Q+ A: Removing Stuck Pictures


I have photos of my children’s baby pictures that have stuck to the glass of the frame. How can I get this photo out without ruining it?


Wow that is one sticky problem!  The answer really depends on what type of photo you are trying to remove.  Surprisingly, the older the photo, the easier it may be to solve this problem.

For more info, I turned to expert Michael Berry, a professional photographer whose work I have admired for years.  Michael says that images in older black and white photos may be easier to remove.  The gelatin (coating) or emulsion on the paper surface suspends silver halides on the paper base and creates an image when struck by light and processed in chemistry.  The silver gelatin is key.  A photo lab may be able to immerse the picture in a wetting agent, such as Kodak’s Photo Flo 200 and get the image to separate from the glass.

If the image and glass are soaked in the wetting agent and it is in fact a fiber-based print, the Photo Flo will be able to penetrate the papers’ backing, soften the gelatin surface and release it from the glass. If this is done successfully, you can swab the print dry, lay it on a paper towel (less texture is better) facedown, place another paper towel on top and the fold a bathroom towel so it covers the print and acts as a weight to keep it from curling.

The downside to the silver gelatin exercise is what caused the print to stick to the glass in the first place. A gelatin print in the wrong environment (damp) and contacting the glass, can act just like a Petri dish. Molds love to make their homes on old photographs improperly stored. That includes framed ones. If molds are part of what’s causing this bond, then they’ll be deeply embedded into the print surface and cause permanent damage.

Now, if the print is a newer black and white or color print, there’s really no way to remove the photo without damaging it. These photographs use a synthetic resin (plastic) as their suspension vehicle for the emulsion and once it sticks to glass, it’s pretty well fused for good. A wetting agent won’t work here because it can’t penetrate the plastic and release the print from the glass.  As a default, photo labs will use “RC papers” or Resin Coated papers since they were created for use in processing machines.

The only chance you may have of saving the picture is to lift one corner and very gently use a single-edged razor and slowly work the print and glass apart.  Or if you’d rather not chance any of this, remember that you can always buy new glass for the picture frame and make the old glass a permanent part of the picture you are trying to preserve!

Reaching Tom:  If you have a home improvement question or comment on this topic, please post it here.  For answers to other home improvement questions, please email Tom at tomsmoneypit@aol.com so your question can be used in future blog entries.

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