Backing up photos is a lot like going to the dentist – something you know you need to do, but probably don’t relish doing.
When you finally find the time to make copies of your images, it’s important to know how to preserve them for the long term. One of the best methods for backing up your images is burning them to a CD or DVD. But not all disks are created equal. Traditional blank discs are not really designed to survive for years, much less generations. They’re coated in aluminum and over time elements in these discs deteriorate. When they do, the data that they store (i.e. your photos) can be damaged or destroyed.
That time can be shorter than you think – some discs may begin to “rot” after only 18 months. Others can safely last years. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell up front whether the photos you’re burning onto a standard DVD are going to last for the duration.
Go for the Gold
If you want your memories to last till the grandkids, you go for the gold: gold-plated disks. Oh I know, it seems like a terrible extravagance as the global economy emerges from its worst slump in decades (or a good way of hording precious metals if it ever hits the fan again) but in truth, disks coated with gold will last far longer than traditional silver-coated disks.
Why? The short answer is that gold is chemically inert. It’s more stable, which means all the data you’re storing on the disk is more secure. Of course, you don’t want to store your photos on a DVD for 100 years because there won’t be DVD drives in 30 years, much less 100. However, cheapo disks won’t last nearly as long as their gold counterparts.
In addition to chemically secure coatings, most “archival grade” discs come with scratch-resistant coatings to prevent damage from handling.
As you’d expect, gold discs will cost more than their non-gold alternative. A 5-disc case of gold DVDs could usually cost about $18-$20, whereas if you dropped $20 on traditional DVDs, you’d get four or five times as many discs.
Keeping Them Safe
No DVD – gold or not – will last long if it’s improperly handled. Here are some tips to keep in mind when burning your discs:
1. Go slow: set your CD/DVD burner to its slowest possible speed when burning your photos and videos. The slower it goes, the less prone you’ll be to data errors.
2. Do not write on the discs: Put the pen away, you should never write or put labels directly onto the discs themselves. Inks or adhesives can leach through the protective barriers of a disc over time and destroy your photos. You should clearly label each and every disc you burn, but do so on a jewel case or on a label on a CD case.
3. Keep your cool: DVDs should be stored in a case or album and the case should be stored in a cool, dry and dark location. Avoid exposing your discs to temperature swings.
4. Don’t forget about them: Don’t treat your photo DVDs like your photo albums of old, where you dump them into a box and forget about them. If you let them sit too long, you may find yourself without a device to play them back on. The DVD player or DVD computer drive won’t be around forever. If you want your photos to stick around, you’ll have to ensure that as technology changes, you keep up and migrate your images and movies to the most current, secure format.