Framing artwork and photography is a smart and easy way to preserve the integrity of the artwork. Choosing the right material is one of the most important aspects of framing, as selecting wrong can damage the items. In some cases, unsuitable materials can even affect the artwork to the point of making it irreparable. The specific materials that should be used to help frame artwork or photography include a frame, glazing, front mat, and back mat. A backing, moisture barrier and dust cover should also be used. Keep the following tips in mind when locating the best quality of materials to preserve your artwork, so that it will look as fresh and vivid as the day it was created.
The Importance of Archival Quality Materials
When framing artwork or photography, it’s best to choose materials that are considered to be of “archival quality.” This means that the materials have been made to preserve the integrity of the framed item as long as possible, and that the artwork can be handled without it being damaged. Generally, archival quality materials are more expensive than those that are not, though customers may be able to find more inexpensive alternatives by looking for materials that are labeled as “conservation” or “museum quality.”
Metal frames are the most popular types for archival framing, because their anodizing or baking protects artwork from damage. Typically, it can be a good idea to forgo wood frames, as they are prime sources of damaging resins and acids. If a wood frame is chosen, it should be finished and sealed, with its rabbet carefully lined against the moisture barrier to discourage the transfer of acid. Selecting a modest frame in color and style can do wonders for a photograph or piece of artwork’s presentation, as the eye can naturally gravitate towards the art instead of the frame itself.
Glazing refers to the protective, clear sheet of the frame. This can be made out of glass or acrylic. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. While glass is cheaper than acrylic, scratch-resistant, and needs only minor cleaning maintenance, it is also heavy, can shatter, and has reflective qualities. The more expensive acrylic alternative is lighter and less apt to break, but it can scratch easily, and carry a static charge which can damage certain types of artwork. “Museum quality” glass, which features the advantages of both glass and acrylic sheets, may be able to be purchased at a higher price.
Front and Back Mats
Choosing the best quality front and back mats is important because of their proximity to your artwork or photographs within the frame. Several different grades of mats exist. The best archival quality mats include 100% cotton rag and 100% cellulose. These are 100% acid and lignin free and can be buffered. Plain acid-free mats are not archival quality, but the absence of lignin in them will provide good protection for a while. Mats that are simply buffered are susceptible to acid over time, and standard mats are not acid-free at all. As a general rule, front and back mats should be of the same material and size, and also contain hinges, edge stripes or corner supports with which to position the artwork or photographs.
Backing, Moisture Barriers and Dust Covers
As with other types of framing materials, backing should be of archival quality. To avoid backing that can damage artwork, “foam core boards” should be passed up in favor of those labeled as “blue board” and Coroplast®. Moisture barriers protect artwork from unwelcome wetness. Good moisture barriers include those made out of polyester film, polypropylene, or Marvelseal. These barriers are especially important if the artwork is exposed to the elements, or if artwork is to be displayed outside. Dust covers, positioned on the back of the frame, protect artwork and photographs from dust and vermin. For the best results, strong and impenetrable acid-free backing paper should be used in lieu of anything that comes standard with the frame.