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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Be Kind to Your Art Prints & Photographs

You’ve invested a bit, or a lot, of pocket change in purchasing a new print or photograph from your favorite creative personality. What now? Will you …

a) Just pin it up on your bedroom wall with a few trusty pushpins.
b) Treat it with the kindness and care it deserves.

For my sensitive creative heart’s sake I hope you answered with b.

What does treating your print or photograph kindly entail? I have some tips to help keep that new print or photograph looking beautiful for a good long while.

1) Location, location, location! Yes, it does apply here too. Don’t hang your print or photograph in a spot that exposes it to direct sunlight, fluorescent, or metal halogen lighting. Exposure to strong light that contains UV rays, natural or otherwise, can cause your print to fade and the paper to darken. That new vibrant hued abstract print will look faded and lackluster before you know it. Please be kind to your art and display it with care. Hang it in a spot where it won’t be assaulted by direct sunlight or sources of artificial light containing UV rays.

2) Frame it! If you’re going to display your art be sure to protect it and use lignin-free, acid-free materials. Encasing your art within a frame and behind a protective sheet of glass or acrylic will help protect it from dust & airborne pollutants. You can frame it yourself but if your print is valuable you’d be better advised to have a professional who’s experienced with archival framing treat it with the care it deserves. There is UV glass with conservation glazing and UV acrylic that offer additional protection to shield your art from those damaging UV rays. This doesn’t mean you can hang your framed print in direct sunlight and expect the UV glass or acrylic to protect it entirely from fading. See tip #1 and chant with me … Location, location, location!

3) Keep it cool and dry! In addition to image and paper deterioration, high temperature and humidity can encourage mold growth. Yuck! Don’t hang your cherished watercolor painted by Great Aunt Betsy in the bathroom or on the wall in the hallway just outside the bathroom door where it’ll be blasted by steam whenever someone in the household takes a shower. Please don’t neglect and tuck your prints or photographs away in the basement or attic where the temperature and level of humidity can fluctuate. Fans, air conditioners, and portable dehumidifiers can be used during unavoidable periods of high heat and humidity throughout the year.

4) Separate and flat! If you prefer to store your prints and photographs safely out of sight, be sure to keep them in individual protective sleeves or folders made from buffered, acid-free and lignin-free materials. Be sure the folders are of a large enough size to protect the corners from being damaged and store them flat. There are special lignin-free boxes and drawers or flat files that you can purchase to store your artwork inside.

Example of flat files used for storage. Mayline C-Files 5-Drawer Steel Flat Files
Example of lignin-free archival storage boxes. Century Archival Art Storage Box


acid-free - In principle, papers are acid-free if they contain no free acid and have a pH value of 7.0 or greater. In practice, papermakers consider a paper having a pH value of 6.0 or greater to be acid-free. [1]

archival - Long-lived, or suited for use with records that will be retained indefinitely. It was formerly believed that archival paper had to be made of rag or cotton; now the term is almost synonymous with "permanent," in precise usage. It is often used vaguely and inconsistently to suggest that a product has certain keeping qualities. [2]

lignin-free- Lignin is found in wood pulp and is the substance that exacerbates acidity. Lignin can be removed in the pulping process. It is expensive, but the resulting paper will remain acid-free much longer than wood pulp paper in which lignin is present. When newspaper turns brown over time, this is due to the lignin causing acid to form within the paper fibers. [3]

uv rays - Electromagnetic radiation in the range of 300 to 400 nanometers. UV radiation is not visible, and therefore "UV light" is a misnomer. UV radiation has been implicated in the degradation of photographs and papers. Daylight and fluorescent lights emit a high degree of UV radiation while tungsten lights emit a low degree.


1. Matt T. Roberts and Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books, A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1982.
2. Alkaline Paper Advocate, Glossary, Volume 1, Number 2 Mar 1988
3. Amigos Library Services, Imaging & Preservation Service, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) - Preservation. January 18, 2007

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