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How To Protect Works of Art on Paper

Updated on June 5, 2011

Protecting Paper Art & Documents

Don't put off taking steps to protect your art investment. Right when you buy it is the time to start.

This page will give you tips for framing and where to display your artwork so it won't end up wavy, brittle, or yellowed.

Why a Mat is Important

A good quality mat is important too, because it puts a layer of air between the artwork and the glass or plastic. I don't think whether it's acrylic or glass matters, as long as there is that layer of air, and if someone uses a ready-made store bought frame, the cardboard backing and the mat that comes with the ready made frame should be replaced with high quality acid free materials, because those are the parts that are actually touching the paper.

Where to Display

Once it's framed, where are you going to put it? Avoid areas with either high humidity or extreme dryness. Humidity will make the paper wavy, and dryness can make it brittle. The attic is a poor place to store any artwork, because of the great extremes in temperature. Kitchens and bathrooms are also poor choices, due to fumes and humidity.

Look for a place that has enough light for you to enjoy the artwork, but an area that doesn't get a lot of direct sunlight. The sun will do a lot of damage to works of art on paper.

Saving Money on Custom Framing

If you are not in a rush to get your artwork framed, you can get on the mailing list for your framer. Most of them have sales or discounts on custom framing during their slow times. Avoid the traditionally busy times for frame shops, which are usually October through December. Expect that your framing will likely take about 2 weeks, or even more time if your matting needed to be special ordered.

Framing it Yourself

If you plan to frame it, there are a lot of inexpensive mat and frame sets ready to go in popular sizes in your local craft and hobby store, and even your local discount store or Ebay. Here is a situation where the phrase "you get what you pay for" really is true. Yes, it's very inexpensive to go this route, but in the end, your art isn't as well protected. If the frame and mat set is made in China, if it says "Acid Free" or "Lignen Free" that may not really mean it is truly an acid free or lignen free product. By bringing that up, it's not to say that they are intentionally lying, but just that often due to a lack of knowledge of English, they may just copy USA Made products' wording and packaging.

If you are not bothered that the art could (and probably will) be damaged by using lower quality products, then go ahead and use the less expensive products. I have done this for some items myself. You will spend in the area of $20 and up.

If you really care about the artwork but you just can't spend the $150 or more that professional framing will cost, then consider buying the cheap frame but get a new mat cut - avoiding the mat included in the frame and mat package. Getting a custom mat cut at the frame shop usually runs from $5-$10 but depends on the type of matting material you desire. Ask for 'Conservation Grade' materials. Most professional frame shops DO use this type but it's good to ask.

Just having a true Conservation Grade mat up against your original art on paper is an improvement over using a questionable mat. Use framer's tape (not just general masking tape - but definitely don't use package tape or regular gift wrapping tape). Framer's tape has a special adhesive and is acid free. It will cost you just a few dollars to buy some, or if you strike up a friendly comraderie with the person at the framing desk, maybe they will give you 4 pieces, just the amount you need - for free. Mental note to brush your teeth before you go to the frame shop!

But for artwork you really care about, DO make the investment of getting it professionally framed and matted. Especially if it's an original pastel work on paper, there is a special ledge that the framer can create that will allow any stray pastel particles to fall into, so there won't be unsightly pastel powder buildup inside the glass...it will fall into the hidden recess behind the mat. Again ask whatever frameshop you use if they use Conservation Grade materials. Also good to look for is UV Protection glass, to avoid sunlight damage. Non-glare glass is also offered by framers, but it will tend to artificially dull the appearance of the artwork. If you have no idea about what color matting will look best with the artwork, you will generally make a good decision if you go with the framer's recommendations.

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      What is acceptable to put behind paper art that is going in a cheap frame? Should I gesso the laminate backing? Put in a piece of acid free paper? Try to put another piece of mat board between the art and the hard board (?) backing? (probably won't fit)

      Sure would appreciate some advice!

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 7 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      A very good lens and a worthwhile topic, for sure. I'd just like to add that glass should not be put over oil paintings, or if it is used, it must be used with great care. Professional framers can advise on this.

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      selfdefenseclique 8 years ago

      Amazing lens! I found your lens very interesting. Thanks for your such a great effort!