Nitrate film handling

For film dating prior to 1952

John Cassidy

PRO-TEK employee John Cassidy inspecting negatives before digital scanning.

PRO-TEK is one of the few remaining providers of nitrate film restoration and preservation services in the United States. We have decades of experience and personnel who are trained and certified in the handling of cellulose nitrate base film, a highly flammable stock produced prior to 1952.

While it’s been well over fifty years since the end of nitrate as a film base, a great deal of nitrate-based film footage remains in archives and collections around the world. need attention because they contain irreplaceable content with historical, creative and commercial value:

  • Movies from the silent film era
  • Historical news and event coverage
  • Industrial film from corporations founded prior to the 1950s
  • Other nitrate film archives from the late 1800s and early 1900s

Adherence to nitrate film preservation standards

You can rely on PRO-TEK for guidance on restoring and preserving nitrocellulose film, with services that include:

  • Quality inspection, assessment and reporting of physical condition for restoration and scanning.
  • Comprehensive recording and reporting of data such as film dates, emulsion types, total footage, aspect ratio and physical condition.
  • Metadata creation and cataloging.
  • Identification of valuable footage for monetization, historical value and other preservation goals.
  • Assistance finding nitrate storage providers and managing disposal of degraded elements through certified facilities. (PRO-TEK does not provide nitrate film storage.)
  • Shipping and other logistics for nitrate film transportation between facilities.

We follow nitrate film preservation standards and recommendations set forth by the U.S. National Archives, the Society of American Archivists, the Association of Moving Image Archivists and other leading film archiving organizations.

Nitrate film degradation and safety concerns

The most urgent reason to prioritize the preservation of any nitrate-based film in your collection is the inherently unstable and flammable qualities of nitrate. Stored in large quantities in non-approved facilities without proper ventilation, it rapidly decomposes, shrinking and becoming brittle and sticky.

In the process, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and other gases are emitted. If the film is enclosed in cans or other sealed containers, a kind of “pressure cooker” effect can build, while escaping gases attack acetate and polyester base films stored in the same area. That’s why it’s crucial for nitrate film to be properly segregated and stored.

Meanwhile, if you have nitrate film assets, follow these guidelines:

  • Keep the ambient temperature as cool and consistent as possible, below 70 degrees F. Nitrate-base film is highly flammable at temperatures around 100 degrees F and cannot be extinguished once ignited.
  • Keep the relative humidity between 30-40%.
  • Do not store in non-ventilated or sealed containers (like taped cans or boxes) and keep the storage area well-ventilated.
  • Do not store close to vents, ducts or other heat sources.
  • Segregate nitrate film from other media like acetate or polyester film and paper.

Please note: we are unable to store nitrate film, but we can handle shipping and other logistics and guide you to proper storage facilities

Learn more about our nitrate film preservation expertise