[Updated July 24, 2017]
A complete guide to choosing inner and outer record sleeves to protect your vinyl records. What are the best protective sleeves for my vinyl records? Which is better, paper or poly inner sleeves? Why are 3 mil. outer poly sleeves better than 1 mil. and more.
Written by Bernard F. Lopez
Do your vinyl records use protection? Oh yes, records need to be protected as do the record's outer jackets with that beautiful album cover art. DiscoMusic.com readers have spent a substantial amount of money on their vinyl record collection so it's important that we protect them properly. Most albums and singles come stock with paper inner sleeves which over time yellow, tear and worse hold dirt and shed paper onto the vinyl record. Kind of silly to spend time and money diligently cleaning your records only to throw them back into a filthy inner sleeve. Worse yet, are those folks who don't even use an inner sleeve and just throw the naked record back in the record jacket which leaves the record prone to dust and causes seam splits to the cardboard outer jacket because the record keeps rolling freely inside.
Hold on, you don't use an outer plastic sleeve to protect the jacket either? That means that every time you slide the album cover back into the rack it gets scuffed and marred. You've seen those old records in the flea market with ring wear? Stop that by using an outer poly bag or sleeve. With vinyl records becoming harder to replace and increasing in value every day it is time to start treating your record collection with respect.
Inner Sleeves for Your Records
After properly cleaning a vinyl record, the next line of defense is placing them into a clean and sturdy inner sleeve. These are available for 7, 10 and 12 inch vinyl records. Depending on your budget, there are several options from good to best:
- Generic Paper Inner Record Sleeves The most basic inner sleeve is a plain white paper inner sleeve with a cutout to view the label. This is the bare minimum. The better quality ones use a heavier paper stock and even acid free paper. While this is certainly better than no protection at all, the paper can tear and does shed over time. Also, the simple act of sliding a record into and out of these paper sleeves scratches records, creates static and paper dust. Because there are far better choices today, paper inner record sleeves are NOT recommended. The only reason to buy paper sleeves is if you are selling records in bulk and need to replace torn or dirty sleeve. Paper sleeves are not a good long term storage option for records.
- Poly Inner Record Sleeves Next up the quality ladder is the slightly opaque or matte looking thin polypropylene sleeves a.k.a. poly inner sleeves similar to what Polygram Records used in the mid 1980s for its albums. The better quality sleeves are the thicker 3 mil. variety which make them durable and easier to insert records into because they hold their shape. To make it easier to insert the record back into the album jacket some of these poly inner sleeves have rounded corners. Others are square and sometimes require one to bend one bottom corner to make it easier to slide into the jacket. Vinyl record sleeves made out of polypropylene are a great all around choice for economical protection since both sides of the label can be seen clearly without the need for a cutout as with paper sleeves. Not having a cutout means less dust can get to the record. Good quality poly inner record sleeves give the best bang for the money and are highly recommended.
- Paper with Poly Lined Inner Record Sleeves This style of inner sleeve is a combination of the two above. The paper on the outside gives the sleeve stiffness and shape which makes it easier to open and insert a record. The poly lined inner surface lets the record slide with minimal friction and static. Get your minds out of the gutter please :-) The only slight negative with combo sleeves is their added thickness which makes putting them into some tight record jackets tricky. In short Poly-lined inner sleeves are a nice choice for record protection and ease of use just watch the extra thickness.
- Audiophile Grade Archival Inner Record Sleeves The famed audiophile record label, Mobile Fidelity makes the ultimate inner sleeves for your vinyl records called the MoFo Original Master Sleeves. These super thin inner sleeves have a slim rice paper like layer sandwiched between two sheets of slick high-density anti-static polyethylene to reduce scratching, and dust attraction. It's silky smooth on the outside and inside so this means the record glides in effortlessly without binding, scratching or static buildup, and the sleeve itself slides into the cardboard outer jacket without snagging. Simply beautiful. Once you use these audiophile sleeves it's hard to go back to anything else. They are pricey, but worth it. There is one thing 12 inch single collectors need to be aware of with these audiophile sleeves: only one side of the the label is viewable so you can't read the B-side of the label unless you slide the record out. Nonetheless, the Mobile Fidelity style inner sleeves are the best money can buy.
Which Inner Sleeve to Buy?
Old fashioned paper sleeves shed and can scratch your vinyl records so you should not even consider them! For the best record protection and least amount of friction, get the Mobile Fidelity sleeves however, for most price conscience record collectors, the less expensive poly inner sleeves appear to offer a solid value. Since they're very thin, they even fit into the flimsy lightweight cardboard import record jackets used on British 12 inch singles from the 1980s.
Regardless of which inner sleeve you choose for your records you will NEVER throw away original sleeves that contain photos, artwork or liner notes. In situations like this you simply store the custom sleeve inside the record jacket and use your high quality replacement inner sleeve for everyday use.
To store your records after playing them just hold the slightly bowed open inner sleeve horizontally in one hand while gently sliding the record in with the other hand. Never let the record plop down into a sleeve or jacket as this will eventually rip the seams. Finally take the inner sleeve with the record inside and carefully and without binding, slide it into the record jacket so that the opening of the inner sleeve is anywhere, but on the open side of the jacket. In other words the opening to your inner sleeve will be on top and the opening of the record jacket will be on the side thus providing double protection to the record inside from dust and room contaminants.
Poly Outer Record Sleeves
While the inner sleeve is the most important for the actual vinyl record, you must protect the valuable artwork on the outer cardboard album jacket with an outer poly sleeve. If you don't, you will quickly get scratches and scuff marks or even tears on that beautiful artwork.
3 mil. Outer Poly Sleeves
When it comes to outer record sleeves the main difference will be the thickness of the plastic. Don't bother with the flimsy 1 mil. thick sleeves that feel like Saran sandwich wrap because they don't provide much protection, fold, crease and do not hold their shape. Instead insist on 3 mil. thick clear plastic poly outer bags or sleeves. They will hold their shape and provide more than enough protection to your record album jackets. For thicker multi-record boxsets, you'll need a wider outer sleeve. There are also outer sleeves for 7 inch record jackets.
When new, these types of outer poly sleeves are clear, but as they age they get dirty, cloudy and scuffed so they need to be replaced periodically. This is a good thing because it's easier to replace a poly sleeve than the album covers they protect.
Some of the better poly outer sleeves also come with resealable adhesive flaps, which are great for keeping dust out of the records. To reduce the chance of the adhesive coming in contact with a record, the adhesive strip should be on the back of the sleeve and not on the flap. While not completely necessary, having a flap can help keep dust out and should be considered.
Written and copyrighted © by Bernard F. Lopez
Archival Tips for Vinyl Records
- 10 Things NOT to do to Your Vinyl Records
- How To Clean Vinyl Records
- How To Choose Inner & Outer Record Sleeves