Archival Framing – Protecting Your New Work of Art

You have just purchased an original water color or fine art print. The artist has assured you that the work was produced using paints with high light fastness ratings or archival inks on 100% cotton rag paper. However, to ensure a lifetime of enjoyment from your new purchase and to maintain its value the art must also be properly framed.

Whether you plan to have the artist frame your art, go to a frame shop or do it yourself you need to understand the requirements for archival framing. Unless you are prepared to accept fading and discoloration of your art you should insist on archival framing.

Watercolors, gouache, and to a lesser extent printing inks will fade if not protected from UV rays. Moisture can damage the paper on which your art work was created. Acid from wooden frames and paper mats can burn the paper causing discoloration and brittleness. Improper attachment of the art work to a backing board can cause discoloration or make it very difficult to re-frame a piece without damage.

Following are the key elements of archival framing and some tips for do it yourself framers:

~ Works of art on paper should be framed using UV-filtering glass or plexi-glass to prevent fading. I prefer UV-filtering glass because it is less expensive than plexi-glass, plexi-glass scratches easily and attracts dust due to static. However, if weight or breakage is a significant concern plexi-glass is the best choice.

~ The artwork must not be allowed to touch the glass or plexi- glass to protect against moisture condensation. Space is usually created by the use of a mat. It is also possible to use a plastic spacer between the frame and paper.

~ The artwork must be protected from the acid in wood frames. This can be done by use of a window mat with a margin extending from the edge of the art to the outer edge of the frame. If a mat is not used the portion of the frame touching the paper must be lined with a sealing film.

~ The art work should be attached to a supportive backing board. I generally use acid free foam core as a backing board. Coroplast is a less expensive option. Please be aware that standard foam core board is not acid free. You must specifically request acid free foam core. The art must be attached to the backing board in a way that does not damage the paper and permits later re-framing. My preferred method is to use clear mylar picture corners to hold the paper to the backing board. These can be purchased anywhere scrap book supplies are sold. The backing board can be attached to the frame with a brad gun.

~ All mats or backing boards touching the art must be acid free. The best mat choice is a 100% cotton rag mat. An acid free alphacellulose mat is preferable to a paper mat but will discolor along the edge of the mat after a period of time. A paper mat should never be used.

~ Finally the back of the frame should have a dust cover attached to keep insects and insect larva off of the mats and artwork. To make a dustcover you can glue a piece of craft paper, (which is cut slightly larger than the frame), to the back of the frame using craft glue.

Spritz the back of the paper lightly with a fine mist of water and dry it thoroughly with a hand held hair dryer. This tightens the paper across the back. You can then use a sturdy emery board (the type intended for acrylic nails is perfect) and "file" the edge of the frame to remove the excess paper. You can also use a craft knife to trim the paper.

Decorators and craft stores can assist you in selecting aesthetically pleasing frames but may not understand the requirements for archival framing. It is good to discuss your specific requirements in detail before arranging for a piece of art to be framed. If you want to frame a piece yourself please check the links page on my website for sources I use for framing supplies as well as sources for archival framing kits.
Archival kits are an excellent choice if you are framing a standard size piece.