Preservation Framing for Your Treasured Photos

Preservation framing is a framing philosophy that uses only archival methods and materials when framing valued photos and objects. It promotes a high standard of custom framing that aims to minimize the damage environmental factors can cause on a photo or object being put on display. These environmental factors include moisture and humidity, light, pollution and dust.

You see, a photo or piece of art work that looks great now can deteriorate in 10 or 20 years if it is not framed properly. Thus, if a particular photo or artwork is valuable to you and you would like to preserve it for years to come, you do not simply place it in an antique picture frame and leave it at that. It is best to use preservation framing for any treasured object – your university diploma, your child’s finger paintings or a photo of your great grandmother.

Also called conservation framing, this has a few general standards in framing:

  • -Any paper, glue or material used should be chemically stable, acid-free and non-staining.
  • -The mounting and framing method used should be reversible and not permanent. This means that one can take out the object from the frame and not cause any damage.
  • -The photo or object should not touch the glazing or glass. The moisture that can collect on the inside of the glass can damage the photo.

Here are some considerations for preservation framing:

Glazing. Light, whether artificial or natural, can cause discoloration and fading over the years. One way to protect against light-damage is through your glazing choice. There are a number of glass that provide some level of UV screening. Conservation glazing is designed to filter up to 99% of UV light. Ideally, this should also have some level of clarity so as not to affect how the photo is viewed. To prevent the object from coming into contact with the glazing, you can add some matting boards that come between the object and the glass.

Mount board. This is the board against which the photo rests. This should be acid-free and lignin-free wood pulp stock or cardboard. Over the years, the presence of acid can cause the photo to fade and the paper to deteriorate. Acid from paper products used in the mount board can seep into the photo. Also, even if the paper were acid free but contains lignin, the lignin breaks down to produce acid. Lignin naturally occurs in paper.

Backing and matting board. As with the mount board, this should be acid-free and lignin-free.

Hinging and securing components. Hinges that secure the photo into the mounting board should be non-adhesive. Some examples include mounting strips, photo corners and polyethylene straps. The more common hinging used will be Japanese tissue hinges that is attached using wheat starch paste. Nails, fasteners and hanging hardware should be properly secured to prevent any parts (i.e. mounting boards, glass) from shifting and causing damage.

Adhesive. Glues, even non-acidic ones, are not encouraged, since these may render the mounting of the photo irreversible. Use pins or brads instead. However, if adhesives are to be used, you can use acrylic adhesive or gummed linen tape that sticks when you place water on the adhesive side. These tapes and glues should not touch the photo or the object being framed.

Picture frame. Be it a vintage picture frame or a modern one, the frame should provide enough depth so that the photo or object does not touch the glazing. Add the width of the photo or object, the glazing, any moisture barrier, matting and backing when calculating the depth the picture frame has to provide.

Area where the picture frame is to be framed. Keep the picture frame away from direct sunlight or very harsh indoor light. To add another layer of protection, you can cover the frame with cloth to prevent light from coming in during times when the object is not for viewing. Place the frame away from sources of heat and cold (i.e. radiators, fireplaces, vents) or moisture (basements and attics).

Hanging fittings. The hardware used to hang the picture frame should be sturdy and secure. The wire that secures the frame to the hook on the wall should have just the right amount of tension so that there is no unnecessary straining while the frame is hung. 

2nd Jul 2014 Eric Morgan

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