Tips For Smoothing Out Old Photos With Curves

Photos that you take the time to print and preserve are frozen moments in time. The pictures are memories of cherished celebrations, fun trips, or records of events. They're so valuable to you, it's no wonder you'd want to keep them in pristine condition.

Sometimes as photos age, they can begin to curl or curve. This can actually be reversed, but it must be done delicately and carefully. That way, you don't accidentally ruin the photo instead of fixing it.

How to Fix Curves for Older Photos

When flattening out an old photo, you need to be very careful. These are irreplaceable, especially since most of them won't have a digital version of the image you can print it off again. There are two ways you can flatten an old photo. Whichever process you choose, follow the steps below to get your picture lying flat again.

Steam Iron

  1. Place the photo between two pieces of tissue paper. Don't attempt to bend the picture back into place. You could crack it and break the photo doing irreparable damage.
  2. Heat a steam iron to its lowest setting.
  3. Gently press the steam iron down on the top layer of tissue paper. Slowly and lightly work the iron back and forth over the photo.
  4. Remove the photo from between the tissue paper.
  5. Place it between two paper towels and place a heavy book on top of the paper towels. It will flatten out again as it dries.
Photo 1542216765 D94aedbe0af3
Spratt, Annie "Untitled", Unsplash, Published: 11/14/20,, Accessed 9/25/20

Humidification Chamber

The humidification chamber can actually uncurl a paper document. With a big enough container, you could do more than one photo at a time so long as there's enough room between the photos, so they do not touch. If you are doing this for the first time, do a test photo. You'll need archival blotting paper, which you can find at an art supply store.

  1. Choose a container to you for your humidification chamber. You'll need one that can be sealed with a lid, like a plastic storage bin. It needs to be deep enough to fit a wire plate rack and still have room, so the photo can't touch the lid.
  2. Place a towel down on a flat surface in a safe spot that's out of the way. You don't want to risk spilling water onto your photo.
  3. Fill the bottom of the container with 2” (5 cm) of cold or room temperature water. DO NOT use hot water. Hot water will cause condensation that could drip from the lid onto your photo.
  4. Set the wire plate rack in the container.
  5. You can use any type of wire rack so long as it fits in the box, is larger than your photo, and allows humidity to reach the print. It is also helpful if the wire rack is rubber-coated.
  6. Put your photo face-up on the rack. It shouldn't be touching the water, or it'll be damaged by the water.
  7. Put the lid securely on the container before letting it sit for a couple of hours. It's best if you can let the photo sit for 2-3 hours, so it has plenty of time to soften.
  8. After the 2-3 hours, check the container for condensation. There should not be any on the lid or side of the container. If you see condensation, wipe it off right away and make sure the photo isn't wet. If it has gotten wet quickly, wipe it off with a clean towel.
  9. Check the photo to see if it has become soft and pliable. If you can't uncurl it, then put the picture back in the container for a few more hours.
  10. Recheck the photo or leave it in the container until the edges are flexible enough.
  11. Put the photo on archival blotting paper. Using your hands, gently uncurl the picture. The piece of paper you use needs to be big enough to cover the entire print and have a little to spare.
  12. When you've uncurled the photo, place a piece of wax paper or parchment paper on top of the image. Fold the extra bit of blotting paper over the wax paper to cover it.
  13. Place a heavy book or some other heavy objects on top of the photo.
  14. Keep the photo like this for a few days so it can dry.
Photo 1542216516 5F2fce42b88b
Spratt, Annie "Untitled", Unsplash, Published: 11/14/20, Accessed 9/25/20

Fixing Curves in Newer Photos

You still need to be gentle when you flatten out newer photos, but the process is very different than what you do with older pictures.

Place the photo in a large envelope. Send the envelope through a laser printer. You'll need to do this twice -- once in each direction. The heat from the laser printer will moisturize and smooth out the photo. Place the photo inside a scanner bed or underneath a heavy book for a day or two. This will allow it to dry and become flat again.

Uncurling a picture is not hard, but it's a very delicate process. As long as you're careful, you'll have your curved, old photos looking like new.

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