Conservation Framing

You've just finished framing your photo, print, or document and are ready to display it proudly in your home or office. Certain chemical reactions have already begun which can lead to yellowing, brittleness and general deterioration. Colors can fade, clarity decreases, and eventually, the value of the image decreases.

A framed object is typically exposed to direct or indirect sunlight and indoor lighting (both fluorescent and incandescent). All of these emit varying amounts of the harmful ultraviolet part of the spectrum, which causes the paper to stain and ink to fade. In addition, paper, cardboard, glue, glazing (glass) and even the frame itself can accelerate the decomposition process.

Even if it seems like your only option is to store your collection somewhere away from the dangers of man and nature, resorting to such extremes is no longer necessary. The conservation materials and techniques available today allow you to display your prized photographs and prints in relative safety. To ensure they are framed correctly you should consult a qualified conservator or framer trained in conservation framing techniques. You might even want to try work yourself, although the time, patience, and experience required to get it right is considerable. Whether you choose to work with an expert or do the job yourself, there are a few basic principles to keep in mind to ensure the job gets done right.

Conservation framing starts at the back of the frame and works its way through the frame pack. Sealing on the back of the frame provides protection from dust, moisture, air pollution and changing weather conditions. It must be acid-free and buffered to prevent future acid development. The back of the frame should be attached with pH-neutral adhesives or tapes. There are many just for this purpose.

The Back of the Frame

Underneath the frame's backing paper (sometimes called the dust cover) is the backing or filler board. Sufficient reinforcement provides additional strength and rigidity. Various types are used including corrugated board, corrugated board and solid foam core board. There are dangerous and safe varieties of each. Any paper backing board should be acid-free and preferably buffered. The plastic sheet must be inert and free from harmful plasticizers. Solid core foam boards must also be acid-free and inert.

The mat at the back

Moving to the front of the frame pack, the next layer would be the back mat. The museum board offers the safest hold for your work of art. This board is 100% rags and must be acid and lignin free. Since the entire back of the autographed document rests entirely on this layer, this is possibly the most important layer in the frame package.

Putting Art to the Back mat

Proper mounting hardware and hinges are a must when attaching your document or photo to the back mat. For museum purposes, attaching hinges made from acid-free Japanese fabric is the only viable method. Wheat starch or rice starch paste are the only acceptable adhesives for this application as they are acid free and reversible. The first piece of hinge fabric is glued to the back of the photo or document, with part of the hinge protruding above the item. The label should be facing out when the document is placed face up on the back mat. The second piece of paper towel sits on top of the first without touching the document and secures the document at the back. The window mat can be placed over the document to completely hide the hinges.

Window Mat

The window mat is the next layer that provides strength and support, as well as providing ample air space between the glazing and the artwork. Ideally, the window covering should be 100% rags, acid-free, moistened and free of alum or lignin. Also, colored window mats should be resistant to bleeding and fading.


Finally comes the glazing. Both glass and plexiglass are now available with UV filter coatings to protect your print or photo from harmful light. UV filter glazing materials can have a slight tint that will change the look of your document. This is preferable to real change, which will no doubt take place in your absence. Be careful not to let the glazing material you choose come into contact with the artwork.

Remember that framing creates a storage container where you can see its contents and improper storage is a major cause of paper and photo deterioration. Properly framed, your prints and photos will not only bring joy today, but also for generations to come.

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