Photography by Jim Doty

    Home     About     Photos     Learn     Contact

Jim Doty, Jr.

UPDATE December 16, 2005:  My new article on Digital Image Storage recommends the best brands of CD-R and DVD discs, along with external hard drives. The advice below about the care and use of CD-R discs is still valid. The government links are quite useful.

A recently manufactured slide or negative film, properly processed and stored, will last from 50 to 125 years (depending on the brand) without significant loss of color. What about all of the digital files being produced? No one really knows for sure just yet.

If your photos are stored on your hard drive and your hard drive crashes, all of your photos may be gone. There is the option of sending your drive to one of the expensive drive recovery services like Drive Savers.


The prudent step is to back up your digital photo files. Of the options readily available, using CD-R discs is currently  (Dec 2001) one of the best and also one of the least expensive. If you have digital photo files of any size, they will eventually fill up your hard drive anyway.

The moral of this story is that you need either an internal or external CD burner for your computer. Reviews on different burners are available at several places including  Just do a search at or your favorite search engine.

What discs should you use? Since the goal is for your digital photos to last as long as possible, your best bet is to get discs that use gold or a gold-silver combination in the reflective layer. These should provide the longest life. The dyes in the recordable layers of all optical discs will fade over time and lose data, some in as little as two years, other dye layers should last for several decades. The good news is that the best archival discs cost less than $1.00 per CD-R and $2.00 per DVD when purchased from the right sources (prices are in USD). Update December 2005: read my specific brand and disc recommendations here.


Take good care of your discs. A scratched audio CD can sometimes be playable. Digital files are more likely to be lost of the disc is scratched.  While you are at it you should burn two discs and keep one at a different site.

The tragedy September 11 reminded folks that it is not enough to back up your work, you need to keep a copy of your backup away from your computer. One writer carefully backed up 10 years of projects and lost it all because the backup CDs were right there with the computer.  Fire, floods, and other hazards are good reasons to keep a set of backups in another location. You can always get another computer and software. The valuable you want to protect is your hours of work and precious files.

Your discs will be better off in jewel cases (thin or regular) than in plastic or paper sleeves. Plastic and papers sleeves collect dust and invite scratches.

Keep your discs out of the sun and away from temperature extremes.

Don't put labels on your discs.

It is best not to write on your discs, but if you do, don't use a SANFORD SHARPIE permanent marker. There are some special markers made for writing on CDs and DVDs.

Store your discs vertically, not laying flat.

Some day a better storage media will come along and many of us will all be transferring our digital files to the new media. In the mean time, save your files on discs with some gold content, don't scratch them, keep them out of the sun, and keep them in protective jewel cases. Make two copies!


I am including the summary from an article at the CNET web site.

CNET's bottom line for CD-R media

1. When the data or music's important, use certified media from a major manufacturer that makes its own discs. Otherwise, go with the cheapies to save money.

2. Designer colors are fine, but make sure the media is rated to match the top speed of your recorder.

3. Buy discs with a gold reflective layer if you're archiving. There's a debate as to whether gold is actually superior, but better safe than sorry. Use discs with a silver reflective layer for the best compatibility with older drives and players.

4. Use jewel cases to store your CD-Rs, forgo labels when possible, use only specially formulated CD markers to label your CD-Rs, and keep your CD-Rs out of the sun and extreme temperatures.

More info on CD-R discs is at

Kodak has 6 online lessons on CD and DVD technology

New Links: For more information you can read US Government recommendations for the care of CDs and DVDs in pdf or  html form. The article itself and the links at the end will keep you busy for a while.

You can also read the Optical Disc Stability Study from the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology).

December 28, 2001
Updated Dec 16, 2005

[Home] [About] [Photos] [Learn] [Contact]

Copyright © Jim Doty, Jr. All rights reserved.

Shop at Adorama - one of the best, largest, and most reliable camera dealers on the internet.