeve, the sleeve itself can be filed inside an archival binder or box.
Like storage sleeves, there are many kinds of binders available. When all else fails, a loose-leaf binder can serve the purpose. As for accessing your files, when you begin a printing session, it might be a good idea to sort through the negatives that you want to print and set them beside your enlarging area. As you finish a print, restore the negative to its original storage sleeve and take the next one. Positioning a good loupe and light box on the dry side of the darkroom can streamline the editing process. Don’t forget to stow your printing paper when you turn the light box on(see the B&H InDepth article, Paper Safes).