Paper selection and appropriate materials

1. Paper selection

The paper you choose is an important consideration when preserving and storing records.

What makes paper unstable?

Paper breaks down chemically and physically as it ages. Its chemical degradation creates products that can contaminate and react with other records. Aged paper is more susceptible to damage when handled.

The condition of paper over time is determined by the quality and type, how it has been made, what is in it and how it has been used, stored and handled.

Archival quality paper will undergo little or no change in its properties.

2. Types of paper

Recycled paper

Recycled content is measured as a percentage of the paper’s weight. This may not be detailed on the product label, making it difficult to gauge its durability and longevity.

Recycled paper may be adequate for records of short-term retention, drafts and other casual use.

Thermal paper

Thermal paper is highly unstable. The text can fade within months and may not last longer than 5 years. We do not recommend using thermal paper. Records created on this paper should be copied to a better paper or scanned electronically.

Permanent Paper

Permanent paper must meet certain standards and specifications. Paper advertised as lasting 100 years, ‘durable’, ‘acid-free’, ‘lignin-free’ and ‘buffered’ does not necessarily meet these relevant standards. Archival paper will be watermarked or have packaging labelled with a statement of compliance with the relevant standard(s).

3. Relevant standards

AS 4003-1996: Australian Standard for Permanent Paper governs the permanence and durability of paper and how it is stored. It defines permanent paper as paper ‘which during long term storage in libraries, archives and other protected environments will undergo little or no change in properties that affect its use’.

The optimal climate-controlled conditions stipulated in AS 4003-1996 will not guarantee the continued strength of paper.

For records with a retention period of 30 years or more, the paper is required to meet the National Archives of Australia’s (NAA) technical specification for archival paper.

These specifications require the paper to have increased pH levels and lignin-free content. Paper that is compliant with the NAA specification will have the following NAA registered trademark.

Image of NAA specification

ISO 18916:2007 Imaging materials–Processed imaging materials–Photographic activity test for enclosure materials applies to paper (and other materials) to use to store photographic materials.

4. Choose the right paper

The type of paper you should use depends on the record’s retention requirements, use and likely storage conditions.

Paper types and appropriate use
Record type Types of paper Standard Alternative options
Permanent or long-term temporary records–library and archival conditions not met. Permanent paper NAA approved  
Permanent or long-term temporary records–library and archival conditions are met. Permanent paper NAA approved ISO 9706 (minimum)
AS 4003
Permanent or long-term temporary records–subject to frequent use and handling. Permanent paper ISO 9706/
AS 4003
Short-term temporary records Office paper
(Both recycled and no recycled content)
ISO 9706  
Transitory records only Thermal paper Nil Not recommended for records–scan or copy to an alternative paper type

5. Suppliers of archival quality paper

See a list of suppliers of papers that meet the NAA specification. Papers that meet ISO 9706/AS 4003 are available from most stationery suppliers.