A University Products How-To Tip: Conservation Framing

You have just completed the framing of your photograph, print or document, and have it proudly displayed in your home or office. Already, certain chemical reactions have begun to occur which can result in yellowing, brittleness, and overall deterioration. Colors can fade, clarity will decrease, and eventually, the value of the image will diminish.
A framed item is usually exposed to direct or indirect sunlight, as well as interior lighting (both fluorescent and incandescent). All of these emit varying degrees of the damaging ultraviolet portion of the spectrum that causes paper to discolor and inks to fade. In addition, the paper, board, adhesives, glazing (glass) and even the frame itself, can accelerate the process of disintegration.
While it may seem that your only option is to lock up your collection somewhere, away from the perils of man and nature, it is no longer necessarily to resort to such extremes. Conservation framing techniques and materials available today allow you to exhibit your cherished photos and prints in relative safety. To insure they are properly framed you should consult either a qualified conservator or picture framer trained in conservation framing techniques. You may even wish to attempt the job yourself, although the time, patience and expertise required to do the job properly is considerable. Whether you decide to work with an expert or take on the task yourself, there are a few basic principles you should be aware of to make sure the job is done properly.

The Frame Package
Conservation framing starts from the back of the frame and works forward through the framing package. The sealing of the back of the frame provides protection from dust, moisture, atmospheric pollution and varying climatic changes. It should be acid free, and buffered to prevent the development of acids in the future. The frame backing should be secured using pH neutral adhesives or tapes. There are many available for just that purpose.

1. Frame Back
Beneath the frame backing paper (sometimes called the dust cover), is the backing board or filler. Sufficient backing provides additional strength and rigidity. Several types are used including corrugated paper board, corrugated plastic, and solid foam core boards. There are dangerous as well as safe varieties of each available. Any paper backing board should be acid free and preferably buffered. Plastic board should be inert and free of harmful plasticizers. Solid core foam boards should also be both acid free and inert.

2 . Back Mat
As you proceed toward the front of the frame package, the next layer would be the back mat. Museum board will provide the safest support for your artwork. Made of 100% rag, this board should be acid free and lignin free. Since the entire back of the autographed document will lie completely against this layer, it may very well be the most crucial layer of the frame package.

3. Attaching Art to the Back Mat
Proper hinging and mounting materials are a necessity when attaching the document or photo to the back mat. By museum standards, the only proper method involves attaching hinges made from acid free Japanese tissueWheat starch or rice starch paste are the only acceptable adhesives for this application since they are acid free and reversible. The first piece of hinging tissue is adhered to the back of the photo or document, leaving a portion of the hinge protruding above the item. The adhesive should face out when the document is laid face up on the back mat. The second piece of tissue lies over the first, without touching the document, securing the document to the backmat. The window mat can then be positioned over the document to completely hide the hinges. New products such as mounting strips and mounting corners are also available. These products allow you to mount without using any adhesive on the artwork, and are extremely efficient. However, Japanese hinging remains the time tested choice of most conservators.

4. Window Mat
The window mat is the next layer, offering strength and support in addition to providing sufficient air space between the glazing and the artwork. Ideally, the window mat should be 100% rag, acid free, buffered, and contain no alum or lignin. In addition, colored window mats should be bleed and fade resistant (conservators usually prefer white or cream white to be on the safe side).

5. Glazing
Finally, comes the glazing. Both glass and Plexiglas are now available with UV filtering layers to protect your print or photograph from dangerous light. You may find that the UV filter glazing materials have a minor tint that changes the appearance of your document. This is preferable to an actual change that will undoubtedly occur in its absence. Make sure whatever glazing material you choose, that it does not come in contact with the artwork.

Remember that framing is the creation of a storage container that allows you to view its contents, and that improper storage is a leading cause of deterioration of paper and photographs. When properly framed, your prints and photographs will be enjoyed not only today, but for generations to come.